Introduction

There's been a mantra associated with laptops pretty much since they came into being: if you're looking to build the fastest computer possible, get a desktop; the only reason to get a laptop is if you want mobility more than anything else, because laptops are always slower than equivalent desktops. While that statement is still true for the most part, the difference between top-performing desktop systems and top-performing laptops has been diminishing for many years. With NVIDIA working on mobile SLI solutions, we are nearing the point where the major difference between desktop systems and laptops is going to be price. Today marks the launch of NVIDIA's GeForce Go 7900 offerings, ranging from the 7900 256MB GPUs up through 7900 GTX 512MB configurations.

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Unlike the desktop market, it is extremely difficult (actually impossible at present) to review a mobile graphics offering without getting a laptop built around the new GPU. The good news is that Dell sent us their new XPS M1710 with the top-end 7900 GTX 512MB chip, so we have a chance to see exactly what the new mobile graphics "king" brings to the table. Dell didn't stop with stuffing in the fastest mobile graphics chip either; they've decked out the system with a flashy appearance, Intel's fastest mobile processor, 2GB of DDR2 memory, and a huge 17 inch widescreen display with a native 1920x1200 resolution. Clearly, this isn't a notebook targeting the Thin and Light market, but rather it's going after the Desktop Replacement (DTR) segment.

When it comes to computers, just about every person in the world has heard of Dell. Some people love them, some people hate them, and many of their competitors likely fear them. Dell is much maligned in the hardware enthusiast community, and though they have certainly deserved it at times, it's important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Dell manufactures and sells literally millions of computers per year, and when you deal in that sort of volume, with product markets targeting everything from the value segment up through the high-end servers, there are bound to be better products and worse products. Most knowledgeable people realize that there's no such thing as a perfect system that will fill the needs of every individual; a system needs to be tailored to fit the usage requirements of the user, and as often as not that is where people run into problems when dealing with large OEMs.

It is extremely unlikely that any hardware enthusiast would be thrilled to get the latest value desktop system from Dell, just like a classic car buff probably isn't going to be happy fixing up a 1970 Ford Pinto. In fact, there are plenty of people that would never want any form of Dell computer -- for example, overclocking enthusiasts will find that Dell simply chooses not to cater to them at all. We need to keep things in perspective, though, because not everyone wants to overclock; many people will be perfectly happy with an inexpensive, reasonably performing, reliable computer.

Getting back to the topic at hand, laptops are a market that's quite different from the world of desktop enthusiasts. Balancing performance and features against weight, size, and battery life gives manufacturers plenty of opportunities to configure their laptops to fit specific needs. It doesn't require much deductive reasoning to determine that this particular laptop focuses more on improving performance and offering higher end features than on longer battery life or size, so what we're primarily interested in determining is how this system fares as a mobile gaming platform.

In order to keep the document size manageable and bring you the latest reviews in a timely fashion, we're going to review this laptop in two parts. This first part will focus primarily on the external appearance, overall system performance, features, and battery life. We'll be following up with a second article that will spend more time looking at the included software, construction, and some additional benchmarks.

Basic Features
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  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, April 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    The installed DDR2 is actually rated at:

    3-3-3-9 DDR2-400
    4-4-4-12 DDR2-533
    5-5-5-15 DDR2-667

    It is running at 5-5-5-15 at present (not sure if the BIOS will allow me to change that). However, think in terms of latency.

    200 MHz base speed with 3 cycle latency = 15 ns
    266 MHz base speed with 4 cycle latency = 15 ns
    333 MHz base speed with 5 cycle latency = 15 ns

    Given that latencies are the same in all three cases, the added bandwidth ought to offer a slight performance increase. I would guess the difference is at best 2%, though, and often less than even that.


    At DDR2-667 it will be better because it can run synchronously with the FSB. Probably add another 2% :).
    Reply
  • Anemone - Sunday, April 23, 2006 - link

    However the 533 runs much cooler which could be an issue for some users.

    Personally I went with 2gb of 667, but do be aware that the stuff gets pretty toasty :)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 19, 2006 - link

    Oh yeah, sorry about not including that information. Things slip through the crack now and then, but I've updated the spec table. Reply
  • spinportal - Thursday, April 20, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the explaination. I upgraded my laptop to DDR2-533 1GB for 63$ instead of DDR2-667 for 90$, which is almost 27% price differential for maybe 4% gain, so on the price-perfomance curve, it doesn't rate as a good buy. Reply
  • spinportal - Wednesday, April 19, 2006 - link

    Why hasn't anyone called Jarred on this? Why is the article linking to the M170 laptop for 1300$ and not putting the link to Dell's M1710 which is 2600$ starting?? Come on, stop with the bait & switch advertising.

    Also, I'm peeved with Dell as I got the E1710 with the Go 7800 GTX, and now, a month later, they pushing the ATi X1400 mobility! What a joke!

    Also, Dell didn't offer a CD replacement install disc for XP MCE for $10 at the time of my purchase. Dell won't renegotiate with me to extend that offer which is bad business. Corporate Greed and Penny Pinching at its FINEST!

    And Also, why is there DDR2 2GB Upgrade obnoxiously high at 300$? OCZ / NewEgg has a super deal for 1 GB DDR2-533 SODIMM PC-4200 for 73$ with 5$ S&H and a $9 rebate!

    Also, the E1705 had a promotional rebate period. I got $400 off mine, nearly 33%. Now with the M1710 there is nothing happening. I'll be damned if I paid stock price.

    Also, it'd be nice if Dell would think to offer an upgrade (reasonably priced) to replace the E1705 with a Go 7900 GTX graphix mini-board. It can't be that hard to manufacture a common board and PCI-e interconnects for all their laptops?

    In closing, Dell better wake up and offer a Merom upgrade path as well for all these new laptop lines for enthusiasts. Its long due that laptop upgrades, especially for DTR machines, are commonplace and easy for DIYers.
    Reply
  • Anemone - Sunday, April 23, 2006 - link

    The CD replacement disk, write to Dell and CC Microsoft support in the email. Microsoft doesn't need the rep that comes with this double dealing. They should send you the install CD without issue. A call to your Attorney General's office would further enforce the point. That disk is your ultimate proof of ownership if the hardrive goes south or the laptop gets destroyed. It is illegal in many states to deny you that.

    The 7900GTX doesn't fit the power spec of the 1705. There are ways around this, but they are not for the faint of heart :) Notebookforums.com has some pointers if you look around.

    Merom is pin compatible with Yonah (per Intel) and "should" (with some people out there having done it already) be a drop in replacement into a Yonah notebook (like the 1705 and 1710). Some risk of proprietary design issues is there, but likely with Dell being Intel's kid sister, you could expect they'd get it right. :)
    Reply
  • RogueSpear - Wednesday, April 19, 2006 - link

    I think it's fantastic that Intel is finally back in the game again, especially in the desktop arena. They never really did cede much in the portable market. Now if ATI could finally get something worthwhile for portable graphics. See this is what makes me smile. Good old fashioned competition. I think AMD has gotten a little too smug with themselves after 3 or 4 years total dominance, much like how Intel was around 3 years ago. As far as I'm concerned, all of the Intel vs. AMD and nVidia vs. ATI back and forths is fantastic. In the end it almost always results in progression of technology and increased performance. Oh yea, that's one hell of a laptop too :) I hope that I can stand to stick it out until we see a version of this laptop with Merom. If I'm going to spend 4 G's, may as well get 64-bit capability even if I don't take advantage of it right away. Reply
  • timmiser - Wednesday, April 19, 2006 - link

    With my M170, I am unsure how to update the Nvidia driver to the latest version on the Nvidia website. They have specific drivers for the 7800 GTX Go but they are not supported by Dell so when I try to install them, it won't let me.

    Is there a mod tool somewhere that will allow me to force the driver to be installed? Dell never updates their official video drivers so this is important.

    (I know for my old XPS with the Radeon 9800 I had the same problem but there was a mod tool available to get around this.)
    Reply
  • Anemone - Sunday, April 23, 2006 - link

    Video drivers (all versions to the latest) for M170/Gen2 and all similar:

    laptopvideo2go.com

    Should find more than enough there to guide you :)
    Reply
  • timmiser - Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - link

    Thanks for the link. :) Reply

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