Dell's Vostro notebooks target small businesses and are available with 12in, 13.3in, 15.4in and 17in screens. The Dell Vostro 1720 is a 17in model; it's basically a desktop replacement notebook that can be used at home or in the office. You can take it with you between the home and the office, but you'll need a big bag. It's definitely not a notebook that can be used while on public transport or on a plane.
The Dell Vostro 1720 is the type of laptop you buy when you don't want a desktop PC — or don't have room for one. It's not the most powerful large notebook on the market, but it does have more than decent specifications. You can select the configuration you want when you order it, and pricing starts from $1299. Our test unit cost a little more than that ($2810 at the time of writing), and it came with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9550 CPU (a dual-core CPU that runs at 2.67GHz), 2GB of RAM (it can be upgraded to 4GB), a 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GS graphics card and a 250GB hard drive. This configuration propelled the Vostro 1720 to a score of 93 in WorldBench 6. This means the Dell Vostro 1720 is powerful enough to be used for photo editing, video editing and even 3D rendering and design work, in addition to office and Internet tasks.
We had problems getting the Vostro 1720 to properly run 3DMark06. Despite the drivers being installed correctly, it recorded an average score of 810 in this benchmark, which is approximately 3000 points lower than we were expecting. The 512MB GeForce 9600M GS graphics card is powerful enough to run many games at a reasonable quality level, so this performance was surprising and means the 1720 will struggle with the real-time processing of 3D graphics. We suspect it's a configuration problem as the benchmark started off with framerates in the 20s, and then tapered off to one or two frames per second.
Its 17in LCD screen has a native resolution of 1920x1200, which aids multitasking greatly as you can easily line up two documents side by side. This screen resolution is not standard, so you do have to pay extra for it; the standard resolution is 1440x900. If you opt for the 1920x1200 screen, don't be swayed into getting the Blu-ray drive, which costs approximately $300 extra, unless you really need it for work purposes. The Dell Vostro 1720 doesn't have an option for an HDMI port (the only video-out port is a D-Sub connection) so you will only be able to watch Blu-ray movies on the notebook's screen, not a TV. In other words, you won't be able to use it as a Blu-ray player for a home entertainment or boardroom setup. By default the Vostro 1720 ships with a DVD burner.
The hard drive in the Dell Vostro 1720 is a 250GB Seagate Momentus 7200 FDE.1 SATA model, which spins at 7200rpm. It underperformed in our transfer tests, scoring approximately 20 megabytes per second; we expected a score closer to 30MBps, but the slow speed could be due to the encryption protecting the entire hard drive. Dell gives you the option of purchasing an encrypted drive (an option that was included in our test unit), and ships with Embassy Security Suite software to facilitate this. This software is used in conjunction with the built-in TPM module, which needs to be enabled in the BIOS. Once it is set up you will have to enter a username and password every time you cold boot the notebook, otherwise you will not be able to access the hard drive. The Vostro 1720 also ships with a fingerprint reader and has a Kensington lock slot.
There are a lot of ports around the edges of the Dell Vostro 1720, mostly USB 2.0 (six of them). As mentioned previously you don't get HDMI, nor do you get a DVI port, so it's missing a digital video output; it also doesn't have an eSATA port for fast external hard drive access. You do get an ExpressCard/54 expansion slot, so you can install eSATA ports if you require them. The lack of a digital video output also isn't too concerning considering the large size and high resolution of the screen.
The Dell Vostro 1720 is solidly built and we love its keyboard. The keys are full-sized (as you would expect on such a big notebook) and are very responsive. It's a very comfortable keyboard to type on and the palm rest is adequate. We also like its touchpad, which traverses the high-resolution screen quickly and its buttons are soft and noiseless. The keyboard is also spill-proof, as we found out when we accidentally spilled water on it during our tests. To drain the water, we shut down the notebook and tipped it upside down.
You get a tray-loading DVD burner instead of the slot-loading drive found on slimmer Vostro models, but this notebook looks just as elegant as the more diminutive Vostros. The base has a matte black finish, the screen is glossy and the lid has a glossy finish. There are multimedia shortcut keys above the keyboard.
The Dell Vostro 1720 weighs 3.3kg, which is not very heavy for a 17in notebook, and its battery life is adequate. It lasted for 1hr 42min in our DVD rundown test, in which the wireless radio is enabled and the screen is at full brightness.
An SD card reader, a FireWire port, microphone and headphone ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet connection round out the ports on the Vostro 1720, and it also has 802.11n wireless networking (with three antennas) and Bluetooth. It's a well-rounded machine and should definitely suit any business user who wants large notebook with a high resolution screen rather than a space-hogging PC and monitor setup. Don't bank on it delivering good 3D graphics performance though.
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