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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  • timmiser - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    Quieter than my Inspiron XPS version 1.
    Reply
  • Bluestealth - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    Do they turn off, because that would just get annoying... Reply
  • timmiser - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    Yes. You can change the color and intensity of the lights plus configure the 3 light positions: Speakers/air vents/XPS lid, seperately.

    The lights are controlled in the BIOS and also in an included Dell windows utility.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    Yes, all the lights can be disabled within the BIOS. Reply
  • Patrese - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    Great review, I found the addition of the game tests with sound quite good, just as the inclusion of reference desktop systems for comparison. And the laptop is just awesome...

    Not that I have the money to buy one of these (not even close, to be honest), but I got curious about the battery life on uses likes web/office. I wonder if the energy saving features can take it a bit closer to the "normal" laptops on that kind of use, since in gaming the 7900GTX certainly needs a lot of juice. And how hot does it get under gaming?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I'll be getting a copy of MobileMark shortly, but I didn't have it in time for the first part. There are quite a few other things I'm going to try to cover in part 2, like potentially turning down GPU performance for longer battery life. Maximum temperatures are warm but not hot - older P4M laptops are all substantially hotter, and even some PM laptops get warmer. The larger size does help with cooling, I would imagine. Reply
  • One43637 - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    i feel sorry for the person that tries to game with that thing on his/her lap. battery life on that thing must be horrendous. good thing it's billed as a DTR. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    The system gets warm, but not uncomfortably so (for me). I will get some specific numbers for part 2. Reply
  • plewis00 - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    Who games with a laptop actually on their lap? You need a decent mouse anyway and that means a table surely? Reply
  • Rock Hydra - Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - link

    I sit on the couch with my Dell 110L in my lap and use the couch cushion next to me as my mousing surface and play games. Reply

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