Review: Dell Inspiron E1705 Laptop

Review: Dell Inspiron E1705 Laptop

One of the first laptops with Intel's new Core Duo processor to hit the street, the Dell Inspiron E1705, launched on January 20th 2006, inaugurates the company's new Entertainment line of laptops with a bang. In addition to its top-shelf processor and graphics card; its bright, 17-inch wide-screen display; and other leading-edge technologies, the Inspiron E1705 adds a few welcome multimedia features not found on the model that it will eventually replace, the Inspiron 9300; these include a 5-in-1 media card reader and Dell's MediaDirect software, though not an integrated TV tuner. We think the slightly less expensive HP Pavilion dv8000z is a better deal for basic users who want more features than performance, but the Inspiron E1705 owns the other end of the spectrum as an incredibly powerful laptop that can speed through virtually any multimedia task, from video editing to gaming.

The Inspiron E1705's design is nearly identical to the Inspiron 9300's, crafted out of sturdy and stylish magnesium alloy and measuring 15.5 inches wide, 11.3 inches deep, and 1.6 inches thick. Our test unit weighed 8.2 pounds (9.3 pounds with its AC adapter)--an ounce or two less than the HP Pavilion dv8000z, the Sony VAIO AX570G, the Gateway NX850XL, and most other late-model, 17-inch, multimedia-focused desktop replacements. Still, the Inspiron E1705 is too heavy for regular travel.

The Inspiron E1705 includes a full-size keyboard, though it lacks a separate number pad, as found on the HP Pavilion dv8000z. The Inspiron E1705's mouse buttons are very big, however, and the touch pad is adequately sized. The latter features arrows running along its right and bottom edges, outlining where to place your finger when using the software-enhanced pad to scroll through documents or Web pages.

A minor but appreciated upgrade from the Inspiron 9300 model is the Inspiron E1705's inclusion of Dell's MediaDirect software, which plays CDs and DVDs and lets you access photos and other media files stored on your hard drive without booting up Windows first. The two speakers and the internal subwoofer--a rare feature among laptops--deliver crisp and rich sound. Better yet, because the speakers sit in the corners of the laptop's front edge, your hands won't muffle them while you're typing, and you can play music with the lid closed. Sandwiched between the speakers, a row of seven buttons lets you control disc playback and adjust or mute the volume. Though the Inspiron E1705 runs Microsoft Windows XP Media Center 2005, it lacks an integrated TV tuner found on more expensive systems, such as the Toshiba Qosmio G25-AV513, the Fujitsu LifeBook N6210, and the Sony VAIO AX570G. Dell sells an external, PC Card tuner for $100, however.

Our Inspiron E1705 test unit had a bright, vast, 17-inch wide-screen display with a superfine WUXGA 1,900x1,200 native resolution. Though we experienced no problems with our unit's display, we've observed many user complaints about other recent Dell models' screens (peruse the user opinions for the XPS M170 and the Inspiron 9300 for more details).

There's no dearth of ports, jacks, or slots here: the Inspiron E1705 offers FireWire, S-Video-out, VGA, and a whopping six USB 2.0 ports; 56Kbps modem, 10/100 Ethernet, headphone, and microphone jacks; one each of Type II PC Card and Secure Digital slots; and a swank DVI port, should you want to connect the laptop to an even bigger digital LCD. There's also a 5-in-1 media card reader, a key feature that the Inspiron 9300 lacked. Last, but definitely not least, the Inspiron E1705 includes a multiformat, double-layer DVD drive.

Like all of Dell's laptops, the Inspiron E1705 is extremely configurable. Our loaded, $2,580 test configuration was equipped with a new Intel Core Duo T2500 (2.0GHz) processor; 1GB of DDR2 667MHz SDRAM; an 80GB, 5,400rpm hard drive; Nvidia's high-end GeForce Go 7800 GPU with 256MB of dedicated video memory; and a nine-cell battery.

One of the first Core Duo systems we've tested, the Dell Inspiron E1705 did not disappoint. Using a collection of multithreaded and single-threaded multimedia applications, we tested the Inspiron E1705 to determine how well it handled multimedia-type workloads, such as ripping MP3 files and encoding video files. Generally speaking, the Inspiron E1705 delivered roughly a 25 percent performance boost compared with a Pentium 4-fueled test system, the Acer Aspire 1800, and its performance was approximately 50 percent faster than that of a ThinkPad Z60t equipped with Intel's previous generation 2.0GHz Pentium M processor. The Inspiron E1705 also delivered very competent gaming performance, turning in 57 frames per second in our Doom 3 test; only Dell's own XPS M170 scored better. That said, the $2,400 Acer TravelMate 8200, outfitted with the same processor but twice the RAM, bested the Inspiron E1705 in a few of our multimedia tests, though its gaming performance was lacking. Though we did not test an Inspiron E1705 configured with the less expensive Core Solo processor, Dell said that its performance would be comparable with that of an Inspiron 9300 loaded with a Pentium M, a configuration that we tested last year.

The Inspiron E1705 was 33 percent faster than the Inspiron 9300 and faster than that of any other single-core system we've tested. Though battery life and mobile performance aren't a primary consideration for a laptop the size of the Inspiron E1705, it ran for 30 fewer minutes than the previous Inspiron 9300 model, for a total of about 2.5 hours.

Dell backs the Inspiron E1705 with an industry-standard one-year warranty on parts and labor, available by mailing your laptop back to Dell; upgrading to three years of warranty protection costs just $128, which is a solid value. Toll-free telephone support also lasts for just a year. The best part of Dell's support Web site is the customer forum, where users can go to get help from other Inspiron owners and Dell reps who moderate the discussions. Otherwise, the site offers the typical knowledge base and download sections.