Dell – XPS M1710 review

monstrous gaming laptop with 17-inch screen and Blu-Ray
Photo of Dell – XPS M1710
£1,849

The M1710 (N04XPS7) is the bigger brother of the M1210 and, just like its smaller sibling, it’s very different in appearance to the rest of the Dell laptop range. It’s powerful, too; in fact it’s one of the most powerful notebooks currently available. The XPS M1710 has been around for a while but our review sample, the flagship model of the range, is one of the latest with a Blu-Ray writeable drive fitted as standard.

The M1710 comes in two colours – Metallic Black (our review sample) or Formula Red – and, as is becoming for a member of the XPS clan, enough lights to shame a Christmas tree. The design of the notebook is what you could call “funky industrial” with the metallic black lid inlay neatly set off by the metallic silver surround. It’s a tough beast as well, with a magnesium alloy chassis, steel lid hinges and thick plastic palm wrests, but weighing in at 5.5kg you won’t want to be carrying it around much anyway.

As the flagship model, our M1710 came powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 CPU which is clocked at 2.33GHz, but if you want to save some money, slower processor options are available.

Backing up the CPU is 1GB of PC2-667 (333MHz) DDR2 memory in the form of two modules, but the two DIMM slots will accept up to a maximum of 4GB of memory, so as you might expect the M1710′s performance should be pretty good to say the least. That’s borne out by its PCMark 05 overall score of 5,900 which puts it well up with most upper-mid-range desktops and some high-end systems too.

On the other hand, battery life isn’t stunning, but as the M1710 will spend most of its life attached to the mains that’s pretty academic anyway. We managed to get about two and a half hours of life under test conditions with all battery saving measures turned off.

Overall performance is one thing, but what the M1710 is really about is gaming and the graphics performance is nothing short of stunning. The graphics are powered by an Nvidia GeForce GO 7950 GTX GPU backed by 512MB of GDDR3 memory, giving the M1710 a stunning 3DMark score of 9,035 at 1,024 by 768 pixels and, more importantly for gamers, an average frame rate score in F.E.A.R of 103fps at the same resolution with all game details set to maximum.

Even at the screen’s native resolution (1,920 x 1,200) you get an average frame rate of 40fps, which you can increase by turning the game details down a notch or to, getting a more playable figure. The GO 7950 GTX also provides a VGA and a DVI out connector so you can hook up the M1710 to either an analogue or digital external monitor.

The screen is really good, too; a 17-inch WUXGA widescreen with the aforementioned 1,920 x 1,200 pixel native resolution and Dell’s TrueLife glossy coating which is claimed to allow bolder colours and greater contrast than a standard coating.

You may be surprised by the smallish size of the Dell’s keyboard given the size of the laptop itself, but the reason for giving so much space to rest your palms and part of your wrist is because primarily the M1710 is a gaming notebook, so all the keys used by gamers can be comfortably used for long periods. But this doesn’t diminish the overall ease of use of the excellent keyboard and touchpad.

As the M1710 comes with Vista Home Premium we gave the Vista benchmark a spin and got a score of 5.9 and 5.8 for the graphics and gaming graphics respectively, but because of a slowish hard drive and just the one gig of memory, the overall Vista score is a fairly average 4.3.

Storage comes in the form of a 120GB, 5,400rpm Hitachi drive but if you want faster transfer rates, a 7,200rpm drive is an alternative you can choose when you configure your M1710. Also provided are an Express Card slot and a 5-in-1 Card Reader. Joining these on the right-hand side of the chassis are two audio ports and a 4-pin FireWire port. The left-hand side holds the Blu-Ray drive and two USB 2.0 ports.

The rear of the chassis has all the other ports, and in addition to the monitor outputs you also get four more USB 2.0 ports, S-Video out, LAN and modem ports (connected to integrated Gigabit Ethernet and V.90 controllers respectively). You get 802.11a/b/g Wireless as well.

“What about all the lights?”, I hear you cry. Oh well, you had to ask. The two XPS logo cut-outs in the lid, the speaker grilles, the fan grilles and the logo cut-out in the touchpad are all back-lit by LEDs. But it doesn’t end there: with the exception of the mouse pad all the colours can be changed – with what Dell calls the XPS LightFX – and you have a palette of 16 colours to choose from. These can be changed easily in the BIOS or by the harder-to-find ‘gaming’ tab of the Dell Quickset utility in the program menu.

As with all the XPS range you get special treatment for spending all that hard-earned cash, in the shape of two years on-site warranty and the special, dedicated, XPS 24 free phone technical support.

Company: Dell

Contact: 0870 353 3924


Verdict
Dell has upped the ante on gaming notebook performance with the XPS M1710. Yes it's expensive, but you get an awful lot of laptop for your money, a machine that can hold its own with a great number of desktop PCs out there.