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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I personally hate laptop keyboards -- I don't care too much about the gaming aspects, but for more regular typing the cramped space doesn't help me out at all. At least the key positioning is decent, with the home/insert/delete/and/page up/page down keys all having the same arrangement as most desktop keyboards. I wish they would move the Fn key to the top left -- not just on this laptop, but on all laptops. I'm also in complete agreement about the usefulness of a number keypad, and certainly on a laptop of this size, they have ample room to add one. Reply
  • Kougar - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I thought about that, and I figured there just wasn't room underneath the keyboard to enable a full size keyboard? And there are two air intacts on either side of the keyboard as well.

    They DO however provide a FN key activated "numpad" over the 789, UIO, JKL and other keys as a sort of compensation, although I found it faster to use the basic number keys in place of it.
    Reply
  • Odeen - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I've taken a few laptops apart, and the underside of the keyboard module is always FLAT, save for standoffs. You don't need any room under the keyboard. Unless there's something useful around the keyboard, it can be expanded to the sides.

    The FN-activated numpad is of little consolation, because all laptops have that feature, even the ones that cost 1/5 that this one costs.

    Incidentally.. how the heck do you test a modern desktop system with a Geforce GTX Go, exactly? Take the laptop apart, pry out the PCI-E card and VGA connector, and stick it into a desktop motherboard?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    The clock speeds of the GeForce Go 7900 GTX are 500/600 MHz for the core/RAM. I downclocked the desktop graphics card to the same clock speeds, and that's about as close as we can come to doing a direct comparison between the two. It's somewhat interesting to note that there are a few GPU Ltd. benchmarks were the laptop actually comes out ahead by a small margin. Reply
  • 3zero2 - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    any comments about fan noise? is it noticable/annoying? Reply
  • Kougar - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    This machine is still identical in chasis to the XPS notebook I picked up late last year, so I'd assume the fans are still the same. On mine they can only be barely heard if you load up a game and play for a bit, but if you play with headphones on you won't hear them anyway.

    I had a question on the battery life though! How long would this laptop last with just simple internet browsing or Word doc typing, or something similarly light? In performance terms my own notebook wouldn't even make it within the ballpark so I'm curious! Does the Core Duo processor allow you to reach .700 volts at 800mhz as with a Pentium M, for egging out another half hour of battery life for when it's needed?

    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, April 19, 2006 - link

    quote:

    I had a question on the battery life though! How long would this laptop last with just simple internet browsing or Word doc typing, or something similarly light? In performance terms my own notebook wouldn't even make it within the ballpark so I'm curious! Does the Core Duo processor allow you to reach .700 volts at 800mhz as with a Pentium M, for egging out another half hour of battery life for when it's needed?


    No, the lowest for Core Duo's are really 1GHz. All the Pentium M generations can reach as low as 6x multiplier so:

    Penitium M Banias: 100x6=600MHz
    Pentium M Dothan: 133x6=800MHz
    Core Duo: 166x6=1GHz

    I heard that Intel put a lock on the Core Duo's so you can't lower it from the default lowest, just like AMD did with C&Q on the later revisions.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I'll look at some other areas of battery life in part 2. Needless to say, charging up the battery and then letting it sit 2+ hours at a time doesn't help much with deadlines. LOL I will try to tune the system for better battery life as well. I think the minimum clock speed of the T2600 is 1.0 GHz, but I will need to verify that. Reply
  • Kougar - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    lol! I am very sure it doesn't! I'm certainly in no rush, and I figured part 2 might expand upon the battery tests... I just wanted to provide some extra Qs to answer for it! So maybe I'll toss in another... ;) Does the GPU TDP fit within the previous GO 6800 Ultra/Go 7800 GTX envelope limits? Replacing my 6800 Ultra for a 7900GS and getting better battery life in the process has a certain appeal! Suppose I can keep my desktop 9600XT around just a bit longer instead...

    And btw, should have said so above! Thanks for the very interesting article on this "notebook"! I appreciate it :) And that tidbit on the Core Duo too!

    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    Audible but not terribly loud. Will have details in part 2. Reply

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