Pretty damn close to top of the line

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/12/14 08:56 -05:00, original URI:

Anyway, it wasn't too long ago that I got that dream laptop, a Dell Precision M90.

They kind of screwed up the order a bit (it came installed with the x86 version of Windows XP SP2 when I had ordered the 64-bit version, and the folks in support did not realize it actually was a 64-bit system until I found a really helpful person who went up to the Intel site and looked at the CPU specs in question and realized that it was indeed 64-bit hardware.

But I told them I worked for MS so I could get the OS, I just wanted it marked in their records that I was using 64-bit Windows, which he did, so now all is good. The only 64-bit driver I couldn't find on the Dell site was for the Synaptics touchpad (which I found on the Synaptics site) and the modem (which I couldn't find anywhere). But it has been so many years since I've used a modem that I decided I didn't mind. :-)

I did have to borrow a USB thumb drive from Shelby to get the NIC driver on the machine, but that was probably the only hard part about it.

The system is marked Windows Vista capable, so after installing Windows 2003 64-bit in a nice snug 15gb partition on the 100gb 7200 RPM drive, I installed 64-bit Vista on the partition made up of the remaining space.

One amazing part about the setup was that it ran so fast on this clean install that it took more time to run the rating of my system performance than the actual installation. :-)

And then another amazing part was that all of the drivers that I had to install manually before were there on the CD when I installed Vista (with the exception of the Synaptics Touchpad driver which I once again got off the Synaptics site and the modem driver, which I still didn't need anyway).

After it took so long to run that "checking my performance" step I figured I should look and see what it decided. So looking at that basic info page:

And when I clicked on that Windows Experience Index link:

Now looking at Nick White's post with the in-depth look at the Windows Experience Index, the machine is somewhere between the high end of desktop replacement laptops and top end of the market PCs. Which kind of makes sense. :-)

Maybe an AMD dual proc would have done better than that Intel Centrino dual core (had that been an option, which it wasn't), and I guess the memory is at the bottom of the top (had it been faster it would have pushed me to a 5.0 score), but it still does really well. And Vista does scream on the machine; performance is excellent and Vista is looking really good, too. I don't think there is anything I can do to improve either the memory test or the processor test, and I couldn't find a faster hard drive at the moment, so I think this is going to be my score for now....

Now in both Server 2003 and in Vista, that whole limitation around not being able to see 4gb is still there (as you can see above with the latest BIOS update it got me up to seeing 3326mb). But those devices look to be making use of that memory so I won't quibble.

And test installs of 64-bit keyboards are also looking good, which I admit has nothing to do with the machine's performance (but it has something to do with mine if you want a hint at one of the things the machine is doing at this very moment!).

I also have all of the Vista MUI language packs and LIPs installed and will keep installing them; you may see a screenshot from time to time here when it makes sense, like for some posts about MUI that are coming up soon....

As a small side complaint, the D-Bay port is on the back of the machine instead of the side, an unfortunate regression from the Latitude D800 series when having that port on the side gives one an extra port when docked (since it is on the back the port is blocked when the machine is in the docking station, so you have to get by with the one port on the docking station itself). But I guess the folks who plan out the actual laptop hardwre architecture don't get too bogged down by that sort of detail!). But this is a minor issue on a machine that doesn't have a huge need for extra peripherals in the D-Bay anyway....

So anyhow, if you are looking for a top of the line machine that can run Vista, this is a choice I would highly recommend. By the time they train their support folks to realize that Intel has 64 bit hardware, they fix the website, and 64-bit Vista is officially being released on this machine, they may even have the modem driver thing figured out. :-)


This post brought to you by D (U+0044, a.k.a. LATIN CAPITAL LETTER D)

# Mihai on 14 Dec 2006 12:40 PM:

<<have all of the Vista MUI language packs and LIPs installed>>

Any idea when some of these will make it to MSDN?


# Nick Lamb on 14 Dec 2006 2:21 PM:

"Now in both Server 2003 and in Vista, that whole limitation around not being able to see 4gb is still there (as you can see above with the latest BIOS update it got me up to seeing 3326mb). But those devices look to be making use of that memory so I won't quibble."

You linked Raymond's explanation of why you need PAE to access 4GB of RAM in a 32-bit x86 OS and it will show much less than 4GB without PAE, but that's not the situation with your laptop. The operating system and CPU in your M90 is quite capable of addressing a larger physical address space (36-bit iirc) but it looks like Dell have cut corners on the board design.

This is actually pretty common, and Dell are nice enough to tell you about it before you buy the computer unlike some cheaper manufacturers. The ACPI configuration can be tweaked a bit to access slightly more RAM, but most of it can't be accessed from software at all. So it looks like about 15% of the RAM you (or Microsoft?) paid for will sit idle.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 14 Dec 2006 3:18 PM:

Since of the 10 people I talked to there, only one knew that it was actuallly a 64-bit machine, it is clear that there is a lack of expertise here.

FWIW I didn't need  PAE to get where I got to, but would have on 32-bit (as Raymond indicated), and it looked like Dell did all this in their install, too. Which is a step in the right direction.

Maybe if they had two 4gb modules instead of two 2gb ones, I'd be able to see 7336gb of memory? :-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 14 Dec 2006 3:19 PM:

Hello Mihai,

I am not sure about dates exactly (plus I am installing interim builds for some of them, and updating as newer ones are released).

I'll let you know if I hear something, though! :-)

# Dean Harding on 14 Dec 2006 4:48 PM:

> Maybe an AMD dual proc would have done better than that Intel Centrino dual core

It's pretty lame that Dell don't sell AMD. We've switched to HP as our main supplier because of that...

# Timur Safin on 14 Dec 2006 5:46 PM:

>> Maybe if they had two 4gb modules instead of two 2gb ones, I'd be able to see 7336gb of memory? :-)

Nah! It would see the same 3.25GB. And you can't get higher - it's chipset (945 * Express) limitations. It won't give you more than 4GB, even if BIOS would correctly recognise the new memory modules.

BTW, to my surprise there is this limitation mentioned in the M90 specs - _

# Rosyna on 15 Dec 2006 7:25 PM:

The Dell page says 4GB twice and then in small type says, " 4 The total amount of available memory will be less than 4GB. The amount less depends on the actual system configuration. To fully utilize 4GB or more of memory requires a 64-bit enabled processor and 64-bit OS."

Which isn't true. the 945 Chipset itself is 32-bit. And it uses the same 32-bit address space to map PCI-E devices. So that chunk that is missing is due to the chipset reserving those chunks for hardware.  Intel's huge PDF on the 945 chipset has more information on the limitation. but it's about 200 pages of info.

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referenced by

2009/07/24 Pretty damn closer to top of the line

2008/05/15 Install Vista SP1 and get 674 MB of memory, free!

2007/11/20 Install your language packs like you put on your socks -- ONE AT A TIME!

2007/07/27 A tiny bit closer to the top of the line

2007/05/11 Cyrillic looks so spacy when viewed from some parts of East Asia....

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