Gaming enthusiasts can certainly remember a time when the thought of fragging on a Dell system was somewhat comical. Granted, Dell built systems were solid and reliable and often came at an exceptionally good price. However, these systems lacked the aesthetics, upgradeability, and high-end hardware the gaming community craves. As a result, those gamers who opted to purchase a complete system rather than build their own often went elsewhere to the more boutique PC vendors such as Voodoo, Alienware, or Falcon Northwest.
With the launch of the flagship XPS series of systems though, Dell has declared war on this collection of boutique gaming PC vendors. Throughout each generation of XPS systems, it seems as though Dell is gaining more and more ground on these competitors in the minds of enthusiasts as they offer a solid combination of killer performance and a unique aesthetic. With the arrival of the XPS M1710 flagship, Dell has created one of the fastest notebooks money can buy. It features a 512MB GeForce Go 7900 GTX GPU and an Intel Core Duo processor which work in tandem to give nearly any desktop system currently available a serious run for its money.
Armed with a gorgeous 17" WUXGA LCD panel that runs a native resolution of 1920x1200, the XPS M1710 is aimed directly at the elite multimedia and gaming demographic. Although relatively light for a desktop replacement notebook with a respectable 8lb weight, the overall size and bulk of the system certainly won't be mistaken for an ultraportable anytime soon. Those who travel with a notebook often might want to reconsider their choices as frequent travel with the system will be anything but pleasant. However, for those who need one of the fastest mobile systems on the planet the XPS M1710 is an exceptional choice.
When ordering a Dell XPS system, there is an entirely different buying experience for the consumer. Beyond the system itself, buyers receives a minimum 1-year Limited Warranty with 1-year of complete Warranty support including priority 24/7 access to XPS-trained technicians.
Upon removing the system from the main packaging, we are presented with a glossy black box which houses the notebook and accessories. Here, we find a clean and organized collection of documentation, software, and peripherals to accompany the unit. Small extras such as an XPS branded leather CD case and an XPS branded carrying case round out the out-of-box experience and are just a few of the ways in which the XPS line is differentiated from the standard Dell systems.
One of the most unique aspects of the Dell XPS M1710 is the metal casing which both protects the notebook and adds to its aesthetic appeal. The review sample we were provided featured the Special Edition Formula Red casing. Here, the XPS logos featured on the back panel are also illuminated in your choice of 16 different colors to suite your taste.
Easily one of the most desirable aspects of the system is the 17" UWUXGA LCD panel. Operating at a stunning native resolution of 1920x1200 and featuring Dell's TrueLife technology, the panel offers exceptional color reproduction and clarity. Rated at 250 nits, this screen is 30% brighter than the LCD panel featured on the previous generation XPS notebook. Focusing our attention on the front of the system, we find a series of multimedia controls and two 2W speakers which are conveniently placed such that your palms won't muffle the sound when using the keyboard.
Another feature of the XPS M1710 which is sure to turn heads at any LAN party are the customizable LED's which adorn nearly every side of the system. With 16 various color options available in the BIOS, the overall appearance of the system can be varied dramatically to tailor the look to the individual. As we can see in the second image above, the intensity and coverage provided by the LED's is impressive.
Beginning with the left side of the system, we find the 8X Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW along with two USB ports, a large air intake, and a Kensington lock port. The back of the system is loaded with ports including an S-Video, modem, RJ-45 ethernet, 15-pin D-Sub, DVI, power, and 4 USB 2.0 ports. Rounding out the right side of the notebook, we have an ExpressCard expansion slot, IEEE 1394 port, audio jacks, and a 5-in-1 memory card reader. One thing is certain, users won't be complaining about a lack of connectivity options with the XPS M1710.
The final aspect of the system to be explored is the AC power adaptor. Rated at 130W and having a size of 2.6"x6.7"x1.5" this is a meaty unit to say the least. Regardless, when you're powering a system comprised of the latest and greatest flagship mobile components, you need to have ample power at your disposal.
One of the first orders of business once we had received the system was to begin taking it apart to see what sort of surprises the notebook had in store. Unfortunately, Dell has taken a great deal of the thrill out of this process as getting at the heart of the system requires a nearly complete disassembly of the notebook.
Removing the center-most panel reveals the two SO-DIMM slots for the XPS system memory. With the ability to accept two SO-DIMMS at a total capacity of up to 4GB, the XPS is able to satisfy even the most memory-hungry power users. The test system used came equipped with two 1GB Nanya DDR2 667MHz modules which provided the notebook with an impressive 2GB of total system memory.
Removing the only other panel on the bottom of the notebook, we find the Intel 3945 wireless NIC and modem. Unfortunately, no other components are accessible in the same vicinity, though the two connectivity components can be accessed with ease.
To even get a glimpse at the true innards of the system, the keyboard must be removed. With this removed, we get our first glimpse at the core components which comprise the XPS M1710. On the leftmost portion of the chassis, we can see a small portion of the Intel Core Duo processor and socket, though the heatpipe cooling assembly blocks the majority of the surface from view. On the opposite side of the chassis, we find a rather large heatsink assembly covering the GeForce Go 7900 GTX GPU. Looking at the label on the presumed MXM3 HE module, we see that the module is rated for 65W and is produced by Foxconn. In terms of revisions, the GPU is an A02 variant of the G71 GPU.
Unlike the GeForce Go 7900 GS GPU's found on the Alienware Aurora m9700 SLI notebook we recently reviewed, the Dell XPS M1710 features NVIDIA's flagship GeForce Go 7900 GTX GPU. In addition to having a full 512MB of memory versus other GPU's typical 256MB, the flagship part is rated for significantly higher core and memory frequencies and packs a substantial increase in pipelines. This additional power and capacity comes at a price however, as the 512MB GeForce Go 7900 GTX consumes a full 25W more power than the 256MB GeForce Go 7900 GS.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Dell XPS M1710 is equipped with some of the most involved and thorough BIOS options we have seen to date in a notebook. Here, there is an incredible amount of adjustability ranging from integrated peripherals to the selection of LED color options.
The first few menu options within the BIOS cover the general reporting aspects of the system. Here, basic configuration information is displayed with both processor and memory details covered in great detail.
The next screen to be analyzed covers the various included components such as the discrete GPU. Here, we were surprised to see that the GPU is being reported as having "only" 256MB of memory. After visually confirming the presence of 512MB on the module as well as having the memory size reported as 512MB in both the driver and benchmarks, we can safely say this is simply a reporting error within the BIOS. The remaining screens above illustrate all aspects of the battery including available power and overall health.
The screens depicted above cover nearly every aspect of the boot sequence and connectivity options. Here, the user is given the opportunity to fully configure the operation of the Intel 3945 wireless NIC as well as the ability to enable or disable the integrated modem.
The options available in this group of screenshots cover the functionality of the USB ports as well as the selection of LED colors and brightness. Here, the user has the ability to select one of 16 different color choices for each LED in the system bringing a whole new level of customization to the table.
The BIOS options above cover both the multi-core ability and SpeedStep functionality of the processor as well as the option to enable or disable acoustic mode for the hard drive. Although enabling this feature cuts down significantly on access noise, it should be disabled to allow for the highest possible performance.
By far, the most interesting and mysterious aspect of the Dell XPS M1710 are the options regarding the graphics behavior of the system. Here, the user is given the option of using either the integrated GeForce Go 7900 GTX GPU found within the system or the extremely interesting option of using the graphics card found within a docking station. Could Dell be planning on releasing an enthusiast dock that features a high-end GPU that could not otherwise be crammed into the confinements of the notebook chassis? Perhaps an upgrade to allow for standard or even Quad-SLI would be possible with such a dock.
|Field Testing Features|
Equipped with 2GB of memory, a blisteringly fast dual core processor, and the fastest mobile GPU on the planet there was no task to large or application too taxing for the XPS M1710. In any case, working on the Dell notebook was an absolute pleasure thanks to the generous real estate afforded by the 17" WUXGA LCD's gorgeous 1920x1200 resolution. In addition, Dell's TrueLife screen technology ensured that the panel was exceptionally vivid and bright. Regardless of the application, details were sharp and colors accurately reproduced resulting in excellent overall image quality.
Without question, any LAN party enthusiast on the planet would be more than satisfied with gaming on the XPS M1710. With such a powerful arsenal of hardware at its disposal, the Dell notebook is able to handle even the most taxing new titles with relative ease. Thanks to the high quality widescreen panel, in-game resolutions can be raised as high as 1920x1200 for an absolutely stunning gaming experience. In practice, we did not witness any ghosting or streaking due to response rates and the panel proved more than capable of handling fast-paced FPS titles such as Quake 4 or Unreal Tournament 2004.
Although the XPS notebook is designed primarily for providing an incredible gaming experience, the system proved to be a multimedia powerhouse as well. Here, the high-resolution widescreen LCD did an excellent job of displaying movies with crisp detail and ghost-free performance. Thanks to the use of NVIDIA's flagship mobile GPU, users can also utilize NVIDIA's PureVideo decoder and hardware acceleration to guarantee stunning visuals. In terms of audio performance, the XPS was no slouch either, as it utilizes a rather impressive 2.1 speaker configuration. When watching detail-rich titles such as Master and Commander, it was surprising to hear how well the two speakers handled the wide range of sounds and effects within the movie. Furthermore, the integrated subwoofer on the bottom of the system did a very respectable job reproducing the cannon explosions and deepest audio details. Granted, you will still certainly favor a discrete set of surround speakers should you be wanting to have the full cinematic experience. However, for a notebook the Dell XPS M1710 exhibits some of the best audio performance we've seen to date in a mobile system.
|Field Testing Features Continued|
All things considered, the XPS M1710's roughly 8lb weight is actually light given the specifications of the system. However, the overall size and bulk of the notebook prevents this system from being a viable or desirable candidate for the frequent traveler. Regardless, it is hard to not fall in love with the fact that you essentially have the power of a state of the art desktop at your fingertips when you do travel with the XPS M1710.
In keeping with the torture trends we run notebooks through during the review process, the XPS system was taken along throughout the weekly routine of going into the office and accompanying the group on any coffee or lunch runs. Here, the performance of the included Intel 3945 wireless NIC was flawless as the system was able to connect to any open networks. Though many enthusiasts will recognize the system and be able to appreciate the power of the hardware its comprised of, the flashy exterior panel and countless LED's also don't fail to grab the attention of nearly everyone else around you. Although these people might not know what the system is, their raised eyebrows prove that the Dell XPS M1710 looks as good as it performs.
With such a list of enthusiast-class components crammed into a relatively small package, we assumed that the battery life of the XPS system would be amusing at best. To our delight, the M1710's 9-cell battery was consistently able to provide upwards of two hours of general use. Here, the power-saving features of both the Intel CPU and NVIDIA GPU proved priceless as speeds were able to be throttled down when the application didn't require the additional horsepower. Should you want to be gaming on the go, you would be wise to bring the AC adaptor as the system certainly begins to crave power once the hardware is running at full speed and capacity.
|Test System and General Performance|
Business Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to test the performance level of a computer in business related applications:
Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to test the performance level of a computer in multimedia rich environments:
One glimpse at the results above and it is hard to not be impressed with the performance of the XPS M1710. Here, one can clearly see the obvious benefits of combining an enthusiast dual-core CPU with a whopping 2GB of DDR2 667MHz memory. In this test, the Dell system walks away with a decisive victory and manages to best AMD's Turion64 processor found on the Alienware Aurora m9700.
Compared to the previous results, the XPS system dominates the Content Creation benchmark with ease. Here, the Dell notebook bests the second place Alienware system by nearly three points and sits comfortably atop the leaderboard with the highest overall performance.
|Gaming Performance 1|
One glimpse at the results above and we quickly begin to see the true performance differences between the GeForce Go 7900 GS and the flagship GeForce 7900 GTX. Here, the XPS M1710's single GeForce Go 7900 GTX delivers a final score which is more than 2,000 points higher than the Alienware system featuring a single GeForce Go 7900 GS. Only when two GeForce Go 7900 GS GPU's are present in an SLI configuration can the Dell system be bested in terms of performance. As expected, the systems featuring lesser GPU's or integrated graphics are blown out of the water by these high performance notebooks.
Given the added complexity and texture sizes 3DMark06 has over its predecessor, it is not surprising to see the Dell XPS M1710 giving the Alienware SLI notebook a serious run for its money. Here, the GeForce Go 7900 GTX's 512MB of memory combines with the architectural and clock speed advantages over the GeForce Go 7900 GS to turn in a score which is nearly 5,000 points. Were we able to have accessed a driver which could hold overclocked frequencies without resetting to default speeds, we are positive we could have broken the 5,000 point barrier with the Dell system.
|Gaming Performance 2|
Before we begin comparing the XPS M1710 to the field of other notebooks, it is important to fully understand and grasp the impact using a dual-core processor has upon overall performance. With these results in mind, we can truly develop an apples-to-apples comparison between the systems and identify why consumers should or should not demand a dual-core CPU option for their next notebook purchase.
When little to no image quality enhancements are enabled, we quickly see the profound benefit using a dual-core CPU provides within multithreaded games that can fully take advantage of them. In the most extreme case where no FSAA or Anisotropic Filtering is enabled, the performance differential between a single and dual core CPU is a staggering 22.8fps! To put this in perspective, there are countless notebooks on the market that couldn't even run Quake4 at this resolution and obtain an average framerate of 23fps. As image quality enhancements begin to be added and their settings increased, the impact of the second core gradually becomes minimized because another component - the GPU - becomes the bottleneck.
Running at a resolution of 1024x768 with no image quality enhancements, the Dell XPS M1710 absolutely pummels the competition. Here, the XPS system's powerful GeForce Go 7900 GTX is able to command a more than 30fps advantage in framerate over the slightly less capable GeForce Go 7900 GS found on the Alienware Aurora m9700. Lesser GPU's such as the GeForce Go 6600 aren't even in the same league as the Dell system with Intel IGP-equipped providing almost embarrassing performance in comparison.
Raising the game's resolution to a stunning 1920x1200, we begin to truly see the raw performance of the Dell XPS M1710. With no anti-aliasing but 8x Anisotropic Filtering enabled, the single GPU equipped XPS system enjoys a 23fps advantage over the SLI-enabled Aurora m9700. When the Alienware system is using a single GPU, the Dell notebook's advantage jumps to upwards of 28fps. Once 2x FSAA is added to the mix, the Dell system's advantage does decrease, though it still maintains an impressive 12.6fps advantage over the SLI notebook.
Once 4x FSAA and 8X Anisotropic Filtering are enabled, the gap between the XPS M1710 and the SLI-equipped Aurora m9700 begins to fade. Regardless, the Dell notebook still retains the performance crown despite having only a single GPU compared to the two GPU's found on the Alienware Aurora m9700. Here, it is amazing to see that despite these obscene settings and resolution, the game is relatively fluid with an average framerate of 40fps or more. As soon as we begin using 8x FSAA with 8x Anisotropic Filtering however, the performance falls off a veritable cliff with average framerates hovering around an unacceptable 13.2fps. To put things into perspective, even the SLI-equipped Alienware system is only able to offer a measly 14.9fps. Regardless, the game certainly looks more than acceptable running at 1920x1200 with 4xAA/8xAF while offering an excellent framerate, so this is hardly a negative for a notebook or even a high-end desktop system.
We are using the standard benchmark settings from Bapco, along with a few other minor system tweaks. The screensaver was disabled and the volume was set at approximately 20%.
MobileMark 2002 utilizes the following applications:
Equipped with a 9-cell Lithium battery and a number of power-saving features and functionality, the XPS M1710 is able to turn in an exceptional score for a desktop replacement notebook. Regardless of class, Dell's latest flagship system is able to walk away with the highest overall score of the field. Somewhat ironically, the second place system is none other than the previous generation Dell XPS system the M1710 replaces.
With a total run time which surpasses the two hour mark, the Dell XPS M1710 is remarkably capable on the road for a flagship desktop replacement system. Again, this is directly attributed to the large 9-cell battery and wealth of efficiency features on each core component such as the CPU and GPU. Here, it is worth nothing that Dell has managed to increase performance and overall battery life with their latest generation of their popular XPS line of notebooks.
The times listed below reflect the time it took for the system to power up until the cursor appeared with no busy indicator on the desktop background.
Although far from being the worst offender, the XPS M1710 came equipped with a fair amount of applications which loaded each time Windows was booted. As a result, the system took a slightly better than average 33 seconds to boot. Fortunately, Dell now offers a service in which customers can specify what should or should not be loaded out of the box. If done correctly, the time taken to fully boot into Windows will be reduced dramatically.
Although having a rather average showing in terms of required time to boot, the XPS M1710 finds itself on the podium with regards to the time necessary to recover from Standby mode. Here, only the Dell 6000 manages to have any significant performance advantage over the new XPS system.
In similar fashion to the results coming out of standby mode, the XPS M1710 receives another top-three finish with a very respectable 11 second performance returning from Hibernation mode. Here, only the Dell 6000 and Alienware Aurora m9700 were able to best the XPS notebook by the slightest of margins.
Taking a step back and looking at the Dell XPS M1710, it is easy to see why this system should be considered one of the most exceptional notebooks available on the market today. Equipped with the fastest mobile components money can buy, the XPS notebook offers unbelievable performance in nearly any benchmark. Somewhat surprisingly, the advanced efficiency features of that hardware results in very respectable battery life for a notebook of this caliber. Add to that the unique customizable aesthetic and relatively low ~8lb weight and you have what could be the ideal combination of size, speed, and performance for a power user notebook.
At the end of the day, nearly every aspect of the XPS M1710 has been tailored around the hardcore gaming community. The wild appearance and ability to customize the color of the various LEDs beaming from within the system lets casual bystanders know they are not looking at a standard notebook. Taking into consideration the flagship Intel Core Duo processor and 512MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GTX graphics card and we realize "standard" is the last word which should be used to describe this system. When combined with a hefty 2GB of DDR2 memory and a stunning 17" WUXGA LCD panel running at 1920x1200, nearly any game on the market can be played at high resolutions with enhanced image quality settings with absolutely butter-smooth framerates. Chances are, if the XPS notebook was brought to a LAN party it would likely be faster than the vast majority of desktop systems there. Having the ability to pack the notebook and a mouse and be on your way with no sacrifice over performance is certainly a compelling reason for LAN addicts to give their attention to the XPS M1710 for their next system purchase.
As is evident by the non-gaming benchmarks within this review, the XPS M1710 is also more than capable of handling taxing applications besides the latest and greatest games. Here, the level of hardware within the system gives ample performance headroom to please even the most discerning power user. In this respect, the Dell notebook is extremely versatile as it can literally be used for any application with no compromises compared to using a desktop. Users will certainly appreciate the real estate afforded by the 17" widescreen LCD's 1920x1200 resolution and will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of sound coming from the notebook's 2.1 sound system.
Were we to try to find fault anywhere with the system, our only issues would focus around the accessibility and ability to upgrade the core components. Although an act only a handful of owners would ever undertake, accessing the CPU and GPU are anything but trivial. Although removing the keyboard teases users with a glimpse of the hardware, there are several more involved steps which must be taken to have complete access. Somewhat ironically, Dell has minimized this issue as there are no GPU upgrade options available for the system, at least at the moment. Although unfair to blame Dell directly, it is frustrating to know that notebook vendors have all the tools to create a clear upgrade path for GPU modules thanks to NVIDIA's MXM format. For one reason or another, however, consumers have yet to see any such upgrade path come to fruition. After spending upwards of $3000 on a system, it would certainly be a welcomed addition to know you could upgrade to the latest and greatest graphics card down the road once it became available. Here, we realize that the lack of SLI functionality on the XPS system further hurts this upgrade path as users cannot purchase a second GPU to increase performance either.
In the most economical configuration, the XPS M1710 can be purchased for a reasonable $2400, relatively speaking. However, to purchase the same configuration we've tested today one would be looking at a hefty $3880. With that said, it is important to realize that for $3880, consumers are buying what is arguably the fastest notebook on the planet today. Obviously, there are a wide range of configuration and cost options in between these two extremes which allow the user to truly tailor the system around their needs. Although the notebook certainly won't be considered "cheap" by any means, buyers do get the comfort of Dell's service, warranty, and reputation.
In short, the Dell XPS M1710 is an ideal solution for anyone looking to have desktop-class power and functionality within a notebook. Whether you're an avid gamer, power user, or multimedia junky the XPS system is certainly aimed to please. Although we've tested other high-end notebooks here in the past, no system to date has been able to provide the sheer level of performance and versatility we have seen in testing the XPS M1710. When factoring in the warranty, service, aesthetics, and performance of the system, it is hard to find a more desirable notebook than the XPS system. Though we would love to have seen the obscene numbers the XPS would have achieved were it offered with an SLI configuration, we were still nothing short of blown away by the system's overall performance. With this in mind, we have no choice but to award the Dell XPS M1710 a rating of 9 on the Hot Hardware Heat Meter and are giving it an Editor's Choice away. We thoroughly recommend this system to anyone in the market for a new DTR notebook.