Sunday 9 December 2007

The Dell XPS M1330

Some wag on Engadget commented on their "What would you do to improve the XPS M1330?" thread that all it needed was to be renamed the XPS M 1337.


I got one recently and I love it, in fact I am happy to say that it is the best PC that I've ever owned and with one notable exception I have no real complaints at all. I took the jump to Vista with this, 32bit Vista Home Premium to be precise and apart from one Blue Screen crash on the first day as it was rebooting after getting its initial truck load of patches it's been remarkably stable and fast. Once I got over my initial outrage at how UAC works and figured out how to disable it I've found Vista to be a good to very good experience so far for day to day use. Yeah I know its not a smart security strategy to turn off UAC but frankly its usability is pants and that actually does matter a lot to me. I'm happy to run as a standard user account for the most part and prefer that approach to running as an elevatable administrator. The one notable exception to this computing nirvana at the moment is that the M1330 that I have will not play any current generation 3D games (e.g. Valve's Orange Box products or Unreal 3) - it crashes badly and takes out the whole OS after a minute or two of play leaving me staring at a totally black screen with everything running but nothing responding. I'm going to park that problem for the moment and discuss it in a later post as it is an very specific problem that is probably caused by a dodgy graphics adapter. Anyway returning to the good stuff.

When I was ordering mine I spent a bit of time trying to get the best machine I could without going nuts on the options. In the end I chose the following options: 4GB RAM, 2.2Ghz T7500 Core2 Duo, 1280x800 White LED screen, 200GB 7200 RPM Seagate Momentus HDD, 802.11abg (Intel) WLAN, Bluetooth 2.0, and a 256Meg NVIDIA 8400M GS discrete graphics card. And I got a black one, red just isn't my colour.

The standard features that you get with any XPS M1330 are the very sleek slim line case, a built in IR Media remote, a set of in-ear headphones, built in webcam, touch sensitive media management keys, SD-HC compatible card slot, HDMI and VGA video out, mini FireWire 400 port, 2 USB ports, hardware Wireless power switch, a slot loading DVD+-/RW drive and a nice keyboard and touch pad. There is no dial up modem. It comes in at a base weight of 1.8kg which is very light, and while it's not rugged it feels nicely solid and very well made.

I decided against opting for a solid state HDD (too small and way too expensive), fingerprint reader (I still think they're a gimmick to be honest), built in Cellular Data Card (not an option available to us in Ireland and too expensive anyway), 802.11n Draft compatible WiFi (not available to us in Ireland so I got 802.11abg instead) and stuck with the smaller battery (6 cell vs 9 cell) as it gives me more than two hours of un-tethered battery life and finally I saw absolutely no reason to spend an extra couple of hundred Euro to get the marginally faster 2.4Ghz CPU.

After four weeks of living with this as my primary PC I'm still really happy with it and apart from the 3D gaming problem it is by far the best PC I've ever. That said it has some flaws that I hope they will fix in a future model.

What I would change:

  • Increase screen resolution 1440x900 minimum.
  • Add Gigabit Ethernet capability to the Ethernet adapter.
  • Support for 802.11n WiFi across the board.
  • Remove the optical drive - make it USB.
  • Bump the FireWire port up to FireWire 800 and add eSATA.

The screen resolution is just about OK - I haven't had to limit myself to a screen resolution as low as 1280x800 for five years now. Admittedly all of my previous notebooks were relatively large devices with 15" displays and the M1330 is tiny by comparison but the dot pitch on my previous laptop (an IBM Thinkpad T43p with a 1680x1200 resolution 15" monitor) was 137 pixels/ inch vs 116ppi for the M1330. I'd love to see them build a true 1080p HD capable ultra portable ( i.e. 1920x1200 for this aspect ratio)but I don't see that happening any time soon and to be fair the OS's available at the moment can't scale the UI elements well enough to make a 230ppi screen viable yet.

I was shocked to discover last week that it doesn't have a Gigabit Ethernet wired network port - again I haven't owned a PC in years that didn't have a GigE port and I never even bothered to check that when buying it so I was quite shocked. It's not as if GigE components are expensive anymore so leaving it out on an XPS class system doesn't make any sense. While we're on the subject of networks 802.11n compatible WiFi has to be a minimum going forward but given the draft state of that standard (and my own experience with it's rough edges) it's not as important.

The built in slot loading DVD drive is neat and all but frankly I don't need built in optical media drives on a device this small - ship it with a USB drive and it would save a couple of hundred grams and quite a bit of space.

While we're dropping the optical drive I'd bump the FireWire port to FireWire 800 and put in an eSATA drive while we're at it.

Finally - The hardware radio switch on the device is a bit of a con - it's not actually a hardware switch that makes\breaks the power to the Radios it's just a switch that triggers the software to turn on \ off the radios. It's more flexible but frankly I'm at a loss as to what it actually achieves - the capability could just as easily have been implemented using the traditional FN+Function key that is used for triggering hibernate\sleep and adjusting the screen brightness.

1 comment:

Robert said...

I have one also. I second your improvements. Great review.