Design & Build Quality
While the XPS M1730 is a completely new design, it doesn't stray too far from the M1710 it replaces. Despite looking nothing like the M1710, the general geometry of the M1730's chassis is similar in many ways to the M1710. However, that is where the similarities end.
If the appearance of the XPS M1730 were to be summed up in one word, it would be 'imposing'. Despite sharing similar dimensions with other 17" laptops, the M1730's design makes it appear to be much larger than other laptops we have seen. This lends to the M1730's imposing presence and it will definitely not appeal to minimalists.
Much of the XPS M1730's thickness is due to its 2/3" thick lid. The lid is much thicker than it has to be and we've seen 17" laptops sport significantly thinner lids. However, the M1730's lid isn't without its advantages. A thicker lid means the M1730 has room for larger and higher quality LCD backlights as well as better rigidity. In fact the M1730's lid is very strong and we observed no give or bending in the lid when a significant amount of pressure was applied. Two metal hinges attach the lid to the body and they are also quite sturdy. The hinges have enough internal friction to allow the lid to be positioned at literally any angle in its range of motion but they are also loose enough to allow the lid to be opened with one hand without causing the laptop to lift from the desk. We found the hinges to be very smooth, however the hinges are concealed by black plastic and we found the plastic made slight rubbing noises when the lid was moved.
The top of the lid has two identical trapezoidal shaped areas. The trapezoids are made of clear plastic and in the center of each trapezoid is a shiny XPS label. Behind clear plastic is a non-removable colored insert. There are four insert colors to choose from on Dell's online configurator. Our review unit has a Smoke Grey insert and the other three available colors are Sapphire Blue, Crimson Red and Bone White. In the center of the lid is a silver Dell logo.
The M1730's ports are spread out on three sides while the front of the laptop sports a pair of speakers and a row of media buttons. Located under the media buttons is the IR sensor. On the rear of the laptop is the AC adapter port, Ethernet port and a single USB port. The right side of the laptop has two USB ports, an Expresscard slot, a Kensington lock port and a button and switch. The switch disables the internal wireless card to save battery while the button launches the 'Wi-Fi Catcher' utility which displays a list of networks within range along with signal strength. Located on the left side of the laptop is the optical drive, DVI-out, S-Video out, media card reader, 4-pin Firewire port, and another USB port. Also located on the front edge of the left side are three audio ports. By default one of these ports is for a microphone and two of them are for headphones. However, the audio ports can be configured to provide surround sound output. In case you weren't counting, the M1730 only sports four USB ports in total. That is two less than the M1710. This is somewhat disappointing since there is plenty of space available for more ports.
Like the M1710 before it, the M1730 has numerous LEDs located around the chassis which cause it to light up when on. This might be undesirable if you need to keep a low profile, but then you probably wouldn't purchase a laptop marketed to gamers to begin with. However, if you absolutely hate them, every single decorative LED on the M1730 can be disabled from within the BIOS. We liked the lighting and think the M1730 looks much better when LEDs were turned on then when off. So much so that we took a series of gratuitous pictures of the M1730 in low light conditions to show off its potential.
Possibly the most impressive aspect of the lighting system on the M1730 is the amount of control you have over it. The LEDs can be controlled from the BIOS or from within windows via the "Dell QuickSet" utility which comes pre-installed on the system. As previously mentioned, each LED region can be individually turned off and the colors of the touchpad, and each of the two speakers can be individually set to any one of 16 different colors. The intensity level of the LEDs can be also be set, with eight levels of intensity, not including off. Another cool feature of the lighting system is the ability to link LED intensity to LCD brightness. That means when the LCD brightness changes, so does the intensity of the LEDs.
There are also four LED effects that can be enabled. There is a strobe light effect and a 'breathing lights' effect, where all of the LEDs smoothly cycle in intensity. Another effect called 'smooth color rotation' is similar to 'breathing lights', except with each "breath" the LEDs change colors in unison. The last effect is called 'zone rotation' where the touchpad and speaker LEDs toggle between two colors in rotation while the rest of the LEDs remain constant. The speed of the effects can be changed and the LED effects can be enabled all the time or only when a new e-mail is received. Lastly, the effects can be linked to music and plug-ins are available for Windows Media Player, WinAmp and iTunes.
This LCD serves a number of purposes. By default the LCD has four plug-ins for displaying the time, a countdown timer function, POP3 e-mail monitor, and a performance monitor that displays CPU and memory usage in real-time. The LCD also displays media activities like a volume bar when the volume is being changed. There are plenty of additional plug-ins which can be downloaded to add support for games and other applications. Sometimes the appropriate plug-in is bundled with the software its meant to support. For example, when we installed Fraps, we had the option to install the Fraps LCD plug-in which used the LCD to display performance information, such as a real-time graph of the frame rate.
The LCD has a blueish backlight and the backlight brightness and contrast can be adjusted. The round button next to the LCD is used to toggle between which plug-in to display while the four rectangular buttons under the LCD are used to control the plug-ins and their function vary from plug-in to plug-in.