Dell XPS M1730 Notebook PC - Review

Dell XPS M1730 Notebook PC - Review

Dell XPS M1730 Notebook PC - Review

Core 2 Extreme T7700 Processor 2.4GHz, 2GB RAM

For too long, extreme gaming rigs from Dell, Alienware, Falconware, Voodoo, etc. have been denied to Asia consumers. We have had to contend with shooting and looting on what are essentially entertainment desktop replacements like Sony VAIO VGN-AR48GP and Toshiba Qosmio G40. Though the ASUS G2S is one of the few gaming-focused rigs, nevertheless dual graphics cards in portables were unheard of.

All these changed when Dell decided to bring in the XPS M1730. Possibly the first in Asia to offer two Nvidia GeForce 8700M GT video cards in the base configuration, this XPS ups the ante by also making it one of the few to include an option for PhysX graphics support. If the graphics processing unit (GPU) is the cream giving the game its pretty looks, then the PhysX engine is the cake which changes the way we interact with the virtual world. Though it's by no means a budget system like the Inspiron series, we were surprised that this XPS came at a competitive price point.

Design of the Dell XPS M1730 Laptop

At first blush, it seems like the XPS M1730 uses more LED lights than a Christmas tree. Every where we turn, we can see a soft glow coming out of the system. Based on a black theme with a carbon fiber pattern, the glowing Dell logo on the top cover is flanked with two LED-lit panels (which are available in blue, red, white and gray). Open the laptop and enjoy a similar light coming out if the speaker grills, with even the XPS-embossed touchpad and mouse buttons joining the fun. Unusual for a portable is the backlit keyboard which also includes a discrete numeric pad. Suffice to say, this is one gaming rig which is very usable in the dark, though the LEDs which change colors over time can be a little annoying. Fortunately, the built-in LightFX application makes the latter programmable.

Dell XPS M1730 Notebook PC - ReviewThe decorations may be pretty, but we felt that more care could have been given to the build quality. The plastic body, especially the area around the display creaks and flexes too much for comfort. Even the top portion of the keyboard around the power button sinks a little when pressed. The glossy paint job is also quite a hassle to maintain. To be fair, as a desktop replacement weighing almost 5kg, it is certainly not meant for frequent commuters. Its thick 50.7mm body covering a surface area of 406 x 302.6mm also means that few bags have the physical capacity to hold it.

Like its Inspiron brethren, the M1730 has Dell's MediaDirect features which allow access to multimedia files on the harddisk without having to boot into Windows Vista. At this point, we should mention that this machine eats up Vista's resource requirements for lunch and gave one of the smoothest experiences we had. Nevertheless, MediaDirect is still a faster way to watch a quick movie or view some photos. Besides the front row of multimedia buttons, a mini-remote control (which hides in the ExpressCard slot when not in use) provides playback controls.

Features of the Dell XPS M1730 Laptop

Besides the lack of a modem and HDMI output, the Dell 1730 has almost every feature one expects from a competent desktop replacement. Unique to this XPS, however, is the use of a CCD sensor instead of the more common CMOS technology for the 2.0-megapixel Webcam as well as the integrated Logitech GamePanel above the keyboard. First seen in the G15 gaming keyboard, it allows quick access to vital information for supported games, while more mundane data like time and email status can also be access with a touch of a button. Of course, the killer feature is under the hood which roars with a Core 2 Duo processor and dual Nvidia graphics cards.

Dell XPS M1730 Notebook PC - ColoursThe 17-inch transflective widescreen is 1080p-capable, which means it can display up to 1,920 x 1,200-pixel resolution. Driven by two Nvidia 8700M GT graphics cards in SLI configuration with a total of 512MB discrete video memory, we expected blazing video performance and were not disappointed. The LCD also manages to catch up with the on-screen action, thanks to a low 7ms response rate. For an additional S$343.03 (US$225.97), PhysX support can be added along with a copy of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. The PhysX engine calculates the behavior of objects in the virtual world and gives a more realistic response to actions in the game. However, it must be noted that both PhysX and SLI technology is not universally supported and requires compatible titles to take full advantage of these features. Here is a list of SLI-supported games along with one for the PhysX engine. External displays are supported using the DVI or S-video output, while the more common VGA and HDMI ports are distinctly missing on the M1730.

Unfortunately, the audio capabilities were not on par with the graphics. With only two speakers and no sub-woofer, we recommend using the dual headphone jacks which also offer 5.1-channel support to hook up to an external sound system. The fixed optical drive is a DVD writer by default, though for S$318.86 it can be bumped up to a Blu-ray drive.

Using notebooks in the dark is a hit and miss affair, as the bright screen tends to black out the keyboard. The M1730 overcomes this by putting a back light to the keys, much like the one found on the MacBook Pro. A distinct numeric pad is useful for data entry as well as gaming needs, though it would have been nice if programmable macro buttons were added. The touchpad is a little small, though the buttons are exceptionally large. Most gamers will prefer using a proper gaming mouse but we won't mind smaller buttons in exchange for a larger touchpad.

When it comes to external connectivity, all the usual suspects are present. The onboard USB 2.0 (four), mini-FireWire, 5-in-1 memory card reader and an ExpressCard/54 slot handle external devices and media. Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11a/b/g come standard, though the latter can be upgraded to a Draft-N radio for S$103.01 (US$68.28). Like the Sony AR series, the XPS has two hard disk slots which can be used in RAID 0 or RAID 1 configurations. There is even a flash-based 64GB solid state drive option that improves performance and reduces battery usage, though it comes at a staggering S$1,358.09 (US$894.09) extra.

Performance And Battery Life of the Dell XPS M1730 Laptop

Our review unit held a Core 2 Duo T7700 2.4GHz processor, 2GB RAM and 200GB of storage space. We had the version with PhysX support, which brings the price up to S$4,644.89 (US$3,055.15). This give the Dell unit great value, as other powerhouses like the Sony VAIO VGN-AR48GP and Toshiba Qosmio G40 cost S$6,999 (US$4,604.67) and S$5,299 (US$3,486.84), respectively. The single-GPU ASUS G2S goes for S$3,988 (US$2,623.84), which is still more expensive than the XPS' base configuration which starts at S$3,899 (US$2,565.11). For even more power, the M1730 can be equipped with a Core 2 Extreme X7900 2.8GHz chip that can be overclocked up to 3.2GHz. However, do note that overclocking typically reduces battery life and possibly the lifespan of the unit as well. Moreover, even without overclocking there is significant heat coming out of the vents even during normal loads. We suggest clearing the area around the vents to keep the temperature manageable.

MobileMark 2007 has issues running on the XPS, but that doesn't really matter as this certainly has the pure muscle for almost any productivity or multimedia task you can throw at it. Of greater importance is the gaming aspect, which we tested with Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and BioShock. Dell also provided the Microsoft SideWinder gaming mouse which will be available on Dell's online store as an optional accessory. Needless to say we had a blast playing these two titles, with almost no signs of slowdown even during chaotic action sequences. We are currently waiting for a replacement power adapter before conducting the 3DMark 06 benchmark.

As a desktop replacement, very little value is given to the battery life, which is lucky for this beast as it only lasted barely an hour on our DVD test. Suffice to say, the nine-cell power pack is best viewed as a uninterruptible power supply (UPS) device so you can save your games in case of blackouts or for moving the unit to another room.

After-Sales Service And Support for the Dell XPS M1730 Laptop

Dell XPS machines come with one-year XPS Premier Service and one-year CompleteCover. The former offers 24-hour telephone and online service by technicians specializing in XPS machines. Unlike most warranty, CompleteCover replaces or fixes the machine even if it's due to accidental damage like spills or drops. Only fire, theft and wear-and-tear issues are not eligible for replacement. The coverage period can be bumped up to three years for an additional S$379.02 (US$249.01).