With the newest configurations of the XPS M1710, Dell adds Intel's Core 2 Duo processor to its market-leading gaming machine. (Also new with this iteration is a built-in Draft 802.11n wireless adaptor -- some versions of the XPS M1710 will ship with a compatible 802.11n router.) The new processor brings remarkable application speed to the already-powerful XPS M1710 and extends its battery life -- both good things. But with the same graphics card as its predecessor, this new version of the XPS M1710 doesn't realise any gains in gaming performance.
Aside from our test unit's Special Edition Formula Red cover (it's also available in Metallic Black), the XPS M1710's design is nearly identical to that of the previous model, the XPS M170, and very similar to the more multimedia-focused Inspiron E1705. (Except for the glowing lights: the XPS M1710 can emit shafts of light in any one of 16 colours from its lid, side vents and speaker vents.) Crafted out of sturdy and stylish magnesium alloy, the XPS M1710 measures 394mm by 287mm by 41mm. Our test unit weighed 3.99kg (4.63kg pounds with its AC adaptor) -- a fraction more than the Gateway NX850XL, but nearly 700g more than the compact Toshiba Satellite P105. The XPS M1710 is certainly easier to move than a desktop gaming rig, and it's portable enough for room-to-room movement, but we don't recommend it for travel.
The XPS M1710 includes a full-size keyboard, though it lacks a separate number pad, as found on some other desktop replacements, such as the Satellite P105-S921, the HP Pavilion DV8000 and the Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV600. The XPS M1710's mouse buttons are very big, however, and the touchpad, which features a backlit XPS logo, is adequately sized. The touchpad also has arrows running along its right and bottom edges, outlining where to place your finger when using the software-enhanced pad to scroll through documents or Web pages.
Like most of the other models in the XPS and Inspiron lines, the XPS M1710 features Dell's MediaDirect software, which plays CDs and DVDs and lets you access photos and other media files stored on your hard drive without booting up Windows first. The two speakers and the internal subwoofer -- a rare feature among laptops -- deliver crisp and rich sound. Better still, because the speakers sit in the corners of the laptop's front edge, your hands won't muffle them while you're typing, and you can play music with the lid closed. Sandwiched between the speakers, a row of seven buttons lets you control disc playback and adjust or mute the volume. Though the XPS M1710 runs Microsoft Windows XP Media Center 2005, it lacks the integrated TV tuner found on more expensive systems, such as the Qosmio G35-AV600, the Fujitsu LifeBook N6210 and the Sony Vaio AX570G. Dell does sell an external PC Card tuner, though.
Our XPS M1710 test unit came equipped with a reasonably bright, 17-inch widescreen display. We love its superfine WUXGA 1,900x1,200 native resolution -- Dell says that the XPS M1710's display is 30 per cent brighter than the M170's. While we found it slightly brighter than the Inspiron E1705's display, we still prefer the superbright screens on the Vaio AX, the LifeBook N6210 and the Pavilion DV8000, though none of those models offer the gaming performance of the XPS M1710.
There's no dearth of ports, jacks or slots here -- the XPS M1710 features headphone and microphone jacks, VGA and DVI outputs, S-Video-out, four-pin FireWire and a whopping six USB 2.0 ports. Networking connections include a 56Kbps modem, 10/100/100 Gigabit Ethernet, optional Bluetooth and integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless. Also onboard are an ExpressCard slot and a 5-in-1 media card reader -- PC Card users, take note that the XPS M1710 does not support PCMCIA cards. (For the sake of comparison, the Toshiba Satellite P105-S921 has all of this, plus it supports PC Cards and SmartMedia cards and has an S/PDIF output, though it has two fewer USB 2.0 ports.) Finally, our XPS M1710 test unit included a multiformat, double-layer DVD drive. Dell bundles a standard software package, including Microsoft Windows XP Media Center.
Our Dell XPS M1710 test unit has identical components to the earlier Core Duo version, with the exception of the 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo T7600 processor. The configuration includes 2GB of fast 666MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a big, fast 100GB hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm and Nvidia's top-shelf GeForce Go 7900 GTX GPU with 512MB of dedicated memory. On CNET Labs' application tests, the XPS M1710 quickly dispensed with processor-intensive tasks such as encoding MP3 files and multitasking, completing the tests significantly faster than the Alienware Aurora mALX gaming laptop. On our mobile performance benchmarks, the XPS M1710 showed a remarkably long, 4-hour 16-minute battery life that more than certainly came at the expense of performance -- clearly, you'll want to save your processor-intensive tasks for times when the laptop is plugged in.