Dell rolls out flashy new gaming notebooks

Dell's new gaming notebooks feature a new Nvidia graphics card and Intel's latest update to its Centrino mobile technology.

Dell has introduced two new powerful notebooks which are designed for gamers, multimedia enthusiasts and other consumers attracted by flashing lights and shiny cases.

The PC maker updated its Inspiron XPS gaming notebook with Intel's Sonoma notebook technology and a new graphics card from Nvidia that was available only from Dell, for now, director of mobile marketing for Dell's Product Group, Gretchen Miller, said.

The company has also announced the Inspiron 9300, which comes with a 17-inch display designed for watching television or movies.

Dell's primary customers are corporations, which usually don't purchase notebooks with gaming performance in mind. But Dell has introduced several consumer products that revolve around the PC industry's strategy of bringing digital media content to consumers through PCs with Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 operating system, which is available on both notebooks. The operating system is designed to allow users easy access to movies, games and music files stored on their PCs.

The new Inspiron XPS Gen 2 notebook would appeal mostly to gamers willing to spend extra dollars for the best performance, Miller said.

It comes with the most powerful Pentium M processors available from Intel and the chip maker's new Alviso chipset with support for the PCI Express interconnect technology and DDR2 (double data rate 2) memory. Intel introduced Sonoma, an update to its Centrino mobile technology, in January.

The notebook also features Nvidia's GeForce Go 6800 Ultra graphics card, packed with 256MB of dedicated video memory. This card was available only through Dell at present, vice-president of marketing with Nvidia, Dan Vivoli, said.

The combination of the new Intel technology and Nvidia's graphics technology turned the Inspiron XPS into the most powerful gaming notebook ever tested by Nvidia in its labs, he said.

Dell redesigned the casing for the notebook with what it called an "armour shell," using military terms to describe the exterior of the unit. The company informed prospective users that the notebook includes a " ... brushed gun metal display back for protection against the enemy and a perimeter lighting package to intimidate the enemy", according to product literature distributed with the announcement.

Users could set multicolored lights built into the base of the notebook to flash various patterns, Miller said.

The Inspiron XPS costs $US2749 with the Pentium M 760 processor at 2GHz, 512MB of DDR2 memory, Nvidia's graphics card, a 60GB hard drive and Windows XP Home Edition.

The Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 operating system is available for an additional $US39, and Dell is offering a $US500 rebate off the total cost for a limited time. This notebook is available immediately on Dell's website.

Dell hopes this machine will attract the gaming community, but that group tends to build their own systems from scratch or purchase PCs from smaller vendors with historical ties to the gaming community, such as Alienware or Voodoo Computers.

The gaming community is also one of the largest supporters of technology developed by Intel's main rival, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

Dell chief executive officer, Kevin Rollins, appeared to close the door, earlier in the week, on any chance of Dell building an AMD PC in the near future, ending months of public flirtation with AMD.

Dell evaluated AMD's Athlon 64 processors for the Inspiron XPS and Inspiron 9300, but the performance of Intel and Nvidia's technology outperformed similar AMD technology on well-known benchmarks such as 3DMark, Miller said.

Other benchmarks from enthusiast websites have suggested that the Athlon 64 outperforms Intel's technology.

Individual benchmarks can be very subjective depending on the applications used to test the processor's performance, but the gaming community has historically been on AMD's side, and one of the smaller chip company's major sources of strength.

The other notebook introduced, the Inspiron 9300, features a 17-inch widescreen display and buttons for DVD and TV controls built into the base of the unit. It is much more affordable than the XPS, with a starting price of $US1599 that includes the Pentium M 760, 256MB of DDR2 memory and a 40GB hard drive. The 9300 will be available in mid-March.

Dell also announced a new portable music player this week, the Dell DJ 30. It comes with 30GB of storage and supports Microsoft's Windows Media DRM 10 (digital rights management version 10) technology, which allows users to download music from industry-approved websites. It costs $US299, and is available immediately.

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