The Dell Inspiron 1720 (£749 inc. VAT) has an impressive specification, and makes the ideal home media centre.
It's 17-inch display is excellent. There's plenty of space for working with several documents simultaneously, and the crisp images proved ideal when working with photographs or watching DVDs. We were also impressed by the accurate colour reproduction, with vivid and bright images on offer.
Multimedia use is enhanced by the powerful nVidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics card. 3D performance was very good, superior than most rivals. If editing videos, images or simply playing games is a factor, the Dell is most probably the machine for you. A remote control is included, allowing you to control your media files from the comfort of your sofa. When you've finished, it stores neatly in the ExpressCard slot.
The 1720 comes with a pair of excellent sound-isolating earphones as standard, so you'll be able to use this machine to its full potential without bothering other people. Further aiding media use, you'll find Dell's MediaDirect software installed, which lets you instantly play DVDs or CDs.
The 1720 is extravagantly styled and is available with a range of coloured screen surrounds, including black, white, red, pink, green, yellow, blue and brown. More impressive was the robust build. The Dell is the only laptop here that can match the Lenovo ThinkPad for quality. Its chassis is bulky, but is constructed from magnesium alloy, which is a lot tougher than the plastics used on most rival machines.
The keyboard impressed, offering plenty of space and full-sized keys. They moved almost silently, and it's easy to type at speed and in comfort. Dell has used the full width of the chassis, and has incorporated a dedicated numeric keypad to the right. Unlike the MSI, it doesn't compromise the size of the main board, and is a useful addition.
Everyday performance was the only area where Dell fell behind some of its rivals. Despite this, it's still possible to run several applications with little lag, and there's more than enough power on offer for most people. The size of this machine means you won't want to carry it far, but a decent battery life does afford it some mobility. Using Vista's Power Saver mode we managed to get nearly four hours of use between charges.
The Dell is a great all-round machine. Build quality is excellent and, if you're after a multimedia system, it's simply too good to ignore.