A Dell 4K laptop with Linux: Tough construction and built for developers.

by on March 26, 2015

Stephan Jukic – March 26, 2015

Two years after the unveiling of its predecessor, the Dell M3800 Developers Edition aluminum-backed laptop for programmers is now here, and while it has improved in a number of interesting ways that include a new 4K ultra HD screen, it’s still a laptop that doesn’t come with the light, airy body of other brand models. Then again, this isn’t a gaming 4k laptop, it’s built with programming in mind.

That said, the M3800 from Dell is packing some very interesting specs and one of these in particular stands out as far as this site is concerned. While the entry level model of the laptop packs a slightly above standard 1920 x 1080 Full HD 15.6 inch screen with UltraSharp FHD Touch multitouch technology and a pixel density of 141 ppi, there is also a top spec 4K ultra HD version of the M3800 which comes with a full-blown 3840 x 2160 pixel 4K screen with the same size and touchscreen technology but with a much denser PPI of 282.

On top of this supercharged 4K screen being offered with the Dell laptop for developers, there is also an Ubuntu 14.04 LTS operating system, a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-4712HQ processor and the dual options of an 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM for the HD model and a 16GB 1600MHz DDR3 for the 4K model of the M3800.

Additionally, the 4K model also offers a Nvidia Quadro K1100M 2GB GDDR5 video card and some excellent connectivity (especially for 4K uses) thanks to its HDMI 2.0 ports with Thunderbolt, a mini DisplayPort connection and 2 USB 3.0 ports with PowerShare features.

Of course, all of this isn’t cheap either. The overall cost of the 4K model is just over $2,800 USD but in exchange for that price tag, this is indeed a solid laptop with a good pedigree thanks to the quality of its predecessor. And this is a big piece of hardware considering that it’s just a laptop. The M3800 weighs 4.1 pounds and measures 14.65” x 10” x 0.71” inches (W X D X H). Aside from these hefty dimensions, the M3800 also feels solid with its aluminum top shell, glass fronted 10-point touchscreen and its real carbon fiber bottom shell.

In other words, this is a utilitarian machine designed to haul code and process data, not to look light and airy.

Finally, the display of the M3800 is very nicely bright. It has been measured by Ars Technica at 348 nits with maximum brightness and according to Dell, it covers more than 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut and 72 percent of Adobe’s own RGB. This makes for a sharp and rather pretty screen even if you’re using this laptop for regular daily activities instead of something technically engaging. Furthermore, the viewing angles are something that Dell really got right in this machine and there is virtually no distortion and color degeneration even at extreme off viewing angles.

Finally, we should also cover how the 4K screen on this little beast of a laptop works, especially when being used with Ubuntu and the internal hardware of the M3800.

The Dell M3800 Developers Edition comes with a very touch outer shell of aluminum and carbon fiber

The Dell M3800 Developers Edition comes with a very touch outer shell of aluminum and carbon fiber

Dell already has experience with 4K technology given its other notebooks and its 4K and even 5K monitors. Here, they used that expertise well and the problems this machine does have are rather minor. The Nvidia GPU in particular does a great job of 4K compatibility thanks to an active collaborative effort between Dell and the chip-maker. As for the Ubuntu 14.04 OS, it also seems to have no problems with the 4K screen resolution on the top-shelf version of the M3800. The OS manages its own DPI scaling for the sake of maintaining readability and all key OS features and apps display correctly and at the right scale.

However, there are a few glitches to be found and many of these revolve around third party applications that haven’t been prepped so well for 5 times the pixels of Full HD. One notable example seems to be the default Chromium web browser, which scales very badly with the high-DPI of 4K resolution. Overall though, even these apps can be tweaked and adjusted to manage the UHD screen and failing that, they can usually be replaced with something more 4K friendly.

In general terms, this isn’t nearly as elegant a laptop as some 4K models out on sale right now, but it performs solidly and the heavy-duty look can even be considered a bonus thanks to the firm construction that backs it up.

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