My 13" MacBook has been on the fritz lately and the warranty is almost up so I ordered a new laptop in preparation for sending the MacBook in for service. From what I’ve heard, service from Apple can be like a black hole and I need my laptop for work. Unfortunately my 3.5 year old tablet PC is not up to the tasks I’m doing right now (lots of virtual machine work in the coming weeks). So…
I ordered a Dell XPS M1530. I must say it is a good-looking piece of equipment. I went with the Tuxedo Black shell (just using stock images from Dell here).
This thing looks and feels like a quality machine. The unboxing experience was mildly exciting (in fact, I ran upstairs to show Sebas pretty much right away). The laptop was shipped inside a nice laptop sleeve with an invisible magnetic fastener. It should help pad the laptop inside my new camel leather satchel bag (if it ever stops smelling like a barn, but that’s a different story).
Here are a few initial impressions after a day of use:
- 1680×1050 resolution is a joy after a year using 1280×800
- Keyboard is very nice (good weight, not too loud, no bouncy area over optical drive). In my opinion, the keyboard is not quite as nice as the MacBook but nicer than the MacBook Pro.
- Slot load DVD drive (so much nicer than pop-out trays)
- Physical switch for disabling wifi and Bluetooth (for power saving)
- Not much heavier than my 13" MacBook
- Solid chassis (does not creak or bend when you lift it)
- Brushed aluminum palm rest
- Dual headphone jacks – should be great for watching a movie with my wife on the plane this spring. Not sure when else I’d really use this feature.
- Battery level indicator on the battery pack
- Good graphics card (256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT) that runs the Vista Aero Glass interface on the notebook plus an external 1920×1200 monitor
- VGA, S-Video, and HDMI outputs
- Integrated Bluetooth (a new requirement for me after getting used to a BT mouse and no dongle)
- Eye-catching design with barrel hinge and sloped profile
- Small touch sensitive media and volume controls (no more Fn+F4)
- Fingerprint scanner, which takes a bit of practice but I’m finding to be incredibly convenient.
- Ships with crapware installed
- Pre-installed anti-virus software crashes (seems to be when using new Vista Sleep feature)
- Vista does not Sleep or Hibernate properly as installed at the factory. It appears to be a problem with the pre-installed Trend Micro Internet Security (PC-cillin) software. There’s a patch I need to try, but it sucks that it shipped with software that seems to have serious problems.
- Have had some trouble getting the 802.11n wireless card to come back to life after using physical wifi switch. Again, it sucks that it shipped with this kind of problem.
- It’s a bit big for my liking (I spent 2.5 years on a 12 inch tablet and a year on a 13 inch MacBook). I think a 14" screen at 1440×900 would have been ideal.
- It’s too thick. Although slimmer than pretty much everything except the MacBook Pro, I expected it to feel thinner. It’s still a comfortable typing height (unlike the Alienware m5550).
- Dell logo :( I know that’s superficial, but the glowing Apple was a conversation starter. A cool backlit XPS logo in place of the tired Dell logo would have been a nice touch. I may just cover it up with a sticker… Any suggestions?
- No backlit keyboard (my MacBook didn’t have this either, but it was one feature that almost pulled me to a MacBook Pro)
- Colors other than black look a bit lame (tri-colored laptops… blah). The two-tone silver-on-black look is nice
- Trackpad is too small – it should be about 30% bigger.
- Volume controls are a bit hard to find in low light.
- Looks like battery life is going to be disappointing.
- Power adapter is a bit noisy and not nearly as awesome as the magnetic MacBook adapter.
I’m usually picky about keyboards (I’ve ditched Toshiba and Alienware models in the past because I didn’t like the keyboards). The keyboard on the M1530 is quite good. Naturally I’m still in the adjustment phase. I do love the MacBook keys… What continues to baffle me, though, is why laptop designers screw around with right Ctrl key. LEAVE IT BESIDE THE BLOODY ARROW KEYS. Please!
Here is what I actually ordered:
- Intel T7500 CPU (2.2GHz)
- 3GB RAM
- 56WHr 6-cell battery + extra 85WHr 9-cell battery
- 8x slot-load DVD burner
- 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics card
- 15.4" WSXGA+ LCD (1680×1050)
- 2MP Webcam
- 200GB Hard Drive (7200rpm)
- Intel 4965AGN Wireless-N card
- Internal Bluetooth
- Fingerprint scanner
- 3-year next business day onsite warranty with CompleteCare
The whole package, including the CompleteCare warranty, came in at $150 less than a 2.2GHz MacBook Pro with 2GB RAM, 120GB hard drive, 128MB video card, and 1440×900 screen.
If I could have gotten a 13" MacBook with 1440×900 resolution, that would have been my next machine. Or if the 15" MacBook Pro had been refreshed with the same keyboard as the MacBook and MacBook Air, I would have paid the extra quid for an MBP.
I had great warranty service with my Toshiba tablet PC. I took it in a couple times to a local depot and was never without it for more than a day. This experience with the MacBook has bumped warranty service higher up on my priority list. For good local warranty service, my choices are HP, Toshiba, and Dell (and probably Lenovo, but I’ve never liked IBM/Lenovo notebooks).
Personally I find the business class machines from Toshiba and HP are just plain boring. Some people think that’s a silly factor when picking out a computer for work, but I like my laptop to have at least a little bit of personality. I considered buying another Toshiba tablet PC but there’s quite a steep price premium and I rarely used the tablet functionality on my old one.
I briefly considered a 14" Latitude 630. They are solid machines and can be upgraded to 1440×900. But frankly Latitudes are just so commonplace that they lack personality. They do have a superb keyboard and I find they look quite nice when open.
And finally I strongly considered the 13" version of the XPS (M1330). It is only available with a 1280×800 screen resolution and more screen real estate was a priority for me this time around. If it came with a 1440×900 option, it would be a fantastic machine.
Overall I think the XPS M1530 is a great choice. If you don’t find the 15.4" size too big, the pros far outweigh the cons. It is a great machine.
Personally I like a smaller laptop and I will continue to hope for stylish 13" models with higher screen resolutions. In the meantime, I think I’m going to like my new
toy, uh, work computer.