Epic battery life; Fast performance; Vivid display; Thin, light design; MIL-SPEC durable
Awkwardly placed webcam
The Dell Precision 5520 packs the power of a high-end workstation into the svelte and sexy body of a premium Ultrabook.
Dell’s XPS 15 is one of our favorite laptops, thanks to its luxurious carbon-fiber-and-aluminum chassis, its colorful InfinityEdge display and its powerful performance. But what if you want the benefits of Dell’s best consumer laptops, but need the power of a mobile workstation for professional 3D modeling, CAD or other intense tasks?
Enter the Dell Precision 5520 (starting at $1,399, tested at $2,659). It has the same chassis, screen and keyboard as the XPS 15, but packs the performance that a professional animator or engineer might need, including an optional 7th Generation Intel Xeon processor and Nvidia Quadro graphics. Add in excellent battery life, and the Dell Precision 5520 is the 15-inch workstation to beat.
The Precision 5520 has the same exact design as the company’s gorgeous XPS 15 consumer laptop. Under its machined aluminum lid sits a luxurious carbon-fiber body, complete with a patterned, soft-touch deck that feels great against your wrists as you type. A nearly bezel-free InfinityEdge display completes this premium look and feel.
Weighing 4.4 pounds and measuring 0.7 inches thick, the Dell Precision 5520 is lighter than the HP ZBook Studio G3 (4.6 pounds, 0.7 inches) and thinner than the Lenovo ThinkPad P50 (5.8 pounds, 1.2 inches). The nearly identical XPS 15 weighs 4.6 pounds and is the same thickness.
Dell placed the Precision’s Thunderbolt 3 port, headphone jack, HDMI port and first USB 3.0 port on the left side of the notebook. The laptop’s SD memory reader, second USB 3.0 port and security lock slot are on its right.
Security & Durability
Unlike its consumer counterpart, the Precision 5520 passed 14 tests for for MIL-SPEC durability, the standards that the U.S. Military equipment must pass for ruggedness. That means it can be operated in extremely hot and cold environments (as low as minus 20.2 degrees Fahrenheit to as high as 140 degrees), survive the shocks of drops and gusts of dusts, among other things. The ZBook Studio G3 and the ThinkPad P50 both also passed MIL-SPEC testing.
Dell offers its security features a la carte. Our model came with Intel’s vPro technology (a $19 upgrade) and you can add TPM encryption for $7. TPM comes standard on the ZBook Studio G3 and ThinkPad P50, while vPro is available only in certain models. However, both competitors offer an optional fingerprint reader for biometric login, while the Precision 5520 does not.
The Precision 5520’s 1920 x 1080 panel is bright, vivid and sharp. When I watched a scene from John Wick: Chapter 2 on the screen, I was impressed by the inky blackness of the night sky against the gleaming yellow taxis and the reds of the glowing tail lights. As the car chase finished, I could see plenty of detail in the dents of the busted car and its shattered windows.
According to our colorimeter, the Precision 5520’s Full-HD display renders 113 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That’s better than the mainstream-notebook average (94 percent), but the 4K panels on the ZBook Studio G3 (169 percent) and the ThinkPad P50 (183 percent) offer more color.
The Precision 5520’s screen is rather accurate, getting a 1.5 on the Delta-E test (where lower is better). That score beats those from the ZBook Studio G3 (2.4), the ThinkPad P50 (3.6), as well as the average (2.56).
This workstation emits up to 335 nits (a measurement of brightness), which is higher than the 241-nit ZBook Studio G3 and the 276-nit ThinkPad P50, as well as the 268-nit category average. That brightness enables solid viewing angles, as I could clearly see the car chase of the John Wick clip from 45 degrees to the left and right.
The Precision 5520 also comes with a 4K screen, which Dell says is the same exact panel it uses on the XPS 15. We tested an XPS 15 with this display and were blown away by its ability to produce 188 percent of the sRGB color gamut and accurate 1.4 Delta-E score. It produced a somewhat-dimmer 282 nits of brightness.
The Precision’s backlit keyboard offers a decent typing experience. I clicked my way to 75 words-per-minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is just south of my 80 wpm average. Its keys offer 1.4 millimeters of travel and require 58 grams of force to press, which is slightly below our minimum (1.5 – 2.0 mm, 60g). The ThinkPad P50’s keyboard, by comparison, offers a deep 2 mm of travel with 60 grams of force, and is a joy to use.
The Precision’s 4.1 x 3.1-inch buttonless touchpad offers smooth navigation and a solid feel to each click. It quickly accepted my three-finger app-switching gestures, and my two-finger scrolling registered without stutter.
The Precision 5520 blasts enough volume to fill our large conference room with its warm-sounding audio. When I tested it out with “Slide” by Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean and Migos, I heard strong bass and sweet synths, but slightly muddy vocals. I cleaned up its sound by opening the Waves MaxxAudio Pro sound-adjustment utility and turning the software knobs for Details and Width down to zero, which makes the track cooler and more neutral while retaining the bass.
The Precision 5520 configuration I tested is a multitasker’s dream machine, featuring a blazing-fast 3.0-GHz Intel Xeon E3-1505M v6 CPU and 32GB of RAM. I didn’t notice any latency when I split my screen between a streaming 1080p YouTube video and 15 Chrome tabs (including TweetDeck, Slack and Google Docs). It retained its speed and responsiveness when I added a Windows Defender full system scan, though its fans got a bit loud.
The Precision 5520’s Intel Xeon E3 v6 processor is designed to provide desktop workstation performance in a laptop. The speedy CPU enabled Dell’s laptop to earn a fantastic score of 15,437 on the Geekbench 3, which eclipses the scores from the v5 Xeon E3-1505M-powered ZBook Studio G3 (14,276), the ThinkPad P50 (13,378) and the average for mainstream notebooks (8,351).
The 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD in the Precision 5520 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 11 seconds for a speed of 462.7 MBps, which edges out the 512GB PCIe SSD in the ThinkPad P50 (457.1 MBps) and obliterates the 175.9 MBps average. However, the 512GB PCIe SSD in the ZBook Studio G3 (508.92 MBps) is slightly faster.
The Precision 5520 is a productivity powerhouse, finishing our OpenOffice test (matching 20,000 names to addresses) in 3 minutes and 8 seconds. That beats the times from the ZBook Studio G3 (3:23), the ThinkPad P50 (3:23) and the 4:18 category average.
Armed with an Nvidia Quadro M1200 GPU with 4GB of RAM, the Precision 5520 scored a towering 143,124 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test. That’s higher than the marks from the NVIDIA Quadro M1000M-based ZBook Studio G3 (117,745), the Nvidia Quadro M2000M-based ThinkPad P50 (120,890) and the 86,276 average for mainstream notebooks.
While the Precision 5520’s Xeon Processor and Quadro M1200 GPU make it ready for processor-intensive applications, such as AUTOCAD, it’s not enough for gaming. It achieved only 29 frames per second on our budget laptop benchmark (Rise of the Tomb Raider running with high presets and SMAA anti-aliasing at 1080p), a second shy of our smoothness standard.
You won’t need to take along the Precision 5520’s power cable for every single excursion. The workstation lasted an epic 11 hours and 57 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi).
It easily beat the ZBook Studio G3 (5:08), the ThinkPad P50 (8:25) and the mainstream average (6:54). The Dell XPS 15, which we tested with a more power-hungry 4K display, lasted for 8 hours and 23 minutes.
The Precision 5520’s 0.9-megapixel webcam is good enough, but awkwardly placed. When I used it to shoot selfies in our office, it captured the exact shade of the red wall in the foreground, as well as my gray-and-black sweater. As is usual on webcams, my skin, the sweater and the wall rendered with a grainy texture.
The thin bezel of the notebook’s InfinityEdge display prohibited Dell from placing the webcam on the top edge of the screen, so it’s found on the bottom side, to the left. This makes for awkward photos emphasizing my hands and looking up at me, showing the bottom of my nose. We’ve got a few tips for how to fix this problem.
The Precision workstation stays cool while you work. After we streamed 15 minutes of HD video on the notebook, our heat gun picked up a temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad (78 degrees), 83 degrees between the G&H keys and 87 degrees along the underside. All of these temps were well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Dell includes its standard system-management tools on the Precision 5520, as well as some extra pieces of software. Dell’s Command Update makes it easy to download the latest software and driver updates, Precision Optimizer allows IT workers to tune systems for improved performance and Power Manager maximizes battery life.
While we’re no longer surprised to see a PC running Candy Crush Soda Saga, that’s been preinstalled, the Precision 5520 also comes with the games Royal Revolt II and Minecraft Windows 10 edition. It also packs Houzz, an app for buying home furnishings and hiring home design professionals.
The entry-level, $1,399 Precision 5520 includes a 2.8-GHz Core i5-7440 CPU, 8GB of RAM, Intel HD Graphics, a 1920 x 1080-pixel display, a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive and a 3-cell (56Wh) battery.
Our test unit costs $2,659 and features a 3.0-GHz Intel Core Xeon E3-1505M v6 processor, an Nvidia Quadro M1200 GPU with 4GB of memory, 32GB of RAM, a M.2 PCIe 512GB SSD and a 6-cell (97 Wh) battery. It costs $299 to upgrade to a QHD 3840 x 2160-pixel touch screen.
Both beauty and the beast, the Dell Precision 5520 packs a vivid display and super-powerful processor into a slim and sexy chassis. Epic battery life is the cherry on top of this tasty cake. The only real knock against the notebook is the placement of its webcam, which leads to Skype calls where you’re making people look at your knuckles and up your nose.
The ThinkPad P50 has a better keyboard, but uses a last-gen processor and has 3 hours less battery life. If you want the best combination of mobile workstation power, portability and style, the Precision 5520 is a no-brainer.