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Like Apple with its Macbook range, Dell regularly refreshes its Inspiron and XPS desktops and laptops. We last looked at the mid-range Inspiron 17R and were quite impressed with the stylish refresh. Now it's time to check out Dell's new high-end XPS 17.
Sitting just one step below the company's ultimate Studio XPS line, the 'vanilla' XPS is nevertheless a pretty powerful beast. You can get up to Intel Core i7 quad core processors; dedicated, optimus-enabled graphics with up to 1.5GB of video memory and the ability to output to a 3D display; a whopping 16GB of system memory; up to 1.5TB of hard drive space (or 256GB of solid state storage) and JBL 2.1 audio.
They're also the world's first Skype-certified laptops with HD webcams, so those addicted to 720p video chat should feel right at home. USB 3.0 and DisplayPort are also on board, making for an impressive line-up.
Of course, our review sample (L701X) is specified a little more modestly. Processing duties are handled by a dual core Core i5 460M running at 2.53GHz (up to 2.8GHz turbo-clocked), backed up by 4GB of DDR3 RAM. It's also plenty powerful on the graphics front, supplementing Intel's integrated graphics (which are ideal for conserving battery life) with an Nvidia GeForce 435M with 1GB of RAM for graphics acceleration and light gaming when plugged in. Dell supplies speedy 7,200rpm hard drives across its XPS 17 range, and with this model you get a generous 500GB capacity. This all ensures the surprisingly clean install of Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit runs beautifully.
However, what immediately catches the eye about the 17.3in XPS is its unapologetic bulk. With a starting weight of over 3.4kg and dimensions of 415 x 287.3 x 32.8-38.5mm, this laptop takes its role as a desktop replacement seriously.
Despite this, it's still an attractive machine. The majority of its lid consists of a single sheet of anodized aluminium, which looks and feels great, and doesn't show up fingerprints or grease marks like the glossy finishes found on the lids of most laptops. Like the Asus G73Jh, the lower half protrudes slightly at the back, showing off a white-backlit XPS logo.
Opening the XPS 17 up reveals a matt black screen bezel, which should make quite a few people happy. While the keyboard surround and palm-rest area are constructed from another single sheet of aluminium, this time it's in a brushed black finish matching the rest of the interior. Though fingerprints will be visible here, it's nowhere near as bad as something like Toshiba's Satellite L650, and is a small price to pay for the quality feel and solidity when resting your hands on it.
The laptop's base is plastic, coloured silver to match the lid. The power button, status indicators and touch-sensitive controls – all found in a piano-black strip above the keyboard - are nicely backlit in white. Overall, Dell has done a great job with this simple yet visually engaging look.
Build quality is more of a mixed bag, for though it's mostly superb, there are a few spots along the base where there's more 'give' than we like to see, and one area of the palm-rest where pressing down results in an audible click. Still, these are minor issues in what is, overall, a very well-built machine.
In use the XPS 17 generally stays whisper-quiet, though under load (especially with its dedicated GPU in action) its fans do tend to rev up and it becomes quite audible. We also found the left palm-rest gets very warm to the touch after the laptop has been running at full load for a while.