Dell XPS M1730 review
Dell's ambitious and quirky gaming laptop packs in a stunning set of features.
Dell's XPS gaming laptop isn't exactly subtle. Vivid red light streams through dappled speaker surrounds, bright customisable panels highlight the XPS name in strident lettering, and a distinctive metallic pattern surrounds the keyboard. The gimmickry even extends to a built-in Logitech GamePanel: a small LCD screen fitted above the keyboard that displays CPU and RAM information. The final touch is the backlit keyboard and touchpad, allowing you to game long into the night.
But with such a bombastic appearance, does the bite match its bark? First impressions are good, since under the flashy bonnet there's an AGEIA PhysX card (see web ID: 88751 for our verdict on the desktop version). Dedicated to handling complex physics calculations, it can make objects and debris fly about with uncanny realism.
Sadly, there aren't a huge number of games that support this technology, but Unreal Tournament 3, Gears of War, and Medal of Honor: Airborne are among them. While some of the set pieces in these games are boosted, most of the time it doesn't make much difference to your frame rates. In fact, we had to dial down the settings in Ghost Recon to maintain a smooth performance.
Pure graphics muscle is provided by two Nvidia GeForce 8700 GS cards, linked via SLI. Slightly older titles ran without a hitch - our Call of Duty 2 benchmark zipped along at 52fps. SLI driver performance is still problematic, though, and many of the latest games - including the punishing Crysis - ran slower on this setup than with the single 512MB 8800M GT in the Rock Xtreme 770-T7800 (web ID: 145182).
At the screen's native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200, a double-figure frame rate in Crysis was a rarity. At a less demanding resolution of 1,024 x 768, the game ran at around 20fps on medium settings whether SLI was enabled or not. We can only hope that future updates optimise this. The screen itself is sharp, with no motion blur to speak of, although it's a little too shiny for our liking and could be slightly brighter.
This price includes a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 processor and 2GB of DDR2 RAM. The Dell's score of 1.06 in our application benchmarks shows it has more than enough power for most jobs, but for cutting-edge gaming it's a modest choice, and will look increasingly so. There are two better processors available - a T7700 at 2.4GHz and an Extreme X7900 at 2.8GHz, for £80 and a whopping £640 extra respectively. Choose either of these and your battery life will be knocked down further, but this isn't a notebook built for mobility anyway: it's 51mm thick, weighs a hefty 4.8kg and lasted for just an hour-and-a-half in our light-use battery test.
As a desktop replacement, though, it has everything we could wish for. The 250GB hard disk provides a healthy amount of space, and you can upgrade the DVD writer to a Blu-ray drive for £213 exc VAT. Thanks to the decent speakers, which only lack for bass, it makes a good portable movie player, too. A DVI-I port is included, complete with HDCP compliance, but there's no HDMI port.
The XPS is otherwise equipped with a good selection of ports and connections. Four USB ports are distributed around the machine for easier connection of peripherals, a panel of media buttons control playback and volume, and there's a card reader that accepts eight of the most common formats, including SD and xD-Picture.