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Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2 review: Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2

Powered by a top-shelf processor and graphics engine, the Dell XPS Gen 2 is one of the fastest and slimmest gaming machines we've ever seen.

Justin Jaffe Managing editor
Justin Jaffe is the Managing Editor for CNET Money. He has more than 20 years of experience publishing books, articles and research on finance and technology for Wired, IDC and others. He is the coauthor of Uninvested (Random House, 2015), which reveals how financial services companies take advantage of customers -- and how to protect yourself. He graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in English Literature, spent 10 years in San Francisco and now lives in Portland, Maine.
Expertise Credit cards, Loans, Banking, Mortgages, Taxes, Cryptocurrency, Insurance, Investing. Credentials
  • Coauthor of Uninvested (Random House, 2015)
Justin Jaffe
5 min read
Dell XPS Gen 2
Editor's note: Dell recently replaced the XPS Gen 2 with the XPS M170. Apart from the M170's new Nvidia GeForce Go 7800 GPU, the two systems are virtually identical. We'll be posting our XPS M170 review very soon. (10/14/05)
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.
Dell sells this system on both its home and small-business sites, where base configuration (and starting price), warranty, and support options differ. Click here to check out home configurations.

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. Though the Dell XPS Gen 2 is certainly powerful enough for most any office or productivity task, there are other much less expensive options that are better suited for business use.


Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2

The Good

Excellent game performance; top-shelf processor and graphics engine; illuminated case; lightweight for a gaming machine; good multimedia features; full assortment of ports and connections.

The Bad

It's not cheap.

The Bottom Line

Powered by a top-shelf processor and graphics engine, the Dell XPS Gen 2 is one of the fastest and slimmest gaming machines we've ever seen.

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 emits light from its lid, speakers, and even the vents on the side.

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.

SysMark 2004 performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2004 office productivity  
Voodoo Envy m:760
Dell Inspiron XPS
Dell XPS Gen 2

Unreal Tournament 2004 performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Atari Games/Epic Games Unreal Tournament 2004  
Voodoo Envy m:760

Doom 3 performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Activition/Id Software Doom 3  
Voodoo Envy m:760

Half-Life 2 performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Valve Half-Life 2  
Voodoo Envy m:760

System configurations:

Dell Inspiron XPS
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 XPS Gen 2
Windows XP Professional; 2.13GHz Intel Pentium M 770; 1GB PC4300 DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia GeForce 6800 Go Ultra 256MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 80GB 5,400rpm

Voodoo Envy m:760
Windows XP Professional; 3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 560; 1GB PC4300 DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia GeForce 6800 Go 256MB;Fujitsu MHT2080BH 80GB 5,400rpm in RAID 0


Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Support 6