CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test computers

Dell XPS M1730 review: Dell XPS M1730

Dell XPS M1730

Michelle Thatcher Former Senior Associate Editor, Laptops
Tech expert Michelle Thatcher grew up surrounded by gadgets and sustained by Tex-Mex cuisine. Life in two major cities--first Chicago, then San Francisco--broadened her culinary horizons beyond meat and cheese, and she's since enjoyed nearly a decade of wining, dining, and cooking up and down the California coast. Though her gadget lust remains, the practicalities of her small kitchen dictate that single-function geegaws never stay around for long.
Michelle Thatcher
7 min read

The latest revision to Dell's flagship line, the massive XPS M1730 features a redesigned case that combines familiar touches, such as flashing LEDs beneath the speaker grills, with newer elements, such as the integrated Logitech GamePanel LCD and 10-key numeric keypad. But, as with any gaming-oriented system, the most important features are inside the case. Like its predecessors, the XPS M1730 offers the highest-end components available--in the case of our review unit, a top-of-the-line Intel Core 2 Extreme processor, Nvidia SLI graphics, the first mobile PhysX processor, and two massive 7,200rpm hard drives. All that adds up to strong performance scores on our mobile benchmarks and chart-topping frame rates on our games tests--though a similar system with DirectX 9 graphics from Alienware did post higher scores on our F.E.A.R. benchmark. Still, when it comes to all-around features and technologies that can handle the latest in emerging games, the XPS M1730 is the best gaming rig on the market today.


Dell XPS M1730

The Good

Dual SLI graphics; strong mobile gaming scores; 10-key number pad; integrated Logitech GamePanel LCD; multicolored, built-in LED lights play along with music and games; backlit keyboard; can play media files without booting up.

The Bad

Similarly configured laptops are faster on some tests; plastic lid and creaky hinges don't scream (or sound like) luxury; the albatross that is the massive power brick.

The Bottom Line

With a redesigned case that's chock-full of cutting-edge technologies, the Dell XPS M1730 tops our list of our favorite gaming laptops.

The tanklike XPS M1730 may be the first Dell laptop that obviously has been influenced by subsidiary company Alienware. At first glimpse the glossy black plastic case (you can also choose white, blue, or red), patterned to look like the surface of a liquid, reminded us of the Alienware Aurora mALX we reviewed more than a year ago. And while the M1730's lid includes the familiar XPS branding from previous iterations, Dell has added a glowing logo as well as an LED-lit sculpted ridge that echoes Alienware's sculpted alien eyes. Also glowing: the touchpad and speaker vents, which can be programmed with your choice of 16 color shades and four light effects (or turned off, if you're the ascetic type). It's all a bit over the top, which frankly we like in a $4,000 machine. What we don't like in such an expensive machine: creaking hinges and a squeaky plastic sound that we heard every time we moved the lid. (Dell assures us that this problem has been remedied since our early review unit rolled off the production line.)

As you'd expect with any entertainment-oriented desktop replacement, games and movies look phenomenal on the XPS M1730's 17-inch wide-screen display. The 1,920x1,200 resolution provides sharp image detail, while the glossy finish adds depth and richness to colors with only a slight glare in moderate-light environments. Above the display sits a 2-megapixel Webcam and dual array digital microphones for video chats.

With the XPS M1730, Dell adds a 10-key numeric keypad--handy for controlling games--next to the full-size keyboard. As with previous versions, you can turn on keyboard illumination when computing in the dark. For the first time, the laptop also incorporates a built-in Logitech GamePanel LCD display above the keyboard; four buttons beneath the LCD let you navigate menus to toggle between system status, in-game statistics, and other vital information on the 0.8-inch-high screen. Also above the keyboard sits a button to launch Dell's MediaDirect software, which lets you play CDs and DVDs and access other media files without booting the system. You can control media playback via a row of volume and media buttons, located on the laptop's front edge for easy access when the lid is closed.

Surprisingly, Dell has jettisoned two USB ports with the XPS M1730; this latest version of the gaming flagship scales back the number to just four. Another space-saving step: HDMI, VGA, and S/PDIF-out all require adapters, which are included with the system. Of course the HDMI won't be much use unless you order the optional Blu-ray drive, which would add $550 to the laptop's price. The stereo speakers along the XPS M1730's front edge sound great, even at higher volumes. Two other features worth mentioning--borrowed from Dell's business-oriented Latitude line--include the useful Wi-Fi Catcher button, which lets you determine whether you're within range of a wireless network without booting the system, and a gauge on the laptop's base that tells you the charge status and health of your battery.

As we've come to expect from the XPS line, the M1730 includes the highest-end mobile CPU and graphics available. In the case of our review unit, that means an overclockable 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7900 processor and two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8700M GT graphics cards in a scalable link interface. The laptop's two 200GB hard drives spin at a brisk 7,200rpm. And this configuration includes the brand-new Ageia PhysX 100M processor, which works with certain supported games to provide additional processing power for in-game physics, leading to bigger explosions and more interactive environments, among other effects. In fact, about the only component that wasn't maxed out in our configuration was the memory; though the XPS M1730 can support up to 4GB of RAM, our review unit included only 2GB.

It's no surprise, then, that the Dell XPS M1730 finished at the head of the pack on CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks--with the exception of the RAM-intensive Photoshop test, where it trailed the HP Pavilion HDX stocked with twice as much RAM. (Boosting the Dell's RAM to 4GB adds $375 to the price.)

Given the high-end graphics in the XPS M1730, we'd expected it to burn through our gaming benchmarks. And it did post a chart-topping 100.7 frames per second while playing Quake 4 at 1,024x768 resolution. However, the XPS M1730's frame rates dropped to 76fps when playing the more challenging F.E.A.R. at the same resolution. That's absolutely nothing to sneeze at--in fact, it's by far one of the highest F.E.A.R. scores we've seen and particularly impressive for a Vista machine--but it falls significantly behind the 133fps posted by the Alienware Area 51 m9750, which included two previous-generation GeForce 7950GTX cards. The Alienware's cards may have more raw power, but the XPS M1730's current-generation cards support DirectX 10, which will come into play with the very latest PC games, such as BioShock or the upcoming Gears of War. In short, the Dell XPS M1730 represents the future of mobile gaming.

On our DVD battery drain test, the Dell XPS M1730 ran for 1 hour and 27 minutes--about 15 minutes more than the Alienware m9750, but still a short lifespan. Nevertheless, we hardly expect a system of this size to spend much time at all away from the power outlet. Those who intend to use the M1730 as a true desktop replacement should also note that its 3-pound power brick takes up as much room as some external hard drives.

Though Dell has moved to a 90-day standard warranty on its less-expensive models, the company covers the XPS line with a one-year warranty, which provides free parts and labor with on-site service. Upgrading to two years costs $199, while three years cost $299. You can get help through Dell's 24-7, toll-free tech-support number, with special reps exclusively for XPS owners.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Quake 4 performance (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1024x768, 4xAA, 8X AF  

F.E.A.R. performance (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1024x768, SS:on, AA:off, 8X AF  

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

HP Pavilion HDX
Windows Vista Home Ultimate Edition (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7800; 4,098MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI HD2600-XT; 100GB Hitachi 7,200rpm / 100GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Alienware Area-51 m9750
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7600; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX; 300GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Dell XPS M1730
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7900; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB (x2) Nvidia GeForce Go 8700M GT; 200GB(x2) RAID 0 7,200rpm

HP Pavilion dv9500t
Windows Vista Home Premium Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600M GS; 120GB Western Digital 5,400rpm; 80GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

Velocity Micro NoteMagix X25
Windows Vista Home Premium, 2.6Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo 6700, 2048MB DDR SDRAM 533MHz, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT, 200GB Hitachi 7200rpm


Dell XPS M1730

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Support 7