Dell Inspiron XPS Business review: Dell Inspiron XPS Business

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The Good Fast performance; wide screen; rich sound; cool snap-on lid covers; integrated 802.11b/g wireless; built-in DVD+RW drive.

The Bad Pricey; short battery life; enormous case; massive AC adapter.

The Bottom Line The Inspiron XPS is a fantastic gaming machine, but you'll need a chiropractor if you try to travel with it.

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8.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Support 8


Fragging your opponent was never so much fun as with the Dell Inspiron XPS. Dell has designed this new desktop-replacement laptop specifically for gamers, loading it with the fastest desktop Pentium 4 processors; a big, 15.4-inch display, with an ultrafine, 1,920x1,200 native resolution; a rich-sounding subwoofer; and an upgraded 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9800 graphics chip that kicks serious butt. Naturally, the system's battery life suffers from such fast performance, but with its 11.5-pound travel weight, you'll hardly want to take this system on the road. If you're a gamer who's at peace with keeping the Dell Inspiron XPS on your desk, then by all means, get this laptop. The Dell Inspiron XPS is the kind of notebook that causes strangers to strike up a conversation with you. You can outfit the laptop's lid with one of three snap-on covers: Cipher, which looks like a luminescent mix of computer circuitry and code; Plasma, which resembles red-and-black tie-dye; and Skullz, our personal favorite, with a skull motif. You can also forgo these for a plain silver top. The sheer size of the Dell Inspiron XPS--2 by 14.1 by 10.8 inches and 9.4 pounds (11.5 pounds with the huge AC adapter)--also attracts gawkers. Why is it so big? The answer lies in the system's laundry list of design features.

For starters, the Inspiron includes a swappable media bay that opens out of its left edge. The bay houses either a DVD/CD-RW or DVD+RW drive, your choice, plus an optional floppy drive or a second battery. A PC Card slot also lines that edge, along with a FireWire port and two jacks for headphones and a microphone. The back edge offers a ton of additional ports, including Ethernet, 56Kbps modem, VGA, S-Video out, DVI (digital-video interface, for connecting digital monitors), three regular USB 2.0 ports, and a fourth port that accommodates powered USB devices, such as Dell's external modular bay. The back-edge corners have grates to expel the air circulated by two big internal fans, which the XPS needs to dissipate the heat generated by its searing desktop Pentium 4 processor. If you're in a quiet room, the fans are audible but not loud. The front edge also includes grates in each corner for the internal speakers and subwoofer. Unlike the weak speakers in most laptops, the XPS's speaker-subwoofer combo does a good job making explosions, gunfire, and music sound real.

An added reason for the Dell Inspiron XPS's girth is its wide, 15.4-inch screen. The rectangular design is awesome for watching letterbox movies or scoping a wide-angle view in Unreal Tournament 2004. Plus, the display comes in a superhigh, 1,920x1,200 native resolution, which creates a crystal-clear rendition of every detail in your games and graphics. A spacious keyboard spreads out below the screen, bordered by convenient buttons all around. Three volume buttons for up, down, and mute sit above the board. Four buttons for CD play, stop, forward, and reverse line the board's right edge. Finally, two pairs of mouse buttons for both the pointing stick and the touch pad reside below the keyboard. The Dell Inspiron XPS's spec list would delight any gamer's heart. The system ships with an Intel desktop Pentium 4 processor Extreme Edition running at either 3.2GHz or 3.4GHz. Or, you can save several hundred bucks by ordering the third CPU option: a 3.4GHz Pentium 4 without the Extreme Edition technology, which omits the level 3 cache but still provides plenty of speed, as borne out by CNET Labs' benchmarks.

The Dell Inspiron XPS comes with the fastest laptop memory and hard drive available: up to 2GB worth of 400MHz DDR SDRAM and a 7,200rpm, 60GB drive. Slower 4,200rpm drive options measure 60GB, 80GB, and a colossal 100GB. The Inspiron's 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9800 graphics chip is the best that money can buy--even faster than the chip in the previous version of the XPS, the slightly slower 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9700. Normally, notebook graphics chips are nonexchangeable; however, Dell will send a tech rep out to your house (for a fee) to replace the XPS's 9700 chip with the 9800. The Inspiron features just one display option: a bright, wide, 15.4-inch screen with an extrafine, 1,920x1,200 native resolution. The XPS's two Dell-branded wireless mini-PCI choices, the TrueMobile 1350 802.11b/g and 1450 802.11a/b/g cards, conveniently let you engage in multiplayer online games wherever you can connect to a wireless router. If you're brave enough to travel with this behemoth, you can lug it around in the special XPS backpack that Dell includes with every system.

Battery life is not the Dell Inspiron XPS's strong suit, but at nearly 10 pounds, it's not exactly designed to be a road machine. With the new ATI Radeon Mobility 9800, the XPS's 14.8V, 6,400mAh (95WHr) battery drains in just over an hour and a half--significantly less than the original XPS's two hours of battery life. We suspect that the XPS's shorter battery life is due to its new, more powerful graphics card.

Operating system choices for the XPS include Windows XP Home and Professional. The baseline software package consists of Corel's WordPerfect and Microsoft's Money and Encarta. You can upgrade to a number of more expensive options, including Microsoft Works; Microsoft Office suites in Professional, Small Business, and Standard Editions; or Corel WordPerfect Office 11.0. Dell also offers a few of the more popular games, such as Battlefield 1942 and Age of Mythology, for various prices. Other gaming laptops, such as the Alienware Area-51m, include their titles for free. SysMark 2004 performance
The most recent version of Dell's Inspiron XPS is a powerhouse for office and content creation. A brand-new graphics card from ATI, the Mobility Radeon 9800 256MB, replaces the ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB featured in the older XPS model. In CNET Labs tests, the new video adapter turned in a very small increase over the results from the previous version of the XPS, and we've determined that the newer Inspiron XPS doesn't offer much of a performance difference for office and content-creation apps. Nevertheless, the XPS is our fastest SysMark 2004 performer yet.

SysMark 2004 performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2004 office productivity  
Dell Inspiron XPS (ATI 9800)
Dell Inspiron XPS (ATI 9700)
Alienware Area-51m Enthusiast

To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Find out more about how we test notebooks.

Unreal Tournament 2004 performance
The new ATI Mobility Radeon 9800 256MB is based on the ATI Radeon X800, ATI's latest desktop graphics technology, rather than the desktop version of the 9800 or 9700. Because of limitations to the CPU, Unreal Tournament 2004 is not particularly well suited to test the Mobility Radeon 9800 256MB's graphical prowess; as a result, we found only a 6 percent difference between the 9700 and the 9800. Nevertheless, for gaming, we still think that the Dell Inspiron XPS is currently the best notebook money can buy.

Unreal Tournament 2004 performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Atari Games/Epic Games Unreal Tournament 2004  

In order to test gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Atari Games/Epic Games Unreal Tournament 2004. Rather than isolate the graphics adapter, this test evaluates overall system performance, with an emphasis on CPU speed.

3DMark 03 performance
Our 3DMark 03 test really illustrated the performance difference between the Mobility Radeon 9800 256MB and the Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB. At a resolution of 1,280x1,024, with 8X anisotropic filtering or 4X antialiasing enabled, we saw a 42 percent performance improvement with the new card; with both antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled, the Mobility Radeon 9800 256MB's performance improved to 44 percent over that of the older card. With almost a 50 percent performance advantage over the nearest competitor, ATI Mobility Radeon 9800 offers one of the best mobile graphics solutions available.

Futuremark's 3DMark 03 (1,280x1,024 resolution)  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
8X anisotropic filtering/4X antialiasing  
4X antialiasing  
8X anisotropic filtering  
Dell Inspiron XPS (ATI 9800)
Dell Inspiron XPS (ATI 9700)
Alienware Area-51m Enthusiast

In order to test DirectX 9 and advanced graphical features, CNET Labs used Futuremark's 3DMark 03. These tests isolate the graphics adapter. 3DMark 03 scores do not represent actual gaming performance, rather they show what performance might be like with games using the same technology.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

System configurations:

Alienware Area-51m Enthusiast
Windows XP Professional; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4; 1GB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX Go5700 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm

Dell Inspiron XPS (ATI 9700)
Windows XP Home; 3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition; 1GB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm

Dell Inspiron XPS (ATI 9800)
Windows XP Professional; 3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition; 1GB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9800 256MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm

The Dell Inspiron XPS will make a serious dent in your savings, but one of the benefits of its high price is solid support. The system's base warranty is one year of free parts and labor with return to depot service, plus toll-free, 24/7 phone support for the life of the product. In a helpful twist on this typical plan, Dell offers a special tech-support number exclusively for XPS owners. The company claims that these phone lines are staffed by reps who can provide help on the latest games and technologies. You can also extend the warranty for up to three years with onsite service for a maximum price of $279. Added help comes in the form of the system's extensive user manual and Dell's excellent support Web site, which includes a knowledge base, user forums, downloads, and reference sections.

To find out more about how this product's warranty really stacks up and what you should look for in terms of service and support, take a look at CNET's hardware warranty explainer.

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