Gaming laptops are traditionally full of compromises.
Dell XPS M1730
- AGEIA physics, SLI graphics, powerful CPU, speakers, additional display with performance monitor, high resolution screen, 2-megapixel webcam
- No HDMI port, no e-SATA port, battery life
If you're a gamer and you need more mobility, this machine is clearly a great option. The lights are crazy and fun, if not too garish for some, and there's a tonne of power at your fingertips, including SLI graphics and an AGEIA physics card.
Price$ 3,549.00 (AUD)
As far as gamers go, there are few notebooks that stand up to the Dell XPS range. We've seen the XPS M1710 (7950), the XPS M1210 and just recently the XPS M1330, but our Australian first review of the new Dell XPS M1730 proves it's in a league of its own. It's the first notebook to feature the AGEIA PhysX card, the first Dell to feature SLI DirectX 10 graphics cards and the first overclockable Dell notebook in Australia (with Intel's X7800 CPU).
In the belly of the beast you'll find SLI NVIDIA 8700 GT (DirectX 10) graphics cards totalling 512MB of dedicated video memory between them, a T7700 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU with an 800MHz front side bus and a 4MB L2 cache, and 2GB of DDR2 667MHz RAM. The installed AGEIA PhysX card is accompanied by a copy of Ghost Recon 2: Advanced War Fighter for PC.
SLI graphics in a notebook is a great feat, but the addition of an AGEIA physics card is something we did not expect to see. AGEIA cards beef up the amount of physics that a game can produce during gameplay, but the game must have AGEIA content. There aren't a lot of big game titles that currently use AGEIA, but the included Ghost Recon title does, and it's certainly nothing to complain about.
In addition to these powerful components you'll barely be able to ignore some of the less functional features. Like the face only a mother could love, this notebook is a machine only a gamer could love. Amidst the new black patterned design are a backlit keyboard and a swathe of coloured LED lights glowing from every orifice. At this point the M1730 runs past the line of good taste without a backward glance. The speakers glow at the front edge, the lid glows with an LED-lit XPS logo and the touchpad glows with another XPS logo.
By using the Dell Quickset software, you can adjust the colours for each speaker and the logos individually; create a black and red nightrider style theme or some hot pink and lime-green monstrosity at your own will. Most people will find it revolting, but in its own twisted way it's almost cool. These lights can be set to strobe, "breath" or do other effects. There is even a Dell LightFX plug-in for Winamp, Windows Media Player and iTunes which strobes the lights to your music. Those who wish to remain inconspicuous beware!
Another interesting feature of this machine is the small LCD just above the keyboard. Here you will find a stopwatch, countdown timer, clock and more importantly a system performance monitor. The performance monitor shows CPU and RAM activity, and even displays both cores of the CPU.
The hulking chassis is not unlike the Pioneer DreamBook Power D90 SLI (Quad Core) in size, and weighs a solid 5kg (6.5kg with the power brick). This is definitely not a notebook you want to whip out when riding on public transport. The size is unfortunately necessary. Apart from the aforementioned components there's two 160GB hard drives (7200rpm) and a DVD re-writer to fit in. One feature at least, that isn't taking up much room is the 2-megapixel webcam built into the screen.
The screen itself offers a high-definition 1920x1200 resolution and the speakers are phenomenal, though a little more bass would be nice. Despite all of the features we have seen in this machine that weren't expected, there are a few features we did expect that aren't included. For instance, a lot of powerful notebooks like the HP Pavilion HDX9003TX and the ASUS G2S have HDMI ports included, and we've even seen a trend towards e-SATA ports in the latest releases. It seems a shame to not include these in such a powerful unit.
As well as some media controls, the XPS M1730 has Dell MediaDirect, a media centre-type software, which can be run prior to launching the operating system. The main advantage is the ability to watch movies, listen to music or view photos within a few seconds of hitting the MediaDirect button, rather than having to wait for Windows to load.
Naturally in the benchmarks we saw good scores, particularly in the gaming tests. In WorldBench 6 the Dell XPS M1730 scored 85, a very nice score, though not quite as good as Dell's own XPS M1330 notebook. In 3DMark 2006 it scored a very powerful 8033, more than enough to run most current games to run with medium to high quality settings. 3DMark 2001 SE got blitzed by a score of 27,792.
In the encoding test it also did well, achieving scores that are beginning to show notebook CPUs are comparable to desktop CPUs. Using iTunes to encode 53 minutes worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files took just 75 seconds and in Cdex (which uses only one core of the CPU) it took 110 seconds.
Battery test results weren't all that impressive. In our DVD rundown test, where we loop a DVD until the battery drains, the XPS M1730 lasted only 69 minutes. However, it's clear this desktop replacement is not designed for long term battery use, so it isn't a huge flaw.
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