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 Dell XPS 17 (1710X) notebook

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PostSubject: Dell XPS 17 (1710X) notebook   Sun Nov 14, 2010 6:51 am

Dell XPS 17 (1710X) notebook

There's no doubt the Dell XPS 17 (1710X) is a great desktop replacement notebook. It has lots of power and storage capacity, modern connectivity and it even includes a touchscreen. You can use it as a gaming machine, a media centre or just for boring old office work. It's not perfect though: it could use an expansion slot, and the way the internal layout has been designed means that the palm rest gets very hot when the graphics card is in use.



What's Hot:

Well priced
plenty of RAM and storage capacity
excellent for multitasking
good graphics card
suitable for gaming
USB 3.0
up to 16GB of RAM

What's Not:

Lacks an expansion slot
gets very warm when the graphics card is in use
no remote control



The Dell XPS 17 (1710X) is a desktop replacement notebook that's primed for use as a gaming laptop, a media centre or a mobile workstation — the best part is it costs well under $2000! It's a versatile Dell notebook with a 17.3in touchscreen and a high-end configuration that includes a quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, two hard drives and a powerful NVIDIA graphics processor. Dell has done away with many older connectivity options, such as VGA, but included mod cons such as DisplayPort, instead.



Design and features

The Dell XPS 17 (1710X) is a big notebook: its base is 415mm wide and 285mm deep, and it weighs just over 4kg. It's not a unit you will want to use on your lap, and you won't want to transport to and from the office too often. It feels well built, and has a large multitouch touchpad and a very sturdy, backlit keyboard.



Along the sides of the notebook are two USB 2.0 ports (one of which also doubles as an eSATA port), three audio ports (including digital output), an SD card slot and a Blu-ray drive (or burner, depending on the configuration you opt for). More connections are located along the rear of the notebook: you get two USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI and DisplayPort, and an antenna port for the internal digital TV tuner. It lacks FireWire and VGA, and it also doesn't have an ExpressCard expansion slot. We're not at all sad about these omissions, though it would be nice to have an ExpressCard slot in case you need to use FireWire or an expansion dock in the future. The XPS 17 also has Bluetooth, 802.11n dual-band Wi-Fi, and a 0.9-megapixel, Skype-certified webcam.

Battery life

A big battery sits underneath the XPS 17 and its height gives the unit a little bit of a forward slant. The battery is rated at 90 Watt-hours and it lasted 2hr 13min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise the screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. This is a better result than some big 15.6in notebooks we've tested, which average less than two hours (granted, with batteries that have around a 50 Watt-hour rating instead).

We see the good battery life coming in handy if you ever want to plonk the notebook on a coffee table and huddle up on the couch to watch a movie, but that's it. It's a chore to move the notebook away from your desk, and dreadfully uncomfortable to use on your lap.

Multitouch touchscreen

If you want to use the XPS 17 (1710X) out on your balcony or in your yard, you'll get annoyed by the highly reflective screen. Even placing it near a window on a cloudy day will cause lots of reflections to appear on the screen. Basically, it's not a notebook that you can comfortably use outdoors or in bright areas.

The multitouch touchscreen has a resolution of 1600x900. The large display is useful when you want to line up windows side by side, but the touchscreen is something that's more of a novelty for impressing your friends rather than something that will make you more productive. In saying that, it can be fun to use your fingers to switch Web browser tabs, to zoom and rotate photos, and to select music and video files. Using the touchscreen in this way for a prolonged period of time can be tiring, however.

Dell ships the XPS 17 with a touch interface called Dell Touch Zone, which takes up almost a third of the space on the Desktop when it's open, and it can be used to launch image, music, video and Web applications. At the top of the screen you will find the Dell Dock, which allows you to perform many similar tasks — it's more annoying than useful. All up, the touchscreen has limited usefulness and how handy it is will depend on the applications you use.

Multimedia

You can use the Dell XPS 17 (1710X) as a hub for all of your media needs; the model we looked at ships with a Blu-ray drive, an HDMI port and a digital TV tuner. It has an above-average 2.1 speaker system and audio quality for a notebook (although even with a built-in sub-woofer it doesn't have a deep bass response). You can use it as a personal video recorder (PVR) or a Blu-ray player when you hook it up to your big-screen TV, but unfortunately it doesn't ship with a remote control.

The F7-F12 keys can be used to control volume and play/skip functions, while the other function keys can be used to control the brightness of the screen and the keyboard's backlight. You don't have to press the Fn key in order to use these functions; you must press the Fn button only if you want to use the actual F-keys, such as F5 for refreshing a Web page. If you like, you can switch these functions in the Windows Mobility Center application, which can be launched by pressing a shortcut button above the keyboard. Many more settings can be changed in this very useful application.

Specifications and performance

The XPS 17 we tested comes with 6GB of DDR3 SDRAM, and it has a maximum capacity of 16GB. For storage, the review unit had two 7200rpm, 500GB hard drives, but you can configure it with up to 1.2TB of storage if you wish. There is also an option for solid-state drives, but unfortunately, there is no option to configure the XPS 17 with one solid-state drive (as a boot drive) and one regular hard drive (as a secondary drive). The drives in our test model performed exceptionally, registering an average transfer rate of 35.59 megabytes per second.

The Dell XPS 17 is equipped with a quad-core Intel Core i7-740QM CPU, which has Hyper-Threading (for a total of eight virtual cores). To make the most of this CPU, you need to run applications that are optimised for multithreading; because the frequency of the CPU is only 1.73GHz, even some Core i5-based notebooks with higher frequencies (such as the MSI FX600 and the Dell Inspiron 15R N1010) will beat the XPS in certain types of applications. But the good thing about the quad-core CPU is that you can run many tasks in the background, yet still use the computer for Web browsing and working on documents without noticing a performance hit.

In our performance tests, the Dell XPS 17 (1710X) supplied mixed results. It recorded a time of 46sec in the Blender 3D rendering test when using all eight virtual cores, which is an excellent result; but its time of 1min 11sec in our iTunes MP3 encoding test is a poor showing. Even the Lenovo ThinkPad T510, which runs a dual-core 2.66GHz Core i7-620M CPU, recorded a faster time of 54sec.

In our video encoding test, in which we use AutoGordianKnot to convert a DVD file to a 1.5GB Xvid file, the XPS 17 (1710X) recorded a slow time of 1hr 16min. Even the Core i3–based Medion Akoya P6624 recorded a faster time of 1hr 14min in this test, which really highlights the fact that if your applications can't put all the cores and the Hyper-Threading to good use, a higher-frequency CPU will generally give you better performance.

For gaming, the XPS 17 has a 3GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 445M graphics adapter, which supplies excellent performance. It recorded 10,940 in 3DMark06, and it will happily run most of today's games at the native 1600x900 resolution of the 17.3in screen. There is a caveat though: because the graphics adapter and one of the hard drives are located on the left side of the chassis under the palm rest, the notebook will get too hot to rest your hand on the palm rest while using the keyboard. You'll have to plug in a controller or an external keyboard if you will be playing games.

Conclusion

For $1799, the Dell XPS 17 (1710X) is a grand deal. You get lots of RAM, plenty of hard drive space, and most importantly, heaps of CPU and graphics grunt. We like the fact that modern ports such as DisplayPort and USB 3.0 are standard and that it has a built-in digital TV tuner and Blu-ray drive, but we lament the lack of a remote control and an ExpressCard slot. Furthermore, we think that the touchscreen isn't really that useful. All things considered though, the XPS 17 would make for a great desktop replacement notebook if a regular tower-style PC isn't your cup of tea — it can be used for just about any type of task.

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