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The basic specs of it:
2GB PC2-5300 RAM (Mushkin) to replace the 1GB Hynix RAM included with system
Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 (2.0GHz) with 667MHz FSB
17” WUXGA (1920x1200) Screen
80GB 7200rpm Hitachi Notebook Hard Drive
512MB nVidia GeForce Go 7950GTX (replaced 256MB GeForce Go 7900GS)
8X DVD+/-RW drive
Windows XP Professional
Cost: Replacement for XPS GEN I (outfitted as is, with all replacements, about $3200)
I accepted this laptop after my old Dell XPS Gen I laptop overheated and ultimately exploded. Right from the start, it had a more imposing, yet thinner appearance, and came with both a Windows XP Professional and a Windows Vista Home Premium discs. (I opted to use XP Professional). As with all Dells, I did a clean reformat of the Hard Drive to remove extraneous software (In this case Dell MediaDirect as I could not stand Windows MCE, why keep this useless component?). Once all that was done and I could begin installing Windows XP, immediately I realized how much faster this XPS was than my old Gen I. Instead of installation taking 45 minutes, it took only 20 minutes, with no bloatware and ready to download programs I desired. (Bonus: NO DEAD PIXELS!)
The palmrest is a solid area, and the keyboard possesses full size keys (barring the F-keys) and the keys tap with a solid tap that helps in reassuring the user that this is in fact a quality Dell. The trackpad is smooth, although one could say that the “XPS” logo emblazoned and set to “on” by default via Dell QuickSet is a bit much (along with the lights protruding from the speakers, fan ducts and clamshell), but I like them as a personal / “this is a gaming machine” perspective. My only real gripe with this is that there is a slightly larger than necessary gap between the sides of the keyboard and where the palmrest is, although this is only from a visual point of view and does not affect the laptop empirically.
Parts are well-put together and feel very solid, there is very little (if any) structural flex, and it seems that Dell has finally listened to its customers and provided a well-put together, ready for mobile life computer that doesn’t give the user a feeling of “I’m gonna fall apart” (and for $3k+ it better not). There is no “wiggle” in the screen, you put the screen in a position, it stays there; furthering the idea that Dell is committed to providing a solidly built laptop to its top-line customers.
Memory and Storage:
It’s fairly well known that Dell tends to charge ample amounts of money for much needed upgrades, resulting in many people ordering upgrades from Dell and spending more than necessary to get them. Let’s start here with storage. The XPS came with an 80GB 7200rpm <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-comffice:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Hitachi</st1lace></st1:City> drive, which for the casual user who doesn’t play a lot of games, is more than sufficient to hold MP3’s. However, those who play many games or have other storage-hogging programs may wish to upgrade to one of Dell’s larger Hard Drives (The 200GB 7200rpm drive for $250 extra is a VERY worthwhile upgrade). This part in particular is one I intend to upgrade at a later date when I have more time for gaming.
At the same time, the 7200rpm speed is a welcome speed boost for those who play games and desire faster readtimes (in particular gamers). For instance, running AbsoluteShield Internet Eraser to do a disk wipe would take over 8 hours to complete one pass on my old XPS Gen I; the same period of time would allow for nine passes of the hard drive on this XPS m1710. (Perhaps in part due to the faster processor, but having 1800rpm higher speed doesn’t hurt.)
Memory was initially a 1GB (2x512MB Hynix) memory set that was PC-5300, but as the more enlightened know, Dell’s memory is horrid. Out that went and in went 2x1GB sticks of Mushkin PC2-5300 RAM. Not only did system stability increase by increasing memory and using better quality parts, but gaming became a much better experience as there was no longer as much need for games to rely on the paging file (also known as virtual memory). For the gamers out there (and even those who don’t game but use the XPS m1710 for graphic-intensive work, I would definitely recommend a 2GB upgrade, preferably as an aftermarket purchase to save a few bucks, and to get better quality RAM.)
Viewing Experience (DVDs and Other Non-Gaming Applications):
The first thing one notices when one gets to see the screen is THIS SCREEN IS BIG and fairly bright. Light leakage can be a problem, and on this particular XPS, it’s mild (not non-existent, but not miserable to where the viewing experience is affected). The high (1920x1200) resolution allows for extremely clear viewing of DVDs and for the pixel equivalent of what most 24 inch screens can display, albeit very scrunched. Those who find the native resolution to be too high can always increase the magnification within the program or choose one of the many non-native resolutions designed to enlarge pixel size. However, DVD watching at 1920x1200 is nothing short of stunning. The clarity provided by the extremely bright screen combined with the extremely high pixel count provide the viewer with a pleasing movie-watching event with very few jagged edges or bitmaps.
As for the TrueLife here… it becomes a sort of problem only in very bright situations, where the screen is being compounded by say a bright fanlight or the outside sun, or when the program in use has a great deal of white-zone (e.g. Microsoft Word). In this case it becomes very easy to see one’s reflection in the mirror-like display. Conversely, TrueLife when watching movies in the dark does reduce that washed-out look many screens produce. Instead the viewer is greeted to a bright, fairly saturated image that is fairly unbecoming of the typical Dell laptop. (A good thing by this reviewer’s standards.) Finally a Dell that can play DVDs and provide a positive experience instead of a “yea, I know this is a laptop” experience”.
The XPS m1710 comes standard with 1GB RAM (as mentioned earlier) and a nVidia 7900GS GeForce Go video card. For most users, this amounts to the XPS being a gussied-up e1705. At the same time, it provides for an approximately 6400 in 3Dmark05 and a fairly good gaming experience for many of today’s games so long as AA/AF are kept at fairly low levels. On the other hand, the upgrade to 2GB and an nVidia GeForce Go 7950GTX really comes into play and lets the XPS m1710 shine. A/Bing the GS and the GTX revealed the following: During play of this game using the 7900GS card, at 4xAA/8xAF the game would average approximately 45 fps with the occasional stutter during “movie scenes” (where you can watch the ride from the rider’s point of view). While 45 fps average appears to sound good, the stutters often dropped framerates to 10fps or worse (which renders games unplayable). Reducing the AA/AF does speed up framerates, but reduces details and in this day and age, detail lackings are unbecoming.
The 7950GTX with its 512MB video RAM and faster CPU (575MHz) and Memory (600MHz, but if one unlocks BIOS can be made to 700MHz, nVidia’s stock speed), not only enhances the playing experience, but I was able to increase AA to 8x and AF to 16x while maintaining a steady 75 to 80fps framerate and dropping to a minimum of 45fps. I do admit that while RCT3 is not the most graphics-intensive game out there, the fact the framerates doubled IN SPITE of increasing AA and AF detail goes to show just how much more powerful this card is, and for the consummate XPS user, well worth the extra $400 Dell charges (Although in that logic, I’d get the T7600, the T7200 can be a bottlenecker sometimes as the memory and VRAM may be faster than the CPU can handle).
Summin’ it up:
Dell has finally proven it can build a monstrous gaming laptop in spite of it’s proletariat-oriented image. With a Core 2 Duo setup where all processors are at least 2GHz, fully-dedicated nVidia video cards throughout its range, guaranteed minimum 80GB 7200rpm and 1GB RAM, Dell finally makes a full-blown gaming laptop. For the minimum of $2300, one can get a fairly good gamer that looks like a gussied-up e1705. However, getting the 2GB RAM and 512MB 7950GTX video card really allows this XPS to show its XPS genes and puts it near the level of boutique makers such as Falcon-Northwest, VoodooPC, WidowPC, and especially Dell’s own Alienware. If there were any gripes about this laptop, it would have to be in standard processor and in SLi. Having the 2GHz processor standard is not sufficient as a mid-level e1705 tends to have this processor. The T7400 should really be reserved as the bargain-basement processor here, as the T7600G now tops the line. SLi should be included for Dell’s XPS as an option, although this could potentially infringe on the halo image Alienware has in its 17 inch laptops (in particular the upcoming m9750).
However, for all its shortcomings (and they’re very minor ones at that), the Dell XPS m1710 provides a monstrous gaming experience from a well-known, established brand at a price, that if optioned right, won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Go nuts, build one you like, and when you can play NFS:C and BF2142 with a minimum of stuttering, you’ll know that you made the right choice.