A Mobile Masterpiece; My Dell M6500

Hello everyone, my name is Mark Schoennagel and I’m an Autodesk product evangelist focusing on the Softimage 3D product line.  For those that don’t know, our software is used to make many of the films and video games you see today and is one of the officially certified applications for the Dell Precision family of workstations.  One of my prior tasks at Softimage was the lead certification manager where I  worked closely with Dell to test and qualify their newest workstations under some pretty extreme (AKA real 3D world) conditions. My new Autodesk gig is a bit different but Dell still allows me to test hardware because as a power user, and someone who spends a lot of time in the field with customers, I have a pretty good perspective on what a 3D artist needs in a mobile workstation.  It’s also cool to know my feedback might be incorporated into products over time (I’ve seen a few examples) and that eliminating even minor glitches could offer a better customer experience with our software.

Recently, Dell sent me a pre-release of their latest M6500 mobile workstation to get my feedback before it hit the market. When the unit arrived, I must admit that I was wearing a pretty wicked grin.  My previous Dell M6400 mobile workstation had two 500 gig hard drives RAIDed together but with the M6500 I found a third drive!  It’s a mini SSD drive that uses one of the mini PCIe slots underneath the laptop. Unbelievable. This little thumb-sized drive hauls while using almost no power!  Now, I have a terabyte of hard disk storage and this little mini SSD to go along with it.  Not only is it a fast little drive, streaming video or content off of one of these takes considerably less juice then having my two RAIDed drives going at it.  And coupled with the Dell’s great power management software it gives me quite a boost in battery life when sitting on an airplane.

Also, new to the M6500 is USB 3.0 for monster file transfers, and a Gobi 2.0 chip that will give you 3G access on any cell phone providers network anywhere in the world!  I’m not quite sure how it works with SIM chips but I’m getting mine hooked up this week.  I travel quite a bit so I’m looking forward to not having to tether my phone anymore..oh wait my new iPhone doesn’t tether! 😉  I’m still waiting to try a USB 3.0 device but I hear they are faaassst!

Since Softimage is fully multi-threaded, I love the new fancy Intel Core i7 quad core CPU.  It’s awesome to throw a few million particles on the screen and watch all eight cores peg to 100%.  It has four physical cores, but eight virtual cores show up in task manager due to the new hyper-threading feature.  What’s also incredible is the new NVIDIA 3800M GPU that’s in there.  It runs circles around pretty much anything you can buy in the workstation category – desktop or mobile!  It runs most of my scenes just as fast as my NVIDIA Quadro 5800!  Really impressive work from those hardware guys.

Well, I saved a couple of my favorite comments about the machine for last.  I mean the performance is awesome but I am an still an artist at heart.  First, the blood-orange “Covet” version is just plain cool to carry.  The smooth chassis design really reflects something more suitable for M&E pros and the cool anodized aluminum color is rather unique.  Although my favorite feature has to be the edge to edge RGB LED backlit display.   It’s a full 1920×1200 resolution and is really over the top!   …Ahem, yeah I got that option too!  I have to say it’s the most incredible looking piece of technology I have seen.  The difference between this screen and traditional laptop LCD is massive.  If you ever get a chance to play on one, crank the brightness up and create a 100% red image in MS paint or something…or Google a nice big shot of a Ferrari.  Behold!! Ha ha, I actually had a flight attendant ask me what I was doing because it was so bright in my seat!  On some evening flight I was playing around with Softimage 2010 and had a few million red and orange particles flying around.  After she asked me I looked around and sure enough the whole row was glowing red!!… I found myself grinning again.

About the Author: Mark Schoennagel