Dell XPS M1730 Review

Overall Score

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The XPS M1730 is Dell’s high-end 17" laptop. As of the current date, it is at the top of Dell’s performance ladder, and as such, can be configured with premium hardware, including nVIDIA SLi Graphics, and Intel Extreme Editon CPUs. Predictably, with this premium hardware comes a premium price. Today, we are testing a more reasonably priced configuration.

Our tested specifications are as follows:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 (2.5GHz, 800Mhz FSB, 6M L2 Cache)
  • nVIDIA SLI Dual GeForce 8700MGT (256mb each)
  • 17" UltraSharp TrueLife Wide screen WUXGA (1920×1200)
  • 4gb DDR2-667 RAM (Dual Channel)
  • 250gb 7200RPM Fujitsu SATA Hard Drive
  • Intel 4965 WLAN (802.11a/g/n) Mini Card
  • 85 WHr 9-cell Lithium Ion Battery
  • 8X DVD+/-RW Drive
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1

 

As with any laptop of a high-tier price, one expects over the top looks and build quality. Dell seems to have delivered a product that fits both requirements quite well. The exterior of the laptop is clad in a sturdy, gloss-black plastic shell that is printed with a carbon-fiber like pattern. Although good looking, it must be mentioned that this surface also seems to attract fingerprints very easily: obsessive/compulsive users beware! The laptop is also very torsion resistant. Picking it up by one corner (with some difficulty!) resulted in no visible flex. In addition, the screen and hinges seem to be quite strong.

 

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Moving to the front of the laptop, we can see that there are no ports, but there are media control buttons, which when pressed, illuminate with a blue light. There is also an IR port in the center of the laptop.

 

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On the left side, we have a DVI port, S-Video, 1x USB, Firewire, 8 in 1 card reader, DVD+/-RW drive, and Audio ports.
 A few notes here:
The DVI port is dual link capable, so it can display up to 2560×1600 resolution. Unfortunately, Dell has this port linked into the same GPU as the integrated display which means that even with SLi disabled, your internal and external displays will be powered with one GPU. This could cause slowdowns in some situations.

The DVD+/-RW is available with a Blu-Ray ROM drive.

The audio ports (3 total) are labeled as such: 1x microphone, and 2x headphones. This could be useful for someone sharing a movie or likewise. In addition, this allows the possibility to run 5.1 channel sound through analog connections.

 

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On the back, we have the power jack, 1x USB port, and gigabit ethernet jack. From here, you can also get a decent look at the enormous cooling capability this laptop possesses.

 

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On the right, we have the ExpressCard slot, Wi-Fi switch, Wi-Fi catcher button, 2x USB ports, and the Kensington lock port.

 

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From here, we can see a pretty good view of the cooling intakes and fans on this unit. On the upper left is the CPU fan. Going to the right from there, we can see the two fans for the SLi GPUs. We can also see that the base of the laptop consists entirely of aluminum; which although not the lightest, it’s very strong and durable. At the bottom of the picture, we can also see the rather large 9 cell, 85WH battery. Also, from the bottom, we can see that it is rather simple to upgrade several things on the laptop. 

 

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6 small screws and a slight tug later, the hard drive tray comes out. This tray holds up to two hard drives, which can be configured into a RAID 0 or 1 array. 

 

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The DVD drive is held in by a single screw, and as such, would be very easy to upgrade in the future.

 

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Both RAM slots are easily accessible by removing a cover on the bottom of the laptop.
 

Much like its predecessor, the M1710, the M1730 has a few LED lit zones. These, as you would expect, don’t serve a practical purpose…but they do seem to attract a lot of attention.

Let’s start at the front of the laptop.
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Both speakers are fully illuminated. In addition, you can change the colors of the speakers independently of each other. (16 colors total)

 

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The touchpad is also fully illuminated. The light within the touchpad is also color changeable. Also in this picture, as you may have noticed, the keyboard is illuminated. I have found this feature to be very useful in low-light situations. It is notable that the keyboard backlight is white, and cannot change color. I found using the keyboard to be quite satisfying – a very nice laptop keyboard. The dedicated number pad is a nice touch.

 

The speaker and touchpad lights can be color changed manually, or if you prefer, can color cycle continuously or with the music you happen to be playing. Overall, very eye-catching.

 

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To the upper right, above the keyboard, is the Logitech LCD. This nifty second screen can be configured to show statistics, such as CPU and RAM usage, game framerate, system temperatures, or the infamous clock. Virtually anything that has been written to work on a logitech keyboard will work on this display.

 

As impressive as this laptop looks in the daytime, it’s nothing compared to what it looks like in the dark. Let’s flip out the lights and see how it looks:

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From this view, we can also see that a good portion of the lid of the laptop is illuminated. This particular configuration came with "Crimson Red" as the color, however, three other colors are available as well (Sapphire Blue, Bone White, and Smoke Grey). In addition, the Dell logo is illuminated. Note: the colors are not changeable, so choose carefully when you order it.
 

Display: Overall, the display of the Dell XPS M1730 seems very nice. There is very little bleed-through, and compared to an old Dell XPS M1710, the colors and viewing angles have been greatly improved. It is a glossy screen, so much like the rest of the laptop, it fingerprints easily.

 

Speakers: If you were paying attention to the earlier pictures, it is easy to see that the XPS M1730 uses a 4 speaker design. This, of course, results in very loud output compared to most other laptops. Oddly, there is no dedicated "subwoofer." Regardless of this, the bass output is adequate for most situations. Overall, these speakers are better than most, if not all of the laptops I have tried out. A+ for Dell.

 

Accessories:

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Along with the laptop, Dell also included many other accessories. In a gesture seemingly more and more rare, Dell included all of the discs necessary to reinstall the operating system. This gesture will undoubtedly be popular with the enthusiast crowd.
Along with the discs, they also included a convenient leatherette CD folder to hold the manuals and discs. Also in the contents are a pair of creative earbuds and a cleaning cloth. The earbuds are actually of very high quality and have good sound reproduction. With the laptop being as much of a fingerprint magnet as it is, the cleaning cloth is entirely necessary. Props to Dell for providing such a high quality and useful accessory package.

 

Power Brick:

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Last but not least (by far) is the included power brick. No, it is not a power adapter- it is a brick. According to the label on the bottom of it, it rings in at 230w, which is easily the most power hungry adapter I’ve seen to date. And yes, that is a 3.5" Western Digital Raptor hard drive next to it. It truly is a monster of a power brick.

 

As with any purchase of this price, performance expectations are high. Fortunately, the XPS does not disappoint.

All tests were run with the newest mobile drivers from Nvidia’s website: 179.28.

All tests were run with the PhysX version: 8.11.18.

 

wPrime(1.55):

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wPrime is a multithreaded program that runs recursive calculations. This is a good indication of processor performance within a given processor family.

 

HDtune:

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HDtune is a program that tests the hard drive and storage subsystem for sustained transfer rates and latencies.

 

3Dmark03:

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Although old, this benchmark helps to demonstrate the efficiency (or inefficiency) of SLi, as well as the single threaded performance of the processor.

 

3Dmark06:

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3Dmark06 has long been considered a decent benchmark of 3D performance. It is multithreaded, and does well with SLi.

 

3Dmark Vantage:

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The newcomer to the 3Dmark family, it is multithreaded, deals well with SLi, and uses many new technologies like DX10 and PhysX.

 

Overall, the XPS M1730 does very well under these synthetic benchmarks. 
 

Just to get a taste for the real life gaming performance, I have included a few popular titles. 

UT3:

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As the native resolution of the screen is 1920×1200, I decided to see at what settings the game could best be run. As you can see, it did quite well- running 4’s on both options. (Out of 5) At these settings, the framerate was acceptable in both DX9 and DX10. It also must be noted that at these settings, the CPU was between 90% and 100% at all times- a sign that the game is being CPU limited.

 

Crysis:

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As Crysis is a VERY graphically intensive game, it turns out that it was entirely unplayable at 1920×1200. I attribute this to the relatively small 256mb framebuffer. Moving to a more modest 1600×1200, the card had few qualms about running at a decent framerate while set to medium settings in DX9. DX10, however, was a different story, as the framerate was far from acceptable. The highest "acceptable" settings in DX10 were 1280×1024 at medium.
 

As was previously mentioned, the cooling on the XPS M1730 is really quite impressive. It manages to cool gaming-worthy hardware, and do it while keeping noise at a minimum. Below, some testing was done on it.

 

Prime95:

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From this image, one can see that the cooling system is more than adequate. All throughout the test, the system stayed near that temperature, and never once did the CPU fan ramp up to 100% fan speed, according to I8KfanGUI- a nifty little application that allows fan controls.

 

Furmark:

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From this image, one can see that the GPU cooling system is also quite good. 85C may seem a bit hot to some, but it must be noted that Furmark is more GPU intensive than any game, past or present. As such, the GPU heats up more under Furmark. Once again, this stayed cool, and fairly quiet. Under this application, all three fans on the laptop begin to ramp up, and as such, it generated some audible noise, but overall- very quiet.

The case of the laptop never gets that warm either. Dell has just done a great job on the cooling system.

 

Overclocking:

With the top level CPU for this laptop, you will be able to overclock the CPU. Unfortunately, that CPU is also a small fortune by itself, and low end CPUs are not allowed to be overclocked.  As such, the CPU is locked at the stock 2.5ghz.

The GPUs however, have no such lock, and overclocked readily. Using eVGA’s precision tool, I was able to overclock the GPUs up to 800/1836/999 without much effort. (Up from 625/1250/800) I also suspect that there is a lot more speed in the RAM still, but due to some glitch, be it hardware or software, going past 1000 would make the GPU default to 2D speeds. With these higher clocks, the laptop was now able to get a nice boost under 3dmark06:

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As with any laptop of this size and ability, one really can’t expect too much as far as battery life is concerned. Even with an enormous 9 cell, 85WH battery, the results are far from amazing. These battery tests are far from definitive. The conditions in which you run your laptop (distance from Wi-Fi router, room temps) will determine your battery life. The Browsing test was completed by simply browsing the internet until the laptop went into hibernate. The Gaming test was completed by doing a loop of the Crysis benchmark tool until the laptop went into hibernate.

 

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As it is, the battery life is very lackluster. There are actually several upgrades that can be done to this laptop as well….and each and every one would lower the battery life.

Available from Dell is an upgraded GPU module, the 8800m SLi. It is considerably faster than the included 8700m SLi, but at nearly $1000 alone, it’s not for those without a fat wallet.

A second hard drive, for RAID0, is also an option.

The motherboard and cooling solutions can handle any Socket P CPU with up to 800mhz FSB. This includes Intel’s Extreme Edition CPUs, which can be overclocked in this laptop.

 

Although speedy and upgradeable, the XPS M1730 is an older platform. Since it’s release over a year ago, several new technologies have emerged: many of which will save battery power. Intel’s newest mobile CPUs have a 1066mhz FSB, and the newest chipsets support DDR3. LED backlit screens are also starting to make an impact in the market. Some of Nvidia’s new mobile GPUs can also compete with this SLi solution, while using less power. All of these new technologies make the Dell XPS M1730 a questionable choice of laptop, especially at the middle and low price points. However, if it’s equipped with the 8800m SLi graphics, and battery life is no object- this could be the laptop for you.

What I like:

  • Maximum Portable Power
  • Looks
  • Build Quality
  • Cooling Performance
  • Upgradeability

What I don’t like:

  • Price
  • Weight
  • Battery Life

Who Should Get This Laptop:

  • Gamers / LAN Party Enthusiasts
  • Those in need of maximum horsepower from a portable PC

Who Should NOT Get This Laptop:

  • Road Warriors
  • Those not willing to haul its girth around
  • Average PC Users
     

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