Dell XPS M1730 Mobile Gaming Notebook

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Usage Experience


After careful examination, we have found the XPS M1730 to be a well constructed laptop. The M1730's layout has been well thought out from a service and upgrade perspective and we found it fairly straight forward to work with. Now that we've thoroughly examined the XPS M1730, let's explore what it is like to actually use one.


XPS M1730 Usage Experience
Gaming On The Go

For a full week, we incorporated the Dell XPS M1730 into our daily routine, substituting it for our usual laptop of choice. We lugged the M1730 with us around town on a daily basis and attempted to get into as many usage scenarios as we could think of. From fragging on the go and typing up this article to giving Powerpoint presentations and watching movies on the subway, we tried it all and now we're ready to report our findings.

     

The first thing you're likely to notice about the XPS M1730 when you begin using it is its substantial bulk. Not only is it a large laptop, as we've previously mentioned, it also happens to be quite heavy. Weighing in at 12 pounds including the battery, it even outweighs many other desktop replacement laptops. Much of the weight is due to the XPS' primarily magnesium chassis. Add in the weight of the power adapter, some accessories and a book or two, and carrying your laptop bag around all day ends up being quite a chore.

While the M1730 may be taxing to carry around, its magnesium chassis makes it very sturdy. Unlike many smaller laptops, the M1730 is definitely not flimsy by any standard. The laptop lid is secured by two latches above the LCD screen and they do a good job of holding the lid closed during transport. While we made no attempt to overtly abuse our review unit to test its mettle, we are fairly confident the M1730 can survive the bumps and bruises of daily on-the-go use. The M1730 is probably one of the few laptops you could use to successfully defend yourself from a bear attack in a pinch, should such a scenario arise (HotHardware does not condone bear violence).

     

One of our biggest complaints with the M1730 has nothing to do with the actual laptop itself. The M1730 comes with a massive power adapter larger than any laptop power adapter we have ever seen. The giant adapter is a 230W unit that is about 4 inches wide, 8 inches long and 2 inches thick. It is truly deserving of the nickname of 'brick' and unfortunately we were unable to obtain a real brick for comparison purposes. The power adapter is longer, thicker and nearly twice as wide as the power adapter used by the ASUS C90S we reviewed last week. The adapter is actually close to the size of two ASUS Eee PCs stacked on top of each other.

Located above the LCD monitor is a 2.0 megapixel camera and a pair of digital array microphones. The camera is fixed and cannot be rotated independently of the laptop lid. We found the picture quality to be average. It should be sufficient for webcam tasks. On either side of the camera is a microphone. The microphones did a good job of picking up our voice, even with moderate background noise, although they still can't beat a headset.

Like all recent Dell XPS models, the M1730 comes with a XPS branded leather binder. Inside the binder you'll find the user manuals and slots to put your driver DVDs. Also included with the M1730 is a small cloth pouch that contains a complimentary pair of Creative EP-630 in-canal earbuds.

Keyboard & Touchpad

We found the XPS M1730's keyboard to be pleasant to use, for a laptop keyboard. The keys gave good tactile feedback and did not suffer as much from the softness that afflicts most laptop keyboards. The keys are of sufficient size and we liked their positioning. We also liked that all of the primary keys remain the standard size, with the exception of the Windows keys which has been squished to make room for the Fn key. The Escape and F-keys have are half-height, but this is fairly common for laptop keyboards.

The M1730 offers a full-size numpad complete with a calculator Fn key which launches the Calculator applications in Windows. Other Fn keys include the F1 key, which puts the system in sleep mode, the F3 key which is a shortcut for the battery life application and the F8 key which toggles the video-out. Three of the arrow keys also have alternate Fn functions. The up and down arrow keys adjust screen brightness while 'right' arrow key toggles the keyboard backlighting. We did notice some keyboard sag on the left side but it only became apparent when significant pressure was applied, more pressure than you would normally use to type. Overall, the keyboard was on par with other laptop keyboards we have used and relatively pleasant to type on.

The M1730's touchpad is quite responsive and tracking was reliable. The touchpad buttons have a good, solid feel and provide nice tactile feedback as well as a satisfying click sound. We found that the touchpad was a bit too small and we wished the tracking area was larger. On the other hand, the touchpad buttons were plenty large and we wish they had been smaller to allow more room for the tracking area. The row of media keys on the front of the M1730 were well positioned and easy to access but they provided poor feedback and felt 'squishy'.

Ports & Connections

The ports on the M1730 are well positioned. We liked that most of the ports were located on the left side of the laptop since most people are right-handed and cords on the right side of the laptop could interfere with the usage of a mouse. We also liked that the laptop's four USB ports were spread out so that each side, with the exception of the front, has at least one USB port. While the optical drive was easy to access and well positioned, the tray open/close button was not very responsive and difficult to depress.

Display

The M1730 only has one display option, a 17" glossy WUXGA (1920x1200) pixel widescreen display. This is one of the best features of the M1730. The display is fantastic and picture quality easily rivals some desktop monitors. As previously mentioned, the M1730's thick lid would allow it to house larger, higher quality backlights and that seems to be exactly what Dell decided to do. The backlighting used in the M1730's display is excellent, very bright and uniform. Viewing angles are very good for a laptop. The side-to-side angles are very wide and comparable to quality desktop monitors. The vertical angle isn't nearly as wide but still impressive for a laptop display. Color range is also very good for a laptop display and so is contrast. Blacks were deep and whites were bright and pure. Lastly, backlight leakage was minimal and we only observed a small amount from the bottom of the display.

Speakers & Sound Quality

The XPS M1730 has two speakers located on the front of the laptop. Each speaker has two 18mm drivers which can clearly be seen through the mesh speaker grills. The stereo speakers provide 10 watts of total output power. Sound quality was competent, especially for laptop speakers. We found the sound to be detailed and the sound stage was present, which is more than we can say for most laptop speakers. There was minimal distortion, even at higher volumes, and the harshness that most laptop speakers exhibit was not present. While the sound lacked bass, mids were present and the sound was relatively well balanced, rather than dominated by highs as with most laptop speakers.

As previously mentioned, the M1730 comes with a complimentary pair of Creative EP-630 in-canal earbuds. These earbuds are very popular and well reviewed. Also included are two extra sets of pads that can be changed with the set already installed on each bud. The new pads are of different sizes so it is a good idea to try them out to find the right size for your ears. We briefly tested them and found them to be quite good. Noise isolation is excellent, and the bass is out in force. Highs were good but mids lack detail. While we didn't particularly like them for music, they sounded great with movies and especially games. Overall a significant improvement compared to the M1730's speakers and decent headphones overall.

The XPS M1730 also has two headphone ports on the left side, as well as a microphone port. The extra headphone port lets you share your music or movie with a friend. These three ports can be configured to provide surround sound output in case you want to use a set of surround sound speakers with your M1730. We liked this feature since it means we can hook up surround sound speakers out of the box, without the need to purchase an external sound card or use a break-out box.

Heat & Noise

With a laptop this powerful, heat and noise are serious concerns. Our review unit is equipped with the fastest Intel mobile processor, dual video cards in SLI and a physics processor. Combined, they put out a significant amount of heat. The M1730 has large cooling vents located on its underside and most of its backside. The system has three fans total. They intake air from the bottom of the laptop and expel it out the back. We found the fans to be nearly silent. They are very difficult to hear when the system is idle and not especially noticeable, even when the system is under load. Overall, the system is fairly quiet, an impressive feat given the components it's required to cool.

While the fans were quiet and easy to live with, the optical drive was not. When the optical drive spins up to speed, the entire laptop vibrates and a significant amount of noise is produced. While this is fairly common with laptops, we thought it was especially bad on the M1730. Thankfully it's not a huge concern unless your constantly accessing the optical drive. The hard drives, on the other hand, were completely inaudible.

Considering the caliber of the components in use and the relative silence of the system's fans, we were worried that the laptop would heat up after extended use. After a couple hours of loading, during benchmarking, the M1730 remained relatively cool to the touch. The wrist rest area under the keyboard was never more than lukewarm at worst and the keyboard also remained cool. The rear of the laptop did get warm but it was nothing too concerning. We are glad that Dell did not make the mistake of positioning the exhaust vents on the left or right side of the laptop. When the system is under load, the fans do jettison a significant amount of hot air and if the exhaust vent had been on the either the left or right side of the laptop, using a mouse could have become uncomfortable.

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