Dell's latest update to its monster XPS M1710 desktop replacement may not warrant an entirely new model number, but the changes are deep enough to deserve a fresh look. The system earns gaming credibility for being the first laptop to carry Nvidia's latest mobile GPU -- the GeForce Go 7950 GTX.
Also of note is that Dell, in an unusual move for a mainstream PC maker, practically encourages buyers to overclock the 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo T7600G processor. Let's not forget the multicoloured lights built into the speaker grilles, air vents and lid, which play along with music apps and select games -- Dell calls this XPS LightFX technology).
The system is a budget-buster to be sure, but one that's hard to top if you're looking for a top-of-the-line desktop replacement for gaming. If you're willing to sacrifice a little gaming performance for cash, the Gateway NX860XL is worth a look.
Dell calls the reflective red pattern on the back cover Special Edition Formula Red, but it's also available in the more subdued Metallic Black. Both colours feature backlit XPS logos. The interior and exterior surfaces are covered with a magnesium alloy, and the system measures 394mm by 41mm by 287mm. Our test unit weighed 3.9kg (4.7kg with the AC adaptor) -- a little heavier than the Gateway NX850XL, but around 680g more than a smaller desktop replacement such as the Toshiba Satellite P105.
The XPS M1710 includes a full-sized keyboard and a touchpad with horizontal and vertical scroll zones. When activated by a compatible application (or when the M1710 is angry with you), the backlit XPS logo on the touchpad glows red. On the front panel of the system, below the touchpad and accessible while the lid is closed, sits a row of media control buttons, including volume controls, fast-forward and rewind buttons. There's also a button for launching Dell's MediaDirect software, but that's located near the display, far from the other media control buttons. MediaDirect is Dell's homegrown version of Media Center -- it plays CDs and DVDs and lets you access photos and other media files stored on your hard drive. The advantage is that you can use MediaDirect without booting up the PC's operating system, saving time and battery life.
You shouldn't have much trouble connecting your peripherals. The system includes headphone and microphone jacks, VGA and DVI outputs, S-Video-out, four-pin FireWire and six USB 2.0 ports. Networking connections include a 56Kbps modem, 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet and integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless. Bluetooth is an available option. Also onboard are an ExpressCard slot and a 5-in-1 media card reader, but no PCMCIA card slot. The stereo speakers (plus internal subwoofer) are located on the front edge, so they'll work even with the lid closed.
The XPS M1710 comes equipped with a 17-inch widescreen display. Its 1,900x1,200-pixel native resolution puts your average 21-inch desktop LCD to shame. The screen has a glossy finish, which many people prefer for gaming and media viewing, but it can be distracting under bright lights or when dealing with text documents. While we've complained in the past of limited brightness on M1710 screens, this particular system seemed perfectly adequate once we turned up the brightness control a couple of notches.
Also potentially distracting is the XPS LightFX feature, which takes the 16-colour LED lights built into the system's speaker and fan grilles and back cover and causes them to strobe and flash in time to supported music apps and games. You can also set the lights to flash, strobe or stay in any colour combination you want -- although the control panel for the lights is somewhat hard to find. It's under Dell Quickset in your program menu, and within that, under the gaming tab. The lights are either very cool or very lame, depending on your aesthetic sensibilities. Rest assured, you can disable the lights with a few mouse clicks.
Our review unit arrived with 2GB of RAM, a 100GB 7,200rpm hard drive and a 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 CPU. For the baseline model, you get a slower T7400 CPU, 1GB of RAM and a 60GB hard drive. What really sets it apart from the competition is the 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX -- this is the first laptop we've seen with this just-released GPU. You can also trade down to the previous model, the GeForce Go 7900, and save some cash.
The system held its own against other Core 2 Duo T7600 laptops, such as the Velocity Micro NoteMagix L80 Ultra, in our multimedia tests. Ironically, it fell behind the Area-51 m5550, from Dell-owned Alienware. When it comes to gaming, however, the XPS M1710 is unbeatable, turning in a score of 99.5fps in Quake 4 at 1,280x1,024 pixels and a respectable 53fps at the same resolution in the more challenging F.E.A.R. test. You could undoubtedly get better performance from a desktop PC, but for a gaming laptop, it's top of the charts. We only saw a nominal performance bump from the GeForce 7900 version of the M1710, but slightly older games such as Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. may not be the best test of a new GPU.