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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  • ElFenix - Wednesday, April 19, 2006 - link

    'since' indicates passage of time, while 'because' indicates some form of causation. So, rather than, 'Since this is the very first notebook...,' the sentence would read, 'Because this is the very first notebook....'

    Fairly disappointing that this notebook will have a problem with watching many DVDs. Considering the size and weight it's amazing that there isn't a larger capacity battery.

    17" LCDs must suck down a ton of juice.
    Reply
  • Trisped - Friday, April 21, 2006 - link

    http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/...">Actually it can be used both ways.http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/... Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    so wait, why was it unable to run FEAR or Quake4? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I will be running those in part two; delaying the article for another day or two just for those two applications didn't seem to make much sense, especially since there's so much to say about this laptop that it would have ended up a monolithic single review. Heck, the laptop can even run Oblivion at a reasonable speed even at 1920x1200 -- but there are still some areas in the game that really kill performance. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I should mention that part of the reason some benchmarks weren't run yet is because they require more manual intervention. Quake 4 used to work okay with my automated script, but with the latest beta patch it always crashes on exit. FEAR, Lost Coast, Oblivion, Call of Duty 2... all of those require you to sit down in front of the system and manually execute each benchmark. When you're trying to benchmark several systems at once, especially with a looming deadline, that can be problematic. Reply
  • yacoub - Wednesday, April 19, 2006 - link

    ah ok, thanks :) Reply
  • DarkForceRising - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    Is this tested right out of the box, or was some software disabled/removed? I read an article recently about one of the XPS desktops, and it had major issues playing games with the included software. The games that did play had a major hit in performance. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I did disable/uninstall some software, chief among those being McAfee Internet Security. Many benchmarks like Winstones and SysMark basically require a "clean" OS if you want to have any chance of them running without difficulties. In fact, I couldn't get SysMark to complete either, because one of the scripts kept on failing. There are still quite a few icons in the system tray -- more than I'd really like to have there -- but none of them seem to really affect performance. Reply
  • Trisped - Friday, April 21, 2006 - link

    You should probable include a disclamer them. Otherwise readers will be upset when they have the product and it doesn't perform up to you specs.

    Personally I find it easier to build a custom desktop then remove software from premade systems due to all the "optimizations" done. Plus, since it is a Dell you can't just wipe it and start with a fresh install (since they didn't include the drivers so you have to recover it back to system shipped status).

    While I am at it, I would like to see a comparision with a similarly priced desktop (to keep it in perspective) and one of the new mac desktop and laptops. Since both of the macs are basied on similar laptop tech they should make a good comparison.
    Reply
  • Odeen - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    What's up with the narrow 87-key keyboard layout? The laptop is a sizeable 15.5" across, which is enough room to include the regular 87 keys plus a separate numeric keypad.

    Not everyone plays WASD-controlled FPS'es on a gaming laptop, y'know, a numeric keypad helps with a game such as the Civilization series.

    Granted, there are certain "economies of scale" that comes with recycling a keyboard part from the budget-ish 6000-series Inspiron, but when every other part of the laptop is stamped with a glowing XPS logo, and the machine costs $3400, it's only fair to splurge on a more functional keyboard that takes advantage of the widescreen aspect of the notebook. Fujitsu does it on their 17" laptops that cost far less than this XPS.
    Reply

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