Review: The Dell Precision 7530 Mobile Workstation
Michael Alba posted on May 02, 2019 |
The Dell Precision 7530 mobile workstation. (Image courtesy of Dell.)
The Dell Precision 7530 mobile workstation. (Image courtesy of Dell.)

The Dell Precision 7530 is among the top tier of Dell’s Precision lineup of mobile workstations. This lineup includes the 3000 models, which target price; the 5000 models, which target portability; and the 7000 models, which target performance. The 15.6-in Precision 7530 is in that latter category, catering to professional user needs. We got our hands on the Precision 7530 to see how well it delivers on that promise.

Breaking Down the Precision 7530

(Image courtesy of Dell.)
(Image courtesy of Dell.)

The first thing we noticed about the Precision 7530 is its bulk. It’s a hefty device, coming in at 5.57 pounds and ranging between 25 and 30mm in thickness, so it’s on the bulkier side of mobile workstations in the 15-in display group. The 7530 is also quite standard in appearance. It lacks the thoughtful industrial design of competitors like the HP ZBook Studio.

On the plus side, the Precision 7530 is highly configurable and has excellent max specs. Here are all the processor options for the 7530 (asterisk denotes processors in our review unit):

  • CPU (Intel 8th Generation)
    • Xeon E-2186M(6 Core, 12MB Cache, 2.90GHz up to 4.80GHz Turbo, 45W, vPro)
    • *Core i9-8950HK(6 Core, 12MB Cache, 2.90GHz up to 4.80GHz Turbo, 45W)
    • Xeon E-2176M(6 Core, 12MB Cache, 2.70GHz up to 4.40GHz Turbo, 45W, vPro)
    • Core i7-8850H(6 Core, 9MB Cache, 2.60GHz up to 4.3GHz Turbo, 45W, vPro)
    • Core i7-8750H (6 Core, 9MB Cache, 2.20GHz up to 4.1GHz Turbo, 45W)
    • Core i5-8400H(4 Core, 8MB Cache, 2.50GHz up to 4.2GHz Turbo, 45W, vPro)
    • Core i5-8300H (4 Core, 8MB Cache, 2.30GHz up to 4.0GHz Turbo, 45W)
  • GPU
    • *NVIDIA Quadro P3200 (6GB GDDR5)
    • NVIDIA Quadro P2000 (4GB GDDR5)
    • NVIDIA Quadro P1000 (4GB GDDR5)
    • AMD Radeon Pro WX 4150(4GB GDDR5)

The 7530’s CPU options are as good as we’ve seen in any 15-in mobile workstation. But the GPU is where the 7530 surpasses the competition. Most 15-in mobile workstations cap off with the Quadro P2000, but the 7530 goes a step further to the Quadro P3200. The extra 2GB of VRAM in the P3200 is sure to be welcome for graphics power users.

For memory, you can configure the 7530 with anywhere from 8 to 64GB of error-correcting code (ECC) memory or 8 to 128GB non-ECC. For storage, there are three slots available: two for M.2 PCIe SSDs and one for a SATA HDD or third M.2 SSD. The M.2 SSDs range in capacity from 256GB to 2TB, and the SATA drive goes from 500GB to 2TB. That allows users to configure up to a total 6TB of SSD storage, 50 percent higher than the max 4TB available in other mobile workstations we’ve reviewed.

There’s a bountiful selection of I/O ports on the Precision 7530: 2x USB 3.1, 2x USB-C (Thunderbolt 3), an SD card reader, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI port, RJ45 Ethernet port, security lock slot, headphone jack and optional smartcard reader. You can also configure the 7530 with a contactless smartcard reader and fingerprint reader.

There are several display options for the Precision 7530. Though all displays are 15.6-in in size, they differ in terms of resolution and color accuracy. You can choose a 1920x1080 display with a 45 percent Adobe RGB color gamut, a 1920x1080 display with a 72 percent Adobe RGB color gamut and a 3840x2160 display with a 100 percent Adobe RGB color gamut. Most of these displays are touchless, but you can configure a touchscreen with the 1920x1080 72 percent display if you choose. We had the 4K display in our review unit, and it looked phenomenal. But having the option of a touchscreen would have been nice.

The price of the 7530 ranges from $1129 with the lowest spec options to $9343.57 with the highest. Our review unit, with the Core i9, Quadro P3200, 512GB storage, 32GB non-ECC memory, and 4K display, came in at $3680.63.

All told, the Precision 7530’s specs are at the top of its class. You won’t find many 15-in mobile workstations with the option of the Quadro P3200 GPU, 128GB memory and 6TB of storage. These blazing specs make the 7530 “Ready for VR” according to a Dell certification process that the company tells me is among the most stringent in the industry. If you need enough performance to handle VR applications, the 7530 should be more than up to task.

The Performance

Configured with the Core i9 and Quadro P3200, the Precision 7530 is a properly powerful machine. For the most part, it’s quick, responsive and capable of heavy compute and graphics tasks. There were some slight stutters when working with large assemblies in Fusion 360, but when we weren’t deliberately trying to push the laptop to its limits, its performance was reliably smooth.

Running the SPECviewperf 13 benchmark demonstrated the 7530’s exceptional capability in graphics processing. SPECviewperf runs 3D viewsets from different industries and CAD packages including CATIA, Creo, NX and SOLIDWORKS, and scores the computer on its graphics performance. Here’s how the Precision 7530 did:

These numbers are hard to parse until you compare them to another workstation. Here’s how the Precision 7530 stacks up to the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 with a Quadro P2000 and the HP ZBook Studio x360 with a Quadro P1000:

In general, the three Quadros rank in the order you would expect. The P3200 easily bests its weaker siblings, with Maya being the single exception. The Precision 7530 is the only one of the above laptops that even offers the P3200; the ThinkPad P1 and ZBook Studio x360 only go up to the P2000. If you need even more punch than that, you’ll have to jump to the 17-in versions of any of these devices, which can all be configured up to the Quadro P5200.

SPEC workstation 3 is another SPEC benchmark that gives a more holistic assessment of a workstation’s capabilities. This benchmark is split across seven industry segments: Media and Entertainment, Product Development, Life Sciences, Financial Services, Energy, General Operations and GPU Compute. Here are results for the Precision 7530, compared once more to the ThinkPad P1 and ZBook Studio x360:

The 7530 beats the competition once again, with another singular exception in the General Operations segment. The 7530’s Core i9 is neck and neck with the Xeon E-2186M and not much better than the Xeon 2176M, so I suspect the Quadro P3200 again gives the 7530 the edge here.

Finally, we ran the Passmark Performance Test benchmark, another test of a computer’s general performance. Here’s how the 7530 compares to the ThinkPad P1 and ZBook Studio x360:

This test is less favorable for the Precision 7530, which actually loses in three categories and only takes the top spot in two. In fact, out of the three laptops compared, the 7530 has the lowest overall Passmark Rating. Predictably, it takes the cake in 3D Graphics Mark and manages a close win in CPU Mark, but its 2D Graphics and Disk Mark ratings drag it down. Alongside the SPEC benchmarks, these results seem to suggest that the 7530 is optimized more closely for the needs of professional applications while the ThinkPad and ZBook are more balanced for general use.

One downside of the 7530 is its battery life. Even with our best efforts to save battery, with power saving mode on, screen brightness at 10 percent and minimal computing tasks, we could only keep the battery alive for four hours and 47 minutes. In more rigorous tests, with screen brightness at 100 percent, the battery optimized for best performance and consistent compute heavy tasks, we got just two hours and 35 minutes of power. Lastly, in tests of more typical use, with default settings and tasks such as web browsing, spreadsheeting, video streaming and light CAD modeling, we averaged three hours and 22 minutes.

All of our tests on the 7530’s battery life were conducted in Switchable Graphics mode, which automatically chooses between integrated and discrete graphics to balance performance and efficiency. While this is the default setting, users can choose to force the discrete GPU in the BIOS. If you’re all in for performance and don’t mind the tether of a charging cord, you’ll want to turn on that option.

Enabling Switchable Graphics in the 7530’s BIOS.
Enabling Switchable Graphics in the 7530’s BIOS.

Finally, we tested the 7530’s display to see if it lived up to its promise of 100 percent Adobe RGB coverage. The 7530 comes with an application called Dell PremiereColor, which allows users to adjust color settings such as gamut and color temperature. The largest gamut is one Dell calls “Vibrant,” which is slightly larger than Adobe RGB. For our display tests, we had the gamut set to Vibrant with all its default settings. Using the Spyder5ELITE colorimeter, we found that the Precision 7530’s 4K display comes very close to its promise but ultimately only hits 99 percent of both the Adobe RGB and sRGB color spaces.

The 7530’s display has great color accuracy, with an average Delta-E of 1.16 (mostly imperceptible to the human eye). However, despite the great color performance, the 7530’s display falls a bit behind in luminance, with an average of 226.7 nits at 100 percent screen brightness (the ThinkPad and ZBook average 344 and 382 nits, respectively). It’s not a huge problem. The screen feels perfectly bright under normal circumstances, but it’s dimmer than the competition. The 7530’s low luminance also results in a low contrast ratio of 730:1. To my not-particularly-discerning eye, the display looks great, nonetheless.

The 7530’s display also suffers from a lack of uniformity, as most displays do. The luminance, for example, differs by as much as 9 percent as you move around the screen, and the color accuracy differs by a Delta-E of up to 6.5. These deviations are to be expected and did not make a noticeable impact on my perception of the display.

Using the Precision 7530

As a mobile workstation, the Precision 7530 does a lot of things right. For example, the 7530 includes a numpad, which certain users love (myself included).Not every self-proclaimed mobile workstation goes this extra mile. In addition, the 7530 puts the function keys first on the keyboard’s top row, which is shared between classic function keys (F1 to F12) and system function keys (volume, keyboard backlight, etc.). Unlike many laptops, the 7530 defaults to the function keys. Users can swap the default at any time, but it’s a small nod to the power users who make frequent use of function shortcuts.

The 7530’s keyboard is excellent, with good travel and spacing, but the trackpad is underwhelming. If, like me, you use the trackpad often, you’ll find it doesn’t compare to the increasingly high standard found on many flagship laptops. It’s on the small side and provides just a smidge too much friction to be comfortable for long periods of use. To the 7530’s credit, it includes a pointing stick (that little rubber nub between the g and h keys) to give users another option for controlling the cursor, as well as three mouse buttons (left, right and middle), which come in handy for many professional applications. Regardless, you’ll probably want to carry around a proper mouse for use with the 7530.

The Precision 7530 includes an application called Dell Precision Optimizer that optimizes the computer’s performance based on what the user is doing. It comes loaded with 28 profiles for applications including 3ds Max, AutoCAD, CATIA, Creo, Inventor, NX, Revit and SOLIDWORKS, and adjusts the system on the fly to optimize performance for the active application.There’s also a paid version of the program called Dell Precision Optimizer Premium, which analyzes individual user behavior to create a custom optimization profile. We didn’t get a chance to test either version of Dell Precision Optimizer, but Dell reports successful feedback from its user base. At best, this is a feature that will show a marginal uptick in performance, and, at worst, users can simply ignore it.

Summary

(Image courtesy of Dell.)
(Image courtesy of Dell.)

The Dell Precision 7530 is among the most powerful in the 15-in class of mobile workstations. It leads the class in spec options, with a range of processors and excellent memory and storage options. A hearty selection of I/O ports completes the picture for a truly professional device. However, the 7530’s excellent specs come at the cost of a rather heavy and bulky device and underwhelming battery performance.

Pros

In the Middle

Cons

  • Leads the competition in max specs for GPU, memory and storage
  • Large selection of I/O ports
  • Great keyboard with a numpad
  • Run-of-the-mill design
  • Trackpad could be better
  • Dell Precision Optimizer may boost performance of certain applications
  • Limited battery life
  • Bulkier than competing laptops
  • Display dimmer than average with limited touch options

For our video review of the Dell Precision 7530, click here.

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