by Patrick Moorhead

Dell’s Precision 5510 mobile workstation combines XPS looks with hard-core business capabilities

Jul 07, 2016
Computers and PeripheralsConsumer ElectronicsLaptops

After three months, does Dell's workstation live up to its claims?

The Dell Precision 5510 mobile workstation is part of Dell’s latest efforts to combine the attractiveness of their premium notebooks with their business friendly capabilities, improved security and features. Dell gave me the opportunity to pound on their latest version of the Dell Precision line-up with the Dell Precision 5510 which is part of the company’s efforts to bring more attractive mobile workstations to the commercial and enterprise. I spent the last three months using the Precision 5510 as my primary PC at home as a way to evaluate its worthiness as a true workstation. Dells says its 5510 is the lightest, smallest and thinnest 15” workstation. So how did it perform for me? Read on.

Mobile workstations are traditionally ugly, but not this one

Mobile workstations typically resemble 10-year-old notebooks — they are usually huge, bulky and definitely not cool. In fact, there’s no way that millennials want to actually use bulky and ugly workstations and certainly don’t want to take them home where they work. However, consumer notebooks, even the heavy-duty ones with serious hardware specs, lack the durability, ISV (independent software vendor) workstation certifications, professional graphics, high RAM capacity and faster storage. Many consumer notebooks also lack the hardware durability testing and longevity standards that workstations are generally held to. I believe the Dell Precision 5510 is a beautiful system with all the right specs for creative professionals.

Impressive mid-range workstation specs

The Dell Precision 5510 specifications are extremely impressive and performance is vital with a workstation, not an after-thought. My 5510 sported a 4K, 15” InfinityEdge, nearly bezel-less display with touch inherited from the base XPS 15. Compared to an Apple MacBook 15” Retina, the 5510 delivers 3M more pixels or 59 percent higher resolution and Dell says they have the only minimum 100 percent Adobe RGB displays on a workstation.

The Precision 5510 also comes with CPUs ranging from a 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5 dual core/ four thread to a 2.8 GHz Intel Xeon quad core/octa thread. In terms of RAM, the Precision 5510 comes in 8GB configurations all the way up to a whopping 32 GB of DDR4-2133 MHz. 32 GB is vital when pounding out those massive 3D objects or 4 and 8K video editing.

Dell also opted for an Intel 2×2 Wi-Fi solution rather than the Broadcom-based 3×3 Wi-Fi in the XPS 15 likely because of corporate standards. Dell also includes an Intel TPM module for security, chassis lock slot support and optional Absolute DDS (Data and Device Security) for security. In terms of hard drive space, I believe that Dell could have done a little better and not provided two models with spinning hard disks, because all versions of the Dell XPS 15 come with some sort of SSD, even if they do have a spinning HDD. But even so, Dell does still offer an M.2 (next generation form factor) PCIe SSD with up to 1 TB of capacity and allows for two SSDs.

Unlike the XPS 15, the Precision 5100 has the NVIDIA Quadro M1000M which is designed and qualified for professional applications and runs special, certified drivers that are thoroughly tested and qualified not to perform well during mission-critical usage and, to boot, a 3-year warranty. The fastest consumer device is worthless if it isn’t optimized for the workstation app you need.

In addition to all of those specifications and software support, the workstation also has Thunderbolt 3 over Type-C which makes it extremely flexible and modular for future technologies. In fact, USB Type-C has bandwidth capabilities of up to 40 Gbps which means that down the road you could see this port being used for docking and power as well as external storage and displays all using one cable. This speed is 2X that of Thunderbolt 2 you will find in Apple Macs. For the workstation market, I expect very fast external storage arrays supporting Thunderbolt 3 over the tiny Type-C cable. I’m also expecting future daisy-chained Thunderbolt 3 displays.

Very customizable

The Dell Precision 5510 is also much more customizable and configurable than the Dell XPS 15, so you can actually build it to the spec that you find most fitting. The only things that cannot be configured are the Wi-Fi and GPU, everything else can be changed for a better or less-expensive version. The Precision 5510 also has vPro systems management and managed transitions, including a reservation process. Much of what sets apart these two very similar looking laptops is in the services and customizability that Dell offers. Dell features like ISV certification and Dell Precision Optimizer allow for more stable and faster performance without any hardware changes.

Impressive battery life for a workstation

I was also pretty impressed with the battery life considering the hefty specs of the model that Dell sent me. However, if the 7 to 8 hours of office usage isn’t enough for you, Dell also offers a 18,000 mAh external battery that you can use to top up your laptop extremely quickly with its 90 Watt output, meaning that it doesn’t charge as fast as the 135 Watt wall charger, but much faster than any external battery I have ever seen. This external battery is awesome.

In most cases, you have to give up significant amounts of power to get good battery life, but with the Dell Precision 5510, you don’t really have to do that and if you really need to run your laptop for a longer period of time than the battery affords you have backups which is great for a business person on the go. I know that I have found myself a couple times using this battery when I thought there would be a wall plug somewhere but there wasn’t.


The Precision starts at $1,399 with a configuration anyone looking for a workstation would probably pass on, but could be good for an office information worker looking for some extra umph in their work. For that price you get a Core i5 at 2.3GHz., 1080P non-touch display, 8GB RAM, 500GB hard drive but with the beefy and very commercial NVIDIA Quadro graphics. My configuration was the “big daddy” which included a Xeon E3 at 2.8Ghz., the IGZO 4K touch display, 512GB M.2 PCI-E SSD, 32GB RAM and would set you back $2,699. Before you choke on that, realize that in workstation-speak, this isn’t an enormous price, as many are used to paying $5,000 for something like this.

No perfect PCs

While this was one if the best, if not the best 15″ commercial PC I have used, as in life, there are no perfect PCs, and there’s always room for improvement. With the Precision 5100 and the InfinityDisplay, the camera is on the bottom of the display, not the top, as the display is edge to edge. Therefore, in video calls like Skype, people would see my face from the bottom up, not top down as we are all used to. As my teenage daughter has instructed me often, the camera needs to be from the top down. Also, the camera is a 720P camera, not 1080P, a shame for a $2,700 system. I travel a lot and use Vidyo, Skype and WebEx a lot, so I bring an additional 1080P USB camera with me and attach it to the top of the system.  

Wrapping up

I loved my time with the Dell Precision 5510. I used it mostly in the office as a high-performance desktop replacement, but took around five trips with it. On trips, I definitely invoked the “mine is better than yours” as others walked in with their anemic consumer notebooks. 🙂 Everything was fast for me, whether I was importing and editing photos, videos or even multitasking with office productivity on my high-res, three-display setup.

The Precision 5510 is an extremely powerful and good-looking workstation that helps raise the bar on what a workstation is supposed to look like in the future. This notebook is only 4.4 pounds and delivers the performance of what I would consider to be a modern desktop. That is why I enjoyed using this workstation as my desktop for 3 months — it simply delivers enough performance in an attractive package. Dell has already shown us a lot of the features of the Precision 5510 in the XPS 15, but the Precision 5510 is a professionally-tested and qualified version with more stable drivers and security.

The Precision 5510 is a good fit for a business that is looking to meet the highest business expectations and performance metrics. This isn’t the thinnest or lightest notebook you can get, but that’s not the point. This is a mobile workstation with Xeon processors, Quadro graphics, 4K touch display, with full workstation ISV certifications. I expect that most organizations utilizing the Precision 5510 won’t get many complaints from millennials getting a workstation for their new jobs and they will very likely be happy to take one home. I know it will be hard for me to send it back to Dell.

Required disclosure: My firm, Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry including Dell, referenced in this column and also HP Inc., Lenovo, Microsoft and Samsung. I do not hold equity positions in any company cited.