About this time last year Dell first introduced their. It is closest to a notebook in description -- it weighed in at a hefty 5kg -- and as a result was slightly less portable than your average 2-3kg 15-inch laptop. It featured a high resolution 1920x1200 display panel and NVIDIA's GeForce Go 7900GTX graphics. Dell has done sporadic product updates on the model, and the current incarnation puts many desktop gaming rigs to shame.
Aesthetically nothing has changed on the M1710 despite the hardware refreshes. It still features the same chassis as the original version of the system. The built-in LEDs are still here, and spew light from the speaker and ventilation grills on the side and front of the machine. Dell includes an application to cycle the colours, with the option to turn them off completely if you're not so keen on the bling look. Designed for the gaming and power-user crowd, looks are important, and the M1710 is wrapped in a sturdy magnesium alloy frame, which is strong enough to take the associated knocks and bumps of travel without making it an ugly ruggedised unit. The lid is finished in a red pattern, with a further two LEDs on top to illuminate the XPS brand logos and let everyone know what it is you're playing on.
Although this product has had several hardware variations, and in typical Dell style offers multiple configurations to mix and match to suit your usage, this is the first Dell notebook we've played with that includes an integrated Blu-ray disc drive. Although the original design included the same high resolution native high def 1920x1200 display as the new model, the inclusion of a Blu-ray drive provides the latest in HD content on your notebook. The drive is able to both playback Blu-ray/DVD movies as well as burn discs, great for large capacity file archiving and putting those HD home movies on disc to show the family. Dell has bumped the CPU and graphics again, and this model boasts Intel's T7600 (2.33GHz) Core 2 Duo chip, 2GB of DDR2 memory and NVIDIA's GeForce Go 7950 graphics, the top shelf of mobile parts. Even the hard drive in this device is the slightly uncommon, but faster 7200rpm SATA type, giving you significantly better performance in disk-intensive functions, such as video editing and gaming.
The spec combination on the M1710 makes it the perfect portable multimedia and gaming machine, with the flexibility of being able to chuck it in your bag and lug it around if you want to, and if your shoulder can hack it. Dell includes the standard Intel 3945ABG tri-band wireless module, but the configuration tool on the Web site allows you to customise this box with the newer 4965AGN card, giving you 802.11n wireless at a very reasonable AU$38.50 price premium.
Performance and battery life
The display on the M1710 is impressive to say the least; its resolution giving you unscaled HD video from the Blu-ray drive that looks nothing short of spectacular. Comparing our test Mission Impossible 3 DVD to the Blu-ray version, we were shocked to see how much difference was present. Indoor scenes, particularly near the start of the movie were chalk and cheese, with the DVD version appearing more akin to coloured blobs than objects. In stark contrast, the Blu-ray version allowed us to read the titles of book spines on a bookshelf and get a little more up-close and personal with Tom Cruise and Laurence Fishburne than we would have liked. The image quality is certainly there if that's what floats your boat.
It was almost sensory overload watching MI:3 in high def, as the Vatican and funeral scenes were sharp from edge to edge and the sense of depth truly immersive.
The M1710's overall system and 3D performance was strong, even at the panel's native resolution, returning scores of 5118 PCMarks, and 3789 3DMarks (1920x1200 no AA and no AF) - on par with some desktop systems. Since first and foremost this is a product designed with power-users and gamers in mind, it's not surprising no expense has been spared in the pursuit for the ultimate portable gaming box. That said the first casualty of performance is always battery life. While the unit ships with a sensible nine-cell Lithium-Ion battery pack, anyone looking to actually use it battery powered on the go for extended periods of time will want to splash out for an additional battery.
At full brightness we were able to get just shy of an hour and a half of movie playback; not long enough for a full-viewing of our movie, but a reasonable running time for a portable of this spec. Unfortunately while the 17-inch is gorgeous, there's no HDMI output if you'd like to connect up your plasma or LCD TV. Not designed to spend too long away from a power point, we'd definitely recommend carrying a spare battery for those on the go -- after all, what's AU$138.60 for another battery when you're spending the best part of AU$6,000 on the device?
A solid all-round multimedia notebook with the grunt to back up its price tag, those expecting something light and cheap should look elsewhere. For those who don't mind sacrificing portability for the sake of all-out power, look no further. Buyers not after the movie experience can shave a cool 900 smackers off the ticket price if they forgo the Blu-ray drive.