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Friday, January 13, 2006

Dell XPS M170

Cnet Review

With the new XPS M170, Dell continues its dominance in the gaming laptop category. Replacing the company's high-octane XPS Gen 2 model, the extremely powerful XPS M170 gets some new components, most notably Nvidia's latest mobile GeForce Go 7800 GTX 256 3D graphics chip, though the case design and features have not changed. In addition to the new GPU, our fully loaded $3,642 test configuration was equipped with an Intel 2.26GHz Pentium M processor and 1GB of RAM--all of which resulted in a nice performance gain over the previous model.

At $3,642, our Dell XPS M170 test unit was quite expensive, even for a gaming machine. Still, our machine came richly configured with Intel's top-of-the line 2.26GHz Pentium M 780 processor, 1GB of fast PC 4200 DDR RAM, and a big 100GB hard drive spinning at a speedy 5,400rpm. The laptop's 3D graphics were handled by the new, top-shelf Nvidia GeForce Go 7800 GTX 256 chip, which boasted its own 256MB of discrete memory. Though this chip will soon become widely available, it's currently exclusive to the XPS M170.

CNET Labs gave the XPS M170 a full workout, and it burned our benchmarks to ash. Its SysMark 2004 performance was on a par with high-end mobile gaming rigs equipped with desktop CPUs, such as the VooDoo M790 and the HP zd8000. Further, the XPS M170 dominated in our gaming tests, thanks to its state-of-the-art graphics chip. It turned in a jaw-dropping 87.5 frames per second on our demanding Doom 3 3D benchmark test--significantly ahead of any other laptop we've seen so far, including the previous XPS Gen 2 model. In our battery drain test, the XPS M170 lasted for 145 minutes, about the same as the XPS Gen 2 and not bad for a desktop replacement.

Though Dell has moved to a 90-day warranty on its less expensive models, the company covers the XPS M170 with an industry-standard one-year warranty, which provides free parts and labor with mail-in service. For a $3,642 notebook, we believe that Dell should offer a longer support contract; and the upgrades are fairly pricey: a four-year warranty with at-home service, which Dell recommends, costs about $340. You can get help through Dell's 24/7, toll-free telephone line for as long as you own the laptop. Dell offers a special tech-support number exclusively for XPS owners, staffed by reps who can provide help with the latest games and technologies. The company also has a support Web site with downloads, FAQs, and hardware-specific user forums.

PcMag Review

Dell wants to make something clear with its latest XPS notebook: "XPS" stands for more than just gaming. The XPS M170 ($2,899 direct; E-Value code: 1111-M170PC) is the next generation of the Inspiron XPS Gen 2, though it drops the Inspiron moniker. It's also part of a new campaign and line from Dell that focuses on high-end, luxury entertainment products and services.

Customers will pay a slight premium for the new XPS experience, but in addition to getting top-of-the-line products, they'll also get specialized customer service. This means that the same salesperson will be assigned to you throughout the life of the system's warranty, and you'll receive access to MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) support staff. Even if you just have trouble connecting your router to your laptop, your personal support staffer will help. You get a laminated membership card as part of the fellowship. Also, when you sign onto Dell's Web site, you'll be shuttled to the site for XPS members only.

The XPS M170 is one of Dell's best-designed notebooks, identical to the Inspiron XPS Gen 2. The arctic silver cover is customizable with snap-on lids. The surrounding black areas are equipped with six grills illuminated with LED lights. You can change the lights (up to 16 colors) to suit your mood using Dell's Quickset interface.

The M170 weighs 8.6 pounds, which is about a pound more than the Toshiba Qosmio G25-AV513. Both have a sharp 17-inch widescreen display that is great for movie watching. But Dell's TruLife display doesn't quite match up to Toshiba's TruBrite screen, and the mouse buttons are a little too loud for our tastes. The volume and DVD playback controls located on the front panel come in handy with the Media Center OS.

The M170's performance highlights the inherent gaming nature of the system, and gamers will not be disappointed. Thanks, in part, to the hot new nVidia GeForce Go 7800 GTX (256MB) graphics, 3DMark 2005 scores tore off the roof, surpassing the 6,500 mark. Doom 3 scores broke 100 frames, a first for notebooks. SYSmark 2004 SE scores were very good. nVidia effectively manages the power consumption of the 7800 GTX, thereby helping to increase MobileMark battery scores to 2 hours 34 minutes, which isn't too bad for a 17-inch powerhouse.

Our review unit came with an external USB TV tuner, you can choose a Hauppauge Tuner for $134 upgrade. It works nicely with MCE, but we would prefer having it integrated into the system, as with the Qosmio. Luckily, there are five other USB ports to accommodate all your USB peripherals. A DVD±RW can burn DVDs, and a DVI-D port lets you connect to digital displays. The Dell has exceptional speakers, with a subwoofer in the base.

The XPS M170 did well across our Photo, Music, and Video ratings and obviously scored high in Gaming. Our security ratings got a significant boost from the 15-month subscription to McAfee Security Center, which is now standard on XPS systems and significantly better than the paltry 30- to 90-day trial periods consumers are used to getting. The $3,000 price tag doesn't help the Value rating, but this is part of a luxury brand.

Membership has its privileges, and you get a lot with the Dell XPS M170, including a new, specialized, customer-centric support system, better security, and top-of-the-line components. While the XPS is the winner when it comes to gaming performance, the Qosmio remains our favorite in the high-end Media Center laptop market.

  • good design
  • gaming performance
  • Specialized customer service
  • 6-USB 2.0
  • short battery life
  • Pricey


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