Dell Inspiron e1705 with ATI X1400 Graphics Review (pics, specs)

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by Kevin Giberson

 

The Inspiron e1705, Dell’s “e for entertainment” desktop replacement notebook computer featuring Intel’s Yonah dual core processor, has been available for several months, and is essentially identical to another Dell model, the Inspiron 9400, which is available on the Dell business website. The e1705 under review here is large and powerful, and though available through the business site in its 9400 incarnation, has a decidedly non-business feel.

Specs for Dell Inspiron e1705 Being Reviewed:

  • Processor: Intel Yonah Core Duo T2500 (2.0GHz/2MB L2 Cache)
  • OS: Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition
  • Hard Drive: 100 GB SATA @ 5400RPM (Toshiba Aries B)
  • Screen: 17″ WXGA Widescreen (1440 x 900)
  • Graphics: ATI x1400 256 MB with HyperMemory
  • RAM: 1.0GB DDR2 SDRAM @533 MHz (2 x 512MB)
  • Optical Drive: 8x CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW) w/Double Layer Support
  • Battery: 6-cell lithium ion
  • Wireless: Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 802.11 b/g Mini Card (54 Mbps)
  • Weight: 7.94 lbs
  • Dimensions: 1.6″ (H) x 15.5 ” (W) x 11.3″ (D) 
  • Ports/Slots: Digital Video Interface (DVI-D), 1 IEEE 1394 (FireWire), 6 Universal Serial Bus (USB 2.0), 5-in-1 removable memory card reader, VGA monitor out port, S-video out, RJ-45 Ethernet LAN, RJ-11 modem, ExpressCard 54mm, headphone/speaker jack, microphone connector


Front closed view of e1705 (view large image)


Above view of e1705 (view large image)

Reasons for Buying

When I decided to buy a notebook computer, which I wanted mainly so that I could compute anywhere in the house with ease, I considered the usual possibilities: wait for a nice, and reasonably priced, 64-bit dual core desktop replacement that could easily handle Windows Vista once it’s released; buy now and get the best notebook available; or, buy now and get the best deal possible. In the end, impatience won out, as did a frugal nature. Although I really liked the HP nx9420 and Dell Latitude D820, both of which were under serious consideration, I found I just couldn’t pass on the e1705, a notebook that could easily be configured with high-end components for under $1,300, thanks to the usual Dell coupons.

My main concerns with the e1705 were build quality and simple usability. Although I was willing to make sacrifices where the former was concerned, in order to keep the price low, I knew that any concessions in terms of usability, namely performance, keyboard and screen, would result in my turning back to my AMD 64 desktop with its 20″ Dell flat panel display, and everything I hoped to gain from the purchase of a laptop would be lost. Another consideration was a built-in DVI port, which would allow me to connect to the external LCD. It quickly became clear that the e1705 was the cheapest DVI option, at least when all other components were taken into account. Further considerations plagued me, however, before I finally hit the order-submit button on the Dell website:

  1. The only notebooks I had used extensively in the past were both IBM ThinkPad models, one an old i-series Celeron, a slow but solid workhorse, and the other a T40, which to me was virtually perfect, the closest thing to a flawless computer I’d ever used; and…
  2. If I waited a little while, I might be able to get the e1705 with the nVidia Go 7800 or 7900.

In the end, though, I knew that a well-configured ThinkPad T60, the successor to the T43, wasn’t a realistic option under $2,500, and though the nVidia card did become available, on the same day the e1705 was delivered by UPS, I really don’t do any gaming so the ATI x1400 should be more than adequate, even if it doesn’t deliver the same bang for the buck.

Initial Impressions

When I pulled the e1705 out of the box and cracked it open, two things struck me immediately: it was huge and it was solid. I was quite relieved by the sturdiness of the machine and immediately acknowledged that it wasn’t a computer I could ever bring myself to use on an airplane, unlike the T40. But even if the e1705 is big and garish, all silver and white trim, like the Anna Nicole Smith of notebooks, it can’t be accused of being flimsy or less than advertised: it’s an impressive creation that looks and feels the way its creator intended.


The Inspiron e1705, the “Anna Nicole Smith” of notebooks.  A bit garish in looks maybe, but does its intended work well (view large image)

Design and Build

I prefer a more austere look in a notebook and really liked the appearance of the T40, but the e1705’s silver and white is not altogether displeasing, and the quality of the build far outweighs any frilly aesthetic complaints I might have. The LCD hinges do exactly what they should, namely, hold the screen in place without a hint of play. The screen is impervious to firm tapping and pushing on the lid. There are no gaps where there shouldn’t be. And the plastic around the keyboard and touchpad feels thick and firm.


Front side view of Dell e1705 (view large image)


Rear view of e1705 (view large image)


Left side view of e1705 (view large image)


Right side view of e1705 (view large image)

The Screen

I opted for the WXGA+ matte screen at a resolution of 1440 x 900, rather than the WUXGA TrueLife, which has a native resolution of 1920×1200. Had there been a WSXGA matte screen option, I would probably have gone for that, but screen choices for the e1705 are seriously limited. The LCD, manufactured by LG Philips, is generally good and the lower resolution has rarely annoyed me, and then only a little. I’m glad I went with a non-glossy finish. The shiny screens I’ve seen on Fujitsu and HP notebooks at retailers have been beautiful, and the WUXGA TrueLife is reportedly excellent, but I suspect screen glare would be even more distressing to me than a lackluster display, which has not, in any case, turned out to be a problem with the matte screen. This particular e1705 has no dead pixels, and my only complaint is what seems like some very minor unevenness in the backlighting, evident about two inches left of the upper right-hand corner of the screen. If this were anything but trivial, or hindered my computing experience in any way, I would request a replacement or send the computer back under Dell’s return policy. But the flaw in no way offends my extreme perfectionism where computers are concerned, and any attempt at a cure might end in an even more serious condition.


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Graphics

The ATI x1400 with HyperMemory (which apparently means that 128 of the 256 MB of graphics memory comes from system memory) seems more than adequate for my purposes and should be enough for Windows Vista if that option becomes necessary or desirable in a year or two. Had I been interested in playing the latest games, however, I probably would have held out for the nVidia Go 7800 or 7900. As it is, cost and battery life are more important to me than gaming performance, so I’m happy with the x1400. The DVI-D port works as expected; once I installed the Dell 2001FP drivers everything looked great on the external monitor at 1600×1200.

Sound

The built-in sound is actually pretty good for a notebook. This was never a primary concern, but I’m glad to be able to listen comfortably to music or the radio while I work, or watch a DVD without having to use headphones or external speakers.

Processor and Performance

To put the Core Duo T2500 to the test, I started a virus scan, ran Super PI, and wrote a very small program to output random numbers to the display, all while listening to the radio. There was some lag but not much, and the difference between the e1705’s performance and that of an AMD 64 3700+ desktop with a 10,000 RPM Raptor drive, 2GB of RAM and an ATI X800Pro GPU was striking. The single-core desktop was barely usable while running several demanding applications, whereas the Core Duo sailed along, if a little choppily at times. Once I quit the virus scan and Super PI there was no lag at all when opening and working in multiple windows, with random numbers still generating and audio streaming. This sort of performance was exactly what I was looking for in a notebook computer, and the e1705 and Yonah T2500 have met all expectations.

Benchmarks

Consistent with the real-world test are the results from running Super PI to the standard 2 million digits of accuracy:

Super Pi Results:

Notebook Time
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500)  1m 12s
Alienware M770 (AMD Dual Core FX-60)  1m 23s
 Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)  1m 36s
 Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
 Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 10s
 HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)  1m 46s
 Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)  1m 18s


The 3DMark05 results aren’t great but are probably good enough for most things aside from intensive gaming:

Notebook  3DMark 05 Results
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)  1,791 3D Marks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB  2866 3D Marks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)  7,078 3DMarks
ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)  727 3DMarks
 Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)  2,530 3D Marks
 Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)  2,273 3DMarks
 HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)  2,536 3D Marks
 Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)  4,157 3DMarks


I also ran 3DMark06, which yielded what seemed like a respectable score:

Notebook  3DMark 06 Results
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)  926 3D Marks
Dell XPS M1710 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7900 GTX 512MB)  4,744 3D Marks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB  1,528 3D Marks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)  794 3DMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800GTX)  4,085 3DMarks
 Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)  1,819 3D Marks


The PCMark04 results may make it a little easier to overlook the 3DMark05 performance:


HD Tune performance seemed okay, though a 7200 RPM drive would undoubtedly be better and, I’m guessing, perform in greater harmony with the T2500 Yonah:


(view large image)
 
Prime 95

I’m also in the habit of running Prime 95 whenever I buy a new computer or upgrade the RAM. Prime 95 is a free, downloadable memory stress test and burn-in program, which will fail if there are certain hardware problems, particularly with the RAM. Everything looked fine after a 7-hour run, which is somewhat brief compared to the common recommendations but usually long enough, I’ve found, to reveal problems. It ran without a hitch.

Keyboard and Touchpad


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Input devices were an area of concern prior to purchase. In all the pictures I’d seen of the e1705, the keyboard appeared to be unnaturally far from the front edge of the notebook, and I have always preferred a pointing stick rather than a touchpad. But it turns out that the position of the keyboard doesn’t bother me, and I have grown quite used to the touchpad, though I often use a USB mouse. Moreover, the quality of the keyboard is excellent: keys are firm yet responsive, supple without being mushy, tractable and obedient. In short, the keyboard is nearly as nice, to me anyway, as that of the T40. Whether it withstands the test of time remains to be seen.

Battery Life

With no power savings features enabled, the 6-cell battery ran for one hour and 57 minutes before I received a warning that only 10% of the battery’s full charge remained. I didn’t expect much more than this with the small battery. Unless some unanticipated occasion to rely on the battery arrives, I probably won’t bother trying to squeeze out more time.

Heat and Noise

Fan noise is one thing that can really drive me nuts, but I’ve had no problem with the e1705, which is very quiet. Nor has heat been an issue, though there is some real warmth emanating from the bottom of the notebook when I use it on my lap. I would definitely recommend that you only use the e1705 on your lap if you are clothed.

Wireless

The Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 performed as expected, without a hitch.

Service and Support

I’ve had no reason to use Dell support but have been impressed by two things:

  1. The computer arrived only five days after I ordered it, a couple of weeks earlier than the date projected on the website; and…
  2. I cancelled my first order after deciding to go with an improved configuration, which proved to be relatively painless, even if I was encouraged somewhat aggressively to place my second order before confirmation of the cancellation came through. I opted not to do this, several times, and the cancellation/reorder business was, in the end, smooth.

Software

The first thing I did upon receiving the notebook was to remove all the extraneous, unwanted software, which took about an hour. I considered a reformat, which many people recommend, but because everything seemed to be running well after simple removal of junk software, I decided not to do this and have had no problems. I like a clean install as much as the next guy, but unless there’s a compelling reason to reload Windows, I’ve found that “Add or Remove Programs” in the Windows Control Panel works well enough, though the Registry, at least, will still have hundreds of useless entries. In any case, performance is good, there are no strange errors or distressing crashes, and startup and shutdown are smooth and quick.

Conclusion

The e1705 is better than expected and quite a bargain for a powerful desktop replacement notebook. After two weeks of regular use and testing, I’m comfortable with this notebook as my primary computer. The e1705 is the best performing computer I’ve ever used, thanks to the Yonah T2500 CPU. The 1440×900 resolution works well for me, and despite the very minor backlighting issue mentioned above, the screen is nice and comfortable. What I want more than anything from a computer is comfortable usability, which boils down to input devices, display and performance. On all three counts, the e1705, as configured, easily meets my needs. WSXGA might have been nice, had it been an option, as perhaps it should have been, but the DVI port provides a decent alternative. For someone willing to spend an extra $500 or $1000, there are certainly other notebooks worth considering, but I would heartily recommend the e1705 to anyone who wants a higher-end 32-bit CPU, a big hard drive, decent graphics and a solidly built computer for what is really a very low price. Is it big? Is it gaudy? You bet. But for the most part it does what you want it to do without complaining or insisting you up the limit on your credit card. And it’s not as if you’ll be trotting it out in public very often.

Pros:

  • Fantastic performance-to-price and component-to-price ratios
  • Great performance, in absolute terms, even while running multiple applications
  • Solidly built
  • Built-in DVI
  • Nice, comfortable keyboard
  • Good screen
  • Lots of USB ports
  • Runs quiet
  •  Decent sound from internal speakers

Cons:

  • The screen options are very limited; WSXGA should be an option
  • Lots of junk software pre-installed
  • Runs a little hot
  • Battery life is not great
  • Big and unwieldy for people who need portability


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