Dell Precision 7740 review: A weighty 17-inch mobile workstation that packs a punch

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  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent

Pros

  • Powerful CPU and GPU options
  • Bright, sharp 4K display
  • Good connectivity
  • Quiet, efficient cooling system

Cons

  • Weighs just over 3kg
  • Build-to-order options can be expensive
  • Poor battery life

The emphasis with laptop design in recent years has focused very much on mobility, first with slimline ultrabooks and then lightweight tablets and convertibles such as Microsoft's Surface Pro range. However, larger laptops seem to be making something of a comeback, for example with the recent introduction of a 16-inch MacBook Pro from Apple. Now Dell has updated its Precision Mobile Workstation range with new 17-inch models that are very much designed for demanding applications such as VR and AI.

Inevitably, of course, a larger display means an increase in weight, and a 17-inch laptop like this isn't designed to travel around in a backpack or be carried to a coffee shop. But if you need a powerful laptop that can provide true workstation levels of performance while still being portable enough to move from one office location to another, then the Precision 7740 Mobile Workstation has a lot to offer.

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The 17-inch Precision 7740 Mobile Workstation starts at £1,552 (ex. VAT, or $1,469) for a Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and integrated graphics. We reviewed a Core i9 model with 32GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, discrete Nvidia Quadro RTX graphics and a 4K display, which costs £3,294.71 (ex. VAT).

Images: Dell

Design: size & weight

The stand-out feature of the Precision 7740 is its imposing 17.3-inch display. Dell's UK website provides build-to-order options with 1600-by-900 and 1920-by-1080 resolution, although our review unit boasted a full 4K display with 3840-by-2160 resolution (254.57dpi). The image quality is clear, sharp and extremely bright -- to the point where some colours actually seem a little over-saturated. 

Dell claims that this 4K display supports 100% of the Adobe RGB colour space, so it should be suitable for a wide range of design and graphics tasks -- although not, perhaps, for professional-level video-editing, which requires support for the DCI-P3 standard used in the film and broadcasting industries. It's also worth noting that the lower-resolution display options that are available do not support the full Adobe gamut, and Dell seems to assume that those less expensive configurations will be used with an external monitor in an office.

And it does seem likely that the Precision 7740 will mostly be used in an office environment. It measures 414.2mm wide by 273.7mm deep by 25.3mm thick, and weighs in at a hefty 3.08kg. That's actually 0.1kg less than its predecessors in the Precision range, but still far more than the 2.0kg of Apple's 16-inch MacBook Pro. Still, it's clear that this laptop really belongs on a desktop in an office rather than sitting on your lap in a coffee shop, or being used in outdoor locations.

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The full-size backlit keyboard has a separate number pad and a pointing stick (trackpoint), as well as the customary trackpad.

Image: Dell

Features & connectivity

The size of the laptop does have its advantages though, not least of which is a full-size keyboard with separate numeric keypad. The keyboard panel is very firm and comfortable to use when typing at speed, and there's a fingerprint sensor in one corner for additional security. The trackpad has three separate and satisfyingly clickable mouse buttons, but the Precision 7740 also includes a trackpoint situated on the keyboard itself, along with three additional mouse buttons immediately below the Space bar. The trackpoint could come in handy should you ever need to use the Precision 7740 in cramped spots such as an airplane seat.

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It's well connected too, with three USB 3.1 ports, two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort for external monitors, a 3.5mm headphone jack and an SD card reader. There's an RJ-45 Ethernet port for wired networks, and the Precision 7740 is also one of the first laptops we've seen that includes Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) wireless networking. It's straightforward to repair and upgrade too, with easy access to the battery, internal drives and other components (full instructions are included in the 100-page service guide).

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The Precision 7740's internal components are easily accessible via removable panels in the base.

Image: Dell

Pricing & options

The Precision Mobile Workstation range includes both 15-inch and 17-inch models, with a couple of older 17-inch models still available (and recognisable by their black chassis). The Precision 7740 sports a new design, though, with grey panels for the keyboard and screen, finished off with silvery aluminium trim around the edges. It's also slightly lighter than its predecessors, and boosts performance with newer 9th generation Intel processors.

Dell's UK website offers two standard configurations for the Precision 7740, with prices starting at £1,552.06 (ex. VAT; £1,862.47 inc. VAT, or $1,469) for an entry-level model equipped with a quad-core Core i5-9400H processor running at 2.5GHz (up to 4.3GHz with TurboBoost), a modest 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm. This model has no discrete GPU, but relies on the integrated UHD Graphics 630 of the Intel processor, while its display offers just 1600-by-900 resolution. 

The second standard configuration is a mid-range spec costing £2,139 (ex. VAT; £2,566.80 inc. VAT, or $2,736). It has a six-core Core i7-9850H processor running at 2.6GHz (up to 4.6GHz with TurboBoost), along with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB solid-state drive and a discrete Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 graphics card. 

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)

To configure a more powerful system you need to go back to the entry-level Core i5 model and then choose from a wide range of 'build your own' options, including eight-core Core i9 and Xeon processors, GPU upgrades from Nvidia and AMD, and both 1080p and 4K display options. You can even ditch Windows 10 and choose Ubuntu as the preinstalled operating system instead. 

We tested one of these 'build your own' configurations, equipped with an eight-core Core i9-9980HK processor running at 2.4GHz (5GHz with TurboBoost), 32GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe solid-state drive. This model also included a 4K display (3840 x 2160 resolution, 254.67dpi), driven by an Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 with 6GB of dedicated video RAM, which brings the total price to £3,294.71 (ex. VAT; £3,953.65 inc. VAT). The US equivalent uses a slightly more modest Core i9-9880H processor running at 2.3GHz (4.8GHz with TurboBoost), but is otherwise similar and costs $3,668.60.

If you want, you can configure up to 128GB of RAM and 8TB of storage (4x 2TB drives), but be prepared for some (very) serious outlay for these options.

Performance

The Precision 7740 needs to deliver serious performance in order to justify its heavyweight design and premium price, and it doesn't disappoint on that score. 

Processor performance is predictable enough, with its 2.4GHz CPU achieving Geekbench 4 scores of 5,738 and 27,793 for single-core and multi-core performance. Those scores are very similar to the 2.3GHz processor used in Apple's slimmer and lighter 16-inch MacBook Pro, but it's on graphics performance that the Precision 7740 really stands out. The Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 GPU achieves impressive scores of 205fps when running the Cinebench R15 graphics tests, and 73fps on the more demanding Unigine Valley benchmark. Those scores are far stronger than the MacBook Pro's 145fps and 48.5fps respectively, so for many users the Precision 7740's sheer performance will be the deciding factor.

We were also pleased to note that the Precision 7740 ran cool and quiet even when running demanding graphics applications. The only real disappointment is battery life as, even when switching to the Precision's integrated GPU, the laptop could only manage 3 hours and 10 minutes of streaming video from its 6-cell 97Wh battery. Even so, this laptop's size and weight mean that it's primarily designed for use as a desktop replacement system, and isn't likely to stray too far from a mains power supply in everyday use.

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Two unobtrusive fans and plenty of vents help the Precision 7740 to run cool and quiet.

Image: Dell

Conclusions

If you're looking for a lightweight laptop to use on the move, look elsewhere. But if graphics performance is your top priority then Dell's Precision 7740 is one of the most powerful mobile workstations we've seen. Although its weight and battery life do leave room for improvement, this is primarily a desktop replacement system for high-end graphics, VR and AI applications.

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