Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Dell XPS M1530

Product Review: Dell XPS M1530 Laptop. See the end of this article for links on Windows 7.

Now in her second year of High School, my eldest daughter mooches the laptop more often than not. I thought it was time she trashed her own machine. My wife agreed and thus, "Electra" (a Dell 600M) was sent down the food-chain giving me the chance to retire her now 6-year-old AMD desktop. You can probably see where this is angling - I get a new laptop.

I'm not a bottom-feeder but sometimes wish I were. At my $800 price-point I found several computers that fit my needs but I wasn't enamored with them, partly on features but mostly on cosmetics. With some family discussion, Donna said get the machine I wanted and thus was born a new Dell XPS m1530. This is more machine than originally intended and counting a lot of extra goodies, the price came in at $1,200, which verges on obscene. But now that I have owned the machine for a year, I am still in love with it.

Benefits and Features:
  • A head-turning design that is thin and graceful
  • Highly-configurable when ordering
  • Several screen options and resolutions
  • Various memory and CPU speeds available
  • Quiet
  • Cool
  • Nice, nearly full-sized keyboard; no issues on key sizes
  • Touchpad works well
  • Fingerprint reader (a surprisingly nice feature)
  • Webcam
  • Numerous USB ports and external video
Dell computers are highly configurable with numerous options. I could bore you with the details but it is enough to say it has all the bells and whistles, including custom outside-color (a beautiful White, no longer offered), a choice in wireless cards, screens, audio, batteries, etc. CPU speeds and memory are also adjustable. When ordering it is easy to rack-up the dollars.


The main reason for buying the computer was the screen. Dell offers three different 15.4" screens: a 1280, 1440, and a 1680 pixels. I chose the middle, which was a balance between the resolution and having fonts and icons that were too small. I also chose the glossy (non-matt) finish. The glossy finish has been the subject of much discussion among my friends and they are split between the "glossy looks really neat" to "it has too many reflections." I have discovered the screen only shows reflections when running backlighting turned off. Other than that, reflections are not a problem and the screen is an all-around great looking piece of real estate.

With both my Desktop and now the Laptop, I've come to like the wider screens. 1440 x 900 pixels, makes the screen much wider than tall. This gives wider spreadsheets and more room for my programming toolboxes plus DVD movies look great. But the wider screen makes the entire laptop two inches slightly wider than older models but it makes up for it by only being an inch thick with the lid closed.


The keyboard is nearly full-sized, with no complaints about the key sizes or feel. Like all new 15" laptops, the Home, Delete, Page-up and End keys are stacked vertically on the right-side and the arrow-keys are full-sized, in a standard "T" formation, but are not separate from the rest of the keys (see photo, below).

To help identify the keys, I've painted the key-fronts with different colors: Delete has a red-stripe, Home has two green dots and End is marked with yellow dot. The colors allow me to see the keys out of the corner of my eye and this has helped immensely. It makes me wonder why keyboard manufacturers don't use different colored keys for the home-keys, alt, control and others like this. On the plus-side, the new keyboard keys are all silver, which makes them easier to see in a darkened room; this is better than the black keys most laptops have.


The laptop did come with several accessories that were not optional. For example, I now own a webcam and when my daughter saw it she exclaimed "I didn't know you bought a Macintosh!" I unconvincingly set her straight and she still thinks webcams are solely an Apple-thing and Dell must have ripped them off. Another unnecessary feature was a finger-print reader. I was intrigued by the idea but after several weeks of fiddling, I found it unreliable, often taking a half-dozen swipes before it recognized me. Ultimately, this turned out to be a hardware problem that was fixed under warranty (see More on the Dell XPS 1530).

It also came with an interesting remote-control that I've used occasionally and it links in automatically with Windows Media player.


Although the laptop comes with a standard wireless and wired network cards, I opted to spend an extra $40 and buy the better wireless. My basic opinion is to avoid Dell-branded wireless cards and buy the name-brand.

This time the more expensive wireless card was a mixed bag. The Intel 3945ABG has more capabilities and better frequencies, but the driver has been flawed and has needed several updates. For example, the wireless connection becomes unreliable when the laptop wakes from sleep. The chat-boards are all abuzz about this and it appears to be a bug with Intel's driver and Microsoft Vista. [Update: Vista SP1 helped resolve some of the problems; additional fixes are needed: See: Windows Vista Unidentified Network. Also, as of February, 2009, Dell no longer offers the 3945, replacing it with an Intel Next-Gen Wireless-N]

Watch Your Ordering

As is typical with Dell, the standard and optional features on this laptop literally vary with the day of the week the machine is ordered. When I ordered, 1G of RAM was standard, with 2G optional. It now ships with 3G standard at the same price. Similarly, standard disk sizes also vary with market changes, changing from 160GB to 250GB within days (now standard at 320GB). I experienced shifts like this as I was ordering. I began my research on a weekend but did not complete the order for several days. During this time the drive capacity was lowered. I waited a few more days and it was back up. I suppose I could have called and negotiated the same drive size. In other words, if you delay and come back, pay attention to these details.

As of February, 2009, the machine is still offered. At the same $1200 price, you now get 3G of RAM, 320GB hard drive and an LED backlight screen. Taking those options out, the machine can be bought at $950. Followup: Dell discontinued this line of computers in August, 2009 and has not replaced it with a comparable model.

I did have the pleasure of taking the new laptop to a local coffee-house where I proudly unfolded the machine and started working on my writing projects. It is an attractive machine with nice lines, a stainless-steel interior and a glossy-white outside shell. A couple sat next to me with a slightly older Macintosh and for a moment they mistook my white computer for another Mac. When they realized their mistake, they slinked off into the corner and snubbed me the rest of the evening.

See also these related articles:
More on the XPS-m1530
XPS M1530 Slim Power Supply
Microsoft Wireless Mouse 7000
Maxtor Mini USB External Drive
Vista Unidentified Network Problems

Windows 7 on the XPS M1530 - Initial Look
Windows 7 64-bit XPS M1530 Drivers

A friend of mine, Bob, wrote to say: The four ultra-cheap Toshiba laptops our family bought 5 months ago have worked out well. Each was about $350 and came with low-end Celeron M 520 CPU's, 512MB Ram and 80G hard disks. On each, the RAM was upgraded to 2G, bringing the system price to $400. So far, these amazingly cheap machines have worked out well. They run Office 2003, surf the web and watch movies, all without problems. In so many words, Bob is saying you are crazy to spend much more than $500 or $600 on a new laptop. He closed his email by saying "It is amazing how well something this cheap can run. I can only imagine how good the higher-end laptops are."

Bob, you are pussy-footing around; we all know exactly what you mean to say here. But I'd like to think that my one PC has more horsepower than the four of yours combined. [And now, after two years, I still think I made the right decision.]

In the mean time, following my friend's advice, I bought my other daughter an inexpensive Compaq Laptop (Model CQ50), new, for $280. In short, the machine has worked well and I'm pleased. There are several problems: It came with Vista Basic; the keyboard flexes considerably on the right-side as you type; and the CD-drive tray hangs on a piece of plastic trim when ever the door closes. In other words, HP/Compaq slammed this machine out the door as fast as they could, cutting every corner possible. But for under $300, I got more than I expected. But for myself, I wouldn't trade the XPS M1530.

All that was left was to name the new laptops: Recent laptops were named Delta and then Electra. That meant the new Dell could have only one possible name: "Fortran." The new Compaq was named "Gerbil." My family groaned.

Additional Followups (2 years after the initial purchase):
Nearly two years after purchasing this laptop, I can report back that I am still in love with the style and grace this machine has. It has been a great computer. In August, 2009, Dell discontinued the model and they have not replaced it with a similar computer. Windows 7 has installed properly, but drivers were a nuisance; see links below.

Related articles:
More on the XPS M1530
Dell Slim Power Supplies
Laptop Battery Care and Feeding
XPS M1530 Battery Replacement
Microsoft Wireless Mouse 7000

Windows 7 on the XPS M1530 - Initial Look
Windows 7 64-bit XPS M1530 Drivers
Link: Disassembling the Dell XPS M1530

1 comment:

  1. I've had my XPS 1530 since July 2008 and still absolutely love it. It is my first and only laptop and I went for as close to the the bleeding cutting edge on it as I could afford, spending $2300 on it AFTER I got $1k off through work discount. It was my 32nd birthday present to myself and it is my baby. I've had Dell replace the speakers after they blew out, other than that I've had zero issues with mine. At 2.5 years old and still chugging along nicely I don't see myself replace it for at least another 3-4 years which is why I went for the top tier in hardware options. I just put 7 on it and found your driver blog through the NBR forums.

    T9500 2.6Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo
    256MB NVIDIA® GeForce® 8600M GT
    4GB RAM
    Full Hi Definition, glossy widescreen 15.4 inch LCD (1920x1200)
    Slot Load DVD+/-RW
    Intel Next-Gen Wireless-N Mini-card
    Finger Print Reader XPS M1530
    Verizon Wireless built-in cellular mobile broadband
    Dell Wireless 355 Bluetooth
    3Yr Ltd HW WRTY, InHome Service after Remote Diagnosis, 24x7 Phone Support, FL
    4YR GPU WRTY (Free Dell upgrade because the chips are bad and can burn out)

    All dressed up in Tuxedo Black

    A note on the GPU, I use this laptop to game running 2x Eve Online clients, Fallout 3, DDO, STO, etc and have never had any problems with it over heating. But I also, as soon as I found out about the chips being bad and frying, repasted mine with Arctic Silver. The hottest I've seen it get is ~90ÂșC after hours of playing.


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