The XPS M1730 is a groundbreaking achievement in mobile gaming. That isn't hyperbole from a Dell press release -- it's fact.
It's the first laptop ever to use a dedicated Ageia PhysX processing unit alongside two separate high-end graphics cards. In most gaming situations, there isn't another laptop on the planet that can compete. Anyone with a large enough wallet -- and a strong enough back -- can buy one from the Dell Web site starting from £1,599.
The XPS M1730 is not pretty, but what did you expect from a laptop nicknamed 'The Beast'? Like most of Dell's consumer laptop range, it's available in a range of colours, including red, blue, grey and white. We were sent the grey model, which if you look closely has a swirly, carbon fibre-esque pattern that give it a scaly, reptilian look.
Dell has stamped the XPS logo prominently on both sides of the lid. These sit atop illuminated glass panels whose sole purpose, it seems, is to tell the world you have a fast laptop. More lights can be found elsewhere on the laptop, including the white backlit keyboard, and red LEDs behind the front-facing speaker grille.
If the M1730's built-in lightshow doesn't grab enough attention, the enormous chassis certainly will. At nearly 51mm thick, it's probably the fattest 17-inch laptop we've ever seen. It's also one of the heaviest at 4.81Kg. It's not as weighty as its chassis might imply, but thin-bodied dorks will not appreciate taking it to and from LAN parties. The whole thing harks back to a time when portable computers were only 'portable' if you owned a forklift truck.
Other funky aesthetic inclusions include a 51mm LED display above the keyboard. This gives you system information including the current time and date, CPU and memory usage and a stopwatch and countdown timer. Less superfluous additions inclue media playback buttons on the front edge, two headphone ports for listening to audio with a friend.
The XPS M1730 can be kitted out with a range of parts to suit your needs -- and luckily for gamers, they're all very potent. Dell sent us the bottom-rung model, which uses a far-from-pedestrian 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T7500. A 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo T7700 chip is available, as is the all-singing, game-murdering Core 2 Extreme X7900. At the time of writing, not even Alienware has this CPU option, but be wary -- the price you pay for upgrading to the T7700 or X7900 can be pretty shocking.
The base model comes with 2GB of RAM, which should be plenty for most users. Power users and video editing aficionados may want to add an extra 2GB, but we wouldn't recommend this. It'll cost you a small fortune compared to what you'd pay if you bought third-party RAM and installed it yourself.
Graphics is what this laptop is all about, and you'll be pleased to hear it's more than capable of throwing a few polygons around. It would have been fairly potent if it used just one Nvidia GeForce 8700M graphics card, but Dell has thrown two together in a serial link interface (SLI). That's nerd speak for "there's two of the buggers -- so games don't stand a chance".
The third pillar of the M1730's graphics system is an Ageia PhysX processing unit. While the CPU is busy doing things like artificial intelligence and the graphics card is rendering the visuals, the PhysX unit calculates all the movements and interactions between objects. Complex object interaction is certainly possible without a PhysX unit, but to the detriment of either AI or graphics speed.
Dell could have ruined the entire exercise by fitting the wrong type of screen, but it hasn't. The 17-inch display on the XPS M1730 runs at a highly-impressive 1,920x1,200 pixels. This resolution is significantly higher than most other 17-inch laptops, and since SLI graphics works best at high resolutions, it's ideal. The only drawback is the fact the screen is too dark. It's very difficult using it indoors, although bizarrely, despite it having a glossy coating, it's perfectly visible outside.
The XPS M1730's hard drive configuration is a bit of a mystery to us. It's available with single hard drives of up to 320GB in size, but the dual hard drive configurations only allow for two 250GB drives simultaneously. This allows for a maximum 500GB of storage and not 640GB as we'd have preferred. The good news is that The Beast is available with a Blu-ray drive, and the DVI output port is HDCP-compliant so you can watch copy-protected flicks in full 1080p. A DVD rewriter drive is also available should you wish to save £270.
For those of you who've scrolled straight to the performance section, we'll put you out of your misery. Even though our review sample doesn't use a Core 2 Extreme CPU, it's still the fastest laptop we've tested. PCMark 2006 returned a score of 5,830, which is way higher than the 4,828 returned by the Lenovo Thinkpad T61p -- and that used a 2.4GHz CPU.
Gaming scores were equally impressive. It racked up 8,870 in 3DMark 2006, which is the highest we've seen on any laptop. Its closest competitor -- the Alienware Aurora mALX --
scored 5,905. If you're after a laptop that plays the latest and most demanding games at high resolutions, The Beast is truly the one to own.
The XPS M1730 is by no means perfect -- some games are still too demanding to run at full resolution, even for its blisteringly quick components. Culprits include Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, but you can scale back the resolution and detail levels slightly and still have a good old frag-fest.
Battery life was pretty laughable -- hardly surprising, since it's powering so many different high-end components. It lasted approximately 30 minutes in our intensive BatteryEater test, which will come as no surprise to you. If you stray too far from the mains with an XPS M1730, you're going to run out of juice quicker than vending machines at marathon finishing lines.
The XPS M1730 is the best gaming laptop in the world right now. It slays the Alienware mALX for several reasons: it's nearly 2kg lighter, its display resolution is significantly higher and it's less expensive. If you're a fan of hi-res PC games, you needn't look any further.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday
Update: A previous version of this review stated an incorrect 3DMark 2006 score.