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Gaming laptops: The bold and the beautiful

CNET compares four gaming laptops.

The Dell XPS M1730 we just reviewed took home an Editors' Choice award. This massive, 11-pound laptop is about as good as it gets for mobile gaming. It serves up a most powerful mix of components, from a Core 2 Extreme CPU to Nvidia SLI graphics. The M1730 even finds room for Ageia's PhysX processor. While we liked what we saw from the M1730 in our labs, what helped it score so highly was a number of new features absent from previous XPS models. There's a gamer-friendly, 10-key number pad, a useful status LCD above the keyboard, and Dell's Wi-Fi Catcher that lets you search for wireless networks without having to boot the system. Sure, we'd like it if Dell included a Blu-ray drive (it's a $550 option) in a laptop that tops the $4,000 mark, but the M1730's leading performance and big feature set help to justify the cost. Dell's flagship XPS laptop isn't the only game in town, however. We've seen two other 17-inch models and a plucky 15-incher that deliver the goods gamers require.

If you pass on the XPS M1730, Dell would hope you'd fall into the arms of Alienware, its wholly owned subsidiary. We wouldn't blame you. The Area-51 m9750 we reviewed at the end of the July is still tops with a DirectX 9 game like F.E.A.R.. (The XPS M1730 uses the newer GeForce 8700M GT, which is slightly slower than the GeForce 7950GTX but supports DirectX 10.) It's a little lighter than Dell's 17-inch XPS, slipping in below 10 pounds, but it doesn't have an HDMI if you're looking for a one-cable solution for outputting video and audio to an HDTV. It's obvious this luxury machine is crafted with care, though opinions may vary on the Alien-head motif. Lastly, we like the fact that Alienware gives you a choice of Vista or XP. (That performance-minded Alienware chose to outfit our review unit with XP should tell you something about the hit you take with Vista.)

The Toshiba Qosmio G45 is more of portable home theater than mobile gaming rig, but its lone GeForce 8600M GT card still serves up solid frame rates. While it holds its own as a gaming laptop, its real charms lie with its multimedia goodness. True, its 1920x1200 resolution is the same as found on Dell's and Alienware's 17-inch laptops, but it costs about $1,000 less than those models, trading raw performance for features that include an HDMI out, Harman Kardon speakers with subwoofer, and multimedia controls that make it easy to manage your media.

If a 17-inch laptop is just too big for your purposes, Velocity Micro has an interesting configuration. Its 15-inch NoteMagix x25 uses a desktop CPU, which helped the system excel on CNET Labs' benchmarks. The downside? It's big and bulky and generates a lot of heat. And its battery life is abysmal. In the end, it's probably no more portable than a larger 17-inch laptop because of its heft and poor battery life. But you do get all of that raw muscle for less than $2,000.