The perfect workstation is powerful enough to emulate desktop performance and portable enough to be taken anywhere. The $1,868 Dell Precision 3510 (starting at $999) comes close to being that ideal machine, but it has weaknesses that may make you consider alternatives. It brings plenty of power, thanks to its quad-core CPU and AMD FirePro W5130M GPU. But it's heavier than some competing machines and hot enough that you won't want to use it on your lap, making it a strong desktop replacement that works best on your desk.
The Precision 3510 is a spartan monolith, a large hunk of black plastic that doesn't hint at all of the power that lies beneath it. The lid, which attracts a ton of fingerprints, is decorated with Dell's logo but is otherwise plain.
Opening the laptop reveals a 1080p touch screen and an island-style keyboard with a full number pad. The blue pointing stick on the keyboard is eye-catching in an otherwise monochromatic design.
At 5.7 pounds, the 14.6 x 9.9 x 0.1-inch Precision 3510 is on the heavy side of the 15-inch workstation spectrum. Both the 4.6-pound HP ZBook Studio G3 (14.8 x 10 x 0.7 inches) and the 4.5-pound Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (14.1 x 9.7 x 0.7 inches) are more than a pound lighter, while the 5.8-pound Lenovo ThinkPad P50 (14.8 x 9.9 x 1.2 inches) is just a bit heavier. The Dell Precision 5510 is smaller (14.1 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches) than the rest of the field and very portable, at 4.6 pounds.
Whether you're using old monitors or the latest peripherals, the Precision 3510 has all of the ports you'll need to get serious work done.
On the left side of the laptop are a smart card reader and a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3. The right side is where you'll find a security lock slot, two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot and a headphone/microphone jack. There's more on the back: an Ethernet jack, a VGA connector, a SIM card slot, HDMI output, another USB port and the power jack.
Durability and Security
While the Precision 3510 is likely to stay on your desk most of the time, it's built to take a few knocks in transit. Dell claims that the laptop is MIL-STD-810G tested, which means it should survive shocks, vibrations and extreme temperatures.
It also has some security features to protect your data, including vPro for remote management and TPM (Trusted Platform Module) for protecting biometric and sensitive data. A smart-card reader (an extra $7) and fingerprint reader (an extra $167, includes a Thunderbolt 3 port) are optional upgrades.
The 15.6-inch 1080p touch screen on the Precision 3510 is sharp, responsive, vivid and accurate. When I watched the trailer for Doctor Strange, I could make out every wrinkle and fold in the Ancient One's goldenrod cloak and the sparks in an interdimensional portal. Spells from the namesake sorcerer's hands appeared a bright, emerald green.
The panel on the Precision 3510 reproduces an excellent 115.7 percent of the sRGB color gamut. The desktop-replacement average is even higher, at 129 percent, and the ZBook Studio G3 (169 percent) and ThinkPad P50 (183 percent) amazed us with even more coverage. The MacBook Pro wasn't as vivid, showing off only 86 percent of the color gamut. Dell's Precision 5510 covered 177 percent of the gamut, making it one of the most vivid displays we've seen on a workstation or elsewhere.
The Precision 3510 had a Delta-E color accuracy score of 0.5 (zero is best). That's better than the 1.3 average and far better than the MacBook Pro (2.1), ZBook Studio G3 (2.4) and ThinkPad P50 (3.6).
You shouldn't have any trouble seeing the screen on the Precision 3510, thanks to its brightness of 299 nits. That's slightly higher than the 293-nit category average as well as the ZBook Studio's 241 nits and the ThinkPad P50's 276 nits. Both the MacBook Pro (303 nits) and the Precision 5510 (322 nits) outshone the Precision 3510.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Pointing Stick
I found it tiring to type on the Precision 3510's keyboard. The keys felt a little stiff, even though they had a deep 2.2 millimeters of travel (better than the 1.5 to 2 mm we usually see on laptops), and required a solid 62 grams of actuation to press.
That didn't stop me from typing at my usual 110 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test. However, my error rate went from my usual 2 percent up to 4 percent, and I needed to rest my hands afterward.
The 3.9 x 2.1-inch trackpad on the 3510 is smooth and comfortable. It responded to simple navigation and Windows 10 gestures with ease. The 3510 also includes a pointing stick for those who want to move the mouse around without ever taking their fingers off of the home row.
The speakers on the Precision 3510 are good enough for all of your multimedia needs. When I listened to Green Day's "Last of the American Girls," the vocals, guitars and percussion were all very clear and loud enough to fill up our testing labs. The bass was audible, but it could have used a bit more oomph.
Dell includes its Audio app, which has a number of EQ presets. I recommend leaving it on the MaxxSense default, as the other settings didn't offer any improvement.
The Precision 3510 we reviewed came armed with a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ CPU, an AMD FirePro W5130M GPU with 2GB of VRAM, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe SSD. Those specs are more than good enough for multitasking -- I had 30 tabs open In Google Chrome (one of which was streaming 1080p video from YouTube) and didn't notice any lag whatsoever.
On Geekbench 3, a synthetic overall performance test, the Precision 3510 earned a score of 13,738. That's higher than the desktop-replacement average of 13,446 and the ThinkPad P50's 13,378 (2.8-GHz Intel Xeon E3-1505M), but the HP ZBook Studio G3 (2.8-GHz Intel Xeon E3-1505M) and the MacBook Pro (2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-4870HQ) had higher scores of 14,276 and 14,423, respectively, as did the Xeon-powered Precision 5510.
Thanks to its speedy PCIe-NVMe SSD, the Precision 3510 copied 4.97GB of mixed media files in 10 seconds flat, for a rate of 508.9 megabytes per second (the exact same rate as the ZBook Studio G3's 512GB SSD). Though very fast, that rate is actually less than the category average of 543.6 MBps. The ThinkPad P50's 513GB SSD was slower, with a speed of 457.1 MBps, while the 512GB SSDs in the Precision 5510 (565MBps) and MacBook Pro (636MBps) were speedier.
The Precision 3510 paired 20,000 names and addresses in our OpenOffice spreadsheet macro test in 3 minutes and 33 seconds. That's a few seconds faster than the 3:39 category average. Both the ZBook Studio G3 and the ThinkPad P50 completed the test in 3:23, while the MacBook Pro took 4:14.
The Precision 3510 has enough power for some gaming, too. It earned a score of 107,425 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited gaming benchmark -- that's less than the 122,291 category average, which includes a number of gaming notebooks. The ZBook Studio G3 and ThinkPad P50 hit 117,745 and 120,890, respectively.
Metro: Last Light ran at a playable 31 frames per second on low settings at 1080p, though it stuttered along at 6.6 fps on high settings. The ZBook G3 reached 59 fps on low and 14 fps on max, while the 5510 ran the game at 64 fps on the lower setting. The category average for Metro on the lowest settings is 104 frames per second, (though that does include a number of gaming laptops). Games that aren't as intensive, like Dota 2 and World of Warcraft, should run smoothly on the Precision 3510.
The Precision 3510 will last an entire workday and then some without being plugged in.
The workstation endured for 10 hours and 30 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That's 6 hours longer than the desktop-replacement average of 4:30. The MacBook Pro was the next best workstation, at 9:08, while the ThinkPad P50 endured for 8:25, the Precision 5510 lasted 5:34 and the ZBook Studio G3 survived for 5:08.
The 1080p webcam on the Precision 3510 is worthy of any video call, whether it's a quick Skype with grandma or a videoconference with a client. The webcam's colors are accurate, and caught the exact shade of blue in my eyes while capturing fine details such as the stitching on my shirt.
The Precision 3510 gets hot very quickly. On the Laptop Mag Heat Test, which involves streaming 15 minutes of HD video from Hulu, the bottom of the laptop nearest to the left vent reached 114 degrees Fahrenheit -- far hotter than our comfort threshold of 95 degrees. The center of the keyboard hit 95 degrees, and the touchpad reached a more comfortable 88 degrees. While I used the machine, the left side of the laptop got very hot and uncomfortable to touch or even place my hand next to (thanks to some very warm air coming out).
Software and Warranty
The Precision 3510 has a few useful utilities preinstalled, as well as a bit of bloatware. The junk is what you usually find in consumer builds of Windows 10, including Candy Crush Soda Saga, Twitter and Flipboard. Dell is light on its own software, which includes Command Power Manager for battery information and optimization, and Dell Digital Delivery to download software you ordered with your computer.
Dell sells the Precision 3510 with a three-year warranty on parts and labor; the company pays for return shipping. See how Dell did in our Best and Worst Brands rankings and Tech Support Showdown.
The $1,868 Dell Precision 3510 we tested came with a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ CPU, an AMD FirePro W5130M GPU with 2GB of VRAM, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, Thunderbolt 3, a smart card reader and a 1080p touch screen.
The $999 base model includes a Core i5-6300HQ CPU; an AMD FirePro W5130M GPU with 2GB of VRAM; 8GB of RAM; a 500GB, 7,200-rpm HDD; and a 1366 x 768 nontouch display. If you want USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3, you'll need to add either a smart card reader or a fingerprint reader ($55 or $167, respectively).
For $1,230, you can upgrade the base model with a Core i7-6700HQ CPU; a smart card reader; a 1TB, 5,400-rpm SSD; and a Thunderbolt 3 port. For $1,830, you can get an Intel Core Xeon E3-1505M v5 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
The Dell Precision 3510 is a powerful, capable workstation with a vivid display and a battery that will last through the workday. It's ideal for designers, architects and engineers who can deal with its bulk and heating issues.
If you want a better keyboard, consider the Lenovo ThinkPad P50 (starting at $839), but note that it suffers from a lackluster screen despite its 4K resolution. If you want something lighter and are willing to trade some power (and don't mind macOS), the Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display is the most portable of the bunch and has a blazing-fast SSD.
If you have a bit of extra money, you should buy the Dell Precision 5510, our current favorite workstation. The 5510 is lighter and better designed, and has an astonishing display, though its battery life is far shorter.
But if you're searching for a workstation that offers practicality, power and longevity, the Dell Precision 3510 should be at the top of your list -- as long as you stay away from its vent while it runs.