Dell XPS M1730 Review
by Charles P. Jefferies
The XPS M1730 is Dell's new 17-inch high-performance gaming notebook, the replacement for the aging M1710. It is based on the latest Intel Santa Rosa platform and features cutting-edge Nvidia GeForce SLI graphics.
Before I start this review I would like to thank Dell for sending us a test unit.
Our test unit specifications are as follows:
Build & Design
A simple glance at the M1730 establishes that this notebook is not for those who do not want to show off. There is no other notebook like this on the market. For starters, the M1730 is absolutely enormous; its weight starts at 10.6 pounds and is two inches thick.
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Dell chose an intimidating design scheme for their flagship notebook. The visible exterior has a deep glossy black surface with a 'hydrographic' design pattern. The intricacy of the design can best be seen in a well-lit room. The back of the lid deserves special attention – two clear plastic windowed areas on the sides have a color background that is illuminated by the LED lights; our test unit has the Smoke Grey panels. The XPS M1730 is also available with Sapphire Blue, Crimson Blue, and Bone White. In the center of the lid is a large shiny Dell logo illuminated by a bright white LED backlight. The lid is an instant attention-grabber and the most visually striking part of the M1730 in this reviewer's opinion. The speakers in the front of the machine are illuminated by LED lights as is the touchpad and its buttons. While the LED lights on the back of the lid do not change colors, the ones on the front can. All the colors in the rainbow are available (more or less) and each speaker as well as the touchpad can be individually controlled via the Dell QuickSet software. The keyboard is LED backlit and visually impressive. This is the first machine I have ever tested with a backlit keyboard and I would like to see more notebooks implement this feature. It is useful in low light scenarios and for those late-night gaming sessions.
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The build quality of the M1730 is impressive, as it should be for the price. The chassis feels as solid as high-end competing notebooks from Sager and Alienware. There is zero flex in the palmrest or surrounding area, although the area beneath the display does not feel as solid as the aforementioned surfaces. Pressing on the back of the lid did not affect the display. The undersides of the notebook are made from magnesium and add to the build quality of the machine. In addition, they also help with heat dissipation. Moving to the top of the notebook, there is one display latch in the center of the display and it is solid. Its gunmetal color is a smart match for the black and gray exterior. The lid closes with a reassuring 'click' and holds secure. The front of the M1730 is angled nicely when the lid is closed; the M1730 may be big, but it is also sleek. Its front end almost looks like it was aerodynamically designed. The gaps between the various parts on the notebook are evenly spaced and everything fits together well, which shows attention to detail.
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Overall I am more than impressed with the level of build quality and the exterior appearance of the XPS M1730. The flashy looks are a selling point of the XPS M1730 – buy this machine to get noticed.
The 17-inch glossy 1920 x 1200 pixel widescreen display that came on our test unit is the only option for the M1730. WUXGA is the highest resolution available on a notebook. This display is fantastic; for starters, it is the brightest single-lamp 17-inch display I have seen on a notebook. The high contrast makes colors pop off the screen; blacks are deep and whites are bright and pure. Viewing angles are excellent; the side-to-side angles are near perfect and there is minimal distortion from above and below. The picture is crystal clear and there is no distortion or graininess. Light leakage is minimal, with only a small amount coming from the bottom of the display.
The M1730's stereo speakers are located at the front of the notebook below the palmrest area. Two small speaker cones can be seen through the speaker grills; they visibly pulse when playing music at elevated levels. For notebook speakers, the M1730's are wonderful. Treble is respectable and while bass is a bit lacking, it is still noticeable which is not something that can be said about many notebook speakers. Sound is detailed; I could hear bullet shells hitting the ground in games and picks hitting guitar strings in acoustic music. Overall, Dell has equipped the M1730 with two competent stereo speakers which suffice for playing music and games.
The M1730 has two headphone jacks located on the left side, which allows two people to tune into a movie or other audio.
Processor and Performance
I had high expectations for the fully-loaded review unit Dell sent us. The Core 2 Extreme X7900 is a rare and special processor in that it will not work in most Santa Rosa notebooks; its TDP is higher than most notebooks’ cooling solutions can handle. The standard Core 2 Duo mobile processor has a 35W TDP in comparison to the X7900's 44W. A heavy-duty heatsink is needed to handle its high heat output.
The real advantage to the Intel Extreme processors is their unlocked multiplier, so overclocking is simple. I ran each benchmark that involved scoring the processor twice; the first time with the processor at its stock 2.8GHz clockspeed, and the second time overclocked to 3.4GHz via the BIOS. The maximum overclock is 3.4GHz. Dell allows the end user to set 2.8GHz (stock), 3.0GHz, 3.2GHz, and 3.4GHz via the BIOS, but they recommend that the machine be run with 2.8GHz.
Testing notes: Prior to testing, I defragmented the hard drive and did a Windows Update. I installed the latest Nvidia drivers (169.04) for the video cards. All frames per second (FPS) benchmarks were done with FRAPS.
System Performance Benchmarks
Windows Experience Index
Performance Difference (Stock vs. OC) (Processor): 0.00%
Oddly enough overclocking the processor did not help the WEI score at all. However, 5.7 is dangerously close to the highest-possible score of 5.9.
PCMark05 Comparison Results
|Dell XPS M1730 (Core 2 Extreme X7900 2.8GHz, Dual Nvidia GeForce 8700M-GT 512MB)||7,148 PCMarks|
|Dell XPS M1730 (Core 2 Extreme X7900 overclocked to 3.2GHz, Dual Nvidia GeForce 8700M-GT 512MB)||7,868 PCMarks|
|Sager NP9260 (2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6700, 2x Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX video cards with 512MB DDR3)||6,871 PCMarks|
|Alienware m5790 (1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1800 256MB)||4,411 PCMarks|
|Fujtisu Siemens Amilo Xi1554 Review (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1900, Windows XP)||5,066 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N6420 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1600)||4,621 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Asus Z84Jp (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia Go 7600)||4,739 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
Performance Difference (PCMark score): 9.15%
The overclocked processor improved overall performance by about 9%. The M1730 is already blazing fast so it is doubtful whether the extra increase in CPU power will be noticed while running everyday applications. For more processor intensive applications, a nearly 10% gain is significant.
Processor Performance Benchmarks
wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.
|Notebook / CPU||wPrime 32M time|
|Dell XPS M1730 (Core 2 Extreme X7900 2.8GHz)||29.477s|
|Dell XPS M1730 (Core 2 Extreme X7900 3.2GHz)||29.251s|
|Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz)||58.233s|
|Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)||38.343s|
|Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)||37.299s|
|HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)||40.965s|
|Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz)||76.240s|
|Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz)||42.385s|
|Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)||37.705s|
|Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz)||38.327s|
|Samsung Q70 (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz)||42.218s|
|Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi (Core Duo T2500 @ 2.0GHz)||42.947s|
|Samsung R20 (Core Duo T2250 @ 1.73GHz)||47.563s|
|Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile 1.6GHz)||231.714s|
Performance Difference (32M): 00.77%
Performance Difference (1024M): 10.44%
The effect of the higher-clocked processor is slightly more pronounced in wPrime, which is almost entirely CPU-dependent.
Rendering Performance using Cinebench 10
Cinebench Release 10 is the latest version of Maxon's rendering benchmark, based on the Maxon CINEMA 4D animation software. It is designed to measure the performance of the processor and graphics card under real world circumstances. More information can be found at http://www.maxon.net/pages/download/cinebench_e.html
Performance Difference (Rendering, 1 CPU): 17.00%
Performance Difference (Rendering, x CPU): 14.66%
The overclocked processor provided a significant performance increase in the rendering benchmark.
Hard Drive Performance
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The HDTune result for the dual 200GB 7200RPM Hitach hard drives in RAID 0 is stellar. This is the fastest hard disk performance we have seen in a notebook to date. Both drives were inaudible, even while reading and writing.
Synthetic Gaming Performance Benchmarks
3DMark06 Results and Comparison:
|Notebook||3D Mark 06 Results|
|Dell XPS M1730 (Core 2 Extreme X7900 2.8GHz, Dual Nvidia GeForce 8700M-GT 512MB)||8,536|
|Dell XPS M1730 (Core 2 Extreme X7900 overclocked to 3.2GHz, Dual Nvidia GeForce 8700M-GT 512MB)||8,572|
|Sager NP5791 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.20GHz, Nvidia GeForce 8700M-GT 512MB)||4,941|
|Alienware M9750 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 2.33GHz, Nvidia go 7950 GTX video cards with 512MB)||7,308|
|Sager NP9260 (2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6700, 2x Nvidia GeForce Go 7950GTX video cards with 512MB DDR3)||9,097|
|Alienware m5790 (1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI X1800 256MB)||2,625|
|WidowPC Sting D517D (Core 2 Duo 2.33GHz, Nvidia 7900GTX 512MB)||4,833|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.00GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 128MB)||1,528|
|Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB)||2,183|
|ASUS A8Ja (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 512MB)||1,973|
|Dell XPS M1710 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX 512MB)||4,744|
Performance Difference (3DMark score): 2.52%
Performance Difference (CPU score): 13.22%
While the overclocked processor did not make a large impact on the 3DMark score as a whole, it did increase the CPU score by over 13%.
Ageia PhysX RealityMark
The M1730 is unique in that it has an Ageia PhysX physics processor card. Ageia's RealityMark is a physics performance measurement tool which, according to Ageia, can be used to gauge overall gaming performance during a game with a high amount of physics calculations. It is based on Artificial Studio's CellFactor: Combat Training game and its Reality Engine. More information on the benchmark can be found here: http://www.ageia.com/physx/rm.html
Performance Difference (PhysX Hardware): 8.80%
There is a huge performance difference between software rendering and hardware rendering as the benchmark shows.
Gaming is what the XPS M1730 is all about, so the gaming aspect of this notebook deserves a lot of focus. As such, we've broken this aspect of the notebook out into a separate article, the XPS M1730 Gaming Benchmarks can be viewed here.
Heat & Noise
The M1730 has one of the largest cooling solutions I have ever seen on a notebook. The entire backside of the machine is essentially one giant vent. There are two large-diameter fans in the bottom of the notebook which force outside air into the notebook. During normal use the notebook is nearly silent; the fans come on in intervals and usually do not stay on for more than a minute. It takes a skilled ear to hear the fans even with no background noise. In a silent room, a quiet movement of air can be heard when the fans turn on. While gaming the fans are always on, but again, they are extremely quiet. I noticed that in games that make use of the Ageia PhysX card such as Unreal Tournament 3, the left-most vent jets out warm air and slightly more noise is made. I should note that when the system is overclocked, the fans are locked at full blast which IS noisy. I do not recommend running this machine overclocked due to the noise level.
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The surface of the notebook stays slightly above room temperature which is also impressive. The back of the bottom of the notebook can get toasty after a while but it never felt too hot to touch.
Overall, Dell has done an excellent job of finding a way to cool down the beastly components of the M1730 while keeping the machine quiet.
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The M1730 has a full-size keyboard with separate number pad. It is LED backlit which is a handy feature in a dark or low-light area. The overall feel of the keyboard is not as high quality as the rest of the machine in this reviewer's opinion; the keys feel thin and I do not feel that the keyboard is as solid as it should be. There is an ample amount of flex when slightly more than average pressure is used. On the plus side I like the way the keyboard sounds and most keys are in their normal positions.
The M1730's touchpad has a high-end feel to it. Tracking is reliable and precise enough for most uses. The touchpad buttons feel solid and make a satisfying 'click' noise. The only potential downside to the M1730's touchpad is its relatively small size; I would not mind if it were a bit larger.
Input & Output ports
All descriptions are from left to right.
Left Side: DVI, S-video, USB, Firewire, 5-in-1 card reader, fixed optical bay, microphone jack, 2x headphone jacks
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Right Side: Expresscard/54, wireless On/Off, Wifi Catcher button, 2x USB, Kensington Lock slot
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Front: Stereo speakers, media controls, infrared sensor
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Rear: Power jack, USB, Ethernet
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I like the number and variety of ports offered, but I am surprised to see there is no HDMI port. The M1730 does have a DVI port though, which will output HD content.
The M1730 comes with an Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN wireless card as standard equipment, which supports 802.11a, b, g, and n wireless formats. I had no trouble connecting to wireless networks and it held wireless signals well, even through walls. Oddly enough the M1730 does not come with Bluetooth wireless as standard equipment and our evaluation unit did not have a module installed. It did however have Verizon Wireless Mobile Broadband WAN built in, which worked beautifully. I was able to connect to the Internet over the fast EV-DO network within seconds. I measured download speeds around 1 Mbit/second and upload speeds approaching 700kbps. Built-in WAN can be a handy feature but its usefulness on the M1730 is debatable, since this is the type of machine that will spend most of its life on a desk.
The battery in the M1730 serves as more of an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) than anything else. Running with the screen brightness at full while surfing on Verizon wireless WAN, I measured 56 minutes of life. With the screen dimmed and the wireless turned off, battery life improved by about 20 minutes. Consider for a moment how much power this notebook consumes; Dell's regular Inspiron 17-inch notebook achieves almost 3 and a half hours of life with the same battery. With dual hard drives, dual video cards, and an Extreme processor, it is no wonder that the M1730 cannot stay unplugged for long. Anyone buying this notebook is probably not concerned with battery life so I do not view it as a con.
The XPS M1730 AC adapter is as big as some ultraportable notebooks (view large image)
There are few notebooks that get a mini-review of their power adapter, but the M1730 is one of those special notebooks. Most will be shocked by the sheer size of this brick. It is so large because it needs to provide over 200 watts of power; the standard notebook power adapter provides 65 or 90 watts. The M1730's adapter weighs several pounds by itself. Its power cord is about twice as thick as the standard Dell power cord. I liked the blue power LED Dell put into the brick; most of the time they are green.
Operating System & Software
The M1730 is available with Windows XP Professional different versions of Windows Vista; ours came with Vista Home Premium 32-bit. I find it rather odd that such an expensive machine does not come standard with Vista Ultimate. I was most surprised at the amount of bloatware pre-installed; there is as much on here as there is on a traditional Inspiron notebook. It took a good half-hour to rid the system of unwanted software.
Dell XPS systems come with special service as part of the price premium. According to Dell, the majority of service calls are answered within 2 minutes. The M1730 comes standard with a 1-year limited warranty and 1 year of XPS warranty support. In-home service is also standard.
Dell has respawned its flagship XPS gaming notebook into an even bigger and more powerful beast. The M1730 is one of the fastest gaming notebooks on the market and is certainly the flashiest. The M1730 is the most attention-grabbing notebook I have seen to date; its exterior appearance is sleek and intimidating. Taking the M1730 to a LAN party is sure to get one recognized. Dell has done a wonderful job with the M1730 inside and out; the software support may not be perfect at the moment but the hardware is all there, which is what counts.
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