Dell Inspiron XPS2 Review (pics, specs)

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by David Fulton-Howard, Maryland USA

Before I start this review, I have a confession to make: I am a recovering desktopaholic. I always saw laptops as nothing more than secondary computers, and thought it would be silly to try to match the performance of a desktop on a laptop. I even built two computers for myself, and enjoyed the level of customization that I could achieve with them. Even a year ago, I could never envision myself owning a laptop like the Inspiron XPS Gen 2.

XPS2 on Desk

The Inspiron XPS2 on my desk (view larger image)

That all changed when I went away to college. I still liked the power of my desktop, but it was rather inconvenient to be tethered to my desk at all times if I wanted the full power that it had to offer. It got even worse when I wanted to go home for the weekend — I had to leave all my media behind at school, and I was limited to the low power of my Sony Vaio PCG-TR1A for all my computing tasks. I started considering using a laptop as my primary computer then, but nothing really came of it until I decided to take a year off and take a community-service position in Utah. That was across the country from my home in Maryland, and I did not want to have to deal with the logistics of shipping my computer around the nation. So I started looking at laptops.

Reasons for Buying:

From the outset, I wanted something that was more powerful than my desktop, which I had built at the beginning of 2004. My desktop had a 2.8 GHz P4, 1 GB of RAM, and a Radeon 9700 Pro, so many laptops were out of the running right away. The Dell Inspiron 9300 caught my eye at the beginning of my search because it was the only laptop that I could find that had both a Pentium-M and a GeForce Go 6800. I decided right away that I didn’t want a P4 laptop because of heat and weight issues. I wasn’t so keen on the idea of a 17″ widescreen laptop because of the size, but after a while I convinced myself it wouldn’t be so bad.

From that point on, it was merely a matter of convincing myself that there was nothing else besides the 9300 that would meet my needs. I considered some laptops with a GeForce 6600 (like the Asus Z71V) or Radeon X600/X700 (like the Acer TravelMate 8100 and Ferrari 4000 series), but they always came out to about the same price as the 9300 when you factored in the ubiquitous Dell deals. So finally I made up my mind: I would get the 9300 (I thought that the XPS2 would be too expensive to justify). It was just a matter of waiting for a deal.

The deal I was looking for was the Dell Home 35% coupon. I waited for it… and waited for it… and waited for it. It was getting close to the date when I was going out to Utah, and I wanted to have this laptop up and running before I left so that I could get rid of my desktop. There was still no sign of the coupon. Finally, I was browsing Dell Outlet one night. I was looking at 9300 systems, and they didn’t have anything appealing. But on a whim, I changed my search to XPS2 systems. There it was — an XPS2, similarly configured to what I wanted in the 9300, and ready to ship right away, for only $300 more than my 9300 configuration with the still-nonexistent 35% off coupon. I didn’t have to agonize too much for me to pull the trigger.

Overview:

Dell has for years been the number-one manufacturer for sensible machines. The sales figures reflect this, as Dell is the most successful manufacturer today. However, for a long time, Dell was missing out on an important niche market: high-margin gaming machines.

Alienware, Falcon Northwest, VoodooPC, and a million other boutique manufacturers had the gaming market cornered… that is, until Dell introduced its XPS lineup late in 2003. Initially, it was unimpressive, as the Dimension XPS desktop offered nothing that the boutique manufacturers didn’t. But that changed with the original Inspiron XPS. That Inspiron used the brute-force method of performance — Dell crammed a high-end desktop Pentium 4 inside it, and jacked up the graphics performance with the ATI Mobility Radeon 9700, which it had a monopoly on at launch.

This method worked well. Dell took top honors in multiple gaming-laptop comparos, ahead of Alienware et al. However, the laptop looked like it had an entire docking station glued onto the bottom, and at 10 pounds it was quite heavy, even though the screen was only 15.4″. Heat was also an issue.

So Dell went back to the drawing board for their second generation XPS. Instead of cramming in a desktop processor, they used the cool-running, efficient Pentium-M. Once again, though, they got an exclusive on a very fast graphics card — the nVidia GeForce Go 6800 Ultra. (Other manufacturers have since started using this card.) And this time, they decided to go whole hog and use a brilliant, high-resolution 17″ widescreen.

System Specs:

The XPS2 that I got had the following specs:

  • Intel Pentium-M 760 processor at 2.0 GHz (2.13 GHz available)
  • 1 GB PC2-4200 DDRII memory (512 MB and 2 GB available)
  • nVidia GeForce Go 6800 Ultra.graphics card
  • 17″ TrueLife WUXGA (1920×1200) LCD manufactured by LG
  • 80 GB 5400 RPM hard drive (60, 80, and 100 GB 5400 and 7200 RPM available)
  • 8x dual-layer DVD+/-RW drive (CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo available)
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG wireless card (2200BG available)
  • 2-year warranty with CompleteCare accidental damage protection
  • Microsoft Windows XP Home (MCE and Pro available)
  • Dell XPS backpack

All XPS2s also include the following features:

  • Broadcom 570x Gigabit LAN
  • 56K V.92 Modem
  • 9-cell battery
  • PCMCIA and SD card slots
  • 6 USB 2.0 ports and FireWire port
  • DVI, VGA, and S-Video ports
  • Sigmatel AC97 audio and speakers with subwoofer

This is not an ultra-portable. It weighs in at 8.6 lbs, and barely fits into the huge Dell-supplied backpack that I bought with it. If you’re planning on taking this on business trips, you might want to look at other options.

Purchasing:

As I said, I got my XPS2 from Dell Outlet. The Outlet sells refurbished Dells — usually, they are put on Outlet after someone cancels an order late in the process or when someone returns their computer within the 21-day return period. The refurbished computers sold there carry the same warranty as their new counterparts and are usually up to the same quality standards as the new computers.

When all was said and done, I ended up getting my laptop for $2450. Later, I got Dell to knock $200 off that price (more on this in the Customer Support section). With the recent 40% off coupon, it was possible to get the same configuration for around $2100, but the 35% off coupon actually didn’t bring the configuration down as low as $2250. So all in all, I think I got a decent deal.

Build and Design:

The XPS2 is a pretty sturdy laptop. The entire base and part of the lid are made of aluminum (black powder coated for the base and polished silver for the lid). The rest of the laptop is plastic, but there is no palmrest flex and very little screen twist. Pressing on the back does not result in screen distortion, which is more than I can say for my Sony.

Top of Laptop

The polished aluminum lid of the Inspiron XPS2 (view larger image)

The palmrest is silver with black accents along the edge, and the LCD surround is black. With the laptop open, it looks very classy. Close up the laptop, though, and you see the polished aluminum back, which in my opinion looks a little garish. It also attracts fingerprints like none other. (The silver palmrest is also a magnet for dirt — I recently got an external keyboard so palmrest doesn’t get any more worn.)

The XPS2 also has a nice touch that is derived from the desktop modding community. The speakers, air vents, and XPS logos in the lid are all illuminated with LEDs. The LEDs can be individually configured with one of sixteen colors, and one can change their intensity or turn them off altogether. I personally keep them on Citrine (orange) at the lowest intensity setting. There are also applications available that can cycle the LED colors automatically and pulsate the intensity. I downloaded one, but in hindsight, I really only see it as useful at a rave, and I don’t go to raves, so I don’t use the app.

Lights in Air Vent

The air vents (as well as the speakers and XPS logos on the lid) light up with your choice of 16 colors (view larger image)

As I mentioned before, this is a very large laptop. Although it is considerably svelter than its other 17″ competition, it does take up a large chunk of your desk. As you can see from the puicture below, it is literally twice the size of my Sony. Keep in mind that this is a desktop replacement model — in my case, literally so — and so don’t expect an ultraportable.

Comparison with Sony TR1A

A size comparison with my Sony Vaio TR1A — the XPS2 is literally twice the size! (view larger image)

Speaking of size and portability, the laptop ships with a huge honker of an AC adaptor. Unlike the 9300, which can get by with a 90-watt adaptor, the 6800 Ultra in the XPS2 means that Dell needed to develop a 130-watt adaptor to handle the higher peak power draw. That means no fancy cable wraps and angled plugs like on the other Dell laptops. You just get one big AC adaptor with no means of tidying up the cables. Luckily, some people have reported success with using the 90-watt Dell AC adaptor with the XPS2, so if you’re going on the road but don’t intend to game while away, you can pack the smaller, lighter 90-watt adaptor (which you obviously need to purchase separately) and leave the 130-watt brick at home.

Power Brick Size

The power brick is quite large; you don’t want to have to carry this thing around with you (view larger image)

Screen:

A look at the XPS2 Screen (view larger image)

The screen on this laptop is nothing short of stunning. It is big, beautiful, and very high resolution. Although it features the same 1920×1200 resolution as Dell’s 24″ widescreen desktop LCD, everything on it is quite readable. I had trouble reading my Sony’s screen from more than a foot away; I can get several feet away from this screen and still be able to make out text.

Of course, the screen has Dell’s TrueLife coating, which is comparable to Sony’s XBrite and HP’s BrightView. It is glossy, so there is considerable glare in direct sunlight, but used in a normally-lighted indoor setting, I don’t notice the glare unless I really focus on it.

There have been three fairly consistent complaints about this screen:

  1. Sparkles. Sparkles are most noticeable on a white background, and look essentially like dust unevenly coating the LCD. They were a particular problem on the Dell Inspiron 9200 screens, but I’ve heard that the 9300/XPS2 screens are not nearly as bad. I can see the sparkles if I am looking out for them, but they don’t bother me in normal use. Personally, I think people who complain about sparkles are like people who complain about the screen-door effect — they have to realize that you have to pay somewhat of a price for the otherwise excellent image that LCDs provide over CRTs, and stop being so sensitive towards minute imperfections. A lot of it is also psychological; the Inspiron 9200, the predecessor of the 9300 (and by extension the XPS2), had serious problems with sparkles and so people are now overly sensitive to them on this particular lineup.

  2. Color Reproduction. There are two different manufacturers for the WUXGA TrueLife screen on the XPS2 — LG and Samsung. My laptop came with the LG, which at default color settings has a very noticeable blue cast. To fix this, I downloaded Entech’s PowerStrip, and plugged the following settings into the Color Profiles dialog (credit goes to Hazridi at NotebookForums.com):

    • Choose Graphics Arts 2.2 Nonlinear Gamma Ramp.
    • Make sure you have all three colors selected and choose 0.98 Gamma, 0% Brightness and Contrast, and 6200k Temperature.
    • Now switch to green and move the Brightness up to 25%, and then the Contrast to 40%.
    • Now switch to blue and change the Gamma down a tiny bit to 0.94, then move the Contrast up to 30%.

    I configured PowerStrip to load this profile on startup. It produces a much more neutral coloring.

    The Samsung screen, which I have not had personal experience with, apparently does not reproduce gray levels very well. This is a problem that is not as easily fixable as the blue cast on the LG. The good news is that if either screen bothers you, if you buy the at-home warranty with the laptop, you can get Dell to replace the screen with the other brand.

  3. Backlight Bleed. On a black background on many LCDs, the bottom of the screen will be considerably lighter than the rest of the panel. This is called “backlight bleed.” My laptop has moderate backlight bleed; luckily, it is only really noticeable on a black background. Because the bottom of my LCD is usually taken up by the blue Windows XP taskbar, I don’t have to see it much. However, it is annoying when, for example, I’m watching a movie.

Despite these problems, I think the LG LCD is far better than any desktop LCD. With the corrected colors, it produces a much more vibrant image than the Dell UltraSharp 2001FP I used with my desktop (itself a widely acclaimed monitor). It is also beautifully high-resolution, although it may not be ideal for people with bad eyes.

Speakers:

The Inspiron XPS2 has the standard, tinny laptop speakers that are completely unable to reproduce low frequencies. However, Dell then adds a slightly larger, four-watt driver to the bottom of the laptop that does an amazingly good job at producing those low frequencies that the standard speakers can’t. The combination is quite effective at reproducing sound at normal volumes, and sounds like a standard deaktop speaker set without a subwoofer. I personally hooked up some 2.1 speakers, and really noticed the difference, but the built-in speakers will suffice on trips or if you rarely play music or watch movies.

Processor and Performance:

As I said, one of my goals when I was looking for a laptop was to get something that would beat the performance of my desktop. I am a performance junkie, and I wanted something that would be a true upgrade. I think I mostly succeeded. Most tasks are, by seat-of-the-pants measurements, as speedy as my desktop. Sometimes I’ll feel a little bit of lag compared to it when starting an application, but I have a feeling this has more to do with the hard drive than the processor (I have a 5400-rpm hard drive on my laptop, whereas my desktop had two 10,000 rpm drives in RAID 0, so there is a significant difference there).

Boot time from switching the laptop on to when the Welcome screen appears is 31 seconds.

As this is a gaming laptop, it’s probably no surprise to hear that that’s where this machine shines. As I said, my desktop had a Radeon 9700 Pro, itself no slouch, but it would drop frames left and right in Need for Speed Underground 2 when set at 1600×1200 and high quality. On the XPS2, I can max out the quality and set the resolution to 1600×1200 (disappointingly, NFSU2 does not support widescreen resolutions), and the gameplay is completely fluid with no noticeable lag.

Although I have not experienced this firsthand, one game that the XPS2 does choke on is Battlefield 2. Apparently, it runs best with 2 GB of RAM (a very expensive option from Dell that is luckily cheaper if you order the RAM separately). Also, some have reported spontaneous reboots after a while playing the game unless they bump the screen resolution down (which results in a drop in visual quality). Some people have had no problems, but you’ve been warned.

Benchmarks:

Now that the seat-of-the pants measurements are through with, it’s time to get some quantitative ones. I ran four benchmarks: PCMark04, 3DMark05, Super PI, and HD Tune. They were all run on a new user account with no other programs running and with all nonessential services disabled. All Windows XP visual effects were also turned off. The results are as follows:

Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Dell Inspiron XPS2 (2.0GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 36s
Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 53s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)
1m 45s
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 48s
Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 52s
Toshiba Tecra S2 (2.00 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 41s
Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 1m 57s
Sony VAIO S170P (1.5 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 07s
Acer Aspire 5021 (AMD Turion 64, 1.6GHz) 2m 11s

HD Tune Benchmarks

Test IBM ThinkPad X32 Dell Inspiron XPS2
Minimum Transfer Rate 11.9 MB/sec 18.5 MB/sec
Maximum Transfer Rate 34.6 MB/sec 34.7 MB/sec
Average Transfer Rate 38.1 MB/sec 28.3 MB/sec
Access Time 17.7 ms 18.0 ms
Burst Rate 67.5 MB/sec 62.1 MB/sec
CPU Usage 5.8% 3.7%

Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
 Test IBM T43 (1.86GHz) Dell Inspiron XPS2 (2.0GHz)
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.33 MB/s 3.822 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 27.19 MB/s 29.863 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 23.4 MB/s 25.901 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 10.88 MPixels/s 11.930 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1914.17 MB/s 1774.501 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.82 KB/s 3.079 KB/s
 File Decryption 54.11 MB/s 59.786 MB/s
 Audio Conversion 2496.87 KB/s 2749.451 KB/s
 Web Page Rendering 5.27 Pages/s 5.943 Pages/s
 DivX Video Compression 51.71 FPS 55.72 FPS
 Physics Calculation and 3D 159.19 FPS 207.910 FPS
 Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 868.44 FPS 2098.868 FPS

Final PCMark04: 4082 PCMarks

3DMark05: 5022 3DMarks

I don’t really have any basis for comparison with my desktop, because it’s in pieces across the country from me and I had not run these tests on it, but I did run 3DMark03 and it scored lower in that than the Inspiron XPS2 did in 3DMark05! Since 3DMark05 scores are usually one-half to two-thirds of the same machine’s 3DMark03 scores, the XPS2 was quite an upgrade.

Keyboard, Touchpad, and Other Controls:

The Dell keyboards have the best layout of any manufacturer. IBM comes close, but doesn’t have Windows keys; the rest of the manufacturers do not have nearly as intuitive a layout. I like how the Insert, Delete, Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys are all grouped together in the same layout as on a desktop keyboard. The low-profile keys and lack of a numpad do have me wishing for a desktop keyboard once in a while, and I do like the IBM keyboard feel better, but overall the keyboard is excellent for a laptop and much better than the one on my Sony.

Dell Keyboard

The standard-design Dell keyboard (view larger image)

The keyboard layout has been improved from earlier Dell ones in that Fn+F1 now hibernates the computer. I use the hibernate feature when I go on the road, so it is very useful to have that key there. However, one thing I would like to see that my Sony has is a hardware WiFi on/off switch. Dell uses Fn+F2; while they now provide a WiFi light above the keyboard to indicate the status, it would still be nice to not have to turn WiFi on and off through software.

WiFi Light

The WiFi and Bluetooth lights are grouped with the Caps Lock, Num Lock, and Scroll Lock keys above the keyboard (view larger image)

I have to admit that I have very little experience using the touchpad. I much prefer a normal mouse, and as such have one hooked up most of the time. It is worth it to note two nice features of the touchpad, though. One is that it has both horizontal and vertical scroll areas. They can be adjusted for size or even turned off altogether if you are so inclined. The second nice feature that I have not seen on many laptops is that it is possible to configure the buttons so that clicking both simultaneously will be interpreted as a middle click. This is great for Firefox users like me, because it means I can continue using middle-clicks to open pages in new tabs and to close tabs.

Touchpad

The touchpad has horizontal and vertical scrolling areas that can be configured through software (view larger image)

On the front of the laptop are seven multimedia buttons that by default control the Dell Media Experience application. Three control volume (up, down, and mute), while four are playback controls (play/pause, back, forward, and stop). There are applications out there that allow one to use the buttons to control any media player. I have mine controlling iTunes. When any of them is pressed, they all light up in blue for a couple of seconds. I find them quite handy for instant changes in volume and for their capability to control music and movie applications.

Dell Media Direct Buttons

The Dell Media Direct buttons allow you to control a media player — by default the Dell Media Experience — and to change and mute volume (view larger image)

Input and Output Ports:

The XPS2 has a wide array of ports. It includes a whopping six USB 2.0 ports, four on the back and two on the left side (I can’t see myself using any more than four of them at one time, though). It also includes a four-pin (mini) FireWire port on the right side for use with DV camcorders and external hard drives.

Disappointingly, the XPS2 has gone the route of many other modern laptops and includes no legacy ports whatsoever. That means if you have a parallel printer, serial PDA, or PS2 keyboard or mouse, you will have to buy an adaptor that converts it to USB. I found a sale on a Targus USB port replicator so that I could hook up my parallel-only HP LaserJet and a PS2 keyboard to my laptop.

Front
Back
Left Side
Right Side

Side views of the laptop (front, back, left side, right side)

In terms of network connectivity, in addition to the optional wireless, the XPS2 includes a Gigabit LAN port for connectivity to wired networks and high-speed internet services. It also includes a 56K V.92 modem port for those who are stuck in the stone age of modem access or who need to access the internet while on the road. I disabled the modem in the BIOS so that I didn’t need to install a driver for it, as I will probably never need to use it.

In terms of display connectivity, the XPS2 has something that is very rare on PC laptops — a DVI port for hooking up digital flat panels. That means I can hook up my Dell 2001FP that I have left over from my desktop as a secondary display and still get good image quality. The laptop also has a standard analog VGA port, but both cannot be used at the same time. Lastly, there is an S-Video port that can be converted to composite with an included adaptor, so if you want to hook the laptop up to your TV as a DVD player, Dell has you covered.

Bottom of laptop

The bottom of the Inspiron XPS2 (view larger image)

As mentioned before, Dell includes AC97 audio (shame on them for not using the Sonoma platform’s HD Audio compatibility!). This means that there are a speaker/headphone port and a mic in port on the right side, next to the FireWire port. If you connect the included adaptor to the S-Video port, you can also use an all-digital (SPDIF) connection to route sound to speakers like the Logitech Z-680 and Z-5500. However, if, like me, you have a surround-sound speaker set that doesn’t accept SPDIF input (which is most of them), then you will need to buy a laptop-compatible soundcard, such as Creative’s Audigy 2 ZS Notebook PCMCIA card.

Speaking of PCMCIA, there is one PCMCIA slot and an SD card reader, the latter of which is useless for me because I own a Sony camera and thus need a Memory Stick reader. Other manufacturers have equipped their laptops with multipurpose slots that read both SD and MS, so I see no reason why Dell couldn’t have done this. It’s definitely a minor issue, though.

Wireless:

By default, the XPS2 ships with no built-in wireless. Luckily, it is very inexpensive to upgrade to either of two Intel PRO/Wireless cards, one 802.11b/g compatible and the other dual-band a/b/g compatible. Although my laptop came with the 2915ABG card, most people will never use 802.11a and thus can save $15 by getting the 2200BG. I have not used the wireless much yet, but when I did, I experienced favorable results.

Dell also gives you the option of ordering Bluetooth 2.0 capabilities on the XPS2 via the TrueMobile 350 card. I do not have it, but from what I have heard, the 350 (found in the XPS2, 9300 and 6000) is not nearly as good as the old TrueMobile 300 version in the 600m, 8600, and Latitude D-series lineup.

As mentioned before, there are indicators for both WiFi and Bluetooth above the keyboard, and both are switched on and off using the Fn-F2 key combination.

As for infrared — forget it. That’s odd, because Dell gives you the option of upgrading the OS to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, which uses a remote. Because of the remote, you have to connect an IR receiver to the laptop via USB. It’s not a particularly elegant solution — you’d think Dell could have put an IR port on the front of the laptop, but I guess they couldn’t justify the cost.

Battery:

The XPS2 ships standard with Dell’s 9-cell Li-Ion battery that is optional on the 6000 and 9300 (they both come standard with a 6-cell version). It includes a push-button charge status indicator for when the laptop is off but you want to check the amount of charge left.

Battery life, as you would expect with a powerful 17″ desktop replacement, is less than stellar. I tested battery life by using the Internet and playing MP3s from iTunes until the computer ran down to 3% charge and hibernated. With the display set at level-three brightness and wireless off, I achieved a battery life of a bit less than two hours and ten minutes. That’s not great, but the Pentium-M processor does help somewhat, considering that you’re lucky to get one hour of battery life with much beefier batteries on its Pentium 4 competition. Still, those who would like better battery life should look elsewhere; even the almost-identical Inspiron 9300 gets better battery life, especially with the Mobility Radeon X300 graphics cards.

Operating System and Software:

Dell gives you three operating system options: Windows XP Home, Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, and Windows XP Professional. I got XP Home. Unfortunately, from the factory, Dell bundles way too much crapware on their machines (as do all of the PC makers these days). My laptop luckily came with OS and application CDs, so the first thing I did was reformat and do a clean install. However, Dell has switched over to having a recovery partition on the hard drive for reinstalling, like IBM and Sony do. For a while you could call up Dell and argue with them to give you install media, but I noticed that they are now charging $10 for the privilege. I think this is an unfortunate turn of events, but there’s not much anyone can do about it.

Dell requires you to install their QuickSet utility so that you can use the buttons on the front of the laptop, change brightness and volume using the Fn shortcuts on the keyboard, turn the wireless on and off, and control the LEDs in the speakers, air vents and XPS logos. Luckily, unlike some laptop manufacturers, Dell only requires you to install this one utility to gain all functionality, so a minimum of system resources are used.

Customer Support:

This is the meat of this review. I have had extensive interaction with Dell’s technical and order support, and have found them overall to be recalcitrant and bureaucratic. I also found the line between their Home and Small Business divisions to be confusing; I tried multiple times to use Dell Chat, but despite the fact that I had bought the laptop through Home, I was classified as a Small Business customer and thus was not eligible to use Chat.

When I received my laptop, they sent me a defective one. It would reboot randomly, both in games and during normal use. Usually, when it rebooted, it would show an all-white screen for about fifteen seconds, and then go to the Dell boot screen. There were certain triggers for the reboots during normal use; for example, every time I tried to resize a certain Explorer folder window with a lot of video files in it, the machine would reboot. Application installs also often triggered the problem.

I immediately diagnosed the problem as the video card, because it began occurring immediately after I installed the video drivers on my clean system. Also, when I decreased the speed the card was running at using the nVidia PowerMizer control panel, I didn’t get the reboots. I later (After my Dell tech support ordeal) happened upon a forum thread in which many other people had the problem and had fixed it by getting their graphics cards replaced with a new revision.

Armed with this knowledge, I called Dell tech support. The person who answered did not know what he was doing. He didn’t run through any troubleshooting steps with me. I mentioned that I had gotten the chipset drivers off Intel’s site, and he said, “That’s the problem.” I kept on asking him, since other people do the same thing and don’t have the problem, why is that the problem for me? He never actually answered the question; he just reiterated what he had already said. I finally got fed up and asked for a supervisor.

The supervisor wasn’t any more help. He said that Dell modifies the Intel chipset (not true) and thus the Dell driver is different from the Intel driver (probably also not true). I knew he was full of it, but I said I would install the Dell version of the driver and then call back if the problem continued.

So I installed the Dell driver. Surprise — the problem continued. So I called back that evening. I got another tech that really seemed to know what he was doing. He had me try multiple things, including running diagnostics, going through the event logs, and reinstalling drivers. After two hours on the phone with him, he finally said that he was convinced there was something wrong with my laptop, but didn’t know whether it was a problem with the graphics card or the system board, so rather than send a tech out with both, he would put in for a return and I could buy the laptop again. I said this was unacceptable and I did not want to go through the purchasing process again, so he said that he would arrange for an advance exchange instead. I liked this idea much more, so I agreed.

The next day, I called up Customer Care and finalized the exchange. Then I hung up and called right back. I explained my experience so far with the laptop to the customer service representative, and said I wasn’t satisfied and wanted a partial credit. He said, “Well, I can give you a $100 concession coupon.” I said that that wasn’t enough money and that I wanted a direct credit, not a coupon. He asked me how much I thought was reasonable, and I said, “At least $250, probably more like $300.” He said that he would have to talk with his supervisor about it because Dell usually doesn’t credit back more than $100, and put me on hold. A couple of minutes later, he came back on and said that $250 was too much, but they could offer me $200 back. I said that this was acceptable (in hindsight, I probably should have asked for $350, because they probably would have given me $300 back in that case).

So the CSR said that he would put the credit through, and that it would take a couple of business days. I said okay, and hung up, happy that I was now getting my laptop for $2250 instead of $2450. But this wasn’t the end of it, because the credit didn’t go through. I called up and was told that Dell had put it through and that the credit card company had received it but might take 21 days to credit my account. However, I received a call two weeks later from a manager, who said that they were unable to give me the credit because I had asked for it through the Small Business division, and I had bought the laptop through the Home division.

In the meantime I had moved out to Utah, and the file with my case numbers was in transit, so I didn’t call back for a little while. (I had also received my replacement laptop, which sure enough was problem-free.) When I finally did call back to get the credit put through again, the CSR didn’t want to do it. I said that this was Dell’s problem because of their bureaucratic error, but the CSR was still reluctant. Finally I gave her a different case number and she saw the previous request for a credit had been denied and put a new one through, but it was like pulling teeth. As of this writing, the credit has been put into the system, but will not go through for almost a month because of the way Dell’s system works.

Overall, the experience would not discourage me from buying another Dell. In fact, I got my mom a Dell Inspiron 700m while I was still having problems. And I still love my XPS2 unconditionally, so I do not regret buying it even seeing the problems I’ve had in hindsight. But Dell has some work to do to improve their service, and due to their ongoing drive to cut costs, I don’t see them taking the appropriate steps.

Complaints:

Well, you’ve heard most of them. I don’t like the backlight bleed. I’d prefer a card reader that could read MS as well as SD. I’d like HD Audio support, preferably with three speaker jacks so I could use surround sound systems. The power brick is too big and heavy. The aluminum lid is on the overly flashy side. I’d love better battery life. And my experience with Dell support has been abysmal. However…

Praises:

I love this laptop. The screen is beautiful, the built-in speakers are decent, the performance is blazing fast, and I don’t know how I lived without the multimedia buttons on the front. I also love to show off the LEDs to people, and the DVI port is a must-have in my opinion for anyone who wants to use another monitor with the laptop. Finally, I love how much more versatile it is than my desktop was. I can just pack it into the backpack and take its tremendous processing power with me to wherever I want to go.

Conclusion:

Okay, so the road getting here was a bit bumpy. But overall, the Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2 is a great laptop, and more importantly, a worthy replacement for my desktop. All these years I didn’t know what I was missing, but now I’m quite satisfied with my computer setup.

Pros:

  • Very powerful
  • Great screen
  • Svelter than the competition
  • Multimedia buttons are a must
  • DVI port for hooking up LCDs
  • Convenient replacement for a desktop

Cons:

  • Not very portable; large AC adaptor
  • Backlight bleed
  • No HD Audio
  • Not for the boardroom
  • Dell service leaves much to be desired

Pricing and Availability

Other Dell Inspiron XPS2 Reviews


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