Dell XPS Laptops Add Premium Audio, 3D Video, Sandy Bridge Processors

By  |  Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 12:23 am

Dell's new XPS 15

Release dates for Dell’s refreshed XPS laptops have turned into a moving target, and all the specs haven’t been quite clear. Yet Dell on Tuesday suddenly announced immediate US availability for both the 15- and 17-inch models, along with a finalized feature set that now officially includes 3D video.

In a Dell press briefing session I attended during CES in January, Alison Gardner, a Dell product manager, sketched out new features for “AV enthusiasts”–such as JBL speakers and MAXXAudio 3–and for “immersive multimedia.”

Dell asked reporters to hold off on publishing stories about the new notebooks pending a formal announcement then slated for February 20. Yet Dell’s Lionel Menchaca detailed some preliminary specs–for the XPS 17 only–in a blog posted on Dell’s Web site, also during the week of CES.

Sure enough, while Dell’s formal announcement on February 20 didn’t happen, a follow-up blog post by Menchaca on February 22 made it clear that both the XPS 17 and XPS 15 will indeed offer previously outlined features such as Sandy Bridge Dual Core i3/i5/i7 processors; NVidia Optimus graphics options for the i7 versions; USB 3.0 ports; Skype-certified HD Webcams; a “full Stage experience” on all panels; and the aforementioned high-end audio.

In his post on Tuesday, Menchaca added some new information to the previously intimated facts about XPS. Somewhat vaguely, he mentioned support for “a range of Sandy Bridge or Huron River CPU options: i3/i5/i7. Dual core and Quad core.” Huron River, Intel’s mobile platform, integrates Sandy Bridge, but the two are not one and the same.

Menchaca also spoke on Tuesday of a new panel on the 17-inch model that “brings 3D capability with a 1920-by-1080 screen.”  When used with the new optionally available 1920-by-1080 screen and a 3GB NVidia GeForce GT 555, the XPS 17 can deliver “new levels of performance in 2D and especially 3D gaming, and beyond,” according to the Dell blogger.

In a statement e-mailed to me soon afterward that same day, a Dell spokesperson dubbed the XPS 17 “the first laptop to integrate 3DTV play software for 3D Blu-ray playback, gaming and photos.” The XPS 15 also offers an option for a WLED (1920-by-1080) screen, she said.

Just last week, a Dell insider told me that Dell planned to postpone its XPS announcements from February 20 to March 15–or even later–due to “the problems with Intel’s chips.”

But things can change fast in laptop land. In the announcement released through Menchaca’s blog on Tuesday, he also alluded to chipset snares, but he strongly suggested that Dell has found workarounds.

“[One] thing to make clear is that all configurations of the new XPS 15 and 17 feature updated hardware from Intel that is not affected by the chipset issue,” he wrote.

Menchaca linked his blog to earlier reports detailing Intel’s plans for a mid-February release of new chips to replace Intel 6 Series (“Cougar Point”)– a chipset supporting Sandy Bridge — in mid-February, due to the that can interfere with SATA connectivity between PCs and other devices.

Earlier this month, Menchaca said that the Cougar Point problems hare impacted four already available Dell products – the XPS 8300, Vostro 460, Alienware M17x R3 and Alienware Aurora R3 – along with planned products such as a 3D edition of XPS.

Although Dell’s statements on Tuesday answer a lot of questions, they raise some more. However, more clarification about Intel chipsets and 3D options for XPS laptops will undoubtedly emerge from Dell as future days unfold.

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