Dell brings back its XPS line of notebooks

GeForce 400M graphics and Skype HD webcam included

DELL HAS ANNOUNCED a return of its XPS series of notebooks, although the brand has been around as a performance moniker on some of its other notebook ranges, it will once again return as Dell’s performance notebook brand. The company has announced three new models with varying specifications; including features such as GeForce 400M series graphics, Skype HD certified webcams standard, and JBL speakers.

Love or loathe Dell, the company has started to produce some interesting designs and the new XPS models are no different. The new XPS series features a two tone black/silver colour scheme and that peculiar “lip” behind the screen that Dell started with a while back. The keyboard surround is covered in what appears to be metal and Dell seems to have come up with its own type of keyboard which seems to be of the so called “floating island” kind. We can’t say we’re sold on the off-center trackpad though, especially as only the 17-inch model has numerical keypad and all models have the trackpad off center.

Common features across the new series of XPS notebooks include Nvidia 400M series of graphics, although the various options differ between the three models which are the XPS 14, XPS 15 and XPS 17 and the model number is of course relative to the screen size. All three models are also offered with an option of dual core Core i5 processor or quad core Core i7 processor. Another, so far unique feature, which is offered across the range is Dell’s new Skype HD approved webcam which appears to have built in H.264 encoding which is a requirement for Skype HD. All three models also support Nvidia’s Optimus technology and 3DTV Play software.

Dell also offers a customization feature for the new XPS range called Design Studio which for a fairly steep fee of $85 – although Dell does stipulate that prices vary, so there might be more affordable and more expensive options in the future – you can have one of 226 prints on the back of the display. The selection includes art from threadless, major league baseball and there are even some options available where a part of the fee goes to charity.

Staring with the XPS 14 you’re getting 5.35lbs (2.43kg) worth of notebook with the standard 6-cell battery fitted, although Dell offers an extended 9-cell option. It features either a Core i5 460M, 560M, Core i7 740QM or Core i7 840QM processor, up to 8GB of DDR3 memory, Intel’s HM57 chipset, a GeForce GT 420M or 425M graphics card, up to 500GB of hard drive space, or up to 256GB of SSD storage and a built in optical drive. Other features include a pair of 6W JBL designed speakers, various Wi-Fi, WiMAX and WWAN options, WiDi support with the right Wi-Fi card, optional GPS and Bluetooth 3.0 support, an SDXC compatible card reader and finally an optional internal TV-tuner.

There’s a solid selection of connectivity options as well, as Dell has managed to cram in three USB 2.0 ports, of which one is a combo USB/eSATA port, an HDMI 1.4 port, a mini DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, a pair of headphone jacks with optical S/PDIF out and a mic jack. What’s missing is USB 3.0 support, something which is reserved for the larger models, as apparently there wasn’t enough space to fit a 10x10mm USB 3.0 chip inside the XPS 14.

The XPS 15 features the same processor and memory options, the same chipset, but offers a GeForce GT 435M as its most powerful graphics option. The speakers have been upgraded to a 20W 2.1 configuration and it terms of storage you can get up to 640GB of hard drive space, but still the same SSD options. The USB 2.0/eSATA combo port is still present, but the other two USB ports have been upgraded to USB 3.0, while the rest of the ports remain the same. The XPS 15 is also available with a high resolution 1920×1080 panel in lieu of the standard 1366×768 panel. At 6.14lbs (2.78kg) with the 6-cell battery this is a fairly chunky machine and the 9-cell battery takes this up to 6.51lbs (2.96kg).

Finally we have the XPS 17 which has a 1600×900 screen and which is available with up to 16GB of DDR3 memory. It doesn’t seem to be available with the Core i5 560M for whatever reason, but the other three CPU options from the previous two models are available. Its base graphics card is the GeForce GT 435M and this can be upgraded to the GT 445M, the latter with up to 3GB of graphics memory which must be something of a new record for a notebook.  Once again, it would seem that Dell is willing to relieve the stupid of their money with the 3GB option.  Due to its large physical size, Dell has made room for two hard drives which means it tops out at 1280GB of storage space, although there doesn’t appear to be an option to fit a second SSD.

The speakers have once again been boosted in terms of output, although only to 22W. An additional USB 2.0 port has also been added compared to the XPS 15 while the rest of the ports remain unchanged. With the standard 6-cell battery you’re looking at a 7.57lbs (3.43kg) notebook and the 9-cell battery pack takes this up to 7.94lbs (3.6kg) which makes this a notebook you don’t want to carry around with you for too long.

Price-wise the XPS 14 starts at $899.99 and Dell offers pre-configured options all the way up to $1,249.99, but it’s easy to go well beyond that. The XPS 15 starts at $849.99 and again Dell offers various pre-configured options up to $1,299.99 and finally the XPS 17 starts at $949.99 with pre-configured options up to $1,599.99. The pricing is definitely that of a performance notebook product, although we’re not sure the graphics options will be to everyone’s taste, as only the GeForce GT 445M is worth having and that’s only if Dell decided to go for the 192-bit GDDR5 model, as the rest of the graphics options aren’t exactly going to be great for mobile gaming. In saying that, they’re still better than what Nvidia has offered in the past, as even the 420M features 96 shaders and a 128-bit memory interface which is far better than the equivalent mobile 300 series GPU.

The question is how Dell is planning to expand the XPS series?  There are reports that Dell is dumping its Adamo and Studio brands to keep things simple and as such its consumer notebook will now only consist of the Inspiron and XPS models, as well as the Alienware models for performance gamers. The XPS series will be targeting performance users, but not to the same degree as the Alienware products, but it’s a bit odd for a company to have two lines of performance products. Hopefully this means we’ll see something a bit more out of the ordinary from Dell, as the new XPS models don’t really wow, despite having a fairly solid feature set and acceptable pricing.S|A

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