Dell Inspiron e1705 with Core 2 Duo Review (pics, specs)

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Dell Inspiron E1705 with Core 2 Duo T7200 Review

by Gus Zhang

The Dell Inspiron E1705 has been around for awhile now. There are many configuration options available, and prices are often very affordable once Dell coupons are applied (for US customers at least). A top of the line E1705 can offer performance almost on par with the XPS M1710, at much lower prices. Recently, Intel released the Core 2 Duo (Merom) processors, and Dell has been one of the first companies to offer notebooks with this new processor.


Specs for E1705 as reviewed:

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7200 (4MB/2.00GHz/667MHz)
  • Screen: 17 inch UltraSharp TrueLife WUXGA, 1920 x 1200
  • RAM: 1GB (2×512), DDR2, 533MHz memory
  • Hard drive: 120GB 5400RPM SATA hard drive
  • Video card: 256MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GS
  • Optical drive: 8X DVD+/-RW Drive
  • Wireless: Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 802.11a/g Mini Card (54Mbps)
  • Bluetooth: Dell Wireless 355 Bluetooth Module (2.0 + EDR)
  • Misc: Remote Control for Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition
  • Battery: Default 6-cell battery
  • OS: Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005

Price: $1,444.00 before tax, $1563.13 after tax and shipping

I also own an HP DV8000t, a desktop replacement notebook which is comparable to the E1705 in many ways. I bought the Dell because the DV8000t will stay at home and I needed a computer to put in my dorm at college.


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It arrived in a single cardboard box, with the words “Open Me First” prominently written across the top. I guess Dell is afraid that some people would rather open something else first, like a can of tuna, when their brand new computer arrives.

Build and Design

Dell hasn’t changed the design of the E1705 for the Merom processor. In fact, the E1705/9400 looks pretty much the same as the 9300 that it replaced, except it has an extra “MediaDirect” button above the keyboard. The E1705 has silver panels and white bumpers, a look which some people love, and others hate. Personally, I don’t mind the white bumpers, but some people have modded or painted their E1705 to get rid of them. I actually prefer the E1705’s looks over my HP DV8000t, which tries a little too hard to look good, in my opinion, with its shiny black plastics and large flashy LEDs.


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The build quality seems solid. The body doesn’t flex when I pick up the laptop, and the screen doesn’t ripple when I push on the back of the LCD lid. The LCD hinges are very tight. There’s no wobble in the screen when it’s open, even if I shake the desk. In fact, if I try to open the LCD with one hand, the base of the laptop will actually lift up, so I have to use another hand to keep the base on the table. Overall, I find this very impressive, as I’ve had notebooks in the past where the LCD felt like it would flap away if I breathed too hard on it.

Screen


My poor pictures don’t do the screen justice. (view large image)

The E1705 has two options for the screen, a 1440×900 WXGA+ matte screen or a 1920×1200 WUXGA glossy screen. Mine has the glossy screen, and after I received the notebook, I discovered that my screen was made by Sharp. Dell uses several manufacturers for its screens, including LG, Samsung, Sharp, etc. Many people are obsessed about getting screens from one manufacturer or the other because apparently some manufacturers make better screens than others. Personally, I think that regardless of the manufacturer, getting a good LCD screen is pretty much luck of the draw. Every manufacturer will have screens with issues like light leakage, shimmering, or dead pixels. I’m very satisfied with my Sharp screen, it is very crisp and clear, the colors and viewing angles are good, and it has no dead pixels.

My favorite part about this screen though, is an almost complete lack of light leakage. The following side by side picture with my DV8000t’s 1440×900 HP Brightview glossy screen shows the difference.


The HP is trying its best to light up a dark room with its light leakage and bright LEDs. (view large image)

Many people are also concerned about the 1920×1200 resolution. I love this resolution, because it provides a tremendous amount of real estate on the screen and lets me open several windows side by side. The tradeoff, however, is smaller text and icons. Personally, I find that the text is still large enough for me to read comfortably and my eyes don’t get tired even after prolonged use. Still, I think that Dell should offer an intermediate resolution of WSXGA+ at 1680×1050. Personally, I think the 1440×900 on my HP DV8000t is a bit low for a 17″ widescreen LCD.

Sound

I don’t care much for the E1705’s onboard speakers. They are located on the front of the notebook. There’s also a tiny subwoofer on the bottom of the notebook. Amusingly, it doesn’t seem to do much besides rattling the pencils on my desk, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. For daily use, I plug some external speakers and a beefier subwoofer into my laptop, and on the go, I would rather use a good pair of headphones.

Inputs and ports

The E1705 comes with the following ports and buttons:

Ports:

  • 6 USB 2.0 ports
  • IEEE 1394 (FireWire)
  • DVI out
  • VGA out
  • S-Video Out
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet)
  • RJ-11 (Modem)
  • Audio out for headphone/speakers
  • Microphone

Slots:

  • 5-in-1 Multi Card Reader
  • ExpressCard slot (No legacy support for PCMCIA Cardbus!)
  • Laptop security lock slot

Buttons:

  • Power
  • MediaDirect
  • Volume and media (Up, down, mute, forward, backward, play/pause, stop)

Here are pictures of each side of the notebook, as well as the corresponding ports and buttons.


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E1705 front side view. Media control buttons are in the center, below the LCD screen latch. The speakers are located on either side.


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E1705 left side view. From left to right, security lock slot, air vents, 2x USB 2.0 ports, DVD Drive.


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E1705 right side view. From left to right, ExpressCard slot (Harddrive is directly under the slot), Firewire, Audio out, Microphone, 5-in-1 Card reader, air vents


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E1705 rear view. From left to right, air vents, S-Video out, Modem, Ethernet, 4x USB 2.0 ports, DVI out, VGA out, AC Adapter in, air vents.

Keyboard and touchpad


E1705 keyboard and touchpad (view large image)

After my woes with the keyboard on the DV8000t, I was pleasantly surprised by the E1705’s keyboard. The keys are comfortable to type on, and I think they have just the right amount of resistance. However, they do make a rather loud noise, and the keyboard is set rather far back from the front of the laptop. Also, there’s no built-in numberpad, despite the E1705 being a 17″ desktop replacement. (The DV8000t, and a lot of other 17″ laptops have a numberpad). Instead, we get about 2 inches of space on either side of the keyboard just going to waste.

I don’t like touchpads, so I use a USB mouse. The E1705 touchpad does have basic built-in horizontal and vertical scrolling bars, but no fancy features. Probably the best thing I can say about it is that it works.

Wireless

The Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 802.11a/g Mini Card works well. I get a strong, consistent signal to my network at home, and I can pick up 4 of my neighbor’s networks as well. Definitely a plus if my ISP or wireless router decides to choke one of these days.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth worked fine with Dell’s drivers. I can connect to my Motorola RAZR phone and upload/download pictures, ringtones, contact lists, for example. Here’s a screenshot of the connection.


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Heat and noise

This section would be more accurately called heat or noise. The laptop has two internal fans, controlled by the BIOS. Dell’s default fan settings are rather curious. Playing around with I8kfangui, I discovered some interesting things. When idle, the laptop is completely silent, with both fans off. Which is nice, except the T7200 and the Geforce 7900GS aren’t really meant to be passively cooled. When first booting up, the CPU temperature reads around 37 C, and GPU around 60 C. I watch helplessly as the CPU and GPU temperatures creep up. Finally, when the CPU reaches around 55 C and GPU reaches a whopping 78 C, both fans kick on to bring the temperatures back to 37/57. Then the fans shut off, and another cycle of temperature creeping begins.

The end result is that under Dell’s default settings, you get about 20 minutes of completely silent operation with ever increasing temperatures, followed by the laptop finally deciding it doesn’t want to melt itself after all, with about 5 minutes of fan operation. Fortunately, I8kfangui allows the user to completely customize fan settings for the preferred balance between heat and fan noise. With both fans forced to being constantly on at the “slow” setting, the laptop is able to maintain a temperature of 38 C /60 C.


On the left, both fans are off, and the CPU and GPU temperatures (red and yellow lines) ominously creep upward. Finally, both fans decide to come on, and temperatures drop. Dell default settings. (view large image)

*Note, the GPU temperature as reported by I8kfangui is off by 8 degrees. This can be taken into account by adjusting the offset at Options -> Advanced in the I8kfangui program.

Graphics card

Now we get to the good stuff. The E1705 has three available graphic options: Integrated Intel GMA 950, Radeon X1400, or the Geforce 7900GS. Mine has the 7900GS, and this card is very good. It’s not quite a 7900GTX available in a XPS M1710, but it’ll handle pretty much anything I can throw at it. I don’t have exact numbers handy but Doom 3 at 1600×1200 High Quality with 2xAA and 8xAF is very smooth and looks fantastic. It’s quite amazing to get this sort of performance from a laptop, when many desktops from a year or two ago would struggle with the game at the same settings. For non-gamers, however, the GMA 950 will be satisfactory for everyday tasks and give better battery life as well as less heat. The X1400 option strikes a balance between the two extremes.


Doom 3 Screenshot (view large image)


Warcraft III screenshot (view large image)


3DMark05 score. The 7900GS typically gets around 6000-6500 3DMarks. Overlocked cards have been known to exceed 7900GTX performance levels, getting over 9000 3DMarks. (view large image)

3DMark05 Results and comparison:

3DMark05 tests the graphics processing capabilities of a system:

Notebook  3DMark 05 Results

Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, NVIDIA Go 7900 GS 256MB)

 6,383 3D Marks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB)  2,866 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

 

Processor

Ah yes, Intel’s famous mobile Core 2 Duo, also known as Merom. When the desktop Core 2 Duo (Conroe) came out, it literally blew Intel’s older Netburst-based Pentium 4s out of the water, offering drastically better performance with much less power consumption. Unfortunately, those looking for the same sort of leap between Merom and the Core Duo (Yonah), will probably be disappointed. Yonah is a very powerful and efficient architecture to begin with, so Merom’s performance improvements don’t look very impressive in comparison. Still, 64bit support and improvements to an already great processor made Merom highly anticipated, with many people holding off the purchase of a laptop to wait for Merom as a result. Even today, ordering a Dell laptop with a Merom processor will incur an extra delay of anywhere between 5 to 10 days, according to Dell’s website. Ambitious users can upgrade from Yonah to Merom themselves. For those who are interested, the BIOS revision on my machine is A03.

My processor is the T7200, with 4mb L2 Cache, a FSB of 667 Mhz, and a top speed of 2.0 Ghz. RMClock is a useful utility for undervolting or overvolting a processor, as well as for setting custom power management profiles. It only recently added support for Core 2 Duo processors. Let’s see what RMClock thinks of my T7200:


RMClock 2.15 doesn’t actually support Merom yet, so it identifies the CPU as Conroe. No matter, all of the settings still work and CPU-Z correctly identifies it as Merom. Idle settings at left, full load at right. (view large image)

Merom processors have multiple P-states which they can transition to depending on need. Keep in mind that the FSB is 667 Mhz quad-pumped, which means that the true bus frequency is 166.7 Mhz. To control the processor’s speed, different multipliers are used. The lowest multiplier is 6x, resulting in an idle speed of 6*166 = 1.0 Ghz. The T7200’s maximum multiplier is 12x, which means at full load, the processor will run at 12*166 = 2.0 Ghz. Note that each different P-state draws a different amount of voltage. My processor requests 1.063v at idle, and 1.362v at full load. In the screenshot, I have undervolted the processor to draw 1.250v at full load. I’ve only begun to undervolt the processor, and it will go even lower than 1.250, but I haven’t had the time to fully test lower voltages for stability. Undervolting can increase battery life and decrease temperatures, but excessive undervolting will cause instability as the processor becomes starved of power.

Undervolting aside, what kind of performance can we expect from a stock T7200? Here are my SuperPi results.


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SuperPi

SuperPi measures CPU performance by calculating Pi to a specific number of digits.

Notebook

Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits

Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.00 GHz Core 2 Duo)

1m 03s

HP dv6000z (1.8GHz Turion64 X2 TL-56)

1m 54s

Compaq V3000T(1.6GHz Core Duo)

1m 26s

Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.00 GHz Core 2 Duo)

1m 02s

Toshiba A100(2.0GHz Core Duo)

1m 18s

Acer Aspire 5102WLMi(1.6GHz Turion64 X2 TL-50

2m 22s

Gateway E-100M(1.2GHz Core Solo ULV)

2m 02s

Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)

2m 10s

HP dv5000z(2.0GHz Sempron 3300+)

2m 02s

Impressive indeed! A full 13 seconds faster to 2 million compared to a 2.0 ghz Yonah E1705 reviewed here several months ago. Just think, if I were calculating a few trillion digits I could save years off my time 😉

PCMark05 Comparison Results:

PCMark05 provides an overall system performance evaluation that includes the graphics card and processor.

 Notebook PCMark05 Score

Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, NVIDIA Go 7900 GS 256MB)

4,994 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Panasonic ToughBook T4 (Intel 1.20GHz LV) 1,390 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400) 3,646 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo) 3,427 PCMarks


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Hard drive

My 120 GB 5400 rpm hard drive turns out to be a Western Digital. HDTune reports very reasonable numbers for the drive. I managed to recover a few hundred megabytes of space by deleting some of Dell’s partitions when I reformatted.


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Operating system and software

I ordered my laptop with Windows XP Media Center Edition, as well as a remote control and receiver. I decided to not purchase Dell’s TV tuner because I’d prefer to get a third party one for cheaper. Out of the box, my computer had 73 running processes, beating even my HP DV8000t with 67 processes. Looks like Dell is already putting the more powerful processor to work!

Dell also included a Drivers CD, an Operating system reinstall DVD, and a Microsoft Works CD. There’s also a recovery partition on the hard drive. I don’t know why this option is included for people who order the OS reinstall disk. Perhaps after using my clean Windows install for awhile I’ll become nostalgic about Dell’s bloatware? In any case the first thing I did was to delete the recovery partition and do a fresh install of Windows.


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The remote control works immediately out of the box. It even works on a non MCE version of windows — I can use it on an older desktop of mine running Windows XP Pro to navigate in Windows Media Player and Winamp. Nifty.

Battery

Being such a powerful desktop replacement notebook, I didn’t expect much out of the standard 6 cell battery. With wireless and Bluetooth off and the screen turned to lowest brightness setting, the processor forced to its slowest setting of 1.0 Ghz, and Powermizer set to max battery in the Nvidia control panel, I managed to get 2 hours and 10 minutes before the computer went into standby. Under realistic normal usage I got 1 hour 47 minutes. On long flights I think I’ll keep my laptop stowed away and read a book instead. The battery itself does have a button which you can press to show you the amount of charge remaining, even if the computer is turned off.

Conclusion

Having owned a popular desktop replacement, the HP DV8000t for awhile, my expectations of the E1705 were high. I’m satisfied to report that the E1705 has met my expectations, offering fantastic performance at a great price. It doesn’t have the keyboard problems of my HP, and has a better graphics card and processor. On the downside though, the keyboard lacks a numberpad, and the computer runs very hot on stock settings. It also comes with more bloatware than the HP. I certainly hope that companies these days aren’t engaging in some kind of bloatware arms race.


Pros:

  • The T7200 combined with the Geforce 7900GS offers fantastic performance in just about any situation, and is close to about as futureproof as a laptop can get
  • Virtually silent under normal use
  • Solid construction
  • Fabulous WUXGA LCD screen
  • Lack of annoying keyboard problems
  • 6 USB ports!
  • At just $1440, tremendous value for money

Cons:

  • Runs very hot with Dell’s default fan settings
  • Lack of 2 internal hard drives (which DV8000t has)
  • Lack of numberpad on keyboard
  • Lack of legacy support for PCMCIA (which DV8000t has)
  • Short battery life on default 6-cell
  • Lots of bloatware
  • Lack of mobility/hard to find a case that fits

More pictures of the laptop


With 6 USB ports, you can turn your laptop into an octopus. I’ve only used 3 here, so 3 more to go! (view large image)


Screenshot of my desktop for those who are interested. (view large image)

 

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