Dell XPS M1710 Review (pics, specs)

by Charles P. Jefferies Reads (910,929)

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by Charles Jefferies and Andrew Baxter

Overview and Introduction:

The Dell XPS M1710 is the latest premium gaming notebook from Dell that replaces the current XPS M170.  The M1710 has a 17″ widescreen and comes in a choice of two colors, “formula red” or “metallic black”.  On the inside it houses the 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo processor, up to 4GB of RAM and the icing on the cake — the latest and greatest nVidia Go 7900 GTX graphics card with 512MB of memory.  If you like to do serious gaming or simply have the fastest notebook money can buy right now, this notebook is for you!


Dell XPS M1710 (view large image)

Dell XPS M1710 Basic Specs as Reviewed:

  • System:  Dell XPS M1710 (Red color lid)
  • Processor:  Intel Core Duo T2600 (2.16 GHz)
  • Memory:  2GB @ 667MHz – 2 DIMM Slots (2 x 1GB)  (Max Ram 4GB)
  • Hard Drive:  100GB capacity at a speed of 7200 RPM
  • Graphics Card:  NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GTX  with 512MB DDR memory
  • Screen:  WUXGA Truelife (1920 x 1200)
  • Optical Drive:  8x CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW/+R) with Dual-Layer 
  • OS:  Microsoft MCE 2005
  • Wireless Card:  Intel 3945 (802.11b/g) 
  • Battery:  9-cell lithium ion recharegable battery
  • Ports / Slots: 5-in-1 Memory Card Reader, DVI-D, VGA video output, S-Video, IEEE 1394 (Firewire), 6 USB 2.0, Express Card slot, Modem, Ethernet/LAN, Microphone in, Headphone out
  • Integrated Subwoofer
  • Price of this configuration: $4,215 (base price of black metallic M1710 starts at $2,600)

Build & Design:


Dell XPS M1710 above view next to power cord (view large image)

The Dell XPS M1710 design is, in a word, brazen.  In daylight the striking red or metallic black lid will catch the eyes of just about anyone nearby.  In the dark, if you stand far enough away this thing looks more like a UFO as the lights glow in a somewhat eery yet cool manner.  I’ll let the pictures of the light display the M1710 emits tell the story, the light colors are configurable with up to 16 color options for each light via a Dell included QuickSet program:

 

Top view of XPS M1710 in the dark (view large image)
 
Dell M1710 in the dark, next to mirror (view large image)
 
Touchpad in the dark view (view large image)
 
Keyboard view in the dark(view large image)
 
XPS M1710 front view (view large image)
 
XPS M1710 front view (touchpad lights off), on the screen is the config program for changing lights (view large image)

Outside of the lid and lights, the rest of the look is silver.  I’m used to seeing a black keyboard on Dell machines, but this one sports a more sleek looking silver keyed look, which is nice and fits the design well.

You’ll notice the XPS M1710 has somewhat of an industrial look and this is true to the actual build of the notebook.  The M1710 is very sturdy; it uses an all magnesium-alloy case on the top and bottom.  The keyboard and palm rest area is made of a thick rugged plastic.  This results in strong overall physical protection of the notebook, worry-free of case cracks appearing or problems with excessive flexing.  The hinges are constructed of steel, Dell claims they have been tested for up to 20,000 cycles (openings and closings) to assure freedom from loosening and wobble.  Honestly, the lid on this notebook is possibly the strongest I’ve tested on any notebook, it does not flex at all and is stronger protection than even the renknowned ThinkPad notebook line.  The hard drive has a StrikeZone shock absorber for small drops and bumps for protection in small drops.

There is one part of the build that’s lacking, the plastic on the bottom of the LCD is easy to bend and flex.  It’s not likely that you would be touching this area often, but still worth noting to keep the review honest. The area above the keyboard where the status lights are is also somewhat flexible.

The weight of this notebook isn’t as bad as you might think.  I’ve run across seventeen inch screen notebooks that make you groan just picking them up to move from one surface to the next.  The XPS M1710 is quoted as being 8.8 lbs by Dell, I weighed both the M1710 and its power adapter together and the total came it at just over 10 lbs.


With power adapter (1.4lbs) and notebook (8.8lbs) the total travel weight of the XPS M1710 comes to just over 10lbs (view large image)

Screen:

The XPS M1710 has a 17″ widescreen WUXGA (1920 x 1200 resolution) LCD with the Dell TrueLife (glossy screen) treatment.  The TrueLife is a standard feature on the M1710 and a good option for an entertainment machine as it really does provide greater contrast and bolder colors.  The display on the XPS M1710 is 30% brighter than the M170 it is replacing. The XPS M1710 has 250 nits of brightness while the M170 was about 200 nits.

I found the screen to be excellent for all tasks, from surfing the web to gaming and watching movies. It is very sharp with excellent contrast and brightness. There is no noticeable ghosting during games or any image tearing/smearing. White looks like white, and black looks like black. However, there are some imperfections in the display. It is not evenly lit — there is noticeable light leakage coming from the bottom of the display. When the display is showing a completely dark scene, there are bright spots in the middle and to the right. I am pleased to report that none of the light leakage is noticeable during general use, so I don’t view it as an issue for most people.

Speakers:

It’s rare to find a notebook that has decent speakers, but with the Dell M1710 being a premium level entertainment package, Dell went out of their way to provide for some decent built-in sound.  The integrated sub-woofer provides for some decent bass that’s always missing from the average notebook.  It also provides for extra oomph with sound volume, at top volume the sound is definitely too loud.

It was actually a pleasure to listen to music via the speakers on this notebook.  Same goes for movie audio.

Processor, Performance, Benchmarks and Gaming:

The reason to buy the XPS M1710 is for gaming performance. In that area, this notebook will deliver the most power of any notebook short of a high-end SLI dual graphics card setup.

Nvidia’s new GeForce Go7900GTX is the most powerful graphics card.  It replaced the Go7800GTX. Gaming is phenomenal; there’s not a notebook on the market that is as fast as this one at the moment.

Now, onto the benchmarks!

* Note: All benchmarks were performed with the stock clocks of 500/600MHz, all latest Windows updates, and LaptopVideo2Go drivers version 84.26. Minimal background processes were running, internal Bluetooth and wireless cards were disabled, and anti-virus protection was switched off. *

We use Super Pi to calculate overall processor number crunching speed, our favorite is to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy.  The XPS M1710 calculates Pi to 2-million digits of accuracy faster than any other notebook we’ve used.  Those mathematically inclined will be proud of this student.

Super Pi Results:

Notebook Time
Dell XPS M1710 (2.16GHz Core Duo)  1m 07s
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

 

3DMark03 Results:

 

 

Notebook  3DMark 03 Results
 Dell XPS M1710 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7900 GTX 512MB)  18,287 3D Marks
 HP dv5000t (1.83GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 128MB)  2,065 3DMarks
 Acer TravelMate 4400 (AMD Turion ML-30, 1.6GHz, ATI Mobility Radeon X700, 64MB VRAM)  4,383 3DMarks
 LG LM70 (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Mobility X600 64MB RAM )  3,011 3D Marks
 MSI-1029 (1.6 GHz AMD Turion MT-30, ATI X700 128MB)  5,601 3DMarks

 

3DMark05 Results:


 

Notebook  3DMark 05 Results
Dell XPS M1710 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7900 GTX 512MB)  8,524 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

 

3DMark06 Results:


 

Notebook  3DMark 06 Results
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

 
Those scores beat most high-end desktops. The 3DMark05 score is signifigantly higher than the previous Go7800GTX could achieve (as seen with the Alienware M7700). The Go7900GTX, being Nvidia’s latest generation of video card, shows its strength in 3DMark06. However, 3DMark is nothing more than a synthetic benchmark; the true test for any gaming-oriented video card is games…

Gaming tests:

Star Wars: BattleFront 2
BattleFront 2 is capped at 80 frames per second (FPS) by default.

Settings: 1920×1200 resolution, maximum settings, Light Bloom = ON
Level: Jabba’s Palace
0X AA: 70 frames per second (FPS)
2X AA: 59 FPS

Level: Tantive IV
0X AA: 79 FPS
2X AA: 68 FPS

At any settings, BattleFront 2 is completely playable. It looks spectacular in a 1920×1200 resolution. The Go7900GTX achieves near the maximum framerate in the game, which is 80 FPS. I enabled the Light Bloom feature, which makes explosions and other lit scenes brighter than usual. It is more stressful on the GPU, but in the Go7900GTX’s case, it doesn’t really matter.

Quake 4
Quake 4 is capped at 60 FPS by default.

Settings: 1600×1200 resolution, ULTRA (500MB video memory required) settings, dual-core patch applied
Levels tested:
MCC Landing Site: 57 FPS
Operation Advantage: 60 FPS

Even at the extreme resolution of 1600×1200 with the Ultra quality settings enabled (this setting requires 500MB of video memory), the Go7900GTX has zero problems maintaining a steady framerate. Most of the time, even during firefights, the framerate stayed at 60 or close to it (the game is capped at 60FPS). I played through about half of the game, and the game did not become unplayable. The lowest framerate observed was 38. The Intel Core Duo processor also played a role in this benchmark, because the patch for Quake 4 enables it to use both cores of the processor, effectively boosting performance.

Benchmarks with the Source Engine

Source Video Stress Test

Settings: 1920×1200 resolution, maximum settings
0X AA, 8X AF: 149.17 FPS
4X AA, 8X AF: 117.94 FPS

Obviously, more than playable at any setting. This test applies to both Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike: Source.

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast HDR Demo

Settings: 1920×1200 resolution, maximum settings, Full HDR (High Dynamic Range)
8X AF: 55FPS

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast is probably one of the most demanding games (it is actually a demo for HDR) to run at full resolution due to the High Dynamic Range. It is incredibly stressful on the GPU, and equally so on the processor. The XPS M1710 doesn’t even break a sweat playing the demo — the lowest FPS observed was 39, during the very beginning scene. Playing at such an extreme resolution is, for lack of better words, awe-inspiring.

Final Fantasy XI Official Benchmark

Low: 8523
High: 6777

F.E.A.R.

Settings: 1600×1200 resolution, maximum settings (both graphics and CPU)
Level: Interval 01
0X AA: 71 FPS
2X AA: 59FPS

I benchmarked the first level of FEAR from the moment my character stepped out of the car until the end of the first checkpoint. A 1600×1200 resolution is certainly within reach for the Go7900GTX. It is playable all around, with only certain scenes causing the framerates to drop into the low 40′s/high 30′s. Despite averaging 59 FPS with 2X AA, there are a few scenes where the frames drop under 35 for a few seconds. It’s still playable at these settings, but I would recommend leaving it at 1600×1200 because the performance is more consistent. I would only add anti-aliasing at this resolution if you had a dual-graphics card SLI or CrossFire desktop. Playing FEAR at these settings, without a doubt, is incredible. You can’t ask for any more out of a single-card system, desktop or laptop.

Gaming isn’t everything — overall system performance counts too. In order to measure how powerful the XPS M1710 is as a whole, I ran Futuremark’s PCMark05:

PCMark05 Results

 Notebook PCMark05 Score
Dell XPS M1710 (2.16 GHz Core Duo) 5,333 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
Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz) 1,877 PCMarks

Once again, that 5,333 score is on par with high-end desktops, notice the Alienware just edged out the M1710 in the PCMark05 result though.

Heat and Noise:

The Dell XPS M1710 has a very efficient and quiet cooling system. Not only is it quiet, but it also is has a very smart design.   Dell has split up two of the most heat-producing components in the notebook, and placed them on opposite sides of the computer. The processor is on one, and the video card on the other, both using separate fans and heatsinks. This is very effective at cooling the M1710, because heat is spread out and has more room to escape.

Even after hours of gaming, the surface of the notebook only gets mildly warm, nothing to worry about in the least. The palm rests remain cool at all times. No part on the surface gets hot to the touch. The bottom, however, does. Directly in the center is the RAM compartment. It is perforated to get ventilation, but still remains very warm. It is somewhat uncomfortable to touch. The bottom right side also gets very hot. It’s not unexpected to have the bottom of the notebook heat up, given how powerful the internal components are.

This is the quietest notebook I have used to date. Even at full tilt, it is hard to tell the fans are running. At idle, it has to be completely silent to hear the soft trickle of warm air coming out. Very, very impressive!

Keyboard, Touchpad and Buttons:


XPS 1710 keyboard and touchpad view (view large image)

The keyboard on the XPS M1710 actually looks and feels quite a bit different to all other Dell notebooks I’ve used.  The keyboard keys are not black, as they so typically are, but rather a silver color that blends with the rest of the case color.  The keys are also more springy and have more travel than is typical with a Dell notebook, which is to my liking.  The keyboard actually turns out to be extremely usable and has a nice feel, and while the M1710 is not meant as a productivity tool for Office Applications, I’d be quite happy doing a lot of typing on this notebook.  There is no flex to the keyboard, it is built very sturdily.  In addition, the palm rests are extremely solid.  Since the battery lies underneath the palm rest area, this would explain the sheer solidness of the area (a good thing).

At the top of the keyboard there resides two functional buttons, the Media Direct button allows you to quickly boot to a Linux OS that allows you to play media (see OS section for more) and then there’s the rounded power button located at top center.


Dell XPS M1710 keyboard (view large image)

The touchpad is very cool with the XPS lighting, but more importantly it’s actually a decent size and works well with scroll zones on the right side for vertical scroll and on the bottom for horizontal scroll.  Again though, if  you’re using this notebook more for gaming and entertainment then the touchpad won’t cut it for accurate input control, you’ll need a game controller or high precision mouse.


At the front area are located handy media buttons for play, stop, skip and volume up/down.  These buttons work in both Windows and the Dell Media Direct quick boot application (view large image)

Input and Output Ports:

The port selection on the XPS M1710 is about as good as you can ask for, 6 USB 2.0 ports is better than many desktop machines and you have all the video connectors you could want with the VGA out, DVI and S-Video out connector.  You could gripe about not having a PCMCIA slot if you have old accessories you’d like to use with this, but the ExpressCard is fast becoming the default expansion slot for notebooks — hopefully accessory makers will catch up soon by making more cards that fit this slot, right now the selection is a bit limited (see a list of Express Card accessories here http://www.expresscard.org/web/do/pub/resourcedirectory).

Below is a run down of all the ports you get with the M1710.


Left side: Security cable slot, optical drive (DVD/CD), air intake cooler (with lights), 2 USB 2.0 ports

 


Dell XPS M1710 left side view (view large image)


Right Side: ExpressCard slot for accessories, Headphone jack, Mic in, Air intake (with lights), 5-in-1 memory card reader, FireWire (IEEE 1394) port


Dell XPS M1710 right side view (view large image)


Back Side: Air exhaust (two), S-video out, Modem connector, DVI connector, power in, Ethernet/Lan, 4 USB 2.0 ports, VGA connector, power port


Dell XPS M1710 back side view(view large image)


Under Side: Optical drive lock, subwoofer, battery charge gauge, battery release latch, battery, hard drive housing, StrikeZone for hard drive protection, fan, mini card (for wireless) / modem cover, Docking port, memory module cover, fan


Dell XPS M1710 under side view (view large image)


The external TV Tuner is an option for the XPS M1710 and if you have the Windows Media Center Edition OS it might be a nice add-on since you could record live TV.


(view large image)

Wireless:

The XPS M1710 comes with an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 card, supporting A, B, and G bands. It is one of the newer cards in the mini PCI-express format, versus the older mini-PCI format. It is much smaller and consumes less power.

I had some major wireless-related  problems early on with the XPS. I could connect to my Netgear 802.11g router fine, but I had fluctuating speed issues. Gaming was nearly impossible over wireless. After about twenty minutes of being connected, I had additional problems — I would lose my connection, and the small WiFi light would begin to flicker. This was odd, because I set the wireless card to not turn off and to stay at maximum power. It flickered for about one minute, then went off. From then on in, I could not access anything to do with the wireless connection or the settings of the wireless card — as soon as I did, the system would freeze. The only way I could restore the wireless was to do a full restart, and then I would have the same problems.

I attempted to uninstall the wireless card drivers and software and reinstall them, updaing the drivers, changing network keys, and so on.  How I eventually fixed it was by completely uninstalling the wireless adapter, and letting Windows install the wireless card. It now works great using the generic Windows wireless software. On a system of this caliber, I should not have to fool around with the wireless to make it work — it should perform flawlessly right out of the box. Hopefully, this will only be an issue on the review unit and not on future systems, we conferred with Dell on this issue and they had not heard such reports and emphasized this is a pre-production unit.

Battery and Power:

The battery is a 9-cell located at the front area of the notebook, which is a little different to the normally far back positioned location.  The battery has a nice feature in which you can push in on it to light up 5 green LEDs to display how much charge is left, this works whether the notebook is on or off.

The battery has a gauge that lights up to indicate charge level when you push in on it, this works if the notebooks is on or off for a quick way to check charge

Now, if you’re buying the XPS M1710, there’s probably a good chance that you won’t be spending a lot of time on battery as it’s more of a desktop replacement gaming style machine. But if you do, the battery life is respectable for a computer with this much power. With the screen brightness at 6/7 (near maximum, keep in mind), wireless at full power, and while surfing the Internet, I clocked the battery power to be two hours and five minutes. That’s not bad at all. You could certainly add more time if you turned down the brightness.

The power adapter that comes with this notebook is rather huge, to say the least.  It weighs about 1.6lbs and is only slightly smaller in length to a DVD (see picture below).


The power adapter is large, almost the size of a DVD in length and much thicker (view large image)

Operating System and Software:

You have three choices of an OS: XP Home, XP Professional and XP Media Center Edition.  The operating system I got is Windows Media Center Edition 2005.  This is basically Windows XP Home with media center software on top.  I didn’t get a TV tuner with this unit, but is an option for configuration with the XPS M1710 (external USB solution, not integrated).


At the top of the keyboard you see a “Media Direct” button that allows you to push and quickly boot to a Linux based OS in which you can view photos, play DVDs and Music located on the hard drive, media card, external USB storage or from a DVD (view large image)

Unfortunately the XPS M1710 comes with the typical amount of garbage software that I’d imagine gamer types will cringe at.  Then again, techno savvy gamers would be the first to wipe a system and reinstall the OS to their liking, so maybe it’s not such a big deal.  Software such as Yahoo Music, McAfee, AOL, Corel trial image software are on there to name a few and will pop up and try and get you to subscribe/buy the software. 

One nice thing you get with the XPS M1710 is the Media Direct functionality that allows you to quickly load up the machine to play music, view pictures or watch a DVD.  You do this by clicking the “Media Direct” button on the front of the laptop.  The first time you do this it takes a minute to boot and configure, but after that it’s a quick 15-seconds to getting to an application that allows you to play music and other media.  I was impressed by the interface and ease of use, all of the media buttons on the front work just as they do in the actual Windows bootup.

Customer Support:

Dell has a dedicated staff of technical support people for the XPS line of notebooks.  These technicians are located around the world so that no matter when you call you can get help.  In my experience I’ve always had good luck with Dell support and find them to be accessible and helpful.  Please be aware that Dell sells more computers than any other company in the world, so of course you will hear stories of people having nightmares with technical support (no support is 100% effective, no product is 100% defect free), but we’ve reviewed many notebooks and can say that companies such as Acer and Sony have provided far inferior tech support service experience from Dell.

Dell offers a few ways to get technical support and varying levels of warranty — from 1-3 years and optional at home service.  Here’s a run down of the XPS support outlets you’ll get with the purchase of a Dell notebook:

  • Web Support: For self-help from Dell’s online Knowledge Base, go to http://support.dell.com.
  • Live Chat Support: To chat with a Dell technician go to www.support.dell.com/chat
  • E-mail Support:  Send email questions to Dell technicians www.support.dell.com/email (24-hours) to receive automated responses immediately or rep responses within 6 hours.
  • Phone Support: 1-800-624-9896 or 1-800-247-9362

Conclusion

The conclusion is quite simple for the M1710:  If this were the state fair and the contest were for best performance notebook, then the blue ribbon would go to the XPS M1710.  The coolest thing being, you could even adjust the lights on the M1710 to blue to match that ribbon!

Pros:

  • Unmatched 3D performance, fantastic for gaming or high-end 3D tasks
  • Cool and quiet, even when gaming for hours
  • Very cool looking, especially the lights — could be mistaken as UFO from a distance
  • Great keyboard
  • Nice screen, very bright and good colors

Cons:

  • Wireless problems, for this pre-production unit at least
  • Area below LCD and top of keyboard has some flex
  • No PCMCIA card slot for any accessories you had for older notebooks
  • Want it?  Show Dell the money!  Premium notebooks command a premium $$ price.

Pricing and Availability

Visit Dell.com for the latest pricing on the M1710

 

Bonus Feature: Death defying glamour shots of the M1710 above New York City…

 
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