Dell XPS M1730 – Update review

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Dell’s high-end desktop replacement, the XPS M1730, has occupied a well-deserved spot on our A List for six months and, on the outside at least, this new model doesn’t appear to have altered the winning formula. The familiar gun-metal texturing still covers the wrist-rest, there are still garish, coloured lights on the lid, and the two beefy speakers at the front of the thick base still pump out bright light as well as impressive sound.

Dell XPS M1730 - Update review

A quick look at the specifications, though, reveal that Dell has forgone updating the M1730’s looks, and instead concentrated on increasing the amount of power crammed into this machine.

Where before there was a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 processor, there’s now a more powerful 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo T8100, and there’s now 4GB of RAM compared to 2GB. The storage has also increased, this time from a single 250GB drive to a two 200GB disks in a high performance, 400GB RAID 0 array.

Plenty of mod-cons are still included: there’s Bluetooth, draft-n wireless, a card reader and a good selection of ports and sockets scattered around the sizeable chassis.

These changes have a hugely impressive affect on performance. In our 2D benchmarks the M1730 – which originally scored 1.06 in our tests – now delivered a lightning-quick result of 1.3. That’s more than enough to scythe through the most demanding of desktop applications.

It’s undoubtedly a quick result, but several other desktop replacements still manage to be faster. The HP Pavilion HDX9320EA, for instance, hit a slightly speedier 1.36, and the Alienware Area-51 m15x – which, it’s worth bearing in mind, is a 15.4in notebook – scored a staggering 1.48.

The other main area that has seen an improvement is the XPS M1730’s graphics setup. The old pair of GeForce 8700 GS chips running in SLI have been replaced by a couple of far more powerful GeForce 8800M GTX parts that are, again, running in an SLI configuration.

As we expected, gaming performance far outstrips that of the previous XPS M1730 and its various desktop replacement rivals. In our medium Crysis benchmark, the Dell hit 50fps – 15fps more than the 8800M GTS-equipped HP Pavilion – and, thanks to the SLI arrangement, performance was even more impressive when we ramped up the quality and detail settings.

At high quality settings and a resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 the XPS produced a remarkable 39fps, and still managed a very playable 29fps when the quality was increased to its maximum settings. Frame rates only dropped below playable levels when we tried to play Crysis at 1,600 x 1,200 with high quality settings, when the Dell dipped to 22fps. Quite simply, it’s the most powerful gaming laptop we’ve ever seen.

Ergonomically, the XPS M1730 is unchanged. The 17in screen is still excellent – bright and sharp enough to enjoy regular gaming sessions – and the keyboard is of the usual high standard. Keys offer plenty of travel, and it’s always pleasing to see a full-size keyboard, complete with number pad, on a laptop.

The trackpad is responsive and easy to use, and our only qualms are minor: the buttons feel slightly cheap, and the trackpad is a mite too small for our liking. But given that you’ll be using a USB mouse for gaming anyway, it won’t be an issue most of the time anyway.

The speakers aren’t bad, either. They’re not quite as loud as those on the Acer Aspire 8920G, perhaps, but still perfectly respectable.

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