A couple of weeks ago I purchased a new laptop for my work. I wanted to get something that was both thin and light and capable of any computing task...say a machine under 4lbs which could handle non linear video editing. Yes, I am that guy who has high demands for computers. This past summer Dell released a lightweight portable with a high end geek factor to some pretty rave critical reviews. This holiday season they offered 799.00 off of the high end configuration of that machine - the XPS m1330. I dialed through the online configuration, watching my heart as to not love a machine and tumble into idolatry, tricked it out and clicked the button. Due the the very amazing price break on the high end of this model, I kept to my budget and got way more horsepower than I anticipated. The following is my review of the laptop - I am very pleased.
I have bought many Dell computers over the years for home and ministry, a few laptops, a few desktops, even an ole Axim X5 Pocket PC years ago. What was most striking about the new deal when it arrived was its packaging. Obviously Dell has gotten into design with the XPS line of computers and it showed opening the box. Inside was not a plain box but well thought out packaging with an attractive tribal XPS design. It did not waste materials so that will make the landfill worriers rejoice. Inside was the very helpful quick start guide but also some unexpected niceties. First, Dell provides a small magnetic snap closure portfolio which is embossed with the XPS brand and designed for holding user manual, system DVDs, etc. A nice touch compared to a box to hold these materials; it will be a great storage place for all software DVDs and user support items. Additionally, though not a full on laptop case, Dell provided a nice silver and black padded XPS branded sleeve to slip the notebook down into; only complaint here is that it has flap closure so it can not be accessed without removing if the sleeve/laptop is in a backpack. Otherwise the sleeve is quite nice. I knew Dell had done some good work from the packaging, but you know...you can't judge a book by its cover, so I cracked it open and set it up.
The industrial design of this machine is pure elegance and beauty. It is well deserving of the press buzz it received as being able to hold its sexy with the MacBook line from Apple. First of all it is a thin/light notebook that is in the shape of a wedge - it is thinner at palm rest/closure than it is at the hinge. The frame is made of magnesium alloy and the case is brushed aluminum which looks great and gives it a sleek, sturdy feel. In fact, though it is the smallest laptop I have owned it feels the must sturdy in build quality of any of the machines. It is currently available in four colors: red, white, blue and tuxedo black. I roll black on almost everything so you can guess the choice I made there. With the 6 cell battery the machine is small, and comes in at less than four pounds when configured with the new LED screen (more on that in a moment). Here are the dimensions: (w) 12.5, (d) 9.4, (h) 0.87 to 1.33 inches. It will not float off into thin air, but it is very small. I also purchased an extra battery which extends the back of the machine when in use but has enough juice to play two DVDs on a full charge. Some additional aesthetically pleasing features are the new touch sensitive, illuminating media buttons, metallic inlaid logo on the lid and screen as well and of course the color options are nicely accented on the machine. Though important, the machine does more than look good. On to the real hardware.
As configured my 1330 has a smokin fast 2.2 GHZ Core 2 Duo with a 4MB Cache and 800MHZ front side bus. It is fast and it feels fast. Additionally I opted for the 7200 RPM hard drive so to be able to do high end tasks like video editing. We have the 200 GB model which has a free fall sensitive which disengages the head if "dropped" and is touted as the world's largest 7200RPM disk for notebooks - at least for a few weeks. It is equipped with a beefy 3 GB memory and has a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS / 128MB video card rather than using system memory for graphical tasks. Input output options are simply amazing for a computer of this size. On the left size are power, VGA, Ethernet, 1 USB 2.0, HDMI and 1394a firewire (for camcorders) ports. On the right you have a security lock anchor, another USB 2.0 port, slot loaded DVD+/-RW drive, and the Express Card slot. The front hosts two headphone jacks for sharing, a microphone in jack and an integrated media reader (MS, SD, xD). Some unique extras which came as standard on this machine were a finger print scanner for easy, secure logins, a thin media remote control that tucks into the Express card slot, hardware WiFi switch and WiFi catcher...very nice. The WiFi catcher shows you if there is an availble network even if the machine is completely turned off. The WiFi is 802.11n and there is also an optional wireless broadband build in available for Sprint, Verizon or the slooooow AT&T. I did not get the cell network deal. The top of the screen features a web came and dual digital microphones for video conferences or skype video type calls.
One last word must be said about the screen. I purchased the new 13.3 inch LED back lit screen which allows for thinner screens which are about 30% brighter than standard LCDs. It cost a little more but was well worth it as the screen is gorgeous. It is also better on battery life so this was another consideration in utilizing this screen technology. The max resolution is a robust 1280 x 800 and the brightness is as advertised. For those doing desktop publishing, image editing and/or video an external display can easily be attached via HDMI or VGA port.
My laptop came equipped with Windows Vista Home Premium so I must comment on Microsoft's most recent operating system. Vista has received lost of press, not of it all good. The main issue people face here is Microsoft's success. Windows has a massive installed base and the amount of software, hardware, etc. designed to work with Microsoft's system is mind boggling. So every new instance of Windows has huge compatibility challenges. I say this only to say that Vista has taken heat for device support and software compatibility as people attempted upgrades. All new PCs will ship and work great with Vista. All that to say that I absolutely LOVE Vista. The UI is gorgeous, it is much more friendly in terms of usability than any version of Windows I have used. Its integrated search is fast and found everywhere in the OS. My favorite location which search is usable is in the redesigned start menu. This feature is great for those who use keyboards and don't like having to mouse so much. It the windows key which activates the start menu, I type two letters of the app I want to run, it finds it instantly, I hit enter and I'm off. The start menu also searches your system (files, media, apps, e-mail, calendar etc) as you type. Super fast, super helpful. All my software runs fine on Vista and the only complaint I have is with "User Access Control." This is a security feature that is designed to keep computer idiots from messing up their own machines. It prompts you when you want to do something like install software. It says "You are about the run X installation, are you sure you did that?" You just have to click a bit more with installs and customization. It was annoying when installing all my stuff and customizing the start menu, but now it hardly every bothers me. If you want the scoop on VISTA there is no better review than Paul Thurrott's on the SuperSite for Windows. The integrated Dell software for media is nice, fingerprint software works without a hitch, and the Dell customization of VISTA (mobility center) is well done.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with this new laptop from Dell. It is a leap forward for them in industrial design, contains high end components while maintianing a reasonable price. Not everyone needs this type of laptop as a budget machine will do e-mail, documents and web browsing for a minuscule cost. But for those who need power, want small and don't mind a high cool factor, the XPS m1330 is a great choice from Dell. It has met my expectations so much that when Apple announced the MacBook AIR I simply thought - Why would I want that when my Dell crushes it feature for feature and for less cash. Comparison is soon to follow.
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