Hands on with the Dell XPS WoW laptop

A week ago, Dell shipped me one of their special edition World of Warcraft XPS M1730 Notebooks. The very same notebook that is going on sale today to the public. They asked me to take it for a spin and let you, gentle readers, know what I think. Then they asked me to send it back to them when I was done. Buahahaha! Send it back? That's rich. Oh, there's lawyers? Ah, damn.

First, I should let you know that I'm not a tech head, so I leave the number-crunching analysis to Engadget. But I do love me some World of Warcraft. And I can tell you my impressions of the new system and the goodies that came with it.

So join me on a magical, mystery tour that started with a box on my doorstep.

Of course the FedEx guy dropped it off at 10am on a Monday morning. Needless to say, I was a little late to work that day. But I did scoot home for lunch and with scissors in hand, ripped into the box.

While brown and cardboardy on the outside, the interior had a clean black finish. Inside were three large boxes, one sheet of instructions and one black envelope. Though you'll see a 3D Figurine in the picture, that just came to me as a sample of what the FigurePrint product will look like. It does not come with the box, only a Golden Ticket that allows you have one made in the likeness of your character.

The instruction sheet is the standard one you get with a Dell product, but this one is plastered to a stiff black foam board. On the other side is a beautiful illustration of Illidan Stormrage. Usually you can just throw away your instructions after using them. But in this case, you have a gorgeous print to hang on the wall.

Smallest of the three boxes held the laptop bookended by foam and encased in a custom slipcover. The laptop is...shiny. Like epic loot shiny. And heavy. But that's why they give you a back pack (see below.). More on the laptop later.

The next box, the one with the Horde picture had all the peripherals. There were two layers of foam padding in the box. The first held an XL black t-shirt, a mouse pad and a leather bound notebook. The XL t-shirt had a graphic screened on the front in grey and the Dell/WoW logo on the back. The mousepad had the same tribal graphics and also the Dell/WoW logo. The black leather notebook held the Owner's Manual and the Product Information Guide. It also held the installation CDs, a monitor cloth and earbuds.

The second layer contained the power cord, a lot of various plugs (TV output cable, etc.) and a remote to control the DVD player in the laptop. I guess Dell wants you to treat this item not just as a gaming rig, but as an entertainment center where you watch movies and listen to music. With the firepower this has under the hood and the 17" shiny monitor I could see that happening while stuck at the airport.

The largest box had a Night Elf on the lid. It contained a very large backpack. It's big enough to lug around the beast of a laptop. But right now it contained a number of licensed WoW products: both retail boxes, two novels based on the game, two Brady guides, two box sets of the trading card game, the soundtrack, a behind the scenes Making of DVD from the Collector's Edition and the Blizzard Battlechest retail box with previous single player Warcraft games.

I'm split on the goodies package. On the one hand, I don't care for the strategy guide or the Making Of DVD, but I would probably read the novels and I would definitely try out the card game. I think if someone was giving this as a gift to a new gamer it would all be sparkly in their eyes. And it doesn't hurt to introduce everybody and their uncle to the single player Warcraft games.

The backpack all of this came in was very nice. It's large. Like, backpack into the Sierra Mountains for the weekend large, but had plenty of zippers, pockets and compartments for everything you would need. Cables, strategy guides, Cliff Bars, caffeine cans all have a place in this bad boy. In fact, it's so big, it has lumbar support built in to ease the strain on your shoulders and lower back. And after toting around the laptop for a few days, I could see why it was included.

Next, the envelope. This is the part of the package that is the strongest sell point for me. Inside the black envelope was a letter signed by Dell's CEO and Blizzard's President, an Account Upgrade certificate, a WoW Beta Club card and a Golden Ticket. The letter is printed in brown ink on a parchment paper, keeping in theme of the rest of the design packaging. It tells you about the the other contents of the envelope and contains the signature of Michael Dell and Mike Morhaime.

The certificate allows you to upgrade your account to Collector's Edition for both WoW and The Burning Crusade so you can collect the in-game pets that went with those editions. For the original game, that includes your choice of Zergling, Panda Cub or Mini Diablo. Since there were only a limited number of CE boxes made, this is your big chance to get that exclusive pet on your L70 main, right? Well, here's the fine print: these original pets are only available to NEW characters, not any existing characters on your account. That takes all the fun out of it. Blizzard has confirmed this is a misprint on the certificate. Existing characters will be able to claim one of the WoW CE pets.

The TBC CE pet is the Netherwelp. This one can be claimed by your existing characters.

The WoW Beta Club card has to be the juiciest item in the box other than the laptop itself. The back of the card specifies that it provides: "Entry into 5 World of Warcraft Beta tests, for future unannounced expansions." So not Wrath, since that is already announced and not World of Starcraft or whatever Blizzard's next unannounced MMO is going to be, only WoW expansions. It also doesn't say it provides keys, but "enrolls your acccount" so it sounds like you can't share the beta access with friends either. Blizzard has also confirmed that Wrath is not out of the running for these beta keys, but Blizzard hasn't actually determined which beta keys they'll be for yet. Players who join the "club" will be contacted when it has been determined which beta the keys will be for.

The Golden Ticket gives you a guaranteed slot for a free custom WoW figure print. Getting a "guaranteed slot" sounds like there is going to be a long wait to get one otherwise. We're not sure how they do this, but FigurePrints makes a 3D action figure out of your Main toon. Great for now, but gimp when Wrath comes out and your sharding your purples for greens.

Figure Print sent me a sample of a Human. I have to say, it looked great and I like the mounting and case it came in. It's definitely a unique gift for any gamer and not a bad alternative for a WoW present if you're not willing to drop $4,500+ on this notebook.

On to the laptop. The first thing I noticed when I pulled off the slip case was the design on the cover. I was sent the Alliance Edition, which was fine by me. The tribal artwork that was on the packaging was also on the laptop.

Also, I was struck by the weight of it. This bad boy is heavy for a laptop. 10lbs+. I can see why it came with a backpack you could use to travel around Europe.

When I opened it, I was impressed with what I saw. The keyboard had a 10 key pad built in. Above that is the Logitech Game Panel, apparently the first one in a notebook. It displays the vital stats of your character when the game is loaded. I found it useful and was pleased to learn that many games utilize it.

Hitting the power button lit up not only the button, but half the damn computer. The keyboard, the speakers, the cover, even the touch pad all light up. With the ultra glossy monitor having a high glare factor, all this illumination within the system helps immensely in playing with the room lights low.

The laptop quickly booted Windows Vista. WoW was preloaded and patched up to 2.3. There was a beautiful illustration of the Alliance races already placed into my Desktop background. Loading up WoW took no time at all. I cranked up the settings and ran around Azeroth in glee.

With all the bells and whistles under the hood, I had no problem with framerate. The particle effects of spell casting were gorgeous and the sound coming out of the front speakers was booming. I have to give Dell credit for creating a gaming experience. I only wish I had Shattrath on the first day of test patching on the PTR to truly put the framerate to the test.

The built-in wifi card made it easy to play at home and at wor-uh, at home. There is also a built in Sprint broadband card that allows you to use cel phone reception to access the Internet. That's an additional monthly fee for the service and one I didn't explore.

For the next week I lugged that beast every where I went. The other guys at the old day job were very, very jealous of it. Some guys I barely know came sniffing around wanting a peek. And that brings me to the real point of this exercise.

WoW is not a game that pushes rigs into meltdown. It was built to work well on low end systems which is one of the keys to its wild success. So why purchase a $4,500 system to play a game that runs fine on a $1,500 system? The same reason brands like Tiffany, Bentley and Cristal exist.

You see, buying the Dell WoW Edition isn't just about the ultimate WoW experience. It's about having a status symbol. Nobody is going to miss seeing you when you power up this glowing behemoth in a coffee shop or at a gaming convention. It's about being seen playing WoW on one of the most expensive gaming notebooks available.

Let me put it another way: you know that guy who runs around Ironforge (or Ogrimmar) with the shiny new epic from the latest raid boss? He poses in front of the bank or the Auction House so others can oooh and aaah his unique item? That's the guy who is going to buy this system. He wants it to be known he plays the game and has the shinies to prove it.

I'm not that guy. But I think there are enough of them out there for whom money is not an object. And they will pay to show off to the world their passion for the Horde ( or Alliance.) And that's who this system is for.

As for me, my days are done. Soon the beast goes back into the box and returns home to Dell. It's gonna kill me to say goodbye, but, as the bard tells us, it is better to have love and lost, than not to have loved at all.

Anyone interested in learning more about the system should check out Dell's WoW XPS website today. And come back to WoW Insider on Thursday when we will begin our contest to giveaway one of these Dell XPS M1730 World of Warcraft edition notebooks. Think of it as a welfare epic laptop.