Friday, October 12, 2007

Dell XPS M1330 - Trash or Treasure?

Dell XPS M1330 In Hand

I purchased my Dell XPS M1330 to replace my existing Dell Inspiron 6000. I needed a lighter faster more powerful computer as I was tired of lugging around the Inspiron 6000 mooring on a regular basis to and from work.

I was very excited about the weight (or lack of), dual core processor and 2 GB or RAM as well as the HD display and various multimedia capabilities that come standard with this unit. Not cheap though it ran me a little over $2400.00 with the specs I ordered. However, I don't mind paying good money for a good machine.

The things I really like about the XPS M1330 are:

  • Lo Jack for Laptops - Very cool application. It saves it's install files in the BIOS so even if someone steals your laptop, reformats the hard drive and then reloads the OS, it automatically reloads itself stealthily in the background without the thief ever knowing about it.
  • Built in Web cam - Another night feature that should have been done standard a LONG time ago. Apple has been doing it for years, why has it taken PCs so long to catch up with this?
  • Built in Stereo Mics - very good audio quality
  • Built in fingerprint reader - Very nice and well designed fingerprint reader. It uses the much more reliable and accurate capacitive fingerprint scanner. This also means that your fingerprint isn't left on a surface that can be "read" to later reuse and log in with.
  • Electrostatic buttons for CD and Sound operations - The electrostatic (touch controls) at the top of the computer are excellent and there is no "push" or spring technology to get in the way or wear out.
  • CD/DVD slot instead of a pull out tray - Another long needed implementation that Apple has been using for years. I'm really just surprised that it took this long for PC manufactures to learn this from Apple. (and believe it or not, I'm not an Apple guy)
  • Sturdiness of housing - Using a magnesium alloy has made this laptop VERY strong and VERY durable. Hats off to Dell on this.
  • Build in Remote Control - Very nice feature, this remote comes in very handy when doing a presentation, showing off photos (or playing a movie in a hotel for your 2 year old before bed)

Things I really do not like about the M1330:

  • Screen resolution - I think they could squeeze more pixels out of that awesome display if the drivers were configured for it.
  • Loss of PCMCIA slot - I really don't like the fact that in such a small form factor laptop there is absolutely no PCMCIA slot so expansion of with legacy devices is nearly impossible (although there is the newer ExpressCard slot).
  • All of the Dell software - I will get into more details on this shortly.
  • Magnetic sleeve case - I'll get into more details on this as well.

Strike one
I ordered the unit on August 3rd and after purchase was given an expected ship date of September 13th. (okay, I don't mind waiting if the hardware is worth it)

Strike two - the Dell software
Ok, let me first touch on the Dell software that is installed.

I received my laptop from Dell and went about loading all of software, added my files, etc. I then added the computer to the domain (my home network). Now this was using the pre-installed operating system from Dell. Within a week I began to have problems copying files from one drive to another it would simply lock up. Also when I would delete files it would say I don’t have permission to.
I called Dell and they said my operating system was damaged from something that I had loaded on my computer. I had only loaded the Microsoft Office 2007 and Macromedia Suite 8. So it wasn’t anything unusual. They said my only option was to wipe my hard drive using their OS reinstall disc that Dell provided me. So reluctantly I did that. Loaded all my software, etcetera.

About a week later it started up again, problems deleting files and some of my Operating System Critical updates wouldn’t install (using Windows Update). Called them up again, and again they said it was some software I installed.

So, this time I didn’t listen to them and I wiped my hard drive and installed the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) version of Vista Ultimate (basically the same one you can get at Best Buy or another similar store.) The OEM version doesn’t come with any of the extra software that Dell pre-installs. I then added the Dell drivers from their website and added my software to the computer along with my files. I added it to the network again and viola! The computer has been rock solid for over two weeks without any problems.
So, it is MY opinion that the software that Dell pre-installs is basically not compatible with Windows Vista but they aren’t willing to admit it.

Strike three? (uncertain) - the magnetic sleeve case
I still find from time to time that I encounter quirky issues such as not shutting down after coming out of hibernation or standby. After running chkdsk /r I find that the computer has some corrupted files. It always repairs the files fine and everything is ok. But it leads me to question the integrity of the notebook. NOW, there is something else that could play into this. I have encountered many computers in my life that have ended up having severe corruption which I believe to be the case of nearby magnets, either stuck to the computer or in a nearby speaker.

This leads me to wonder if the case that they ship with the notebook which uses magnets to hold the flap down could actually be causing damage to the data on the hard drive. Now today's hard drives are significantly more resilient that those of yesterday. The new ones have shielding that prevents most magnetic fields from causing damage. However, those are designed to protect the hard drives from low level temporary magnetic fields. What about low or high level long term fields? Also the book is still out on Windows Vista and bugs are always prevelant until service pack one comes out (at least with Microsoft products).

Conclusion? Well all in all the Dell XPS M1330 is a very well designed rock solid laptop. It does have some quirks about it. But at the moment, they are quirks I'm willing to live with. Would I recommend this laptop to other people? Absolutely. But just be wary of problems and don't just write them off to a bad program or a bad Operating System, though the latter may very well be the case in this scenario.


Luis said...

Actually, no PCMCIA but ExpressCard replaced it (evolution, like the integrated CAM).

Wikipedia article about ExpressCard

Tempus said...

Hmm, true, but (in my opinion) not enouch devices are yet available in ExpressCard.