5 reasons I chose a Dell M4800 over the Apple MacBook Pro

precision_laptop_232x249I was in the market for a new laptop to replace my aging 3.5 year old machine. This “old” machine, a Dell Latitude E6510, was no slouch. It had a Quad Core processor (core i7-720qm), along with a 500GB SSD hard drive, and a 500GB Hybrid hard drive, 16GB RAM, separate video graphics processor (nvidia NVS 3100M), a 1920x1080p display screen, and much more. This laptop will go to my wife, and her’s will go to my daughter.

There are 2 main reasons that I am replacing this laptop. The first is photo processing. I take about 15,000 photos each year, and this year it’s a bit higher, maybe 18,000. This is because I shoot a lot of houses for other agents. I have shot about 120 houses this year so far, and each house I typically shoot 60-90 photos. You can see that it adds up fast. This alone is about 9,000 photos.

Processing these photos on my old E6510 was getting to be a pain. I run Lightroom 5.2, and importing a set of 75 photos takes a while. Well, not the importing, but the rendering of the previews. Then the export of the files also is taking a while. On the days that I am shooting 3 or 4 houses per day, the export process slows down the computer too much to do any editing of any other photos.

The second reason is that I also edit videos on my laptop. For each house I shoot, this includes a video render for the video slideshow. Then I also resize the video flies so that they stream on the web just fine. (sample: http://www.minneapolisvirtualtour.com/tour1 ) This resize takes a bit of computing power.

Evaluation of current generation laptops

I am typically a PC person, and have been for many years. I have used Macs in the past and am not opposed to them. So I decided to consider a Mac and compare it to what I would normally purchase, a Dell. I needed each one to be a quad-core processor, and have a separate video graphics processor, preferably one that supports CUDA (which would be nvidia), and secondarily OpenGL 4.3. The reason for having CUDA support is so that the video rendering process can also be offloaded to the graphics processor. My software, Sony Movie Studio, can take advantage of CUDA support to significantly increase rendering speed.

Minimum Specs for me

Quad-core Core i7
Separate graphics card
At least a 1080p display
1TB of hard drive space
3-year warranty

The Dell Precision M4800 15.6″

The Dell Precision line is the next higher model up from the Latitude E-series that I had previously. It has impressive specs. I was looking at both the Latitude E6540, and the Precision M4800, and basically it came down to price. Dell had the M4800 for 30% off, and I had a 20% stackable coupon. This put the M4800 at almost the same price as the equivalent Latitude, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent the extra money on the M4800.

As far as the specs go, here’s what I looked at:
i7-4800QM 2.8Ghz quad core with 3.8ghz turbo
8GB RAM (expandable to 32GB)
750GB 7200 rpm hard drive
3 hard drive capable
Nvidia K2100M
Display 3200×1800
4 monitor capable
3-year in home warranty included
DVD included
VGA/HDMI/DP connectivity included

Since this laptop has 4 SIMM slots, I would expand the 8GB to 16GB right away. That would eat up all 4 slots, but I can always change them out later and bump the machine up to 32GB.

I also would pull my existing 500GB SSD drive and make that the primary drive in the new laptop, moving the 750GB drive to secondary status. I would clone the 750GB drive down to the 500GB drive, leaving both as bootable. This would leave me with 2 bootable drives, both with the OS and apps installed on both of them. The rest of the space ont he 750GB drive would be for exporting photos and videos, exactly how I do it now.

I always get the 3-year in-home warranty for the sole fact that laptops do break. When something goes wrong, I need to have the capability of having them come to my place of work (or home) to fix my computer. I cannot send it out for 2 weeks while its being repaired. Dell offers this service on most of their computers.

The MacBook Pro 15.4″ Retina Display

The MBP15 is the most equivalent I could find to the Dell. I’ll highlight the differences

overview_heroi7-4960HQ 2.6ghz quad core with 3.6ghz turbo
16GB RAM
No memory expansion possible
512GB SSD hard drive
No other drives possible– I’m stuck with only 500GB of capacity
GeForce GT750M about 6% faster than the K2100M
Display 2880×1800 lower resolution
Can drive 3 monitors instead of 4
3-year carry in warranty +349 No in home warranty possible
VGA adapter +29
external DVD +79

I had to add a few options to match that of the Dell, notably the warranty, the VGA adapter, and the external DVD.
The CPU is a slight bit slower than the i7-4800MQ processor, but I think Apple chose this processor for the better integrated graphics. The integrated graphics in the i7-4960HQ appears to be a bit better than the i7-4800MQ. But since I won’t be using either integrated graphics, that shouldn’t matter much.

There are two things that really suprise me with the MBP. The first is the 16GB maximum memory. Why push this as a photographer’s computer or a videographer’s computer? 16GB isn’t enough, or rather, it isn’t enough for 3 years from now.

The second thing is the lack of hard drive options. With the Dell, I can have 2 2.5mm laptop hard drives, along with a mSata SSD hard drive. That’s 3 drives in total. The MBP can only support 1 drive. Yes, you can upgrade it to a 1TB SSD drive, but you can put 2 of those in the Dell, along with 1 mSata drive. That means I can get 2.5TB of hard drive space in the Dell.

Bottom Line

The Dell came down to a total of 1668.48 before tax and shipping. Dell almost always has free shipping.
The MBP came down to a total of $3285 before tax. That’s almost exactly twice the price! What really gets me is that at twice the price, I don’t get as much of a computer.
The main differences:

  1. Twice the price.
  2. I’m limited to 16GB of RAM, which my 3 year old computer already has.
  3. I get a lower resolution display.
  4. I DON’T get an in-home warranty, just carry-in support.
  5. I don’t get VGA connectivity built-in. There are still many projectors out there that have the VGA connector on them.

With all of that, I’ll be the first to say that I ordered the Dell, which will have more capacity than the MBP at half the cost. I know people will say that OSX is better, or that Mac is better, or that the support is better. But it all boils down to usability and price. I am getting a far more usable computer for far less dollars.

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Update as of December 2015:

The computer is now 2 years old, and it still is my daily driver. I have not had any problems to speak of, and have not even used the warranty (except for the broken screen on delivery). The battery was giving out, but I bought the extended battery warranty and had them ship me a new battery. I have no lockups or crashes… ever. I am now running Windows 10, and the machine is flying faster than before. I use this machine heavily every single day, and it still performs just fine. My only complaint is that the hinge for the display creaks when I move it up and down, but that’s no big deal AND I could probably have Dell come out and fix it.

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21 Responses to 5 reasons I chose a Dell M4800 over the Apple MacBook Pro

  1. actually in your editing programs dell’s Nvidia card would be much, much faster, not 17% slower. Also don’t forget the dell has a trackpoint, far beyond any trackpad for me. of course it’s heavier but much tougher.
    one more thing, mac is not the only competition for the 4800, there’s also the HP ZBook 15 and the thinkpad W540.

  2. I doubt, because we don’t have the benchmark tests of GeForce GT750M running on a mac pro. Especially for opengl performance marks, those could be compared with dell 4800’s quadro k2100 to see which one is better. If mac has the slightest advantage over dell 4800 my choice would be it. I hope i can find this results.

    Note: i really don’t care about GeForce GT750M about 6% faster than the K2100M cause that card is not a workstation card and i bet it’s not the score for opengl.

    • Good point about the GT750M not being a workstation card. I am also not that concerned about a 6% difference in speed, especially at a cost difference of 100%. Geesh, that MBP15 is expensive!

      • Come on it’s only 800 usd difference when you compare dell m4800 and mbpro nearly 40 percent in my hardware settings for both computer. Btw for the record about the hard disk issue, i see a hybrid one in dell precision m4800 which has 8gb ssd + 1 terabyte(?) traditional hdd. Dude i hate those ones, they give bad sectors in one year or two which will lead to a complete crash in your computer and it’s gonna be a pain in the ass to rescue them. If you’re a guy like me who does everything in the last min, youre gonna have a real problem. So i think its much more better to go all the way with ssd.

    • I have not had any freezes or bsods at all. The person that is having problems can be attributed to bad hardware. They should have dell come out and fix it, rather than send it back. There is nothing wrong with getting a new memory stick or new motherboard. It happens.

  3. There are far more many reasons to work with Dell precision series laptop than just the specs. Here is one thing I have experienced after having worked for 3 yrs with a Dell M4500 and now with a Dell M4800 (32GB RAM, I7 4900MQ, 750 GB HD, 256 SATA): quality and reliability. Another point: these are not laptops but desktop replacements machines that allow some traveling. Enjoy!

  4. I happen to have a Dell precission m4800 as a work computer and A macbook pro 15 retina that i have paid for myself. Both are of the latesst generation and has 16gb ram and 500gb SSD:s i must say that there is not a day that goes by that i dont cusrse my dell. I have a few reasons for this

    *its heavy and boxy with charger about 1.5kgs heavier.
    *the keyboard is a full pc keyboard crammed into a laptop and none centered
    * the trackpad is small and flaky using a mouse is almost a must
    * the screen is ok for regular in lap work but in combination with an external screen gets really annoying with the high resolution on a small surface
    * it runs windows slower then my macbook does through virtualization

    so for me the macbook pro retina is a much better computer even when i dont bring osx into the equation.

    The only regret i have with spending the extra money on the mac is that IM not using it enough as i cant use it at work.

    • You do have some valid points, but you aren’t comparing apples to apples (pardon the pun). A MBP15 isn’t the same as a M4800, hence the heavier weight. The 4800 is a workstation class machine, while the MBP15 is more closely related to the M3800, which is lighter than a MBP15, and doesn’t have the full keyboard number pad thingy going on.

      How is the screen annoying with high resolution on a small surface? I run 3200×1800 on the internal 15.6″ display, and 1920×1080 on a 21″ external display. It works fine.

      And the main reason that I purchased the M4800 is for speed/price. Can you try comparing the same function on both? Try exporting 100 photos in lightroom on both computers. Or try exporting a 10 minute video in the same app on both (perhaps premier pro). The processor in the MBP is a bit faster (about 10%) according to benchmarks, but the graphics card is about 10% slower. In my video editing program, I can take advantage of the video card via CUDA for exporting videos. But for the MBP15 to be twice the price… it’s hard to justify objectively.

      Thanks for your comments!

      • MBP15 twice the price?? Both are on 2700€ with almost the same specs. Actually, the MBP15 comes with a minimun of 512GB SSD (and up to 1TB flash) while the M4800 comes with a maximum of 256GB SSD (at least in spain).

  5. Your article resonated with me because I am also a photographer and had been spending a lot of time on trying to decide on the “right” choice for a new laptop, vacillating between Lenovo W540, the Dell m4800 and the 15” MacBook Pro. Even on my Dell T3400 desktop workstation, when I have a couple of Nikon D800 files open in Photoshop or Lightroom, the thing slows dramatically, probably due both to older processor and insufficient memory. So when my old laptop died, I decided to replace it with a more powerful one than my desktop.

    On the strength of your article I actually did place an order for the m4800.

    However, since then I discovered a thread of user experiences with this model in which many people complain about the m4800 freezing up randomly. ( http://community.spiceworks.com/topic/391875-new-dell-precision-m4800-few-probs-should-i-send-back?page=22#entry-3200946).

    And now I am having second thought about my decision.

    I am wondering if you had any similar experiences with your m4800 freezing up, and whether you are still happy with it, now that you have had it for several months.

    Thank you for any insights you might have.

    • I have no problems at all of it freezing up. When people do have lockups and freezeups, they should fix the problem rather than saying its a problem with a particular computer. There are problems, but they are fixable. I have never had a lockup. Good luck!

      • I have a Dell M4800. It Freezes randomly. And its a terrible problem. Dell has been attending to me for 4 months now. And they even replaced the whole system. Still the problem persists.

  6. Thank you for the interesting article regarding the MBPr vs M4800. I was in the same dilemma myself as I was starting a new job and needed to purchase a good laptop. I could not bring myself to purchase the Mac, even though I had been using Macs for my entire undergrad and graduate schooling. I liked my Macs during school but in the real world Windows is more appropriate, and because I’d be seeing many clients in a professional setting I prefer the look of the Dell (aka less fancy, since many of my clients are cash poor business owners).

    I purchased my unit from eBay, with the same specs as yours for about a grand. Can’t beat that price/performance ratio. Although I don’t have any warranty because I bought from eBay, I have not had any problems and I can usually fix laptop issues myself, or have my tech department look at it on the spot.

    I wanted to ask you if you have had any problems with the heat? Does it get very hot when you are doing the photo processing/video editing?

    • I do not have problems with heat. When I am processing photos, it’s so little load on the computer. When I export my photos from lightroom, it takes maybe 2 minutes of crunching. SO no real heat issues.
      Perhaps you have a fan that is not working?

  7. I bought a m4700 6 months ago. It did not work straight off the bat. They came out, replaced the video card twice now, and the screen and some other stuff. It keeps freezing when I am working with videos and quits.
    Fatal errors. So now they said they will send me a new m4800. When I started researching those I could not believe how many people are having the same problems that I am having with the m4700. Not to mention I design websites and it seems like you cannot set the screen to 1900×1080.
    You are saying the people complaining online needed to replace things, but now the computer has been out almost a year and I have found way too many complaints about the blue screen freezing, gpu, drivers not working correctly and people who create videos like I do having tons of flicking and issues with their videos.
    It is now June 2014, and I would like to hear what you think of your m4800 now and the problems you have heard about.

  8. I do have a M4600 and I would not compare it against any Mac

    mine has msata 128gb for SO, loads really fast
    and 320 internal HDD 7200 rpm that also loads windows fast.

    M4600-m4700-m4800 are a good line from dell, I would move to m4800 because the need of having more monitors, I really need them, but I’m happy since I got the mSata drive

    I’m also purchasing a new SD-XC 64GB card, for extra space.

  9. Update as of Feb 2, 2015:
    I have still exclusively run my M4800 every day since I bought it in December of 2013. It’s just over a year old, and I have yet to have any lockup problems at all. Perhaps it has to do with the SSD in the 2.5″ drive slot as some people reported. My SSD is in the mSata slot. Either way, this machine is still fast and runs without lockups. I do reboot once in a while though, about once per month. Otherwise it’s just in sleep mode when it’s not up and running.

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