Dell XPS 630 and LightFX

The Dell Gaming team includes a large contingent of gamers and nothing delights us more than being able to bring systems like the XPS 630 to thousands of our closest friends. We always hear a lot from our gamer customers… they tend to be some of the most active community participants at the Forum, on Direct2Dell and IdeaStorm. A lot of the feedback on our XPS 630 has been positive, but not all of it has.

There are lots of questions and some confusion around LightFX support. To clear the air, I want to have an honest discussion about what exactly LightFX technology is, what features of LightFX technology the XPS 630 and XPS 730 systems support today and what our plans are to improve the LightFX graphics user interface (GUI) going forward.

For context, let’s start with a brief history of LightFX:

  • LightFX was introduced on our early gaming notebooks – about three generations ago. At its introduction, LightFX was limited to choosing the color of the LED zones via a BIOS interface. Our customers thought the feature was a cool way to customize their system, but the interface was cumbersome.
  • The natural evolution of LightFX was to give the user a GUI to change their LED colors in a run-time environment. The most elegant solution at the time was to add this functionality to the existing Dell’s Quickset application; a utility application used to fine tune and customize our notebooks.
  • About the same time we were plugging LightFX into Quickset, some smart developers here at Dell were also defining a slick programming interface that allowed software developers (especially game and multimedia developers) the ability to fade, flash and control the LEDs zones of our XPS notebooks. Internally this was known as LightFX 1.0.

To help demonstrate how the LED zone control could be used, plug-ins were developed for popular media playback tools like iTunes and Windows Media Player. Using these plug-ins, the LEDs on the system could be made to ‘dance’ in time with music and videos. Take a look at the end of Patrick’s vlog for an idea what I’m talking about. Again, we were pretty happy with the results and as we released new notebooks and desktops we even created a special desktop version of Quickset for the XPS 720.

  • Fast forward to 2007: Developing a new round of gaming desktops, the XPS 630 and 730, offered us the opportunity to, once again, improve LightFX technology. This time the design of these next-gen systems provided us with a dedicated microcontroller that improved LED related performance (off loading the overhead of changing states etc. from the system CPU). To take advantage of this we also updated our gaming API; bumping the revision to LightFX 2.0.

Along with these improvements, however, we had to make a change. The new hardware architecture and implementation meant that we couldn’t continue to use the Quickset application as our GUI control. As a result, this functionality was moved to NVidia Control Panel, under the Chassis section of the Performance tab. The good news is that the user can still customize the LED zones and colors. The bad news is the final look and feel of this GUI was not quite on par with what we have delivered in the past and we could no longer support the media player plug-ins.

This brings us to today. The XPS 630 and 730 platforms both support some elements of LightFX technology. Users still have the ability to individually control and set the color of their LED zones. We still support the LightFX gaming API. What we don’t have today is the user-friendly GUI.

To solve this case of the missing GUI we’ve turned to our team members at Alienware. As the trendsetters of the gaming industry, Alienware offers AlienFX which is a customizable lighting effects program allowing the user to set visual colors and unique effects. It made perfect sense to leverage something so well done for our XPS systems.

So in the coming months XPS 630 and 730 users will be able to download a new, customized version of the AlienFX application that is compatible with LightFX technology. This unique version , called AlienFX: Lite, will provide Basic Mode support for setting LED zone colors, meaning that, for each of the LED zones (four for the XPS 630, and five for the XPS 730), users will be able to choose from the 16 preset colors made popular on the XPS 7xx series and XPS M17xx series platforms. Unfortunately, due to technical reasons, AlienFX Advanced Mode features like defining and saving Themes and Events will not be supported by the XPS compatible version.

Keep your eye on the download section of because, in the same time frame, we’ll also be posting the updated LightFX gaming API for our customers to download as well; and you can be sure that soon after their release we’ll be installing the AlienFX and API elements on our XPS 630 and 730 systems as they’re built in the factory. This will ensure that our customers are able to enjoy them right out of the box.

About the Author: Russell Thompson