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Dell XPS M1730
Gaming laptops are a peculiar breed. Due to their intensive hardware requirements, they are virtually outdated before they are released. So enthusiasts and wealthy shoppers tend to shy away from mainstream solutions, and instead opt for products from Alienware, VodooPC or other boutique manufacturers that offer hybrid SLI-enabled laptops with impressive specs and inflated price tags that often top Rs 3 lakh.
What does this leave for the normal consumer? A very limited choice, that's what. Only a handful of laptop manufacturers such as Asus and Dell offer consumer-oriented gaming laptops at prices that won’t send you into an early grave. Dell’s XPS line, which at the lower and mid-level is oriented at slim high-performance laptops, surprisingly sports a monster as its flagship model: the XPS M1730. This is the model we shall review today.
The XPS M1730 is a radical departure from the slim lines of its younger brothers. It's a behemoth of a laptop, as the picture indicates. It measures 406 x 302.6 x 50.7 mm and weighs 4.81 kg, which makes it one of the largest laptops currently available. If you want a real-life comparison, imagine this to be the Hummer in a line dominated by Lamborghini and Ferrari wannabes.
While the laptop may be huge, its sense of styling and finish are top-notch. It comes with a beautiful dull-gloss black finish which is accentuated by a series of LEDs housed on the lid, next to the speakers present below the keyboard area. Since it sports a “dull-gloss” finish the laptop looks classy and is far from a fingerprint magnet. The physical construction is sound, and despite its weight and size, there were no discernable squeaks or flexing anywhere.
The M1730 has a 17-inch full-HD backlit LED panel. This resolution allows for a lot of screen space and adds to the appeal. The panel itself is a crisp affair with above average brightness, color and contrast levels, and surprisingly good side viewing angles. The only downside (if it can be called that) is a tendency for the screen to inexplicably go into sleep mode in the middle of a gaming session. This could perhaps be attributed to a problem with our test piece, which gave us a lot of hardware trouble.
The full-sized 101-key keyboard is exceptionally good. The keys have a silver matte finish and offer very good tactile feedback. The positioning is top-notch and, despite the presence of extra keys, are centrally located and don’t tend to drift to the side as in the Acer 8920.The area above the keyboard houses an LCD panel that's liberally borrowed from Logitech’s G15 keyboard range. While it looks impressive, it does not offer the same level of functionality and hence loses its appeal.
The touchpad is quite functional and can easily be used for normal work without any problem. Of course, if you're an avid gamer you'll be better off using an external mouse. The keyboard offers an interesting option. Using a set of software controls from Dell it is possible to vary the backlit areas of the laptop. A variety of colors is available, with options such as strobe, breathe, etc. This allows for some shallow entertainment while gaming.
Connectivity-wise the 1730 offers a plethora of options. It comes with an Express card slot, S-Video, a multi-format 8-in-1 card reader, 4 USB ports, and HDMI. Wireless connectivity includes Bluetooth, infrared, and Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n.
In keeping with its gaming status, the laptop is heavily loaded. It comes with an Intel Core 2 Extreme 9000 CPU clocked at 2.8 GHz (overclockable to 3.4 GHz), 4 GB of DDR2-667 RAM, a pair of Nvidia 8800M GTX cards in SLI, a 17-inch full-HD LED panel, and a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy HD audio chipset.
These are very powerful specifications, as was made clear in the scores. Under its synthetic benchmarks, the laptop was able to get 7653 on PCMark, and 12313 in 3DMark06. These crazy-land scores place it among the most powerful gaming laptops currently available.
While the performance benchmarks were certainly explosive, the real tests lie in the games itself. Since the 8800 series chipsets are DX10-compatible, we were able to check out the latest iteration in the Crysis series (Crysis Warhead). This DX10-compatible game offers the same level of display and finesse of its predecessor. The only difference is that it’s a lot more optimized than the first edition, and even at lower settings offers a very good gaming experience.
For our first test we ran the inbuilt benchmarks of the game. These are pretty detailed and really test the power of a machine. The average FPS we got was in the region of 23-25 with a lot of graphical glitching. To avoid this problem we logged into the game directly, switched to the enthusiast profile, and ran the game at the laptop’s native resolution. The result was a mere 11 FPS, which rendered the game unplayable. Despite lowering the resolution, there was not much change in the result. This was a bit disappointing as we were hoping the laptop would be able to keep up.
Our next test was a simpler lowering of the graphical settings to mainstream. The FPS jumped up here. At full HD resolution, it was able to maintain a steady 23 FPS. Lowering the resolution to a more standard 1680 x 1050 gave an average frame rate of 34, which allowed us to play the game without any problem.
The next game we checked out was a classic, Bioshock. This AAA title has some of the best game play and graphics in recent years, and the 1730 was up to the task of doing justice to it. At a resolution of 1680 x 1050 with 2x AA and AF, we were able to hold around 41 FPS. The game refused to run at the native resolution of the screen.
Our next test was last year’s best seller by far: COD4. This game posed a lot of problems. The laptop would hang at startup or cause Windows to lock up. Despite multiple efforts, we were unable to get it to progress beyond the opening screen.
Our last test was Blizzard’s latest Xpac, Wrath of the Lich King. This game has now introduced multiple new graphical options, which can be extremely demanding on the system, especially with shadows set to full. However, the 1730 was able to easily hold a steady FPS of 49 with all options turned up to full and shadows set to a level of 3 out of a maximum of 5. On bumping up the shadows, we saw a drastic drop in FPS to around 37, which was still playable. The rest of the graphical options were maxed out.
The Dell XPS M1730 costs Rs 1.71 lakh. Though expensive, we find it very competitive even at this price. It scores over other laptops in this range, as it's the only one that's SLI-Ready and offers playable frame rates at very high resolutions (HD/Full HD). If you're in the market for a graphical powerhouse that offers exceptional performance, look no further.