What a R42 000 laptop looks like

This is easily the most expensive laptop computer that TechCentral has reviewed. The Dell Precision M3800 notebook is a high-end workhorse that epitomises the desktop replacement computer. But would you really want one? By Regardt van der Berg.


Dell’s Precision M3800 notebook is a workhorse that epitomises the desktop replacement computer. It features incredibly high-end hardware, with enhancements not often found in notebooks.

The US computer maker has the formula just right with this machine. Everything from the packaging to its sleek design oozes class with a minimalist look and feel more typical of Apple than PC makers.

One of the most notable features of the 1,8kg M3800 is its size. At just 8mm thick, it is the same width as the new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. The M3800 is targeting the same market — graphics and design professionals among them — but it has a quite a few more features to offer them that they won’t get with Apple’s high-end portable.

The M3800 is constructed from brushed aluminium and carbon fibre. The material that covers the keyboard palm rest feels like a hard rubber composite and is a great addition that makes the surface around the keyboard feel slightly soft to the touch.

The keyboard is another area where the M3800 impresses and, although it takes a little getting used to when moving from another notebook, it is a pleasure to type on.

Considering its size, it’s no surprise that Dell has not included an optical drive. Besides, few people need one in the era of cloud computing, and it’s easy to plug one in via USB if needed. And there are four USB ports on the M3800 — two more than the MacBook Pro. Three are USB 3 certified, while the other one is an older USB 2 port.


As with many modern Ultrabook PCs, There is also no Ethernet port on the M3800, but a USB Ethernet adapter is included in the box.

Photographers will find the built-in SD card reader useful. It supports the SD, SDHC, SDIO and SDXC with UHS formats. Other ports include a full-sized HDMI slot and mini DisplayPort.

Beyond Retina
Not wanting to be left behind Apple, Dell has included one of the highest resolution notebook displays available today. The 15,6-inch LCD features a QHD+ touch display that delivers a resolution of 3 200×1 800 pixels (that’s not a misprint) for a pixel density of 235ppi. By way of comparison, Apple’s “Retina” MacBook’s 15,4-inch screen has a native resolution of 2 880×1 800 pixels, for 220ppi.

Those not wanting to sell their car to be able to afford the M3800 can order it with a more pedestrian 1080p display and with a lower overall spec for about R10 000 less.

Although the QHD+ display is quite something to behold, it can be frustrating to use at times. Many Windows applications aren’t built to support the higher resolution. Windows 8.1 Pro, which the machine comes with, looks great, but third-party apps such as Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite cannot scale correctly, leaving users squinting or having to move closer to the screen to see menu items and on-screen text. Google’s Chrome browser is also problematic, rendering text as pixellated. Internet Explorer and Firefox work fine, however.

Considering that the target audience for this machine includes designers, photographers and video editors, this is a problem. It’s not one that Dell can fix, though, and requires the attention of app developers.


The M3800’s touch-screen capabilities are also novel and fun to use with the Windows tile interface. But after the first few days of swiping around, we realised that the only practical use for it is when you’re browsing Web while lying on the couch with the notebook perched on your chest.

During our time with the M3800. we also noticed that the display’s red channel is set a little too high and tweaking it using the Intel graphics control panel is a little difficult. This is something to take note of if using this notebook for graphic or video work.

On steroids
The machine sports a speedy Intel Core i7 quad-core processor with a generous 16GB of RAM. This already speedy design is given another speed boost thanks to a 256GB solid-state drive. There is also a 500GB hard drive, which should prove useful for storing video, photography and other media files.

Where the M3800 falls down is its battery. Using it for any type of graphics or video work can mean a battery life of as little as two or three hours. Even with power saving settings cranked up, this machine is not a good companion for a long-haul flight or for taking anywhere, frankly, that a power source is not easily accessible.

As a desktop replacement notebook that will outperform most desktop machines, the Dell Precision M3800 is the best alternative we’ve seen to Apple’s MacBook Pro range. Spec for spec, the top-end version outperforms the best that Apple has to offer.

Of course, with all this power comes a hefty price tag. At the time of writing, the Dell Precision M3800 is fetching a handsome R41 572. At that price, we’ll take two — just as soon as we’ve re-mortgaged the house.  — © 2014 NewsCentral Media

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  • http://www.letsgethighandmarrygaypeople.com/ Gregory S. Balchin

    > be dell
    > build empire by selling cheap laptops
    > moan about apple’s prem– expensive offerings
    > build apple competitor anyway
    > charge twice as much
    > get it comically wrong
    > mfw people realise that apple doesn’t make stuff expensive for the sake of being expensive

  • The Spark

    This is so stupid that I couldn’t even laugh at the price

  • multichoice_is_the_devil

    Dell has been selling workstation laptops like this for ages, as do HP. Typically they go for R25k to R30k and they are targeted to engineering professionals who have desktops that can top R50k, so it’s not bad as a 2nd pc…. Too bad you did not even mention the premium graphics card in this thing. Probably a high end Nvidia Quadro.
    This screen resolution is over the top. Looks like it targets the vain.

  • RS

    How is this R42000? They go for $1799

  • http://www.clickclickboom.co.za Alan Benington

    Dell has been selling decent high end machines under the Alienware brand for a while (I have one).
    They suck power so yes the battery is not made for hours of use (just enough to get you through an outage / load share?), but cant think why any software engineer that needs to be reasonably mobile would not find the price tag more than justified for the extra productivity that a powerful machine can bring

  • http://www.aatsol.co.za/ Archie Makuwa

    I’ll pass…

  • Regardt van der Berg

    You can check out the Dell South Africa page for the price that we listed in this review: http://www.dell.com/za/enterprise/p/precision-m3800-workstation/fs Dell told me that they will look into the price that is listed the site. As soon as I hear back from them I will let you know.

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    Yup – people don’t realise that this isn’t a laptop for surfing the web and doing email on, this is a de facto professional niche tool. The GPU alone is worth R5k. I don’t think it’s right comparing it to the MBP, as the use-case of this kind of machine starts at a level that no Apple laptop can deliver. The right tools are expensive – you can go and get a cordless drill for R599 at Game, but you won’t find a professional using it, they’ll be “wasting their money” on a R4k Makita or DeWalt.

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    Indeed – If you’re charging R1k+/hour, saving a few trips to the office or a few hours onsite pays for that R40k in no time. I actually know firsthand of an engineer who bought a top-end MBP and tried and failed to get his job done on it, and ended up buying one of these Dell beasts.

  • http://www.letsgethighandmarrygaypeople.com/ Gregory S. Balchin

    thus android manfs must have even higher margins for their plasticfantastic handsets

    apple charges a premium for a product that feels premium. samsung charges the same because “well we think we’re apple hahaha!!!!” and people lap it up

  • Ofentse Letsholo

    I don’t see myself wasting money on laptops again, desktop suits me fine.

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