Say what you will about market leader Dell (and many have), but with its top-shelf XPS line, the company has consistently put out distinctive laptops that feature the most advanced components on the market. Despite its recent acquisition of niche player Alienware, Dell sticks to the script with the newest iteration of its flagship gaming laptop. With the XPS M1710, the company adds just a few aesthetic curlicues to the same basic form factor found on Dell's other 17-inch wide-screen models, upgrades to Intel's Core Duo platform, and drops in Nvidia's new top-shelf GeForce Go 7900 GTX GPU. The unsurprising result: an extremely pricey system that extends the company's dominance of our gaming benchmark tests and solidifies Dell's reputation as the vendor to beat in the gaming laptop market. If you're a hard-core gamer who's looking to play the newest games (Oblivion, F.E.A.R.) at the highest settings, this is the best system that (a lot of) money can buy. Otherwise, there are plenty of much less expensive but still powerful alternatives, such as the Toshiba Satellite P105-S921 and the Gateway NX850XL.
Aside from our test unit's Special Edition Formula Red cover (it's also available in Metallic Black), the XPS M1710's design is nearly identical to that of the previous model, the XPS M170, and very similar to the more multimedia-focused Inspiron E1705. (Well, except for all of the glowing lights: the XPS M1710 can emit shafts of light in any one of 16 colors from its lid, side vents, and speaker vents.) Crafted out of sturdy and stylish magnesium alloy, the XPS M1710 measures 15.5 inches wide, 11.3 inches deep, and 1.6 inches thick. Our test unit weighed 8.8 pounds (10.2 pounds with its AC adapter)--a few ounces more than the Gateway NX850XL, but nearly 1.5 pounds more than the compact Toshiba Satellite P105. The XPS M1710 is certainly easier to move than a desktop gaming rig, and it's portable enough for room-to-room movement, but we don't recommend it for regular travel.
The XPS M1710 includes a full-size keyboard, though it lacks a separate number pad, as found on some other desktop replacements, such as the Satellite P105-S921, the HP Pavilion dv8000, and the Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV600. The XPS M1710's mouse buttons are very big, however, and the touch pad, which features a backlit XPS logo, is adequately sized. The touch pad also has arrows running along its right and bottom edges, outlining where to place your finger when using the software-enhanced pad to scroll through documents or Web pages.
Like most of the other models in the XPS and Inspiron lines, the XPS M1710 features Dell's MediaDirect software, which plays CDs and DVDs and lets you access photos and other media files stored on your hard drive without booting up Windows first. The two speakers and the internal subwoofer--a rare feature among laptops--deliver crisp and rich sound. Better yet, because the speakers sit in the corners of the laptop's front edge, your hands won't muffle them while you're typing, and you can play music with the lid closed. Sandwiched between the speakers, a row of seven buttons lets you control disc playback and adjust or mute the volume. Though the XPS M1710 runs Microsoft Windows XP Media Center 2005, it lacks the integrated TV tuner found on more expensive systems, such as the Qosmio G35-AV600, the Fujitsu LifeBook N6210, and the Sony VAIO AX570G. Dell sells an external, PC Card tuner for approximately $150, however.
Our XPS M1710 test unit came equipped with a reasonably bright, 17-inch wide-screen display; we love its superfine WUXGA 1,900x1,200 native resolution; Dell says that the XPS M1710's display is 30 percent brighter than the M170's. While we found it slightly brighter than the Inspiron E1705's display, we still prefer the superbright screens on the VAIO AX, the LifeBook N6210, and the Pavilion dv8000, though none of those models offer the gaming performance of the XPS M1710.
There's no dearth of ports, jacks, or slots here: the XPS M1710 features headphone and microphone jacks, VGA and DVI outputs, S-Video-out, four-pin FireWire, and a whopping six USB 2.0 ports. Networking connections include a 56Kbps modem, 10/100/100 Gigabit Ethernet, optional Bluetooth, and integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless. Also onboard are an ExpressCard slot and a 5-in-1 media card reader; PC Card users, take note that the XPS M1710 does not support PCMCIA cards. (For the sake of comparison, the Toshiba Satellite P105-S921 has all of this, plus it supports PC Cards and SmartMedia cards and has an S/PDIF output, though it has two fewer USB 2.0 ports.) Finally, our XPS M1710 test unit included a multiformat, double-layer DVD drive. Dell bundles a standard software package, including Microsoft Windows XP Media Center.
At $4,215, our Dell XPS M1710 test unit came configured with the most high-end parts money can buy: Intel's top-of-the line 2.16GHz Core Duo processor, 2GB of fast 666MHz DDR2 SDRAM, and a big, fast 100GB hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm. Our XPS M1710 test unit was also stocked with Nvidia's GeForce Go 7900 GTX GPU, with 512MB of dedicated memory, and was, at the time that this review published, the first and only system to feature the new card, though more will surely follow soon. The Toshiba Satellite P105-S921 costs much less: for $1,999, you get a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 1GB of 333MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a 160GB, 4,200rpm hard drive, and a lower-end but still powerful Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS GPU with 256MB of dedicated memory.
As with past XPS models, the XPS M1710 destroyed CNET Labs' gaming benchmarks. In our Doom 3 test, it delivered 25 percent more frames per second (fps) than the XPS M170; with F.E.A.R., it notched 72fps compared with the XPS M170's 44. That said, the XPS M1710's SysMark scores were in line with those of the other 2.16GHz Core Duo systems we've reviewed (including the HP Pavilion dv8000t and the Acer TravelMate 8200), so unless you're a hard-core gamer who needs absolute top-shelf equipment to play new, demanding games, such as Oblivion or F.E.A.R., there are far less expensive options out there. In our battery drain test, the XPS M1710 lasted for 154 minutes, about the same as the previous model and decent battery life for a desktop replacement.
Though Dell has moved to a 90-day warranty on its less expensive models, the company covers the XPS M170 with an industry-standard one-year warranty, which provides free parts and labor with mail-in service. For a $4,000 notebook, we think Dell should offer a longer support contract; and the upgrades are fairly pricey: a four-year warranty with at-home service, which Dell recommends, costs about $340. 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 with the latest games and technologies. The company also has a support Web site with downloads, FAQs, and hardware-specific user forums.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet content creation||SysMark 2004 office productivity|
|ID Software/ActiVision's Doom 3 (frames per second)|
|Monolith's/VU Games' F.E.A.R. (frames per second)|
|BAPCo MobileMark 2005 performance rating|
|BAPCo MobileMark 2005 battery life in minutes|
Dell XPS M170
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.26GHz Pentium M-780; 1GB PC 4200 DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go 7800 GTX 256MB; Fujitsu MHV2100AH 100GB 5,400rpm
Dell XPS M1710
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.16GHz Core Duo-T2600; 2GB PC 5300 DDR2 SDRAM 666MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX 512MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 100GB 7,200rpm
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2GHz Core Duo-T2500; 1GB PC 5300 DDR2 SDRAM 666MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go 7800 256MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 80GB 7,200rpm
Toshiba Satellite P105-S921
Windows XP Professional; 1.83GHz Core Duo-T2400; 1GB PC5300 DDR2 SDRAM 666MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS 256MB; Fujitsu MHV2160BT 160GB 4,200rpm