Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2 gaming notebook
Phew, what a scorcher!
Review I've looked at quite a few gaming notebooks, some of them good, some of them not so good. I've looked at mobile gaming solutions from hardcore players like Voodoo and Alienware, as well as lightning-fast machines from the likes of Rock and MV. But sitting before me right now is, without a doubt, the best gaming notebook I have ever got my hands on - and, amazing as it sounds, it comes from Dell, writes Riyad Emeran.
Dell's desktop XPS machine is fast, well built but very expensive. The Inspiron XPS Gen 2 follows the same path: it looks great, has a very high-end spec and has a solid and well-built feel to it. An unfortunate aspect of the latest mobile graphics chips is that there are very few notebook chassis that can handle the power and heat they produce. So most of the machines I've looked at lately are based on the same few Clevo chassis. However, Dell hasn't just jumped on the same bandwagon as everyone else.
As with any 17in gaming notebook, the XPS is far from svelte, and with dimensions of 39.4 x 28.8 x 4.2cm, and a weight of 3.9kg, you're definitely going to know it's in your bag. That said, it's still considerably lighter than the Clevo based 17in machines, which tip the scale at 5.5kg. And it does look great.
The lid of the XPS is finished in silver and black, with the centre section sporting a metallic ribbed finish. But it's the glowing XPS logos down either side that really enhance the look. When I took the machine out of the box the logos were set to glow blue, but you can define the colour of each logo and create a custom look. There are also glowing lights at the front of the machine and either side - in some ways it reminds me of a modded Citroen Saxo with 'underglow', but despite the XPS' definite chav leanings, I can't help think it looks cool.
Open up the XPS and things just get better. You're greeted by a 17in widescreen display, with a high contrast gloss coating. The coating makes both games and movies look so much better, and although you do have to put up with a more reflective screen, it's a small price to pay. But it's not just the size and the coating that make this screen so impressive, it's also the resolution: 1920 x 1200 native - this gives you an amazing amount of desktop real estate and makes working at the XPS almost as enjoyable as gaming. What's really amazing is that you'd be looking at a 23in desktop screen costing around £1000 to match this resolution.
Below the screen is a single round power button, along with indicator lights for Num Lock, Caps Lock, Shift Lock, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The keyboard is centrally positioned, unlike the 17in Clevo chassis that has a numeric pad squeezed in on the right.
The keyboard action is pretty good - the keys are full size and have a good degree of travel coupled with a solid break. There's a reassuring absence of flex, even when typing at speed and I found that I could comfortably type on the XPS for extended periods. The layout of the keyboard is also good - The Shift, Caps Lock, Tab, Ctrl, Return and Backspace keys are all large, while the cursor keys are set slightly away from the main keyboard for easy access. And the Ctrl key is located at the bottom left, just like on a desktop keyboard - this should make things easy for anyone that uses a lot of keyboard shortcuts.
Below the keyboard is a silver touchpad that performed well. That said you have to set the sensitivity very high in order to traverse the whole screen - that's the only downside with a super-high resolution display. The touchpad has sections allocated for both vertical and horizontal scrolling through documents, which is handy. There are two large, silver buttons below the touchpad that respond with a reassuring click when pressed.
Looking around the chassis, there's no shortage of features on offer. On the right hand side you'll find an SD card slot, a four-pin FireWire port, a headphone socket, a microphone socket and a Type II PC Card slot. At the front you'll find a full set of multimedia controls, including volume up/down, mute, play/pause, skip forward/backwards and stop. The left side is dominated by the DVD Writer that will burn both DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW media. You'll also find a couple of USB 2.0 ports next to the optical drive. The rear is pretty well stacked with the power socket, D-SUB, DVI, four USB 2.0 ports, modem socket, Ethernet port and TV-out.
The main feature that sets this machine apart from other gaming notebooks is the Centrino badge. The majority of gaming machines I've seen have been Pentium 4-based, with the odd Athlon 64 system thrown in for good measure, but by going with a Centrino platform, Dell is hoping to offer great gaming performance and the ability to use this machine on the move.
Obviously there's a Pentium M CPU inside, and Dell has gone for the fastest chip currently available, running at 2.13GHz. Being based on the newer 'Sonoma' Centrino release, the XPS is also equipped with 1GB of DDR 2 memory, to help make the most of the processor. There's also a 100GB 5400rpm hard disk installed, but this is still an IDE unit rather than Serial ATA.
Dell has pulled all the stops out on the graphics, however. The Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra Go is a lightning-fast mobile graphics solution, with a core running at 450MHz. The 256MB of GDDR 3 memory is clocked at 532MHZ (1064MHz effective). The results are nothing short of staggering.
Look at Half-Life 2, which is traditionally strong for ATI rather than Nvidia chipsets, and you'll see just how good the XPS is. At 1024 x 768 with no features on, the XPS turned in a score of 94.1fps. Even if you crank Half-Life 2 up to 1600 x 1200, you'll still get 64.9fps out of the XPS without any FSAA or AF enabled.
Turning to Doom 3, which is home ground for Nvidia chipsets, and things look even better. The XPS turned in a score of just under 100fps at 1024 x 768. Turning on 4x FSAA does drop the score down to 67.8fps, but that's still very playable. Don't pay too much attention to the Rock Xtreme XT's scores with FSAA, since it's clear that FSAA was not actually being enabled, even when it was set.
Of course, with a TFT screen, you really want to run at the native resolution, but when the native resolution is 1920 x 1200, that's a lot to ask of any graphics chipset, especially a mobile one. That said, I fired up Counter Strike: Source and gave it a go. Obviously I left FSAA and AF off, but when you're running at that kind of resolution, you're not going to see too many jaggies anyway. So how was it? Amazing - as smooth as silk for the most part, with only the occasional frame glitch here and there. I had to keep reminding myself that I was playing on a notebook.
But the XPS doesn't just excel in raw gaming power, it's also a viable mobile computer as well. Whereas the Pentium 4-based gaming notebooks flatly refused to run MobileMark - basically they didn't have enough battery life to even complete one productivity run on MobileMark, so it couldn't produce a result. The XPS on the other hand, had no problem turning in a MobileMark score, and although two hours' battery life isn't outstanding, it's pretty impressive for a machine of this type.
There's no denying that the XPS Gen 2 is one of the most impressive mobile gaming systems I've ever seen, if not the most impressive. However, as is always the case in situations like this, you get what you pay for, and this machine is far from cheap. Speccing this system up on the Dell website brings back a price of £2561, although this does at least include VAT and shipping.
Although the name Dell may not carry the same gaming kudos as Voodoo or Alienware, you should try to look past that. If you have the cash, and can live with the mainstream branding, you can have the best gaming notebook around.
Dell has got everything right with the XPS Gen 2 - it looks great, has blistering pace and is stacked full of features. Nice touches like the programmable lights separate the XPS from Dell's more staid product lines, while the Centrino foundation means that you could use it on the move if you had to. The price may be very high, but I have to recommend the XPS Gen 2.
|Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2|
|More info||The Dell site|
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