Dell XPS M1710 Metallic Black 17-inch Notebook Review
Design and Construction
Regardless of which model of the XPS M1710 you get, you will get a nice hefty laptop with a very solid feel. Lifting it up, opening the lid, hitting the keys -- nary a wobble, creak, or flex. Even if the appearance of the M1710 doesn't appeal to you, you will appreciate the sturdiness of the unit in your hands. I trucked this laptop with me to a few places and found it capable of withstanding the rigours of transport and some not-so-safe handling.
Taking a cue from modded desktop cases, Dell's XPS M1710 comes pimped out with multi-colored LEDs inside the side fan grills, the front speakers, and the "XPS" logo on the lid. When turned on, these LEDs flare up adding some visual excitement to an otherwise boring looking laptop. The LED can be adjusted to 16 different colors by using the laptop's BIOS or the included Dell QuickSet application. The LEDs can be turned off completely which is useful when you don't want to be distracting, conserve battery power (though LEDs consume very little power), or if you just don't like the look of the LEDs.
At first I didn't like the look of the lights on the XPS M1710, but they quickly grew on me. Even though it's pretty gimmicky, it's one something I can adjust to suit my mood or personality at that given moment (ask any MMORPG player, customization is good!). I have some ideas for improving this lighting scheme, but I will save that for the conclusion.
Now let's take a more detailed look at the construction and design of the Dell M1710.
With the lid open, the XPS M1710 almost looks like any other laptop 17" laptop. The keyboard is laid out in a logical manner with the main keys across the center, and special function keys (like delete, insert, and F1-F12) along the top. Unlike the Asus laptop keyboard, the Dell keyboard didn't have any keys that were obviously misplaced or swapped.
The keyboard itself is firm and does not flex when pressed hard. The keys are soft and give a slight click.
Next to the power button and the keyboard / WiFi indicators is the MediaDirect button. This button activates the onboard multimedia functions which are a unique Dell feature. We will examine MediaDirect later in this review.
It seems that the touch pad is where manufacturers are putting little innovations these days. On the M1710, there is a nice back-lit "XPS" logo that glows red and looks pretty sharp in the dark. You can't change the color or turn off the touch pad light, so you're stuck with red. The touch pad buttons depress more than other laptops and has a very tactile response and feel a bit loose. I prefer this feel to the button as I find it easier to perform dragging actions with and feels like it requires less force to activate.
The front of the laptop has media buttons which have become a signature of most Dell laptops sold today, but unlike the other Dell laptops, these ones are backlit when pressed. Using these buttons you can control your media player like Sonic CinePlayer that comes preloaded. If in MediaDirect mode (i.e. Windows MediaCenter mode), the buttons control that feature.
On the left hand side of the XPS M1710 you will find the DVD+/-RW drive, two USB 2.0 ports, a heat exhaust grill, and the Kensington laptop lock port. During my evaluation, the optical tray appeared extremely sturdy and did not wiggle or flex when loading a CD.
The back features most of the laptop's connections as you can see in the above picture. Notable features are the DVI, S-Video, and four USB 2.0 ports. The USB ports are widely spaced apart which is convenient for attaching larger USB dongles like flash drives.
On the right side there is a 5-in-1 media reader that supports SD, MMC, Memory Stick, and XD cards. Above the card reader are the microphone and headphone jacks. Next to that is the ExpressCard slot, and closer to the front of the laptop is a thin non-descript slot that is a smart card reader. Smart card readers are somewhat uncommon on consumer laptops since it's used mostly in business environments.
It's interesting that the Dell designers did not place any ports on the right side of the laptop. I assume this was done so that cords and devices do not get in the way of a right-handed mouse user (which is majority of the market).
On the bottom you will find the battery, two intake vents, a docking port, and hatches covering upgradeable parts. It appears that only the WiFi, modem, RAM, and HDD are user upgradeable, the rest is inconveniently hidden inside the body. I will examine upgradability of the XPS M1710 on the next page.
There is also a "subwoofer" seen next to the battery and it looks a bit small to be a subwoofer (it's more the size of a tweeter) so I'm interested in testing this out and compare it to the Asus A7J which I found to have excellent speakers.
The base also has five large rubber feet which is a nice touch on behalf of Dell. Some laptops, including large 17" units, only have small rectangular feet to prevent slipping and sliding, and what is worse these small feet usually fall off more easily due to the lack of a large adhesion area.
I know a lot of laptop users worry about the hinges on the laptop, so here's a picture of the hinges on the XPS M1710. The hinges themselves are small but made from steel.
Overall design and construction impression
Overall I could not find any serious design flaw with the XPS M1710. All the ports, buttons, and keys are all located in spots that are logical and well placed. The construction feels good without any obvious shortcomings. If it weren't for the XPS visual themes, the M1710 would look like a typical Dell Inspiron notebook.