The XPS M1530 takes 15-inch Dell notebooks upscale. (February 8th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Dell
Price: $1299 (1.8GHz C2D, Vista Ultimate, 9-cell)
- Relatively stylish, intelligent design.
- Strong choices of CPU, graphics for the price.
- Free of nagging trialware.
- Good keyboard and expansion ports.
- 1GB RAM far too little for games, HD video, Vista.
- Downward-facing fan makes notebook uncomfortably hot in heavy use.
- Trackpad on the review unit is partly unresponsive after waking up.
- 9-cell battery doesn't add enough longevity to be worthwhile for most users.
performance: subjective results
My test system shipped with performance only slightly higher than Dell's baseline configuration, and so gives a good idea of what you can expect if determined to keep costs down: a 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo (since replaced with a 2GHz chip), 1GB of memory, and a 128MB GeForce 8400M GS came with the system. Those bent on performance can upgrade all these components during the order process: as of press time, a 2.6GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB of memory, and a 256MB GeFiorce 8600M GT represent Dell's top specs, which leave quite a wide margin for gamers bent on using the system as a replacement for a gaming desktop.
On the lower end, it's clear the 8400M GS is capable and a good choice as the M1530's base video option. Vista never bogged down, as it can with Intel's integrated video or slower dedicated chipsets; for games, it was clear that the included GeForce chipset could at least handle most common games (including Team Fortress 2) at medium detail at smooth frame rates. HD video also plays well, at least up to 720p without upgrading the specs during the ordering process.
What's not acceptable, however, is the 1GB of memory. It provides just enough performance for Vista and basic 2D uses, but little else. A repeated symptom of testing was to see a game or 1080p video play smoothly for a few seconds, followed by pauses or slowdowns; it was apparent that the CPU and video chipset were bottlenecked by a lack of memory, even when some items (such as HD video clips) required very little disk access. This isn't a deal-breaker for gamers, who are more likely to upgrade the RAM themselves, but the M1530 sorely needs 2GB at a minimum to be considered a genuine entertainment computer.
Testing notebooks is not as easy as with desktops: where it's often possible to build similarly-specified towers using replaceable parts, most notebooks are custom designs and rarely share the same specifications as competitors. In fact, my own tests revealed this first-hand: when using tests with online comparisons, virtually no comparable systems appeared that could be used to judge the M1530's speed against other systems.
Nonetheless, the tests can still reflect the performance one can expect, and this is where the sample M1530 reveals its low-end roots. In 3DMark06, a test which is just now becoming indicative of the performance of modern games, none of the game tests crossed the 10 frames per second mark. For gamers looking to play Crysis or other games that depend heavily on pixel and vertex shaders -- both of which are tested heavily in 3DMark -- the GeForce 8600M GT should be considered mandatory along with more memory and a faster Core 2 Duo processor.
3DMark06 game tests
For PCMark Vantage, a more general test, there was just one similar system to compare against. However, it essentially confirmed my worries about the stock Dell system's lack of memory: just by doubling memory to 2GB of RAM on the rival notebook, the overall score jumped by 14 percent. While games and most other tests that tax the video chipset, processor, and hard disk more often were at a dead heat, memory-reliant music and video encoding tests jumped significantly, in one case nearly doubling the number of megabytes encoded per second. For the less than $50 it would cost to upgrade the system to 2GB from a third-party vendor, the gap is dramatic.
PCMark Vantage media tests
Dell chose to ship the test system with its 9-cell extended capacity battery rather than the stock 6-cell pack, which prevented me from making a direct comparison to what most buyers are likely to choose. I nonetheless found the battery performance slightly underwhelming, if just because the extra capacity ultimately doesn't help the system as much as I would expect with the size (and cost) it adds to the system. After adding the pack, the weight increased to 6.4 pounds, making it about a full pound heavier than the MacBook Pro.
In a light-use test with basic browsing, Wi-Fi turned on, and the LCD at half brightness, the M1530 ran for just over 4 hours before automatically shutting down to protect the battery. While this is good compared to most systems' standard batteries, which often last roughly 3 hours, it's not the literal 50 percent increase in running time one would hope for. The power is enough for a 3-hour DVD movie such as one of the Lord of the Rings titles but is likely to disappoint with games, which (depending on the title) are likely to fall well below this mark thanks to heavy use of the GeForce 8400M GS. If your XPS is most likely to spend its time at gaming events, the 9-cell pack won't provide much of an advantage.