Dell is up there as one of the top personal home computers sold in America. This was not always the case, as they beganas company producing desktops for corporations. In 1993, they introduced a line of high end consumer computers named XPS for Xtreme Performance System. It was seen as a very high performing machine that set a new standard in personal computing. The next milestone for XPS came in 2005 when revamped its lineup introducing gaming focused computers that competed directly with extreme high end systems such as Alienware and Falcon Northwest. The other companies typically offered more customization in areas such as lights, fans, and paint jobs. On the otherhand, the Dell XPS line was noticeably less expensive than the rest of the field due to Dell’s superiority in mass producing and shipping. After acquiring Alienware, Dell decided to scale back the XPS line so to not have two direct competing lines of computers. The time of “The XPS” was over. Just like how Porsche stopped making the Cayenne with a V8 and switched to a less powerful V6 in 2006, the XPS stopped being produced with the top of the line specs. Gone are the days of the red pain jobs, liquid cooling, and LED lighting.
NVIDIA GT 420m-higher middle end games
Intel i5 M 460 2.53 GHz
4 GB RAM
500 GB harddrive
Welcome to the new XPS. The aluminum front cover and bottom covers in combination with a black plastic casing around the edges is just kind of…unexciting. The acronym represents Xtreme Product System, yet there really isn’t anything extreme about the exterior. I’m not saying this a bad thing, it can actually be a very good thing if you are looking to carry around a powerful computer and not show it off. The XPS of a few years ago for example, would have glowing red LEDS on the outside to show everyone around what you were packing.
Oddly, the back of the computer sticks out about an inch. A majority of the ports rest on this “bar”. The bar is pretty sleak and fits in with the rest of the machine, but obviously the computer would be more compact if these parts were built in. I do notice when carrying it, that I it puts less hand pressure on the screen than say, carrying a computer with out that back part jutting out. Another odd feature is that instead of having LED signal lights on the front, there sits just two on the bar. This way the guy sitting in front of you will know that your battery and hard drive are operating properly. This doesn’t really matter, I don’t think these lights are useful anyway. What is on the bar though is a little lightup XPS logo.
From the front view it is actually surprisingly sleek. It has no slots or ports on the front, a rareity for PCs. The right side begins with an optical dirve (DVD burner or BlueRay Drive) and SD card slot in the same color as the aluminum casing. Then clad in black is the eSata and Ethernet port. Working my around the back, there is a group of ports immediately around the corner, and then a USB port and kensignton lock slot on the far end. The first group of ports includes HDMI, mini Display, and the power. The port placement is not the best on these sides. The Ethernet slot is in the perfect place. For whatever reason, it is just perfect. Does that really matter though? Who really uses ethernet that often these days anyway? College kids, that’s who. I’ll get to that later.
I don’t really understand why Dell decided to go with the mini Display port, over the full size one. Especially since most of their machines use the full size display port. The only company I know of that consistenly uses mini display, is Apple. It could just be a trend, or this will just make cord finding a little more difficult. The HDMI location makes perfect sense, the right corner on the back. What I don’t understand is the power port. It doesn’t line up with anything, it is just the third port on the bak. When you think about it, it is the most often used cord, so it shoudl probably be in a more convienent location, that is easily found. They could the Mac route with it being the port farthest to the back, or the Lenovo route with it being on the back in a corner. Instead, it is in an ambiguous spot that you kind of have to tilt the computer forward to find it each time you want to plug it in.
Also, I don’t understand why there is a USB port on the back, and the eSata port is on the side. eSata ports go directly to the motherboard, and when using to plug in an external harddrive, it is just as quick as having an internal drive. These external drives typically need a second power source, so these are the larger ones that plug into the wall; these are not drives you want to be lugging around. This port is really only going to be used when at a desk, so easy side access is really not necessary. While it can also act as a USB port, this really should be on back and a normal USB cord on the side(plug in an Ipod on that side with an external drive in the back).
The left side of the XPS just makes more sense than the back or right. Then again, it really would be hard to screw this up. It has a USB port towards the back, then the mic in, the S/P Dif port that also acts as a headphone port , and the normal headphone port. S/P Dif is the same size as the headphone jack, which is why it can also act as a headphone jack. It is actually a high performance audio out jack usefull for home theatre systems when plugging this into a TV via HDMI. Towards the front sits a large vent, I have not felt much heat coming from it, and it is pretty quiet.
Opening up the screen reveals that, like the outside, is much more conservative than in the past. The keyboard is perfectly rectangular, with the only non neccessary addition is the MaxAudio bar that has three buttons, each opening up its own menu of settings. The first one on the left opens Windows mobility center. Here you can see and control battery life, volume, brightness, other displays, keyboard backlight, bluetooth, wireless. The two most unique and useful features are the instant launch button, and the function key row. The instant launch button is the middle key next to the windows mobility center key. This is basically a function or custom button; you can have it do anything from open a certain program, open the optical drive, or put the computer to sleep.
The function key row selector is a very useful and unique ability of this computer. Most PCs are restricted to having to use the the function key in tandem with using a media control on the F-keys, or something like screen brightness. Macs on the otherhand are the opposite. Pressing play/pause does not require the function key, but using the F-keys does. Many games, especially online based ones, use the F keys for hotkeys or other features; having to use the function key everytime would be annoying. Multimedia enthusiasts on the otherhand would be happier to use the play/pause without using the function key. The XPS is targeted not only towards gamers, but multimedia buffs, so this feature is very useful, especially for someone who likes to do both and have the option to change it.
The trackpad is slightly off centered to the left. I really think it should be dead center, but it doesn’t really matter. The built in backlit keyboard is fantastic. It is not automatic as the Apple computers are, but it does have two levels of brightness that shares the F6 key. Making it not automatic is actually kind of nice in a way, that way there is no flickering of it on and off as there is on my Mac when it is not sure if it should be on or not. Will the backlit keyboard be most often used on a dimly lit airplane? More likely to be used in dark room jammed with gamers at an LAN party when using plugged into TV while watching a movie through the BlueRay player.
While the XPS line used to be the top of the line for gaming, this is no longer the case. Even loaded with the most expensive upgrades from Dell, the XPS cannot run todays games at the highest detail settings with playable frame rates, let alone tomorrows games. Even as an average level gaming computer, this is still a powerful machine. It is very well rounded in terms of what it can accomplish with games, multimedia, and processing demanding tasks. While a Macbook is an obvious choice for someone looking for purely a multimedia machine, the XPS not only sounds better, it also packs a much more powerful processer and graphics card. On the gaming side, something like the Alienware line is much better. When carrying around an Alienware machine though, you stick out like a sore thumb, and everyone will know you are into gaming.
In the end, the XPS falls somewhere in between Mac like multimedia with it’s Mac dock like feature, and an entry level gaming system. With the XPS you can game when you want, blast tunes from the fantastic speakers, and then walk into your internship, meeting, or classroom with it and not be judged like you would carrying in an Alienware notebook. I’m not bashing Alienware by any means, but anyone carrying one is immediately pinned as a gamer. If you want to keep your recreational and business/academic lives separate while using the same machine, the XPS may be the answer. This could be the perfect computer for college students, businessman, or really anyone who needs a normal conservative looking machine but enjoys a little gaming on the side.
Photo courtesy of Dell.com