Now and again there are systems that come along that make you rethink what a PC is. There was a spate of such machines five years ago that challenged the notion of the desktop PC, but lacked the performance - or indeed looks - to make them anything other than a passing novelty.
Of all the companies to question the desktop PC again, it's Dell, the biggest box shifter of them all, that has come out with a design that will have you questioning where notebooks start and desktops end.
In essence, the M2010 is an oversized desktop replacement that you can't use on your lap. It does use mobile components throughout though, and when closed, the leatherbound bracing arm doubles as a carrying handle - although at over 8kg, it's clearly not something designed for the daily commute.
You don't expect a machine this big to offer much in the way of battery life; and sure enough in testing it barely managed an hour's worth of DVD playback. This isn't a major letdown given its weight, though it does recharge quickly - less than half an hour to full charge from drained.
One of the main reasons for the bulk of the system is the 20.1in screen. Dell has built a good name for its screen division over the years, and it's clear to see why here. The native widescreen resolution of 1,680x1,050 is rendered crisply and clearly, and the viewing angles are great.
The bezel is a little large, but the ability to swing the screen down to cover the DVD player, leaving just the media controls visible, turn this into a consumer level device.
The DVD drive fits this consumer bent well - it's a slot-fed unit, which lifts pleasingly in response to the touch sensitive buttons. Stereo speakers at the bottom of the screen bezel are bolstered by a sub in the main unit to provide a high-quality sound system - particularly good for movie playback.
The keyboard is detachable too, and even includes a touchpad, although there's a Bluetooth mouse as well for if you're working on a desk.
One of the traditionally big letdowns for machines of this ilk has been that they've failed to deliver on the performance front. But in the M2010, Dell has at least given the machine a fighting chance. Beneath the leather exterior, you'll find a T7200 Core 2 Duo.
This operates at 2GHz, but does have the full complement of 4MB of L2 cache to play with. This is backed up by 1GB of DDR2 667MHz memory and a 120GB hard drive, which is a little on the small side from a media perspective, but usable. There's room for another drive in the unit, too.
Surprisingly, Dell has turned to ATi to provide the graphics subsystem, and its last generation X1800 VPU. This struggles when driving the more demanding games available at the default screen resolution, but is fine for older rendering engines.
Easing down the setting generally ensures smooth frame rates. The 3D Mark 06 result of 2,911 isn't awful for example, while Doom 3 at the High Quality settings running at 800x600 looked great and ran smoothly at over 120fps.
There's loads of software preinstalled on this machine, including Paint Shop Pro X, McAfee's online protection suite and various tools from Roxio for authoring DVDs. It's a little surprising then that you only get Microsoft Works to do anything truly serious with.
Windows Media Centre 2005 ships as standard though, and this works particularly well with the look and feel of a machine that will probably spend as much time playing movies as it will editing them. Annoyingly, the unit doesn't integrate with a TV Tuner, and the two options available at the time of purchase are both external units, which is a shame because this is so compact otherwise.
Innovation doesn't come cheap, and the base specification for this system will set you back two grand. You can specify a few extras, such as more memory, or faster processors, but none of these change the unexpected joy on offer from using this system.
If you've got limited space for a desktop PC, or simply want something that challenges Sony for consumer styling, then the M2010 is a wonder to behold. Alan Dexter