Introduction

Apple recently launched their ultra swank, ultra-sleek MacBook Air, a three pound ultraportable laptop potentially capable of running for five hours on a single battery charge. Like most ultraportables, however, performance compromises were necessary in order to meet the size and mobility targets. What does all this have to do with the Dell XPS M1730? Nothing really, except as an interesting contrast.

When it comes to mobile computing, there's more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. The MacBook Air takes the approach of providing a lightweight computer that you can take on the road and use for the better part of an eight-hour workday. The XPS M1730 is far on the opposite end of the mobile computing spectrum. Battery life, weight, and size get kicked to the curb in deference to ultra-powerful desktop replacement components. One thing that it maintains in common with the MacBook Air, however, is that it is not a notebook for every computer user. In fact, the target market might be even more limited than the market for the MacBook Air.


We looked at WidowPC's Sting 512D2 a couple months ago, and the XPS M1730 is a case of one-upmanship in pretty much every way. A single 8800M GTX is very fast when it comes to mobile graphics performance... so why not have two paired together in SLI? Core 2 Duo T7600 is a fast mobile CPU, but how about increasing the clock speed and cache a bit more and moving to Intel's latest Penryn architecture, courtesy of the overclockable X9000? You can also get two hard drives in RAID 0 (or RAID 1 if you prefer data integrity to performance), a brighter LCD, a better keyboard layout, and a few miscellaneous odds and ends like the configurable glowing LEDs that light up the chassis.

When it comes to gaming notebooks, this is undoubtedly the fastest notebook we've ever used, and outside of using desktop CPUs there's not much that can be changed at present to make something faster. All that speed comes with a few major drawbacks, as usual: battery life, size/weight, and cost. Provided you are looking for a desktop replacement notebook as opposed to a laptop that you can run on battery power for several hours, the first two drawbacks are easily ignored. Cost on the other hand is something that you'll just have to live with. The base model M1730 (which first became available last year) comes with a T8300 CPU (2.4GHz 3MB cache 800FSB Penryn), a single GeForce 8700M GT, a 120GB 7200RPM hard drive, 2GB of memory, and a one-year warranty for a price of $2400. Once you upgrade the graphics, CPU, and hard drives you can easily spend over $4000; the test system we received should retail in the neighborhood of $4500 -- once the X9000 actually becomes available for order (which should be in the next couple of weeks). On the bright side, that does include a standard three-year warranty.

Truth be told, there's nothing revolutionary with XPS M1730. We've seen systems like this in the past: take all of the fastest mobile components currently available, stuff them into a 17" chassis, and you're ready to roll. On the other hand, we are talking about a laptop that can compete favorably with many high-end desktop systems, and you're certainly not going to be able to pack up your desktop system, display, keyboard, and mouse and head out to a LAN party (or somewhere else) in a matter of minutes. If that sounds like something you'd be interested in buying -- or perhaps you're looking for a transportable workstation you can carry to and from the office -- the XPS M1730 is definitely worth a closer look. Just don't mind the scorch marks in your pocketbook, or on your lap.

System Overview
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  • mark3450 - Thursday, February 28, 2008 - link

    This is a near perfect computer for me. I'm always near a plug at a friends house or traveling for work, and in those places I want my machine to be as powerfule as possible. I bought and still use one of the original XPS laptops, and I've been happy with it. It is however getting near time to upgrade.

    One drawback I see however is that dell won't supply it with Vista64, which is disappointing as I'd defiantely get this beast with 4Gb and want to make full use of it. I've been using Vista64 on my gaming desktop for several months and have been very pleased with it. I'm sure Dell just doesn't want to deal with 2 sets of drivers, but Vista64 is the future and they should support it on a machine like this.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 28, 2008 - link

    Dell did ship me 2x2GB of RAM for additional testing, but I didn't get time to look at that (yet). 32-bit is still better for a lot of people, and I think the real inflection point is going to be when we start moving to 8GB systems. 64-bit can address all 4GB of memory without the need to split things into application and OS memory spaces, but usually it doesn't *need* it.

    I know Dell is starting to offer 64-bit as an option on some other systems, and I'd imagine down the road they'll have 64-bit for the M1730 (or perhaps the successor). Drivers are just so critical and notebooks don't get updated quite as often, so you really are living on the bleeding edge with SLI and Vista-64 right now. It's possible, of course, and in fact I'm sure you could install Vista-64 on the system on your own; Dell just isn't ready to support that yet.
    Reply
  • mark3450 - Friday, February 29, 2008 - link

    The problem with installing my own Vista64 OS, aside from the cost, is that it's likely impossible to get NVIDIA drivers for it. I currently own an XPS/inspiron Gen2 and anything but the blessed drivers from Dell crash the machine, and it doesn't even have SLI. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 29, 2008 - link

    Have you checked with NVIDIA? My understanding is that they now have quarterly driver updates that apply to various gaming notebooks, so even if Dell (or someone else) has abandoned an older model laptop, you might not be totally out of luck. If that does work, let me know as well - I'm certainly curious about it. The last driver release was supposedly just a couple months ago, and it should cover up through 8700M notebooks. (Dell XPS is supposed to be one of the participating vendors, so it's still voluntary, but most of the gaming notebook companies hopefully understand the importance of drivers and agreed to allow "reference" drivers from NVIDIA to work for certain systems.)

    Regarding Vista-64, again the above may offer a solution.
    Reply
  • strafejumper - Thursday, February 28, 2008 - link

    this is what i mean
    i only use desktops my whole life so i don't know much about laptops but - for $3500 i would want to be able to watch a 120 minute dvd, and this thing can only make it through 60 mins... also can only browse the web for 60 mins, justdon't get this.

    maybe i had the idea that the appeal of the laptop was you are free from outlets and wires and etc. but with these even for $3500 you still have to be near a plug to watch a dvd
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Friday, February 29, 2008 - link

    The purpose is to have the power of a desktop with the portability of a laptop. NOT that you can have a 5 (heck 2) hour portable laptop. As the author mentioned, it really is a niche product. You want to be able to take your screaming desktop pc from home to work or to a friends house, not on the plane/train/automobile that a typical notebook computer is used for. If I had oodles of cash and went to lan parties frequently, this would be the perfect computer. And forget the loud fans, if you are gaming on it and need the overclocked performance, I'd be playing the games with headphones!

    Put simply, this is the 10lb desktop computer.
    Reply
  • IvanAndreevich - Thursday, February 28, 2008 - link

    Hey guys, you might want to blur out the serial number on that COA sticker on the bottom. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, March 01, 2008 - link

    Ooops... yeah, forgot to do that. :| Reply
  • legoman666 - Thursday, February 28, 2008 - link

    Thanks OP, in for 3! Reply
  • crimson117 - Thursday, February 28, 2008 - link

    Jarred - here's some advice:

    Find a woman who thinks it'd be romantic to buy his and hers M1730's :)
    Reply

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