Dell XPS M1730
“As gamers and enthusiasts, we have to say the M1730 pushes all the right buttons.”
- Very good performance; lots of useful features; cool lights
- Small touchpad; overclocking makes fans loud
Dell’s XPS 1730 is the company’s flagship gaming notebook, and is available in several configurations. Dell has sent us the “lottery winner” configuration, which has every high-end part, feature, and doodad imaginable. With its Intel Penryn CPU (that’s overclockable), two NVIDIA 8800M GTX cards in SLI and loads of bling, the M1730 has every next-gen part available and is tricked out with lights like no notebook we’ve ever seen before. Some might say the M1730 is a bit over the top, but we love its audacious styling and find little to fault in Dell’s high-end laptop.
Features and Design
With very few exceptions this M1730 has the nothing but the highest-end parts available, which is why it costs so much. But keep in mind that there are several other configurations available, and even those are customizable depending on your needs.
The M1730 sports the latest and greatest Intel mobile processor, which is the Penryn flavor Core 2 Extreme. It succeeds the Merom chips and features a die shrink to 45nm as well as an additional 2MB of L2 cache, bringing the total to 6MB. Since it’s an Extreme processor, Intel has left the multiplier unlocked for easy overclocking. Dell provides the option to crank the CPU up in 200MHz increments from 2.8GHz to 3.4GHz.
No gaming notebook would be labeled as such without a powerful graphics system, or two of them. Naturally, the M1730 has two NVIDIA 8800M GTX cards, which are the most powerful portable GPUs available at this time. Each GPU has 96 stream processors and 512MB of memory. Both cards run in SLI, of course. The M1730 also includes an Ageia PhysX physics processor.
Dell calls its XPS lighting scheme LightFX, and it’s hard to miss on the M1730. All of the lights are either customizable or can be disabled. The lights inside the speakers as well as those powering the XPS logo on the touchpad have 16 color options, including no light at all. There is also a glowing Dell logo on the LCD lid, which is flanked by two bright wing-looking lights. The keyboard is also backlit with white light. You can also choose from four accent colors on the lid, including blue, red, smoke and white.
The 1730 has a giant 17” widescreen LCD with a glossy covering. Its native resolution is super-high at 1920×1200. Our test unit came with a DVD-R/RW drive, but Dell offers a Blu-ray combo drive as an option ($200 USD for read-only, $400 USD for a BD-R/RW). The 1730 also includes DVI and S-Video out ports.
If you’ve seen the Logitech G11 or G15 keyboards, you’re familiar with its LCD. Well, that same LCD is embedded in the M1730, right above the keyboard. It displays system information, shows the time, and also works with select PC games to show how much ammo you have, lives left, etc.
Image Courtesy of Dell
Use and Testing
We’ve reviewed so many ultra-portablenotebooks lately that we had forgotten how big a desktop replacement notebook can be. The M1730, which has a baseline weight of 10.6 pounds, is big and heavy. Its power brick alone weighs more than the MacBook Air. The chassis is made from magnesium alloy and is solid as a rock. The LCD lid, which has a “hydrographic” image and faux carbon fiber, feels very solid as well. Though the chassis has a plastic feel to it, it feels incredibly well-made and sturdy.
Aside from the notebook itself, Dell also throws in a swank leather binder to hold all the included media, a thick manual, cleaning cloth and a pair of noise-canceling earbuds.
Out of the Box
We fired up the M1730 and it took exactly 1:00 minute to boot to the Vista desktop, which is typical for a fast machine. We were pleased by the lack of trialware on the desktop. In fact, the only pre-installed programs aside from Vista were Norton Internet Security and Google Desktop, though we’ll note that Norton wasn’t fully installed (a pop-up window asked us to install it whenever we rebooted).
Our first impression of the lighting is that it’s awesome. Some may think it’s a bit too much, but thankfully Dell provides the option to change the light colors, turn them down, and even turn all the lights off completely. We love the fact that the lights behind the speakers as well as the touchpad can be cycled between 16 different colors. The keyboard backlight is white can cannot be changed, though you can adjust its brightness or turn it off completely. You can even set the LEDs to “dance” to your music, but this is not ideal at all as it results in audio crackling and stuttering.
You can choose between 16 colors for the speakers and touchpad lighting.
The LCD lid also has a very cool design that Dell calls “hydrographic.” It looks like rays of sunshine reflected in water, embossed over carbon fiber. There are lights too, and since we’re not sure how to describe it we’ll just provide a picture of it.
The LCD cover has a cool “light beams” effect on it. You can disable it too, if you want.
We love the keyboard. It requires a soft touch and the white backlighting is cool. There’s even a full-size number pad to the right, and the touchpad felt very accurate, even though it seems incredibly small given the size of the palm rests.
This PC has a 2.8GHz Penryn processor, 2GB of RAM, two 7,200rpm hard drives and 1GB of videocard memory between its two graphics cards. Suffice to say, performance was very good. It scored 12,704 in Futuremark’s 3DMark06, which is a very high score, especially for a notebook. We also decided to try out the new PCMark Vantage test, which is a system-wide test designed for PCs running Vista. The M1730 scored a 4604, but what does that mean? For comparison’s sake, we ran it on our own high-end gaming desktop, and it scored just 3820, so the M1730 was faster overall. Also, the M1730’s Vista Experience Index is a high 5.0.
Gaming performance was also very good, which is not surprising. We were able to run Call of Duty 4, Crysis and Bioshock at high settings at acceptable frame rates. During gaming the GPU fans crank up and are a bit loud, but you usually can’t hear them over the built-in speakers, which are the most impressive notebook speakers we’ve ever heard.
Since this system has an Extreme processor with an unlocked multiplier, Dell allows a bit of overclocking, which is accomplished in the BIOS. You can take it from the stock 2.8GHz speed up to 3.4GHz, in 200MHz increments. Sounds good, right? Well unfortunately we found that when the processor was set to 3.2GHz and 3.4GHz the CPU fans turn on full-bore at all times, which is incredibly loud and not worth whatever boost in performance you might achieve through overclocking. When we set it to 3.0GHz it was just as quiet as it was at 2.8GHz, which is to say acceptably quiet, but an extra 200MHz isn’t going to offer a big performance boost.
Sadly, awesome performance and battery life go together like oil and water. Even though Dell has outfitted this model with a large 9-cell battery, its battery life is still poor, which isn’t surprising. We tested battery life at the default settings, which is the LCD at half brightness, WiFi enabled and the onboard Ethernet port disabled. We also disabled the keyboard backlight, for kicks. We then played a DVD movie until the battery died, which was one hour and five minutes. We don’t expect these nuclear-powered notebooks to have good battery life, so note that we’re not exactly complaining here, but merely pointing out the obvious. If you buy a notebook like this, you should expect to have it plugged in all of the time.
You can play music, movies and even look at images without even turning the M1730 on, which is awesome. Just press the little Media Direct button next to the power button and the Media Direct program starts, even when the PC isn’t running. It’ll let you watch movies, listen to music and so forth. We like this feature a lot, and wish more laptops had similar functionality.
We’re not big fans of the Logitech LCD, as we noted in our review of the Logitech G15 keyboard. It’s not that it doesn’t relay useful information – it does – but we don’t see the point in looking down at an LCD when we can just see the information on the screen. We did find it useful to set it to show CPU and RAM utilization, however, and think it’s cool that Dell has integrated it into the notebook’s chassis. It’s a shame however that the text in the display looks antiquated and blocky, which stands in stark contrast to the otherwise sleek look of the M1730.
As gamers and enthusiasts, we have to say the M1730 pushes all the right buttons. Its combination of performance, custom lighting and useful features make it a wholly impressive machine with very few faults. We can nitpick here and there but Dell has done a fantastic job with the M1730. The only feature that really bothered us was the small touchpad, but its accuracy is excellent. We won’t complain about battery life, as that’s like buying a Ferrari and whining about its poor gas mileage. This is a notebook that goes on your desk and stays there.
• Very good performance
• Lots of useful features
• Cool lights
• Small touchpad
• Overclocking makes fans loud
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