Dell Unveils New Mobile Workstations for Graphics-Intensive Tasks

Dell is unveiling updated mobile workstations in its Precision line that feature faster processors, graphics processors and memory for heavy-duty computing, such as 3D movie production.

SAN FRANCISCO €” Dell is upgrading its line of mobile workstations for graphics-intensive computing environments, such as video production, with improved specifications that it thinks will differentiate its offerings from those of Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo.

Introduced at a news media preview in San Francisco July 18, the three new Dell models will be available as of July 24. They include the Dell Precision M4700 (with a list price starting at $1,649), the M4700 ($2,199) and the M4700 Covet ($3,579), with a distinctive €œPhoenix Red€ tinted cover that one Dell executive said will appeal to €œcreative types.€

Dell said all three workstations will offer an Intel Core i5 or i7 class central processing unit (CPU). The M4700 will offer a choice of an Advanced Micro Devices FirePro M4000 graphics processing unit (GPU) or one of two Nvidia GPUs, a K1000M or a K2000M version.

The M6700 models offer even more GPU capabilities with an AMD FirePro M6000 and one of three Nvidia GPUs, one that offers 2GB of memory and two others that each offer 4GB of memory. The M4700 workstation comes with a 15.6-inch screen, while the M4700 models come with a 17.3-inch screen.

All this horsepower is needed because workstations do much more intensive computing than the average desktop or laptop. Amid all the talk in the enterprise about people seeking to bring their own tablets and smartphones to the office, workstation computers still do most of the heavy lifting in enterprise computing. Workstations are used for graphic design and for creating video games. They also have a big role to play in the oil and gas exploration industry as well as in medical research.

They have a leading role in the motion picture industry, too. One Dell customer at the launch event was Tippet Studios, of nearby Berkeley, Calif., which does video production, including major first-run movies. Tippet€™s credits include one of the €œTwilight€ movies, an HBO series €œHemingway and Gellhorn€ starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, and €œTed,€ a comedy in which Mark Wahlberg plays opposite his childhood teddy bear come to life.

€œFilmmaking is a very complex process. It€™s very graphics-intensive, so what we basically want is a workstation for artists in the production pipeline,€ said Sanjay Das, chief technology officer of Tippet.

Different people involved in a digital production have different workstation needs, Das said. There are modelers who create the general outline of a digital character, animators who fill in details of the characters and the background, and lighters, who create the lighting and shading that completes the scene. Each needs a different machine with different capabilities.

€œDell workstations provide us the range and can individually meet the needs of the departments in the production workflow,€ he said.

Dell€™s biggest competitors in the workstation space, particularly mobile workstations, are HP and Lenovo, but Dell thinks it offers several differentiators from its competitors with the new models, said Efrain Rovira, executive director of the Dell Precision workstation division.

€œOn the HP differentiators, we can start with weight and battery life, two things that really matter to mobile users more than anything else,€ Rovira said. As for Lenovo, he added that it only offers AMD GPUs on its workstations while Dell offers Nvidia GPUs as well.

Rovira also highlighted another feature in the new mobile workstations, an €œejectable primary hard drive€ that can be easily removed from the workstation. He said a worker may want to save his work and switch the drive from the mobile workstation to a desktop workstation. He also cited the example of a military combat unit in a battlefield situation, which may have to evacuate its position, but doesn€™t want to leave behind sensitive information that would fall into the enemy€™s hands.

Dell has closed the gap with other workstation vendors and offers competitive new features with these new models, said Lloyd Cohen, director of worldwide market analysis for IDC and an expert in the workstation market.

€œAt the end of the day, users want ease of use, security and the fact that it€™s a solid-state drive in these units and that they can be taken out is good,€ Cohen said, but added that Dell has been struggling against its competitors, chiefly HP and Lenovo.

€œTheir challenge is just being able to sell more,€ he said. €œSo [the new models] open a lot of doors for them. They just have to execute.€