Some mobile workstations stretch the definition of “portable.” Take the Dell Precision 7730 (models start at $1,463), a hefty 17-inch workstation-laptop dynamo for professionals in fields like engineering, graphic design, high-end data modeling, and virtual-reality content creation. Dell offers a very wide array of configurations, but our $5,534 tester maxes out the category, posting higher scores than the competition across the board. The build quality and feature set are straightforward, and not every model will be as fast as this tip-top version. But its 4K display, Core i9 CPU, monster Quadro GPU, 32GB of memory, and whip-fast twin SSDs make for a near-ideal pro-machine loadout. The Dell Precision 5530 is only a little less speedy, so it retains our Editors’ Choice for its superior portability and nicer screen, but you want to go big, this is a very compelling alternative.
Big Business Basics
With just one glance, you can tell the Dell Precision 7730 means business, in the literal and figurative senses. The styling is a match for serious professional users, and its intimidating size makes it safe to assume it’s packed with power and the thermal hardware needed to keep it in check. The screen measures 17 inches on the diagonal, while the laptop itself is a chunky 1.18 by 16.3 by 10.77 inches (HWD) and 7.49 pounds. It’s not as large as some of the beastly 17-inch gaming laptops out there, but it’s sizable for any laptop. That said, the competing HP ZBook 17 G4 is even larger, at 1.3 by 16.5 by 11 inches, though at 6.9 pounds, it’ll weigh you down less.
As such, the Precision 7730 is best suited to staying put on your desk as your workhorse desktop replacement, but it’s not heavy enough to prohibit you from carrying around your office between meetings if need be. Still, it’s not exactly a laptop you’d look forward to hauling home on your commute or lugging along for a trip. It takes up most of any normal-size bag, and its weight wears on your arm rather quickly. It’s technically a mobile workstation, yes, but the emphasis is clearly on the workstation. Its little brother, the Precision 5530, is a much more appealing option for folks who will need to travel with their machine, at 0.66 by 14.1 by 9.3 inches and just 3.93 pounds.
The good news, though, is that this big build is fairly high quality and very sturdy. The chassis is black plastic, with a carbon-fiber finish on the lid for a premium touch. The design is very simple, and there isn’t anything unique about the build. Silver trim around the edge of the keyboard deck provides some style, but everything else is, well, a bit plain. The Precision 5530 is overall more attractive, with its carbon-fiber keyboard deck and lean bezels (more on that in a moment).
The Precision 7730 passed MIL-STD 810G testing, meaning it can survive drops and shocks, and is resistant to humidity, dust, temperature, and vibration. Since this system isn’t too portable, it probably won’t be your go-to tool for the field, but if it does end up in a hazardous environment or used in an industrial setting with airborne particles or rumbling machinery, it can take a (reasonable) amount of abuse.
The very high-end unit I tested was equipped with the 17-inch Dell Ultrasharp display option. That panel bears a 4K resolution (3,840 by 2,160 pixels) and IGZO technology. IGZO, for indium gallium zinc oxide, is a seldom-seen alternative to IPS-style screens, offering the same near-limitless off-center viewing angles and strong contrast and color performance.
The native 4K is more the decision point here. That resolution could be very handy for professionals operating in multiple programs, with more digital screen real estate available for several windows. Additionally, it could be essential to those doing video, photo, or 3D editing of media at 4K. Everyone else will want to weigh how much they need it, since the inclusion of the 4K IGZO screen bumps up the price by $182 from the base model. The display is bordered by fairly thick bezels, unlike the slim design of the Precision 5530, making it feel a bit less modern. The screen quality itself is also good, not amazing, while the Precision 5530’s 4K display was a real head-turner.
Speaking of models, you have at your disposal many ways to configure this laptop, display included. In addition to the 4K screen, the test unit I have on hand includes some parts I alluded to earlier: an Intel Core i9-8950HK processor, 32GB of memory, an Nvidia Quadro P5200 GPU, and two 512GB M.2 solid-state drives (SSDs) in a RAID 0 array. There are eight panel options ranging from a low-grade 1,600-by-900-pixel resolution TN screen to a Dell Ultrasharp full HD (1080p) IPS display at the midrange, with our 4K unit at the crest of the line.
There are also seven processor options, from an Intel Core i5 chip up to a Core Xeon (with a $611 price difference between the two). There are multiple RAM options, starting at 8GB and going up to 128GB (a whopping $2,084 jump), as well as several Nvidia and AMD graphics options. There are even more options on the site when ordering, but needless to say, it’s a highly configurable system for your needs and budget.
The Precision 7730’s keyboard is comfortable, with a Lenovo ThinkPad-like typing experience. It doesn’t quite match its key competitor’s feel, but it exhibits more feedback and travel than your average keyboard, and it should make long typing sessions bearable. It even includes a little TrackPoint-style cursor pointer nestled within the G, H, and B keys, for those who have grown accustomed to using one on a ThinkPad or other pointing-stick-equipped laptop.
The system’s audio is also well above average. The speakers can crank up quite loud, and they deliver more bass than I typically see from laptop hardware, especially anything in the business or professional sphere. Whether you need high-quality audio for work or just want the option of playing music from system speakers while you design, the 7730 can provide.
As you’d hope and expect from a workstation, the Precision 7730 doesn’t skimp on ports. The chassis is outfitted with two USB Type-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3, as well as three USB 3.1 Type-A ports, an SD card reader, HDMI and mini DisplayPort outputs, an Ethernet jack, and a headphone jack. Our unit also includes fingerprint and SmartCard readers for secure sign-ins. Between these, you have options for nearly every peripheral and display-output scenario, especially given the daisy-chaining capability of Thunderbolt 3.
Unparalleled Professional Power
I’m not going to beat around the bush: As configured, the Precision 7730 is one of the fastest laptops we’ve ever tested, period. Obviously, not every Precision 7730 unit sold is going to have the same extreme loadout as our high-end model here, but you’re certainly getting your money’s worth in terms of performance if you do pay big.
For starters: PCMark 8. Higher native screen resolutions result in lower scores on PCMark 8’s Work Conventional test, since they’re more demanding to run, but even considering that, the Precision 7730 posted a strong result.
That points to high aptitude at everyday multitasking, though yes, that should be a given for such an expensive machine. The multimedia tests are a better measure of its true power, as they really stress the processor with multi-threaded tasks. Cinebench, in particular, is a good measuring stick, and the Precision 7730 scored higher than any other laptop we’ve tested. It beat the HP’s ZBook 17 G4, Dell’s Precision 5530, the Lenovo ThinkPad P52s, and even the high-end Alienware 17 R5 gaming laptop on each one of these tests.
Of course, we run those tests on every machine, but workstations deserve some deeper analysis. As performance–centric machines, it’s worth drilling down further by testing the types of super-demanding tasks that professionals use this class of computers for.
To that end, I also ran the workstation tests POV-Ray 3.7, SPECviewperf 13, and Cinebench R15 OpenGL (a different test within the Cinebench utility than the first), where the 7730 and its Core i9/Quadro combo again topped our charts among mobile workstations we have tested. Our pool of results is not as large for these benchmarks, especially for SPECviewperf 13. This test, which renders and rotates solid and wireframe models, recently shuttered version 12 and released version 13, making past results from SPECviewperf 12 non-comparable. In SPECviewperf 13, though, it did beat the Precision 5530 and the Lenovo ThinkPad P52s. (I ran the test using the Creo, Maya, and Solidworks viewsets, to approximate the kinds of applications that this machine would be subjected to.)
Now, of course, gaming is not the point of the Precision 7730, unless perhaps you’re a game developer or a VR content-creation expert. Still, thanks to its brutally powerful Nvidia Quadro GPU, this machine is no slouch on our more conventional gaming and 3D tests, unlike so many non-gaming/business-focused laptops. The Quadro P5200 is Nvidia’s highest-end current mobile-workstation GPU, packing a mean 16GB of GDDR5 memory and a 256-bit memory interface. The Precision 7730 was again toward the top of all of our historical results. The 3DMark scores are quite high for a laptop, leading the way for this class of machine, and it scored well on the gaming simulations Heaven and Valley, too. On the 3D/gaming front, the Quadro P5200 paced just behind the overclocked GeForce GTX 1080 in the Alienware machine, which is the fastest graphics solution in town on the consumer side of things.
One place the Precision 7730 falters compared to the smaller Precision 5530 is battery life. The 7730 ran for just 3 hours and 50 minutes (3:50) on our rundown test, while the 5530 endured much longer, 11:06. The HP ZBook 17 G4 was much closer to the 7730 at just 4:35, but at the end of the day, this powerful system and its 4K display simply won’t last all that long off the plug. That’s not at odds with its overall lack of portability, but it would be nice to take it into a long meeting or use it at an airport without needing to whip out the charger. But given the 4K screen, the top-end, 150-watt-TDP Quadro silicon, and the Core i9, that’s just not meant to be.
The Ultimate Pro Tool…for a Price
The Precision 7730 is far from the most portable or longest-lasting laptop, but it is one of the fastest you can buy. Our costly configuration may not be the norm (though, for professional work, it’s far from an outlier), but its speed is a testament to what laptop makers can do if components and the money for them are no object.
If you don’t need category-topping performance, you can find many less expensive ways to configure this laptop and still get speedy components. The build itself isn’t anything special, but it’s sturdy and has the thermals to keep things running smoothly. The much more portable (and still extremely fast) Precision 5530 retains our Editors’ Choice, but the Precision 7730 is up there with the HP ZBook 17 G4 as one of the best 17-inch options among high-end mobile workstations.