Software & Utilities
One minor criticism we had of the original 730 was the number of applications that came preinstalled. While there weren't too many, some of them were rather useless and could easily be considered bloat. It also didn't help that an anti-virus registration screen greeted you on first boot. This is an area where Dell has made great improvements.
The above image is a screenshot taken immediately upon first boot. As you can see, not only is the desktop clean but the taskbar is relatively tidy and there are no registration/sign-up/configuration windows filling up the screen. The only things that seem to be installed are the bare essentials like the drivers and some basic software utilities to help you interface with the hardware, such as Roxio Creator for optical disk creation and PowerDVD DX for watching DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. Windows Vista User Access Control (UAC) is also disabled by default, an advantage in our opinion (Note: To clarify, Dell ships their machines with UAC enabled, though for the purposes of our review it was disabled on our test machine). Dell has also included three utilities which are new for the XPS 700 series; Dell Dock, XPS Thermal Monitor, and Alienware AlienFX Editor.
The original XPS 730 also had a Dell Dock, although it came in the form of a somewhat useless variation on the Windows Sidebar. Just like the regular Sidebar, the old Dell Dock didn't really provide much in the way of useful functionality and we quickly did away with it. We found the new Dell Dock to be more useful.
The new Dell Dock presents itself as a shortcut bar docked to the top edge of the desktop by default. It can be moved anywhere on the desktop and can dock with any edge. Its primary function is to provide quick access to your favorite programs and files. By default, the Dock comes with seven main categories as well as shortcuts for the Recycle Bin and Internet Explorer. The seven categories are E-mail/Chat, Internet, Photos, Music, Videos, Security and Help/Support. All seven categories are populated by default.
The Dock is extremely customizable, you can easily create and edit categories, separators and shortcuts using the right-click menu. Click and drag any item you wish to create a shortcut for to the appropriate place in the dock and a shortcut will automatically be created. There is also an extensive preferences dialog, also accessible from the right-click menu. From here you can adjust the transparency, docking position, dock color, edit effects options and toggle auto-hide. Overall we found the Dell Dock to be a pretty handy shortcut bar and a great way to keep our desktop clean of icons.
The original XPS 730 had extensive thermal monitoring and fan control abilities. But they were controlled via the NVIDIA Control Panel which was a bit awkward to use. It was also an odd place to put thermal monitoring and control options since they didn't exclusively pertain to the graphics card or the chipset. For the new XPS 730x, Dell has included a custom utility to handle this, called the XPS Thermal Monitor.
The Thermal Monitor is a standalone utility that acts like a one-stop-shop for all of the 730x's thermal monitoring functions. By default the screen displays all of the thermal sensors present in your system and the sensors are polled every second to ensure up to date information. Each of the temperature and fan speed monitors is displayed in its own widget which can be undocked from the main XPS Thermal Monitor interface and placed anywhere on the screen. This is a nice feature since you can put the most important sensor widgets on your desktop to keep an eye on things during activities like overclocking.
The XPS Thermal Monitor's second function is to act as an advanced fan controller. By default all of the fans are engaged in automatic fan control but the Thermal Monitor allows you to create new fan control profiles. Instead of the standard fan speed slider, the Thermal Monitor presents you with a fan speed vs. temperature graph for fan control. The speed of the fans is controlled by the adjustable graph, relative to the temperature detected by the thermal sensor of your choice. This allows for some very fine tuning if you are unhappy with the defaults or just like to tinker.
The last utility that Dell added for the XPS 730x update is a little piece of borrowed technology from their Alienware division. The AlienFX utility which Alienware owners have enjoyed for years is now available for the XPS.
The AlienFX utility is a very slick and powerful LED lighting control utility. There are two modes it can operate in, Basic and Advanced. In Basic mode, the utility acts like a simple LED color chooser. You can individually choose the colors for each of the XPS' five lighting zones from a selection of 16 preset colors. However, the real meat of the program is in the Advanced mode which is significantly more complex. Luckily the AlienFX utility has built-in video tutorials to help you get acquainted with what it has to offer.
Switching to Advanced mode drastically changes the options available to you. You can still pick colors for each of the five lighting zones, but you can choose when the lights come on and if / when they change colors. The lighting system can be set to change depending on system events like receiving a new email or if a certain application is launched. You can, for instance, set a profile that will change all of the LEDs to red while playing Crysis and flash blue when a new email is received. Overall these are some fun features to play with and the visual cues for events may come in handy too.