NOTE: Dell sells various versions of the XPS 17, which come with different components and specs . The XPS 17 can, for example, be found with a less-powerful Intel Core i5 CPU, a lower-capacity hard drive or a screen with 1600 x 900 pixels. Note that the highest-end versions of this laptop come with a 3D Full HD display. Make sure you check the tech specs carefully before you buy to avoid nasty surprises when you receive your laptop.
Hardware and DesignAlthough this laptop has an aluminium hood, the rest of the chassis is made from plastic. However, that doesn't stop it having a subtle, understated look that makes the XPS 17 a real all-rounder in terms of design. As with the 15.6-inch version, the edges of the keyboard dip in when you press down on them, which is a bit annoying, but it's not really a problem on a day-to-day basis.
The keyboard and numeric keypad use chiclet keys. These are perfectly pleasant to use, and while the space bar can be a little bit noisy, all the other keys nice and quiet. The arrow keys are way too small, however, which is all the more disappointing since there's clearly plenty of room to fit them in without reducing their size quite so much.
The large multitouch touchpad is excellent. Your fingers slide over its surface easily and it's big enough to navigate around the full screen without having to keep moving your fingers back to the top or bottom of the pad.
The webcam (720p) gives decent results when used in well-lit rooms. Dark parts of the picture don't just end up as masses of black and movement is reproduced reasonably well. In darker rooms, however, the webcam struggles slightly, although the image is still more detailed than with many other built-in webcams.
There's a good range of connections in the XPS 17, all of which are well laid out on the chassis. There's an SD card reader on the front edge of the laptop, while the power port, video outputs (mini-Display Port and HDMI), Ethernet port (RJ45) and two USB 3.0 ports can be found around the back. There's a USB 2.0 port on the left-hand edge, while the right-hand edge is home to eSATA/USB 2.0, audio connections and a Blu-ray drive.
The XPS 17 does a decent job of keeping heat under control. However, as soon as you start to work the components—and not even particularly hard—it does tend to make quite a bit of noise. It's certainly noticeable, in any case.
Temperature readings when the XPS 17 is working hard.
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
Mini-Display Port, HDMI, Ethernet, power connection and USB 3.0 (x2)
USB 2.0 port and SD card reader
Blu-ray player/DVD burner, headphones socket, S/PDIF, mic port and USB 2.0/eSATA
Performance: Very Good!
With its Intel Core i7-2670QM processor—also seen in the HP Envy 17 and Sony Vaio F Series—paired with 4 GB of RAM, the Dell XPS 17 can handle pretty much anything. From basic office computing to more power-hungry programs, the XPS 17 gets the job done quickly. Plus, it'll be even more efficient in applications designed to share tasks over the various processor cores (e.g. 3D modelling software). Thanks to its four physical cores (x 2 thanks to Hyper-Threading), the CPU will be able to launch up to eight processes simultaneously.
Although the XPS 17 has a speedy hard drive (7200 rpm), this laptop still takes around a minute to boot (including connection to a Wi-Fi network and launching the various pre-loaded programs). It takes around 15 seconds to shut down.
Good for GamesThe GT 555M graphics card paves the way for gaming in native resolution on the XPS 17 screen. However, the level of graphics detail in more heavyweight games like Crysis 2 and Metro 2033 will have to stay at mid-level if you want to play in decent conditions.
Playing HD video poses no problem for this laptop. You can therefore use the Blu-ray player without having to worry about judder and glitches.
Audio: Faultless!It's extremely rare to see a laptop that delivers audio quality of this level! In fact, only Apple's 17-inch MacBook Pro can boast as much. The audio ins and outs are generally very clean even if, in each of our tests, the MacBook Pro was still slightly ahead. Apple set the bar very high for audio ins and outs. The firm has long been a leader in the field and knocking it off the top spot will be no mean feat! Nevertheless, the few dB the XPS 17 drops in dynamic range, crosstalk and harmonic distortion don't make a huge difference to the audible result at the end of the day.
Like in the 15-inch model, the speakers in this laptop are very good quality. The JBL audio system gives a powerful and clean output. The chassis doesn't vibrate and there are no other irritating little flaws to point out. The cherry on the cake is that the WaveMaxxAudio3 audio processing systems actually work! Switching these functions on therefore makes a real difference with the speakers and the built-in microphone. You certainly won't feel like you're trapped deep down in a cave when listening to music, as is the way with some other laptops. In fact, on these fronts, Dell does a better job than the MacBook Pro. Nice work!