Dell Launches XPS Laptops with 3DTV Play and Optimus

Dell has launched three new laptops that deliver a multifaceted upgrade to its entertainment-oriented XPS series, adding new features that include NVidia 3DTV Play, built-in Optimus switchable graphics, and a Webcam capable of HD video streaming.

With the new 15-, 16-, and 17-inch models, Dell's XPS family now becomes a trio instead of a duo, replacing the 13- and 16-inch models rolled out in an earlier product line-up refresh in 2009, said Kellie Mater, Dell's senior laptop merchandiser, at a press briefing I attended in New York City.

At starting prices ranging from $899 for the new 15-inch XPS laptop to $949 for the 17-incher, the upgraded XPSers cost about twice as much as the refreshed Inspiron R models introduced by Dell just a few months ago, which begin at $449.

Unlike the emerging "glasses-free" laptops Toshiba showed off at CEATAC, Dell's updated XPS machines won't let you view 3D directly on the laptop screen.

Instead, you'll need to use NVidia's 3DTV Play - just recently unveiled-to hook up to a 3D TV through HDMI. Moreover, you will need goggles.

Still, 3D hasn't gained a lot of converts yet, except maybe among very serious gamers - and if you're in that category, you probably need more functionality than a notebook PC is about to give you, anyway. In any case, it's a good bet that any glasses-free notebooks will cost a bundle whenever they first hit the market.

Mater told me she can't really say whether Dell, too, is eyeing glasses-less 3D notebook displays for somewhere down the line.

Yet Dell's latest XPS laptops, which are now shipping, also come with lots of other advanced features even in standard configuration: Intel Core i-series processors; a 2-megapixel HD Webcam; JBL 2.0 speakers with a Waves MaxxAudio enhancement (for a total of 6 watts); and NVidia GeForce 420M graphics with 1GB integrated memory.

The notebooks are also customizable to higher-end options such as NVidia GeForce 460M with 2GB memory; a Blu-ray disk burner drive; a 9-cell battery (instead of the standard 6-cell); and hard drive space of up to 750GB (in comparison to the 250GB base configuration).

With the noteworthy exception of NVidia 3DTV Play - also available from NVidia as standalone software - most of the features in the new XPS laptops aren't entirely brand new in the laptop PC industry.

NVidia's Optimus graphics automatically switch between Intel's built-in UMA graphics and NVidia discrete graphics processing, depending on whether tasks need a "power saving" or "performance" mode. Lenovo, for example, is already offering Optimus on both its consumer-geared IdeaPads and its T Series business laptops.

Dell did provide NVidia switchable graphics in its former 13-inch XPS model, although the previous 13-incher sported NVidia's earlier generation Hybrid SLI technology.

With SLI, though, users needed to activate the discrete GPU, and they had to manually switch back and forth between using (1) the integrated graphics chip only, (2) the discrete graphics only, or (3) both GPUs, in a hybrid mode dubbed "GeForce Boost." Transitions could be done on the fly through an icon in the systems tray, however.

Also, in contrast to the Inspiron One 23 desktop PC that Dell debuted in September, the new XPS models available today will not come with Dell's new Stage touch user interface (UI). "Stage only ships on systems with touch displays - so as of today it is available on the Inspiron One [23] only," a Dell spokesperson told me Wednesday.

With that said, Dell's latest XPSes do integrate lots of slick multimedia features in highly configurable ways, at prices that might not dent your wallet all that much.

Other standard features include widescreen HD displays; USB 3.0 and hybrid USB 2.0 ports; a 9-in-1 media card reader; built-in 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet LAN; and Bluetooth 3.0. Dell's latest XPS notebooks also support wireless connectivity through Intel Centrino WiFi and WiMax, and through Dell Wireless 5540 HSPA and 5620 EVDO-HSPA mini cards.

The laptops ship standard with a silver anodized aluminum display back and palmrest - but you can also personalize their appearance by choosing from more than 200 original designs in the Dell Design Studio, Mater said.

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