When Dell unveiled the XPS M2010 laptop concept at CES 2006, few expected it to reach the retail market. The 20-inch laptop was more audacious than anything we'd seen previously and the general consensus was that its enormous size made it too much of a freak to be taken seriously. Kudos to Dell, then, for throwing caution to the wind and bringing it to market. But is this a case of boldness before greatness, or has the world's biggest PC manufacturer got more money than sense?
The XPS M2010 looks like no laptop before it. With the lid closed it resembles a large briefcase complete with a sturdy, leather-bound handle with silver support struts that extend halfway down the lid and base. The grip of the handle has a circular Dell logo at each end, and there's another glowing Dell logo to be found towards the top of the lid. The laptop's industrial-looking graphite colour is certainly different, but some users may prefer a more conventional black finish.
Unlike smaller XPS laptops, the M2010 uses latches to keep the lid shut when not in use. These are situated on either side of the lid. Unfortunately they feel a tad flimsy and we wouldn't be surprised if they begin to fail after extended use. The base of the laptop is smoother than most, including that of the 12-inch XPS M1210. Aside from a latch for removing the battery, a single air vent and a circular subwoofer port, there's little else to be found.
With the screen open, the XPS looks far more stylish. The 20-inch screen is the most imposing we've seen on any laptop, and the fact that the top of the screen sits close to eye level means you won't have to hunch over the laptop. This is great for your posture -- the XPS M2010 felt extremely comfortable to use during long periods. Impressively, the flexible screen hinge means the screen is height and rake adjustable so you can raise, lower and bring it closer to you for optimum comfort.
The base section of the XPS M2010 is home to its power button, which is positioned to the far right-hand side. To the left of this is a Windows Media Center 'home' button, and to the far left a set of indicator lights that show the laptop's Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, hard disk and power status. The M2010 uses the most unusual optical drive we've seen on any laptop. It's a top-loading model with two transparent glass panels that let you see the CD spinning inside the unit.
The keyboard section of the XPS M2010 is completely removable. It can be lifted away from the base section and, being a Bluetooth unit, it can be used from up to 10m away from the laptop. The keyboard has an integrated mouse touchpad and buttons that give you full control of the M2010, and there's also a dedicated numerical keypad featured. To the far right of the keyboard is a set of shortcut keys that give you quick access to common multimedia tasks such as play, pause, rewind, fast forward and volume control.
We'd expect any laptop of this size to have a strong specification, and M2010 doesn't disappoint. It uses a fast Intel Centrino Duo T2600 processor running at 2.16GHz. This isn't as fast as the latest 2.3GHz T2700 model, but its dual-core architecture means it's quick enough to give most desktop PCs a run for their money and it's capable of handling everything from everyday Internet surfing to more strenuous video-editing tasks. The basic model comes with 2GB of DDR3 667MHz RAM, which is an ample amount for just about every type of home or business user.
Its graphics capabilities are solid, too. It uses an ATI Mobility Radeon X1800 graphics card -- ATI's most advanced graphics processor and the fastest we've seen in any laptop. Its presence gives the XPS M2010 the ability to run the latest games, including the likes of Prey and Half-Life 2: Episode 1, at high resolutions with good image quality and consistent frame rates.
Below the optical drive are a set of touch-sensitive control buttons, including volume controls and an eject button that causes the drive bay to raise and lower, making a satisfying whirr that won't fail to conjure up images of the Transformers cartoons. Those with a childish streak will spend ages simply opening and closing the drive bay simply for the noise it makes.
It makes a great pairing with the laptop's 20-inch screen, as it has the ability, in conjunction with the fast processor, to drive high-quality images and movies. It runs at a native resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels and while this isn't quite the Holy Grail of 1080p (1,980x1,080), it runs in a widescreen aspect ratio that gives plenty of desktop space to display multiple documents side by side. There's an integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam positioned in the screen, which you can use for web conferencing, Voice over IP, and applications like Skype.
The XPS M2010's audio capabilities are admirable. There are four speakers on either side of the lower portion of the screen, and a subwoofer on the underside of the laptop. Unlike most laptops, even those with subwoofers, this setup sounds rather good, but serious audiophiles will want to connect a set of external surround-sound speakers.
Unfortunately the laptop has a limited number of audio connectors. There's headphone and microphone sockets on the left side, but you may need special cable adaptors if you intend to connect the XPS M2010 to an external amplifier. Luckily a lack of audio ports is the only area of input/output connectivity in which the laptop suffers. The base of the laptop has a number of ports including two PC Card card slots, a mini FireWire port and a 13-in-2 multimedia card reader. On the left there are two USB ports with two additional USB ports on the rear, and there are DVI, LAN and modem ports present, too.
There's plenty of space to store files on the XPS M2010. Dell has supplied a pair of 100GB hard drives configured in a RAID 0 array for a total of 200GB of storage. That's enough to hoard over 190 hours of high-definition movie content, or over 51,000 average-sized MP3 audio files.
Accessing multimedia content is a breeze with the M2010 as it uses the Windows XP Media Center Edition operating system. It also comes with a customised remote control that lets you control the device from the comfort of your armchair. Commendably, Dell has opted for a remote that has an integrated LCD screen, and this can be used to select songs or tracklists in your music library without going anywhere near the laptop.
Arguably more impressive is the remote's gyroscopic ability -- it lets you move the mouse cursor around the screen simply by waving it at the laptop.
Being an XPS product, the M2010 comes with one a one-year next business day on-site warranty, plus free online and telephone technical support. XPS customers are given a special phone number which expedites their calls to agents ahead of standard customers, so there's potentially less time spent waiting on the phone.
Unsurprisingly the XPS M2010 offers strong performance in most aspects. Its 2.1GHz processor helped it achieve a solid PC Mark 2005 score of 4,122, which was in line with our expectations.
The XPS M2010 gave us the rather pleasant surprise of operating in a very quiet and composed manner during our test period. It runs extremely quietly during everyday use and its cooling fans only piped up when we subjected it to more strenuous activities, such as video encoding or game playing.
Its performance with 3D applications was also impressive. The ATI Mobility Radeon X1800 card helped it clock up a 3DMark 2006 score of 2,244, which is the highest we've seen for any laptop that uses a single graphics processing unit (GPU). This equated to a Doom 3 frame rate of 65fps at a resolution of 1,024x768, which again is the best we've seen from a single GPU laptop.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield