Overview and Introduction
The Dell Vostro 1700 is a brand new 17" model business notebook. Like most Dell notebooks, the Vostro 1700 is customizable and it can be configured as either a budget type laptop or powerful desktop replacement.
Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 1.80GHz
WXGA+ (1440 x 900)
2.0 MP camera
2048 MB 667 MHz Dual-Channel DDR2 SDRAM (2x1024 MB)
Hard Drive 160GB Serial ATA (5400RPM) (the only one available at time of order; 7200RPM drives are now also available)
DVD+/-RW Drive 8x
Primary 6-cell 56WHz Li-Ion Battery
256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT
Intel Pro Wireless 3945 802.11a/b/g
Vista Home Premium
1 year warranty
Reasons for Buying
Due to the nature of my work I move to different locations every few months so I have been using notebooks for most of my professional career. All models so far have been 14" or 15", however, this time I opted for 17". Though I move often, I do not travel all the time (I fly on average only once a month) so size and weight was not critically important. On the other hand, I use my notebook to watch DVD movies and Internet TV (in fact, I use it in this capacity far more than my TV set and DVD player at home) so a 17" notebook was a good choice for me. In my spare time sometimes I like to play games and, since I like games which are demanding on performance (first person fantasy or shooters), good graphic card was also important.
As I change notebooks often, I do not like to overspend so I set myself a top budget of 1200 euros. Unfortunately for this price the choice of 17" notebooks is limited. Practically it was Dell or HP. All other vendors were either too expensive (like Toshiba or Asus) or did not have the configuration I wanted (like Lenovo or Acer). Eventually I narrowed the choice down to the Dell Inspiron 1720 and the HP Pavilion dv9500t (the Vostro was not yet available when I starting looking for a new laptop). Finally I decided for Dell since for roughly the same price it offered slightly better graphics (Nvidia 8600M GT instead of GS on the HP).
Where and How Purchased
I ordered first the Dell Inspiron 1720 from Dell's Spanish web site only to see a day later the new Vostro line which offered exactly the same specifications but for a lower price, something I did not expect since I thought the Vostro was supposed to be a business model, like the Latitude line. I rang Dell and asked for advice. The sales person told me that, with the exception of the fancy colors on the Inspiron, there is not much difference between the two hardware-wise and it is no problem if I want to cancel the Inspiron order and get the Vostro instead.
The final price, VAT included, was 950.04 euros, a saving of 200 euros over the Inspiron. This price included free shipping and 50 euros off. I ordered it over the phone since Vista Home Premium was not available on Dell's web site for the Vostro line. The sales person was happy to change the default Vista Business edition into Home Premium.
So far, so good. One must admit that less than 1000 euros for a 17" notebook with Core 2 Duo processor and Nvidia graphics is a total bargain. However, not all was good news. It took four working days to process my order, even though I placed the order the day Vostro came out (10 July 2007). First I was told that Dell will refund me the difference from the Inspiron so I do not have to worry about payment. Two days later I was told that this is not possible so I have to make another payment. Eventually I paid by a bank transfer since Dell takes ages to unblock the amount of a cancelled order on a credit card and I did not have enough limit for the Vostro. As soon as I made the payment, that was the last I heard of the sales person. He neither replied to any of my emails nor phone calls.
After several calls to Dell's Customer Service, I managed to have the order processed and got a delivery date of 9 August. Three days before this date I still had not heard anything from Dell and the web tracking showed that my Vostro is still in pre-production. I called Dell only to be told that as far as the system is concerned the delivery date is still OK. But the next day I received an email that the delivery is delayed until September. Very unprofessional of Dell, not to inform the customer earlier of such a delay. Eventually my Vostro arrived on the 22 August.
Build & Design
The Vostro 1700 is big and heavy, even for a 17" notebook. It is all black so it is difficult to argue whether it is pretty or not, but it is unlikely that one will find it ugly. On the other hand, stains and fingerprints get stuck on the black paint very easily and they are difficult to get rid of (see the backside image below where the fingerprints are clearly visible).
Being so big, the screen actually takes more effort to open than an average laptop. In fact, I find that to release the latch and lift the screen I need to use both hands. USB connectors also take effort to pull out, so overall impression is that of a strong build. The part above the keyboard, around the On/Off button, bends somewhat when pushed harder but that is the only minor issue I could find with the case which otherwise is solid.
The screen seems well protected. I tried bending it as well as applying a small force on different places but could not notice any image distortion.
The dimensions of the Vostro 1700 are 39.4 cm x 29.3 cm x 4.4 cm (W x D x H) or 15.5" x 11.5" x 1.7". As you can see, it is quite thick in addition to being large so finding a case for it is not an easy task if you, like me, also carry many other things in the case.
I opted for the Widescreen XGA+ 1440x900 though higher resolution is offered by Dell. Browsing through the web forums, it seems general opinion is that the Nvidia 8600M GT is not powerful enough to handle higher resolutions. I find the native resolution always much sharper looking so I stayed with the XGA+.
The colors and the brightness are more than adequate for a budget notebook (in fact, the brightness is excellent) and it is a real pleasure to play a game or watch a movie on a 17" screen. Certainly the initial experience is stunning when compared to a 14" or 15".
The horizontal viewing angles are very good, unfortunately the same cannot be said for the vertical viewing angles. Couple of degrees up or down and most colors look differently.
The internal speakers are unimpressive. Though the sound is more than loud enough, the quality is poor. I would certainly recommend headphones or external speakers if you want to listen to music.
Heat and Noise
I find the Vostro 1700 generally very quiet. The fans are hardly noticeable and even the noise of the DVD drive is nothing to complain about.
It gets very hot on few places (but not all) at the bottom so I would not recommend using it in your lap. Being a heavy and big 17" notebook, the extra heat would probably not be the only reason for not using it in one's lap. The air vents are on the left side and, depending on the load, sometimes are blowing plenty of hot air. I find this somewhat unpleasant as I tend to rest my left palm there before typing. It will likely also bother left-handed people using an external mouse.
Dell Vostro 1700 Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is solid quality and it is a full one (including the numeric keypad) so using the Fn key is almost unnecessary as most keys from a desktop keyboard are directly available. However, it does not really feel like a desktop keyboard. The Home/End/PageUp/PageDown keys, which I use often when I browse through documents or web pages, are smaller than the rest and are right above the numeric keypad. As such they are not very approachable since the keyboard cannot be inclined like a desktop one. I would have preferred to have them below the keypad. Maybe it is just a matter of getting used to it.
I am unimpressed by the touchpad and would recommend using an external mouse. It is too small (which is ironic considering the size of the machine and all the available space) so most of the time you will end up with your finger in the scrolling area. At the end I disabled scrolling which is the only way to make the touchpad usable unless you have really small fingers.
Input and Output Ports
All the usual ports are there but nothing more than that. No DVI or HDMI output. However, considering the price range of the Vostro, it would probably be unrealistic to expect more. One thing I find strange is that there is no port for a Docking Station, yet Dell markets the Vostro as a business model.
Back-side view - three USB ports, the modem connection and the S-Video output are here in addition to the power supply connection
Left-side view - the wireless switch and the ExpressCard slot are here (note also the air vents mentioned before)
Right-side view - the busiest in the terms of connectors (and rather annoying if you are right-handed and use an external mouse) housing the headphones/microphone connections, DVD drive, 8-in-1 memory card reader, IEEE 1394 (Firewire), an external monitor output, Ethernet port and two more USB ports (to make 5 in total)
Dell's offer is very good in this field though I only opted for the basic 802.11a/b/g card because by the time Wireless-N becomes popular here, for me it will probably be time for a new laptop anyway.
I tried it in few Wi-Fi spots with poor coverage (where my old laptop struggled to maintain a good connection) and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it worked very well.
I did not do much testing here as most of the time I run my notebook on AC power and use it as a mobile desktop replacement. Which is what the Vostro 1700 essentially is, so users concerned with battery life should probably not be looking at something as big as the Vostro 1700.
I tried running on the 6-cell battery while using the Vostro moderately (MS Word with Windows Media Player in the background and the Wi-Fi enabled) and it managed for two hours and twenty minutes before the low-battery LED went on at 10% left, which is not too bad, considering its size and components.
Operating System and Software
As mentioned before, the Vostro 1700 comes with Vista Business if ordered on Dell's web site (though Vista Home Basic is also available on some configurations) but when ordering over the phone it was no problem to select Vista Home Premium.
Although Dell markets the Vostro line with an option of having Windows XP or Vista, this is not the case with the Vostro 1700 where XP is not available.
I received a DVD with the operating system but I read on the forums that this is not the case for many people. Note that I ordered my Vostro from Dell Spain (but asked for the operating system in English which was not a problem).
Preinstalled on my system were Roxio, Microsoft Works and Norton Internet Security with 30 days subscription. The DVDs of these applications were included as well as a DVD with the drivers.
I have not had to use Dell's customer support since receiving my notebook so I cannot comment on it, however, as mentioned before, contacting Dell during the ordering/delivery phase was a problematic experience.
In summary, the Dell Vostro 1700 is a budget home office mobile desktop replacement. Its value-for-money is excellent but do not expect it to excel in anything.
- Price (considerably cheaper than all competitors for a similar config)
- Most components are customizable
- Good performance, both in business applications and gaming
- Solid build
- Long and unpredictable delivery times
- Very heavy and big, even for a 17" notebook
- Keyboard requires getting used to as it is different both from a desktop and from a typical 15" laptop
- Can get quite hot under a heavy load