Dell Precision 3541 review: Budget mobile workstation with many hardware options, some issues

Dell's 3000 lineup of mobile workstations includes the Precision 3541, a 15-inch notebook available in budget configurations with average hardware, up to powerful models with Intel Xeon processors (CPU) and NVIDIA Quadro dedicated graphics (GPU). The Precision 3000 lineup isn't as thin and light or as powerful compared to the 5000 and 7000 models, but it's also considerably more affordable. I used the 3541 for a week to see what it's all about and whether or not it's worth being your next mobile workstation.

Dell Precision 3541 at a glance

Dell provided Windows Central with a review unit of the 15.6-inch Precision 3541 mobile workstation. This exact model includes a 9th Gen Intel Core i7-9750H CPU, 16GB of DDR4-2666MHz non-ECC RAM, 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe solid-state drive (SSD), and NVIDIA Quadro P620 dedicated GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 VRAM. It also includes a 15.6-inch non-touch display with 1920x1080 (FHD) resolution. Expect to pay about $1,874 (opens in new tab) for this review model with included Windows 10 Pro and 97Wh battery.

Models start at about $829 (opens in new tab) for a non-touch HD display, 9th Gen Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 500GB SATA hard-disk drive. This is a relatively cheap starting price, but these models are no doubt reserved for bulk Enterprise buys. If you're shopping for yourself, go with at least an FHD display, 8GB of RAM, and an M.2 PCIe SSD.

There are deep configuration options available for the Precision 3541, allowing you to get exactly what you need without having to overpay. If you're looking to get the most performance for design and development work, add an Intel Xeon E-2276M CPU with six cores, NVIDIA Quadro P620 GPU, 32GB of error-correcting code (ECC) RAM, and 2TB PCIe SSD coupled with a 2TB SATA HDD. With an Intel Wi-Fi 6 adapter, 97Wh battery, and Intel XMM 7360 LTE modem, you're looking at spending about $2,845 (opens in new tab).

Here are the exact specs found within the review unit of the Dell Precision 3541.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategorySpec
Display15.6 inches
1920x1080 (FHD)
Non-touch,
Processor9th Gen
Intel Core i7-9750H
Six cores, up to 4.5GHz
RAM16GB non-ECC
DDR4-2666MHz
Dual-channel
Storage512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD
Class 40
GraphicsNVIDIA Quadro P620
4GB GDDR5 VRAM
PortsThunderbolt 3
Three USB-A 3.1
HDMI
RJ45 Ethernet
microSD card reader
3.5mm audio
Wedge lock slot
SIM
KeyboardThree-stage backlight
TouchpadPrecision touchpad
AudioDual integrated
Camera720p front-facing
BiometricsFingerprint reader
IR camera
WirelessIntel Dual Band Wireless-AC 9560
802.11ac (2 x 2)
Bluetooth 5.0
Battery97Wh
Dimensions14.14 x 9.3 x 0.86 inches
(359.1mm x 236.2mm x 21.9mm)
Weight4.34 pounds (1.97kg)

What you'll love about the Dell Precision 3541

The Precision 3541 is made up of a carbon fiber polymer that helps keep the weight down, and there is an aluminum option if you'd like something a bit more robust. There's nothing exactly exciting about the design, but it's considerably lighter and has a smaller footprint than many other 15-inch workstations we've reviewed. It's a laptop made for professionals who are more interested in productivity than showing off.

The relatively chunky body has plenty of room for ports, with Thunderbolt 3, USB-A 3.1, and barrel charging port on the left side. The Thunderbolt 3 port can also be used for charging, and will work well with a docking station for increased connectivity. On the right side are another two USB-A 3.1, HDMI, Ethernet, 3.5mm audio, a microSD card reader, SIM slot, and wedge lock slot. Our review unit did not include an LTE modem, though one can be added for about $140 (opens in new tab).

Dual hinges allow the lid to open to 180 degrees with a smooth action. They're stiff enough to hold the display in place when moving around, yet you can open the laptop with one hand when it's sitting flat. To log in securely, you have the option of a fingerprint reader built into the power button or an IR camera. Both work promptly and accurately, and there's even a webcam shutter for the standard HD front-facing camera. I just wish the switch wasn't on the front directly next to the camera array where, when touched, leaves noticeable smudges. Bezel along the sides is quite thin, and the upper bezel and lower chin match in size for a slick look.

Dell offers a few display options, though they top out at 1920x1080 (FHD) and dip as low as 1366x768 (HD). For Enterprise buys the low-res screens make sense, but if you're buying for yourself, go with at least FHD. Our review unit has an FHD non-touch panel with a matte finish, and for the most part, it offers a great look. It gets bright enough to combat glare, and in my testing measures 99% sRGB and 77% AdobeRGB color reproduction. Other choices include touch or non-touch and level of color reproduction. Touch panels aren't nearly as colorful and suck up more battery power, while non-touch panels offer near-perfect sRGB and less power draw.

Dell's Precision 3541 offers deep customization options so you can get the performance you want without overspending.

Dual speakers are positioned toward the front of the bottom of the laptop, and they offer impressive sound. Top-mounted is always preferred, especially for a notebook, but even with the PC sitting in my lap, I got clear and crisp sound. Removing the bottom panel is pain-free, and you get access to M.2 SSD, 2.5-inch SATA storage, dual RAM slots, and Wi-Fi and LTE cards for future upgrades after purchase. You can get up to 32GB of ECC RAM, 2TB M.2 SSD, and 2TB SATA HDD straight from the factory, so you can equip a powerful machine that won't need DIY upgrades if you're not comfortable with the process.

An enormous 97Wh battery, which is the height of what Dell offers, takes up about half of the space inside. Opting for the larger battery (97Wh compared to 51Wh) only costs about $50, and it's a worthwhile investment. With display brightness at about 50% and with a "Better performance" battery plan, the Precision 3541 carried on for more than 10 hours without needing a charge. Keep in mind a touch display, and specialized work would sap this number, but if you're not pushing the dedicated GPU, you should be able to easily leave your charger behind when you head out for the day.

Dell includes Independent Software Vendor (ISV) certification for popular design and development software, guaranteeing the laptop will work optimally for specialized work. There's also something called Dell Precision Optimizer (DPO) that recognizes when certain programs are running and specifically optimizes your PC. You can opt for up to a 9th Gen Intel Core i9-9880H vPro or Xeon E-2276M Xeon vPro CPU for awesome performance, though I'm unsure how well the laptop would do to keep things cool and unthrottled. I ran some synthetic benchmarks with the Core i7-9750H CPU and NVIDIA Quadro P620 GPU to get an idea of how well the Precision 3541 stacks up against other laptops we've reviewed.

CPU

Geekbench 5.0 Benchmarks (Higher is better)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Dell Precision 3541i7-9750H11174720

With updated Geekbench 5 test, the 9th Gen Core i7-9750H scores well. On the Geekbench 4 scale, this CPU hits a 4,599 single-core score and an 18,957 multi-core score.

PCMark

PCMark 10

Swipe to scroll horizontally
DeviceScore
Dell Precision 35413,906
HP Pavilion x360 143,558
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s3,468
Chuwi AeroBook2,140
Chuwi LapBook Plus961

GPU

Geekbench 5.0 OpenCL (higher is better)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
DeviceGPUCompute score
Dell Precision 3541NVIDIA Quadro P62012,469

On the Geekbench 4 scale, this GPU hits an OpenCL score of 53,577. To compare, something like the NVIDIA Quadro P2000 hits a GB4 OpenCL score of 76,554, and the NVIDIA Quadro P3200 available in Lenovo's ThinkPad P52 hits a GB4 score of 126,842. It's not the best option for specialized work, but it's more affordable than beefier options.

SSD

CrystalDiskMark (Higher is better)

Swipe to scroll horizontally
DeviceReadWrite
Dell Precision 35413,468.8 MB/s2,220.4 MB/s
HP Pavilion x360 14537.8 MB/s195.4 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s1,604.1 MB/s851.4 MB/s
Chuwi AeroBook530.1 MB/s476.2 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad T490s3,060.7 MB/s1,542.3 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad T4903,254.8 MB/s2,954.9 MB/s
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-13,110 MB/s2,825 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad X3903,024 MB/s1,563.2 MB/s
Huawei MateBook X Pro3,0416 MB/s2,779 MB/s

Read and write speeds are excellent from the Class 40 M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD, and you can upgrade to Class 50 if you need even better performance straight from the factory.

What you'll dislike about the Dell Precision 3541

Something you're going to notice immediately is heat management. The Precision 3541 is equipped with a single fan, and even browsing the web with a bit of video streaming seemed to heat things up to a noticeable point. With the dedicated GPU humming, you'll have a tough time keeping this PC on your lap, and you're no doubt going to see thermal throttling. That's with a Core i7 CPU, nevermind Core i9 or Xeon options.

A 4K panel would be a welcome addition here, but for that you'll have to make the jump to Precision 5000 (opens in new tab) models. If you're in need of perfect AdobeRGB or DCI-P3 color, you'll also have much better luck with the more expensive laptop, as the 3541 offers only precise sRGB color.

This laptop is designed for productivity purposes, but the full-size keyboard with number pad isn't all that great. It has comfortable key travel and a three-stage backlight, but some of the chiclet keys are sticky, there's a lot of flex near the middle of the board, and the secondary pointing system, which competes with Lenovo's TrackPoint, is useless without the nub centered between G, H, and B keys. It fell out at some point, never to be seen again. This makes me question the overall durability of the device, especially since these types of laptops are often put through elevated stress in the field. On the other hand, the Precision touchpad works well and includes physical right and left click buttons.

Should you buy the Dell Precision 3541?