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Dell Inspirion 1720 Laptop Review - Page 1 of 3

This week, MMORPG.com Hardware Guy Jeremy Star takes a look at his newest machine, a laptop built for gaming. In his search to find the best MMORPG-playing laptop, he brings us this review of the model he settled on, the Dell Inspirion 1720 Laptop.

Sometimes you have to go to places that you don't want to go to and that have nothing for you to do other than sit around and watch the grass grow. Sometimes you have to travel, and your choice is watching the craptastic TV in the hotel room or counting the ceiling tiles. And sometimes, sometimes you just want to kick back on the couch instead of sitting in your office chair at a desk. It's times like those that make a laptop capable of handling MMORPG games very attractive.

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I searched high and low for a laptop that would deliver acceptable performance in today's MMORPGs without requiring me to run on the “ugly” setting and without requiring me to take out a second mortgage on my house. I also took into account previous customer satisfaction reports and warranty.

Lo and behold, I present to you the Dell Inspiron 1720.

The Hardware – Dude, I'm getting a Dell!

The Dell Inspiron 1720 is a 17”, widescreen laptop. The review configuration came with an Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo 7300 (A 2ghz, dual-core processor), 2 GB of RAM, a 256MB Nvidia Geforce 8600M GT video card, and a 160GB hard drive. Windows Vista Home Premium was included for the operating system. The laptop also features built in Wi-Fi networking via an Intel® 3945 802.11a/g Mini-card, a memory card reader, a CD-RW/DVD player combo drive, integrated 10/100 Ethernet, and a 9 cell Lithium-Ion battery.

My Inspiron 1720 came in the Spring Green color, because I happen to like green. I elected to forgo a built in webcam.

Dell also has a new policy that prevented my laptop from being loaded with “bloatware”. That is to say, Dell only installs the software that you ask them to install. No annoying trial packages, no AOL ads, nothing. This Inspiron came loaded with McAfee Security software, since having some sort of anti-virus/spyware is a pretty good idea these days, and it's free for 15 months. Other than that, the only software that was pre-installed were Roxio DVD creator and proprietary programs that Dell uses to run the laptop. (For example, Dell Quickset, which shows a graphical representation of volume on screen when adjusting it via the media-buttons, and allows some Dell specific buttons to function.) Granted, if you want to maximize your gaming horsepower, you'll want to disable Roxio and McAfee due to the large amount of processes both of these programs run in the background.

The default warranty includes 1 year of in-home service, parts and labor, and 24/7 telephone support. It also includes 3GB of online backup space for a year, and 15 months of McAfee security suite.

Appearance – Green, mean, Orc-slaying machine!

The Inspiron 1720 is a fairly large laptop. It's about 11 ½” from front to back (without counting the battery), and about 15 ½” from side to side. Closed, it's only about 1½ “ thick, however it weighs close to 8 pounds. For someone who's well over 6' and 230lbs, it's not a problem to carry this thing all over the place, however the size and weight alone might turn some people off. I did consider that this is much larger than the 15” widescreen laptop I used to own, but in the end the price difference between the 15” Inspiron and the 17” ended up being a negative number, so for me it was a no-brainer choosing the larger screen for less than the cost of the small screen.

The laptop itself is primarily a silver color, with the bottom being flat black, and the top being “spring green.” Dell offers a few choices of color for the top, and instead of going with the default black, I chose green. Green added another $50 to the price tag, but I figure if you're already shelling out over a thousand clams, you might as well enjoy looking at your expensive purchase. (As of the time of this writing, the price for your choice of colors has dropped to $25, Doh!)

The keyboard is a full QWERTY device, with a numpad located to the right. The Insert – End keys have been placed above the Backspace key and the numpad, and the arrow keys are below the right shift. The inclusion of the full numpad also factored highly in my choice of this laptop. My old laptop did not have a numpad at all, and I always despised that.

Above the keyboard is the pre-requisite Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock indicator lights, and to the right of the numpad are lights for power, HDD activity, battery low warning, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. All of these lights are done with brilliant blue LEDS. Also above the keyboard is the power button, and the Dell Media Direct Button. (Media Direct is Dell's proprietary media player function.)

Below the keyboard is the touchpad. I despise touchpads, but sometimes there just isn't room to whip out a mouse, and this isn't too horrible for a touchpad. It has clearly marked spaces for scrolling up/down and left/right on the touchpad itself, and two buttons below it for left/right clicking.

On the front of the laptop are media function buttons, such as mute, volume up/down, play, stop, etc. These light up blue as well, but only briefly when you use them.

Performance – She'll make point...oh wait, I used that one already...

To test the gaming performance of the Inspiron 1720, I put it through its paces with World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, and Lord of the Rings Online. All games were played with the native resolution of the laptop display (1440x900).

WoW Performance 

Minimum fps Maximum fps Average fps

23

43

97

 

I set WoW to all the highest graphical options with the exception of color depth/multi-sampling, which was set to 24 bit color, 24 bit depth, and 2x multi-sampling. (The max is 8x, but the game really started hitching when set to this.) The Inspiron ran WoW fairly smooth at these settings. There was some small amount of hitching when there were a ton of players on screen in Shattrath city, but for the most part it ran very well. As you can see, the average fps (frames per second) was 43, a very decent rate for an MMORPG with all the graphical goodies turned on.

Guild Wars Performance 

Minimum fps Maximum fps Average fps

0

120

61

 

Guild Wars was also run at the graphical maximums, with the exception of Anti-Aliasing, which was run at 0. With AA on, GW tends to dip dip down to very low fps too often to make it a smooth experience. With AA off, there weren't any areas of the game that I experienced hitching in. I tried the major cities from all three campaigns, as well as several instances. GW has a much higher average fps than WoW, but that is mostly due to the fact that when you are not in a city, you are in a private instance without any other players around. This takes a large amount of the graphical workload off.

Lord of the Rings Online Performance 

Minimum fps Maximum fps Average fps

15

57

39

 

For Lord of the Rings Online, I let the game auto-detect my graphical capabilities and set the graphics options accordingly. LotRO chose to set the graphics overall setting to high, which means that most of the graphical sliders were set to high, but things like shadows were set to generic blobs, reflections were very low, and there was no Anti-Aliasing or Anisotropic filtering. Overall the game still looked good, but unlike WoW or GW, there were noticeable graphical differences between running LotRO on a high end desktop gaming PC and Inspiron other than just the jaggies from the missing AA filtering.

I did try pushing the graphics sliders higher, but the Inspiron 1720 just isn't capable of giving good fps at higher settings. That's not the fault of the hardware, which performed tremendously well at the default settings, but rather just a consequence of playing a newer, graphically intense MMORPG on a laptop not specifically designed for gaming.

At the settings that the game gave me, LotRO felt smooth and still looked gorgeous. I did have problems in the town of Bree, however, as fps dropped to the low double digits and the game hitched quite a bit. Of course, Bree tends to perform a lot lower than the rest of the game even on a high end PC.

Overall, the Inspiron 1720 performed very well in all of the MMORPGs I threw at it. It may not be a dedicated gaming laptop, but the price vs performance value is definitely there. You can spend a lot more to get better fps and graphics in some games, but for a sub $2000 laptop, this is very good. I even threw the newly released FPS game Team Fortress 2 at the Inspiron, and it handled that just fine. Again, I can't get all of the graphical goodness that my gaming PC affords me, but I didn't have to turn everything all the way down to get decent performance either.

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