Mygamer Hardware Score: 9.5/10
Just so you know, I had a really… really… hard time getting this review started. Not because I was dragging my feet, hoping to keep the Dell XPS M1710 gaming laptop in my house for another few days…. well, OK not just because of that, anyway.
Honestly, when I heard a few years ago that Dell was planning on getting into the gaming hardware space, I was not impressed. True, Dell makes wonderfully solid work PCs – I've been a huge fan of their computers in my office forever it seems. But, gaming machines are quite another thing. Certainly, I thought, true performance can only come from custom-built, overclocked systems, right?
But, MyGamer's not the type to turn down the chance to play with new hardware, so when Dell offered us the opportunity to take a gander at their XPS line, we couldn't refuse. We put the system that Dell sent us, the XPS M1710, through some truly torturous tests and, as we will show, the XPS not only met but blew away our expectations, forever changing how we think of "gaming laptops" forever.
Let's start with the basics. The XPS M1710 is the "high end" of Dell's last-gen hardware (the current "latest and greatest" being the newly announced Merom line, a PC we've not yet had the chance to test). The PC has, at its heart, a pair of Intel Core Duo T2700 CPUs running at 2.33GHz, 2GB of RAM and, for graphics, a powerful NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GTX video card with 512 MB of dedicated video RAM. The laptop, naturally, has all the rest of the high-end goodies that you'd expect: DVD burner? Check. Multi-speaker audio system with down-firing sub woofer in the bottom of the case? Check. Loads of USB ports (6 in all) for your mice, thumb drives, game pads and other portable gaming essentials? Check, check and check! (Editor's note: Dell tells us that the CPU sent with our test unit is no longer available, however all XPS units now available on their web site are fitted with upgraded Intel Extreme Core 2 Duo T7600 processors running at 2.33 GHz).
Best of all, the XPS features a huge 17" widescreen LED monitor. In our time, we've seen a lot of laptop and LCD monitors, and we have to say that the display screen on the M1710 has to be one of the brightest, sharpest and most colorful screens we've ever seen on a mobile PC. Dell tells us the M1710's screen is 30% brighter than their previous screens, and we can certainly confirm that it looks great. In fact, it really does do everything, and it does it well, whether that task is rendering Doom III's gloomy, stygian corridors, displaying Guild Wars Factions lush environments at almost 100 FPS (more on that later), or painting lines and lines of teensy, 6-point Flash-based text in a web browser, the XPS's display screen always managed to not only meet but to exceed our expectations.
The XPS also features a bit of visual "bling" with its case-mounted LED glow lights, its sleek, steel-gray case and white keyboard and its Limited Edition candy-apple red paint job. Everywhere we went, from the library to the mall to our favorite coffee place, the XPS gathered admiring looks from all manner of passers-by.
OK, so the thing looks great and is a joy to compute on… But how does it handle games? In our tests, we subjected the XPS to all of our usual test bed applications on both wall power as well as on battery (a condition where other "gaming laptops" we've tested fell flat on their faces) and – well, read on to see how it did. FYI: all games were run at 1600X1200 with 2X antialiasing and 4X anisotropic filtering (where available), with all draw distances maxed out and with V-sync disabled.
On wall power the M1710 put up a fairly impressive 58.9 FPS with Doom III and 58.284 FPS with World of Warcraft. Surprisingly, as we turned up the heat and ran more and more demanding applications, the XPS met every challenge, showing 75.1 FPS with F.E.A.R., 85.75 FPS with Half Life II, 89.75 FPS with the visually challenging Oblivion and a whopping 94.65 FPS with Guild Wars Factions. To put things in perspective – these frame rates exceed the numbers put up by the SLI video-enabled Alienware Aurora 7500 desktop that we reviewed last week, and the Dell PC is a laptop. "Awesome" is the only word we have to describe it.
Figuring that the Happy Train had to come off the tracks at some point, we re-ran all our tests with the laptop on battery power, and are pleased to report that, even when truly mobile, the XPS still had the power to deliver the gaming goods. On battery, using the XPS's "Max Performance" setting with the pre-loaded Dell Quickstart application (more on this in a bit), we still saw 40.4 FPS with Doom III, 41.5 FPS with World of Warcraft, 58.65 FPS with Half Life II and 45.23 FPS with Oblivion. Oddly, Guild Wars Factions dropped to 23.65 FPS when run off wall power even after repeated tests (we assumed at first that maybe we had a flaky wireless connection to the web, but the frame-rate persisted in several areas). Not enough FPS to make a jaded gamer's eyes bleed, but certainly more than playable, even though we weren't plugged into the wall. Even better, the battery on the XPS lasted about 1 hour and 40 minutes even with the monitor brightness turned almost all the way up and with the video power setting maxed. Wow.
When you factor in that we could (and did) enjoy this level of gaming bliss literally anywhere and everywhere, from the depths of our favorite overstuffed leather chairs in Panera Bread to the cafeteria in our office building (don't tell my boss, OK? He thinks I was working on my TPS report…), the XPS really stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
When we reviewed the Aurora 7500 gaming desktop, we likened that PC to a Ferarri… super quick, high-priced and more than a little twitchy. Well, compared to the Aurora, the XPS M1710 is a Mercedes Benz luxury sedan. Not only can it blast down the Autobahn at 240 KPH but it can do it while warming your butt in plush leather seats with a Mozart aria playing thorough a luscious Blaupunkt stereo. The secret to our enjoyment of the M1710 isn't just in its raw performance, but rather in the total integration of the PC's systems as well as the unparalleled quality of the installed OS and core applications suite.
From the pre-loaded McAffee Security Center to the automated Dell Support application (which constantly searches for driver and other updates), to the fact that Dell even took the time to pre-load Google Desktop, the XPS really does have all the bases covered, software-wise. Even better, Dell has created something they call Dell Quickstart, which is a software-based application that allows the user to configure a number of parameters, from the amount of power that the video card will draw when running on battery all the way down to the color and intensity of the case LED glow lights. And, best of all, Quickstart allows you to switch these parameters right from within Windows, without the need for a reboot (no BIOS changes are required, even though core power management settings have been changed). I think that in all the days we ran the PC, we only had to reboot it a handful of times – we usually just closed the lid and put the PC into "Standby" mode, so that we could open it up and be ready to play or work a few seconds later.
We could go on and on, talking about how we enjoyed our favorite DVD movies using the M1710's "MediaDirect" quick-launch button or about how all of our Office and graphics apps as well as our MP3 creation software loaded lightning quick, but really, that all goes without saying… any PC that can put up the gaming frame-rates that this machine can handle isn't going to balk when loading up a little Microsoft bloatware. Bottom line: the Dell XPS M1710 gaming laptop has become our new favorite gaming PC, shattering the expectations that this reviewer has established for even his custom-built, overclocked desktop from last year, and it did it all in a unit that I can easily pop into my Swiss Army PC backpack.
So, it's with a heavy heart that I have to bid the XPS a fond farewell. Things certainly will be a lot more quiet around my place when it's gone, but maybe I'll start getting a bit more sleep. Those late night "gaming benchmark sessions" with Oblivion and Guild Wars were starting to really take their toll. Congratulations, Dell, on your well-deserved win of this month's "Hard Core Hardware" award!
Pros: Almost too many to list, but the XPS's crystal-clear 17" monitor, its dual-core CPUs' performance and the extremely professional and well-configured OS install certainly top the list. Add in crucial but often overlooked touches like a year's subscription to McAfee security updates, the Dell Quickstart power management suite and a raft of USB connections (did we mention that the M1710 has * 6 * of the little buggers?), and the PC goes from merely "awesome" to completely "mind blowing".
Cons: Wait… let me think. There must be something. Ah… OK, how about: We don't get to keep it? Seriously, it takes quite a bit to really and truly impress us after so many years of playing with high-end PCs, but in the XPS's case, we're left groping for anything bad to say. True, the M1710 costs about the same as the SLI-powered Aurora 7500 desktop, but it outperforms that system in many ways. Plus, try stuffing the Alienware's gargantuan case into a backpack – it ain't gonna happen. Personally, we can't wait to see how Dell's new line of Merom-enabled gaming systems will measure up to the 1710's truly lofty measure.