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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  • hyperealism - Monday, May 19, 2008 - link

    Are there any stats available showing how much power is saved by using the single video card compared to the SLI? I am buying one and I want to know if its worth getting the SLI version. It would be nice if you could disable one in the bios.

    Thanks in advance!
  • xantha - Monday, March 17, 2008 - link

    Just in case there are any Aussie readers that aren't aware but a gaming notebook can be more affordable than you think.

    You can get the XPS 1730 nicely specced for around AU$4300 (includes bluray, tv tuner, dual 8800, T9300, 4G) If you have the ability to salary sacrifice then that $4k+ starts dropping - lots :D

    First you don't pay GST so its now AU$3900. Then its taken out in pre-tax dollars so depending on what you are earning thats another 30-40% off. Making the XPS only AU$2340-$2730 effective cost. And its like 12mth interest free cause the payments are spaced out over the FBT year.

    Thanks Mr Taxman for a half price gaming notebook every year :D
  • docjon - Monday, March 3, 2008 - link

    I'm just curious, With the new drivers is there still a large performance difference between Vista and XP? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, March 3, 2008 - link

    The short summary is that I found no reason to even want to run XP on this system. It works great as is. Time constraints do not permit me to test every option, unfortunately.

    As you can imagine, given the number of tests run, all of the testing was done with the system as shipped (after uninstalling any Internet Security Suite of course - PUKE!) It is possible to order certain models of the M1730 with XP, but at this point I see little reason to buy a DX10 SLI setup only to run XP. I believe that the focus on driver optimizations for 8800M SLI has been primarily on Vista as well.

    I'm sure there are instances where XP is still slightly faster (and likewise others where Vista is faster), but the last time we took a close look at XP and Vista graphics performance those situations were very rare and generally not a serious concern. I mean, if we're talking about 30 FPS vs. 40 FPS that would be a serious issue, but when it's 180 vs. 190 I'm not too worried.
  • Scottyboy99 - Tuesday, March 4, 2008 - link

    Am a bit gutted reading the article. I have dell xps m1730 (Core 2 duo 2.4 ghz, 8800m gtx sli & 4 gig ram - Vista Home Premium) & my 3d mark 06 are nowhere near the scores shown. I have 3d mark 06 basic demo version (I can only run half the tests & stuck at resolution 1280*1024) and my single gpu score is 8700 whilst my sli enabled score is 10750 ish. So I am 2000 points at least shy of the systems tested here. My drivers are dell stock 167.55. I did try out 174.16 from laptop2go & my scores went down by a few hundred so went back to 167.55.

    What am I doing wrong?

  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 4, 2008 - link

    Well, outside of overclocking, at stock speeds with the official 176.55 drivers I got 12859. My guess is that you might have a bunch of other software still installed that is affecting performance. I clean out all the stuff I don't want (i.e. McAfee Internet Security Suite or whatever it's called - Norton/Symantec is just as bad - and various other programs; I shut of Dell QuickSet as well as most other system tray icons/utilities), so that might be the problem you're having.

    The CPU score is going to be a factor, of course. I tested with Penryn 2.8GHz and got the following:

    2.8GHz 3DMark06 Scores:
    3DMarks: 12859.000000000
    SM2.0 Score: 5971.000000000
    SM3.0 Score: 6559.000000000
    CPU Score: 2554.000000000

    Bumping up the CPU speed to 3.2GHz (the same 400MHz gap that your system has relative to the test system) yielded:

    3.2GHz 3DMark06 Scores:
    3DMarks: 13920.000000000
    SM2.0 Score: 6337.000000000
    SM3.0 Score: 6969.000000000
    CPU Score: 2893.000000000

    So that's ~1000 points right there, and potentially I have a 6MB cache chip vs. your 4MB chip (T7700?). That could account for another ~1000 points or so. Also, the 174.20 drivers dropped Futuremark performance, but they dramatically improve gaming performance.
  • Scottyboy99 - Tuesday, March 4, 2008 - link

    Ok thanks mate. Yes mine is T7700 cpu. You are probably right in that I should shut a whole bunch of stuff off. I do have the McAfee security suite running so maybe I should re-bench without that on (if I can work out how to close it down without disabling it at start up!!!). Based on what you have said I lose 1000 based on my cpu & the cache might be almost another 1000 so perhaps my score isn't so bad after all. Having said that I expect I should be able to eek some more performance out of my rig and maybe go past 11,000 marks. Will post if I get any joy.

    Thanks again
  • flatron85 - Saturday, March 1, 2008 - link

    **** - **** - **** - **** - ****
    the last B could be an 8 the rest is readable.
  • mark3450 - Friday, February 29, 2008 - link

    In Feburary 2005 Dell released the "Dell XPS/Inspiron Gen 2", which was the equivilant of the one machine reviewed here at the time. I own one.

    The last video driver update for this machine was November 2005. That means that Dell continued to the video drivers for this machine for LESS THAN ONE YEAR after it's release.

    I have attempted to update to various unofficial drivers without success (machine boots and runs but then crashes after a few minuites of use), and have been forced to return to the Dell blessed ones.

    Overall it's a nice piece of hardware, but the lack of driver support that was given too it makes me leery of buying the M1730.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 29, 2008 - link

    Would these by chance help?">

    I don't see any Vista drivers for those notebooks, unfortunately, but maybe I'm just not putting in the correct search criteria.

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