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Dell Precision 5520 Review: Thin, Light and Powerful

It has been a while since we last reviewed a Dell mobile workstation (see DE April 2016). So, when Dell included a new Precision 5520 mobile workstation as part of our review of the Dell Canvas interactive pen and touch display (see DE December 2017), we also put this new laptop through its paces.

The Dell Precision 5520 is the successor to the Dell Precision M3800, the remarkably thin, lightweight mobile system we raved about when we reviewed it several years ago (see DE November 2015). Like its predecessor, the brushed aluminum and carbon fiber case bears an outward resemblance to a MacBook Pro. The 15.6-in. Precision 5520 measures 14.1×9.3×0.8-in. and weighs just 4.54 pounds (plus less than a pound for its 130-watt external power supply and cables), making it even smaller and lighter than the M3800, while packing considerably more power.

The Dell Precision 5520 packs a powerful 15.6-in. mobile workstation into a package the size of a 14-in. laptop.

The Dell Precision 5520 packs a powerful 15.6-in. mobile workstation into a package the size of a 14-in. laptop.

Dell achieves this in part by surrounding the display with one of the thinnest bezels we’ve ever seen in a laptop—Dell refers to this as InfinityEdge—and packing all of the major components beneath a deck that tapers to a mere 0.44-in. at the front edge. Yet this is a true workstation, with a professional-grade CPU and discrete NVIDIA graphics.

Workstation CPU and Graphics

Although the base configuration Dell Precision 5520 includes a 2.8GHz Intel Core i5-7740HQ quad-core CPU, Dell offers six other options. Our evaluation unit came with a seventh-generation Intel Xeon E3-1505M v6 processor. This quad core “Kaby Lake” processor has a base frequency of 3GHz and a maximum turbo speed of 4GHz while maintaining a thermal design power (TDP) rating of 45 watts, and adds $299 to the base price.

Although the CPU includes integrated Intel Graphics P630, our evaluation unit also incorporated an NVIDIA Quadro M1200M discrete graphics card with 4GB of GDDR5 dedicated memory. This GPU, based on NVIDIA’s latest Maxwell architecture, has 640 CUDA parallel processing cores, a 128-bit interface and adds an additional $65.

Stunning Display

Raising the lid reveals the 15.6-in. display and a full-size 80-key backlit keyboard. A gesture-enabled multi-touch touchpad with two buttons is centered below the keyboard. The keyboard has a decent feel but rather shallow travel.

The base unit has an UltraSharp FHD (1920×1080) in-plane switching, wide-view anti-glare display. However, our review unit came with a stunning touch-enabled 15.6-in. UltraSharp UHD IGZO (3840×2160) wide-view backlit LED, a $278 option.

Due to its thin bezel, the 1280×720 webcam is located below the display, rather than above. This placement results in some awkward images that emphasize your hands while looking up at the bottom of your nose, a significant flaw in an otherwise excellent system.

Just a Few Ports

The Dell Precision 5520 has two DIMM sockets and the base configuration comes with 8GB of RAM, installed using a single memory module. For our evaluation, Dell packed our system with 32GB of DDR4-2400MHz of memory, filling the two available dual-inline memory module sockets and adding an additional $409 to the system cost. The Intel Xeon CPU supports up to 64GB of ECC memory, but Dell does not offer ECC memory as an option.

A 500GB 7200rpm SATA drive is included in the base unit, but here again, Dell offers options, including solid-state drives up to 1TB. Our evaluation unit came with a 512GB Samsung NVMe PCIe SSD, which added $464.

A three-cell 56Wh lithium ion battery is included in the base price, but systems equipped with the full high-definition display must also include a six-cell 97Wh battery, which adds another $45. That battery powered the Dell Precision 5520 for 9 hours and 24 minutes in our battery run-down test.

The Dell Precision 5520 does not offer an abundance of ports, however. The left side of the case houses the power connector, a single USB 3.0 port, HDMI port, USB Type C Thunderbolt port and a headphone/microphone combo jack, while the right side provides a second USB 3.0 port and a memory card reader. The system comes with a USB Type C Ethernet dongle and includes 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.

Great Performance

Throughout our tests, the Dell Precision 5520 remained cool and was nearly silent, even while running our most demanding benchmarks. On the SPECviewperf test, it outperformed other 15.6-in. mobile workstations from HP and Lenovo that were equipped with comparable GPUs, but lagged those from Eurocom and MSI, which included higher-end graphics. The same was true when running the SPECapc SolidWorks benchmark.

Dell preloads Windows 10 Professional 64-bit. Although Dell offers Windows 7, that is not an option for systems based on the latest Intel Xeon CPUs. The Precision 5520 includes only a one-year warranty unless you buy an extended warranty at time of purchase, in which case Dell offers myriad options including next-business-day onsite service for up to five years, as well as accidental damage coverage, data recovery and more.

Like other Dell workstations, the Precision 5520 is ISV certified and comes with Dell’s Precision Optimizer software to enable users to tune system performance for specific applications. As configured, the system we reviewed cost $2,759 when we priced it in late November. You could easily lower that price by opting for a lesser CPU and FHD non-touch display. Either way, the Dell Precision 5520 is a worthy successor to the M3800 and remains an excellent choice for any engineer on the go.

More Info

Dell

Dell Precision 5520

  • Price: $2,759 as tested ($1,199 base price)
  • Size: 14.1×9.3×0.8-in. (WxDxH) notebook
  • Weight: 4.5 pounds plus 0.9-pound power supply
  • CPU: 3.0GHz Intel Xeon E3-1505M v6 w/8MB Smart Cache
  • Memory: 32GB
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro M1200M w/4GB GDDR5 memory
  • LCD: 15.6-in. UHD 3840×2160 wide view anti-glare backlit IGZO
  • Hard Disk: 512GB NVMe PCIe
  • Audio: Built-in speakers, built-in microphone array
  • Network: Intel dual-band wireless-AC 8265 WiFi 4.2
    plus Bluetooth
  • Other: Two USB 3.0 with PowerShare, HDMI,
    headphone/microphone combo jack, SmartCard reader, integrated 1MP webcam
  • Keyboard: Integrated 80-key full-size backlit keyboard
  • Pointing device: Gesture-enabled multi-touch touchpad
    with two buttons

 

About David Cohn

David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Digital Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. Watch for his latest CADLearning eBooks on AutoCAD 2015 on the Apple iBookstore, at Amazon, and on the CADLearning website. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at www.dscohn.com.