Editor's note: Due to a testing error, we previously reported an incorrect score of 105.7 frames per second for the Dell XPS Gen 2 in our Half-Life 2 benchmark. We have corrected the score (to 86.8 frames per second) and updated the review. We regret the error. (8/23/05)
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The Dell XPS Gen 2 heralds a new era for gaming and desktop-replacement laptops. Taking advantage of Intel's latest-generation Centrino technology (code-named Sonoma)--specifically, a top-of-the-line 2.13GHz Pentium M 770 processor--and Nvidia's new premium graphics card, the GeForce 6800 Go Ultra, Dell has packed a monster gaming powerhouse into a relatively slim and lightweight laptop. Apparently, gamers need suffer the indignities of humongous, hot, and heavy Pentium 4 laptops no more.
The XPS Gen 2 couldn't look more different from the previous model. Where the original XPS made a strange aesthetic juxtaposition--skull graphics on the exterior with a dull, gray, businesslike finish on the interior--the XPS Gen 2 looks like a proper gaming machine inside and out. At 8.6 pounds (10.7 pounds, with its big, blocky AC adapter), it's of average weight for a desktop replacement, but lighter than many other high-octane gaming machines such as the 12-pound Voodoo m:760. The sturdily built XPS Gen 2 measures 11.25 inches deep, 15.25 inches wide, and 1.75 inches wide (including its rubber feet). Gone is the skull imagery; in its place is a shiny, futuristic aluminum-siding motif with a black trim. While the silvery case itself may not turn heads, the XPS Gen 2 lights up like the spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to great effect. You can designate one of 16 colors for each glowing section: the lid, the side vents, and the speaker vents along the front edge.
The XPS Gen 2 features a wide-aspect UXGA 17-inch display with a native resolution of 1,920x1,200. We found the screen bright and crisp, but a number of readers have reported problems with the screens on other recent Dell laptops. The keyboard is large and comfortable to use, though it lacks the pointing stick that sat in the middle of the original XPS's keyboard. The touchpad and mouse buttons are totally adequate, and there's a row of multimedia controls, such as volume up, down, and mute, along the front edge between two crisp, loud stereo speakers.
There certainly aren't any ports or connections missing here. The XPS Gen 2 has a whopping six USB 2.0 ports (two on the left edge and four on the back); a four-pin, unpowered FireWire (a.k.a. IEEE 1394) port; DVI and VGA connections, for hooking up to an external monitor, as well as an S-Video output for connecting to a TV; and one PCI Express card slot. Along with a headphone and a microphone jack, there's also a handy Secure Digital card reader. For getting online, you get modem and Ethernet connections, as well as built-in 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. Our test unit was configured with a double-layer, multiformat DVD burner, which added $100 to the overall cost of the machine. Dell doesn't include much in the way of software; our system arrived loaded with Microsoft Windows XP Professional (XP Home is probably adequate for gamers) and WordPerfect.
Priced just less than $3,000, our XPS Gen 2 test unit sported some cutting-edge components. Where the original XPS was a true-blue Pentium 4 gaming machine (hot, heavy, and with almost no battery life to speak of), Dell built our XPS Gen 2 with a top-of-the-line 2.13GHz Pentium M 770 processor. The other big-ticket item aboard our XPS Gen 2 was Nvidia's GeForce 6800 Go Ultra graphics adapter, with 256MB of dedicated video memory; the XPS Gen 2 is currently the only system on the market with this card, though others will have it in the near future. Other elements in our test system included 1GB of 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM and an 80GB hard drive running at 5,400rpm.
CNET Labs gave the XPS Gen 2 a full workout. In our SysMark 2004 tests, the XPS Gen 2 did not blow doors down--it came in slightly behind the Voodoo Envy m:760, the ABS Mayhem G3, and the elder Dell XPS Extreme Edition. But the XPS Gen 2 is, first and foremost, a gaming machine--it simply destroyed the competition in our suite of game tests. While it merely nudged past the Voodoo, ABS, and Dell XPS Gen 1 in our Unreal Tournament 2004 test, the Gen 2 was 30 percent faster than its nearest competitor in our new Half-Life 2 test and surged well ahead of the Voodoo in our new Doom 3 test. Simply put, it's the most powerful gaming machine we've seen to date. In our battery drain test, the XPS Gen 2 lasted for 142 minutes--not at all bad for a desktop replacement and long enough to watch one standard-length DVD.
Dell backs the XPS Gen 2 with an industry-standard one-year warranty that includes free parts and labor with mail-in service, though, for a $3,000 laptop, we wish the company had made the terms a bit more generous. You can get help through Dell's 24/7, toll-free telephone line for as long as you own the laptop. Dell offers a special tech-support number exclusively for XPS owners, staffed by reps who can provide help on the latest games and technologies. The company also has a support Web site with downloads, FAQs, and hardware-specific user forums.