Dell XPS M1210 Review (pics, specs)

by abaxter Reads (1,022,303)

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The Dell XPS M1210 is a new 12.1-inch screen portable laptop that features the Intel Core Duo processor, rotating 1.3MP web camera, built-in EVDO and an nVidia Go 7400 graphics card.  The XPS M1210 features a new design for Dell laptops and offers possibly the best performance on the market for this sized laptop.  Following is a full review of the XPS M1210.



The Dell XPS M1210 12.1″ widescreen notebook (view large image)

The XPS M1210 will replace the Inspiron 710m offering that was quite a popular seller for Dell.  With the M1210 the latest Intel Core Duo processors will be offered, there will be no Core Solo, Celeron or ULV (Ultra Low Voltage) processor options.  It’s apparent that Dell wants to keep the XPS line as a performance focused series, whether it’s big or small form factor.

Dell XPS M1210 Specs (bolded blue options indicate review unit config where appropriate):

  • Processor Options:
    • Intel Core Duo Processor T2600 (2.16GHz/667MHz FSB/2MB Cache)
    • Intel Core Duo Processor T2500 (2GHz/667MHz FSB/2MB Cache)
    • Intel Core Duo Processor T2400 (1.83GHz/667MHz FSB/2MB Cache)
    • Intel Core Duo Processor T2300E (1.66GHz/667MHz FSB/2MB Cache)
  • Screen: 12.1″ WXGA (Widescreen 1280×800) display with TrueLife (glossy display)
  • Memory Options: 512MB – 4GB (667MHz DDR2 SDRAM) (1.00GB in review unit)
  • Hard drive: 60GB – 120GB @ 5400 RPM or 60GB – 100GB @ 7200RPM (100GB @ 7200RPM hard drive in review unit)
  • Video Graphics Options:
    • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 (with up to 256MB of shared memory)
    • 256MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7400 TurboCache (64MB/ up to 192MB shared)
  • Optical Drive Options: DVD/CD-RW Combo, DVD+/-RW with Dual Layer DVD+R write capacity
  • Battery Options: 6-cell 53WHr Li-Ion Battery, 9-cell 80WHr Li-Ion Battery
  • Wi-Fi Options: Dell Wireless 1390 802.11g Mini Card Wireless, Dell Wireless 1490 802.11a/g Mini Card Wireless, Intel Pro/Wireless 3945 802.11 a/b/g Mini Card
  • Bluetooth built-in
  • Wide Area Network / Cell Communication Options
    • Dell Wireless 5700 Mobile Broadband (CDMA EVDO) Mini-Card for Verizon Wireless service
    • Dell Wireless 5500 Mobile Broadband (3G HSDPA) Mini-Card for Cingular service
  • Ports and Slots: ExpressCard 54, 5-in-1 Memory Card Reader, Dual headphone jacks, VGA video output & S-Video with SPDIF & component video via S-Video dongle, IEEE 1394 (Firewire), 4 USB 2.0, Optional A/V Communications Package including: integrated 1.3 mega pixel rotating web cam, directional microphone, modem, ethernet,
  • Premium noise isolation ear buds included when AV Communication option is selected
  • Operating System Options: Microsoft Windows XP Home, Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, Microsoft Windows XP Professional
  • Media Direct software installed for quick boot up to play movies, music and view photos on your hard drive, optical drive or external storage devices
  • Weight: Starting at 4.4lbs with 6-cell Li-Ion battery
  • Dimensions: Depth 220.98 mm (8.7 inches) 11.7-inches x 8.7-inches x 1.2-inches (W x D x H)

Design and Build


The M1210 sports a new look for the Dell XPS series (view large image)

The first thing that’s noticed about the XPS M1210 is that it doesn’t look like any other Dell designed notebook currently on the market.  That’s right, no white bumpers like we see on every Inspiron machine currently in the line-up.  Personally, I love the M1210 look with the black lid and silver brush keyboard and casing.  The blue effects lighting on the front located silver media buttons is very nice.  Overall the M1210 look is very pleasing to the eye, and certainly can be called stylish but not gawdy (like some might say the brazen XPS M1710 gaming laptop design is).  The look walks a nice line between being cool yet professional.


Here with the lid closed you see the media buttons, headphone and mic jacks, and the rotating camera on the XPS M1210 (view large image)

The build of the M1210 is very good.  The casing is made of a magnesium alloy material and this notebook complies with the Dell Road Ready guidelines.  The lid is very solid and offers great protection to the screen, push in on the back and you won’t see ripples on the LCD.  The hinges are nice, rigid enough to hold the screen in place but not overly stiff.  The M1210 uses a latchless lid closing design, there is no use of magnets to keep the lid down but when it shuts you can hear it snap shut and spring tension holds the lid in place and closed very well.  All of the buttons on the M1210 have a nice feel and are not cheap feeling.  The touchpad mouse buttons are especially nice in terms of feedback and travel.


Here is the M1210 side by side with the MacBook 13.3″ screen notebook, you can see that the M1210 is thicker than the MacBook, the MacBook could certainly do with some more elevation to help air flow underneath but even factoring out the rubber feet on the M1210 it is still thicker (view large image)


Size comparison to 13.3″ screen Apple MacBook (view large image)

One thing that struck me about the M1210 upon first using it is that, while being a 12.1-inch screen notebook, it can’t be called an ‘ultraportable’.  I call a notebook that’s 3 – 4 lbs in weight and 1.0″ thin an ultraportable.  With the 6-cell battery the M1210 is about 4.4lbs and if you’re using the 9-cell it’s closer to 4.8 lbs.  It’s not that thin either, it’s about 1.2-inches thick which is thicker than my thin-and-light 1-inch thin ThinkPad T43 notebook.  The word portable is certainly fair for the M1210 since it does weigh under 5lbs, but it’s not 3lbs like the 12.1″ screen Dell Latitude X1 or ThinkPad X60s notebook.  What we’re dealing with here is better classed as a very portable media and gaming entertainment machine.  Due to the integrated optical drive (often left out of 12.1″ screen laptops) and dedicated graphics with requisite fan cooling system, the M1210 simply had to be a bit thicker to accomodate the components it can house.


Here is the M1210 on the right flushed against the Lenovo V100 12.1″ notebook, the M1210 is slightly thicker (view large image)


Dell XPS M1210 next to the Lenovo V100 competing 12.1″ widescreen Core Duo notebook (view large image)

Performance and Benchmarks

Whenever you think of a 12.1-inch screen laptop you start thinking about low voltage processors, and sacrificing performance for the size.  The M1210 goes against this notion.  The M1210 I have configured with a 2.16 GHz processor and nVidia graphics veritably smokes any other laptop in its 12.1-inch class.  I’ll go one step further, the M1210 can easily outperform a number of 17″ desktop replacement notebooks being sold today.

The Core Duo processor family has proven itself as a great performer in many past reviews on this site, and Dell is offering the higher end Core Duo processor options in the M1210.  Core Solo is not even an option for the M1210 — it’s high octane gas only for this machine.  The hard drive offerings are impressive, with the option of a 100GB 7200RPM hard drive available — that’s right at the cutting edge of notebook hard drives on the market today.  If you’re a fan of lots of system RAM, the max RAM of 4.0GB should make you smile.  The system under review has 1.0GB of memory, which should be ample for most users, but if you think you need more then there’s plenty of room to add it.

Let’s look at some benchmarks to see how the M1210 stacks up against fellow notebooks (all benchmarks are done using the stock system setup, no Windows reinstall or removal of programs).

Super Pi

Super Pi is a program that forces the notebook processor to calculate Pi to 2-million digits of accuracy.  The XPS M1210 took 1m 11s to calcuate this value with its 2.13GHz Core Duo processor, here’s how it stacked up to other notebooks:

Notebook Time
 Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Intel T2600)  1m 11s
 Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500)  1m 12s
 Dell Inspiron 710m (1.7 GHz Pentium M)  2m 04s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)  1m 36s
 Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
 Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 10s
 HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)  1m 46s
 Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)  1m 18s


Notice that the former Inspiron 710m was almost a minute slower and that much larger notebooks are topped in this calculation.

3DMark05

The 3DMark05 results are very good for this sized laptop, it seems good enough to tie or beat the ATI X1400 card — if you do a fresh install of Windows XP and tweak your system a little you could definitely raise the 2,090 score I got.

Notebook 3DMark 05 Results
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB) 2,090 3D Marks
Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB  2866 3D Marks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60 Nvidia GeForce Go7800 GTX)  7,078 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)  1,791 3D Marks
Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)  2,530 3D Marks
 Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)  2,273 3DMarks
 HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)  2,536 3D Marks
 Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)  4,157 3DMarks


PCMark04:

To compare to older notebooks we ran PCMark04 on the M1210.  It’s a telling thing when a 12.1″ screen notebook beats out the old Dell XPS 2 gaming notebook in an overall system performance test:

Notebook  PCMark04 Results
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo)  6,033 PCMarks
Lenovo V100 (2.00 GHz Core Duo)  4,665 PCMarks 
Dell Inspiron XPS2 (2.0GHz Intel Pentium M)  4,082 PCMarks
Acer Aspire 5002 WLMi (AMD Turion 64 ML-30 1.6GHz)  2,392 PCmarks
Acer TravelMate 4400 (AMD Turion ML-30, 1.6GHz)  3,104 PCMarks
Toshiba Tecra A6 (1.66GHz Intel Core Duo)  2,653 PCMarks
PortableOne SR2 (Intel Pentium M Dothan 735 1.7GHz)  3,274 PCMarks


PCMark05

For those interested, here’s a link to the project details for PCMark05 results: XPS M1210 PCMark05 Results

Gaming


Half Life 2 on the XPS M1210 (view large image)

Playing 3D and higher-end type games is certainly possible on the the XPS M1210.  I decided to try out Half Life 2, it ran on high-detail without issue.  Some features such as Anti-aliasing were turned off and other settings weren’t at their highest in order to ensure the best game playing experience given the power available, but with the settings you see from the screenshot below, the play was completely smooth.


Best settings for HL2 (view large image)


An angry guard wields his electrified club (view large image)

Ports and Input

With 4 USB 2.0 ports the XPS M1210 certainly is best in its class for number of that type of port on this sized notebook.  My ThinkPad T43 is a 14.1-inch screen notebook and has just two USB 2.0 ports.  In fact, the XPS M1210 is as good as or better than many larger notebooks in terms of port offerings.  I’m sure some would like to see a DVI-D port on there, but that’s the only missing port I think some of us would have chalked up as a nice to have.  Let’s take a tour around the M1210 to see what you get:

On the left side we have the modem, two USB 2.0 ports, S-Video out, Air vents and fan, wireless switch and Wi-Fi catcher, ExpressCard 54 (which is ExpressCard 34 compatible) and the hard drive access door:


Left side ports view (view large image)

 

On the right side we have the optical drive bay, 5-in-1 memory card reader (very handy), FireWire port, two more USB 2.0 ports and a VGA monitor out connector.


 


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Looking at the front you can see the optional integrated 1.3 megapixel rotating web camera, multimedia buttons with blue lights on the front, and two headphone jacks plus a mic in.

 


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On the bottom of the M1210 are mostly covers for access to various internals.  Notice on the battery there is a charge indicator in which if you push in on it the 5 lights will light up to indicate the charge level (in 20% increments from 0 – 100%).  The charge indicator works whether the laptop is powered on or not.


(view large image)

Screen

The 12.1″ glossy widescreen is really quite gorgeous.  You’ll only be able to view one window at a time comfortably on this sized screen at such a resolution, but that’s part of the course with this sized notebook.  The screen is extremely bright at its maximum level, if you’re on battery setting brightness to half should even be quite adequate.


The screen is bright enough to be able to easily watch a movie from 10 – 20 feet away as I tested and found out (view large image)

The colors are bold and rich thanks to the glossy screen finish.  However, with a glossy screen be aware that you’ll get more reflection than with a matte screen as you can see with the photo at the top of this review in which the M1210 is reflecting the room it is in.  All the same, in a consumer notebook it’s much better to have this type of screen.

The vertical viewing angle isn’t all that great, you’ll need to look at the screen with a perpendicular angle to the eye to get the best and most accurate coloration.  This is typical of most notebook screens though.  Horizontal viewing angles are quite good, you can be off to the side and still see the screen quite well.

Audio and Speakers

This is usually the part in a review where I say “get a pair of external speakers”.  But I’m not going to say that.  I was astounded at the sound the M1210 provided.  In a 12″ notebook you usually figure you’re lucky to get system sounds coming from a speaker on the bottom of the notebook.  I played music and watched DVDs on the M1210 and the nicely positioned forward firing 4-ohm speakers generated very good audio quality.  I am so impressed that I’ll say, if you’re travelling, save on the bulk and leave the external speakers at home — the loudness and clarity from these built-in speakers is more than adequate.  Bravo!

The two headphone jacks is kind of a cool thing too.  On a plane or in the back of a car you could fire up a movie and watch it with your fellow passenger each using your own headphones.

Wireless Communications

Dell has pulled out all of the stops in making the XPS M1210 wireless capable.  Here’s a quick rundown of the wireless options:

  • Wi-Fi Choices: Intel Pro/Wireless 3945 WiFi 802.11 a/b/g, Dell Wireless 1390 802.11g, Dell Wireless 1490 802.11a/g
  • Bluetooth (Dell Wireless 350 BlueTooth internal wireless card)
  • WWAN (Cellular Broadband internet access) Choices:
    o Dell Wireless 5500 Mobile Broadband 3G HSDPA (Cingular US)
    o Dell Wireless 5700 Mobile Broadband CDMA EVDO (Verizon Wireless US)

The broadband cellular communication addition to the M1210 is much welcomed. Dell provides the option of configuring your M1210 with an internal antenna for either EVDO or HSDPA.  My review unit M1210 came configured with the Dell Wireless 5700 EVDO modem.  Dell puts the cellular antenna in the screen, no ugly antenna sticking out.  One important consideration, if you choose the web cam AV communications package (about a $100 option), but don’t choose EVDO service at the time of purchase, you can upgrade and add WWAN later since it’s just a mini-PCI card you’d need to plug in.

EVDO via Verizon is a real treat, if you have an existing Verizon wireless account it’s $60 a month for unlimited data transfer and if you don’t then the cost is $80 a month.  You also have the option of paying $15 for 24 hour access to the Verizon EVDO network.  If you’re a highly mobile person EVDO can be a real blessing and keep you from fretting about where you’ll find the next hotspot.

Speaking of finding wireless hotspots, Dell has included a unique feature called “Wi-Fi Catcher” located on the left side of the notebook.  You can use this switch to turn off all wireless radios by putting it in the Off position, but far cooler than that, push it all the way forward and it will blink green as it searches for a Wi-Fi network and if one is present it glows solid green, if none is found it shows orange.  This Wi-Fi Catcher works whether the notebook is on, off or in standby mode.  So there’s no need to boot up and search for wireless networks, just push this button to find out.

Battery

Instead of running battery benchmark tests I used a real world battery drain test.  At 100% charge I set the screen to half-brightness and pulled the plug on the XPS M1210.  I then performed various tasks such as downloading and installing Half Life 2 and playing it for a bit, surfing the web, downloading and installing 3DMark05, watching 10 minutes of a DVD, edited some photos for this review and also turned off wireless and just let the M1210 idle for some time.  In doing all of this the 9-cell battery ran down to 5% charge and Windows shut the notebook down at 2h 58 mins of usage.  Since the M1210 here is configured with a dedicated graphics card and faster processor and I left wi-fi on, that time isn’t bad.  If you had integrated graphics, wi-fi off and set your screen brightness lower you could easily achieve 4.5 hours.  My test was pretty abusive in terms of using demanding programs while on battery power.


Power adapter next to the XPS M1210 (view large image)

The power adapter for the M1210 isn’t exactly small, it’s only somewhat smaller to those you get with other Dell notebooks, so that part of the system doesn’t fall under ‘ultraportable’ either.

Heat and Noise

The M1210 has quite a number of vents to help with cooling.  Nonetheless, when playing Half Life 2 and running 3D benchmarks things did warm up a bit.  The M1210 didn’t get as hot as the Apple MacBook I have (which gets to a toasty 140 F while just web surfing), but the bottom definitely got warm to the point I wouldn’t want it on my lap.  However, when doing normal tasks the M1210 was just fine and stayed at a very comfortable temperature.  Again, if you had integrated graphics heat would be even less of an issue, if one at all.

The fan on the left side was audible but quiet when it kicked in to cool the notebook down.  It only really ran during the times I was performing a lot of processor demanding tasks, in normal usage it didn’t even run.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The big concern when it comes to using a smaller sized computer is whether the keyboard is going to be too cramped.  The good news is that the XPS M1210 keyboard is indeed full sized, so you won’t have to contort your fingers.  Certain buttons such as the “Home”, “End” and “Delete” keys are half-sized and the Pg-Up and Pg-Down keys are somewhat oddly located, but other than that I found the typing experience good and finding keys easy and natural.


(view large image)

The keyboard is not as firm as I would like though, it has some definite flex to it, especially on the lower right side — things get downright mushy there.  Push in on one key and some keys around it will sink.  The keyboard is more conducive to light touch typing, I’m the type of person that has a pretty aggressive keystroke which is the reason I can feel keyboard flex more than others.

I prefer using a pointing stick to a touchpad, but the touchpad on this machine is really quite nice.  It is very responsive and easy to feel, I love the fact it’s sort of depressed and sunk in a little because it makes it easy to feel without looking (i.e., you know where the edge of the touchpad is, not like on a totally smooth and flat touchpad where you have to look).  The mouse buttons are just fantastic too, the travel on these buttons is absolutely perfect, I love them.  I would have liked to have seen the touchpad slightly larger, but no complaints outside of that.

The Integrated Camera and Hypercardioid Microphone

I’m a big fan of the built-in camera and hypercardioid microphone on the XPS M1210.  The built-in Logitech web camera can take still pictures of up to 1.3 Megapixels and take 30 fps video at up to 640 x 480 resolution.  And you’re not just stuck pointing the camera at yourself, you can rotate it 180 degrees so that it can take video of whatever you’re facing (or just the sky if you wish).  And yes, Dell thought of the fact the world will be upside down if you rotate the camera so built-in software flips the image for you on the screen so you don’t get vertigo or anything.

Click on the video above to see an example of how the XPS M1210 camera does capturing a busy intersection with cars speeding through.  The resolution and clarity the camera provides for the video is actually very nice.  I imagine everyone can think of a way they might be able to use this camera in their work and lives.  Whether it be the typical video chat / Skype (Dell included Skype on the M1210) or if you’re in school and would like to record your lectures on video, it’s an easy thing to do.  Just push the quick launch camera button on the keyboard and then click on the “Record Video” button on the screen and the camera starts recording.  Hit stop and the video file is dumped into your My Pictures folder (you can customize where video files and pictures get stored).

To make things better for using the camera, the microphone rotates with the camera and is a type of microphone called “hypercardioid”.  This means the microphone is very good at picking up sounds in front of it and blocking out ambient noise from the rear and immediate sides.  It’s especially good at picking up sound from a distance too, so even in a lecture hall you should be able to capture what a lecturer is saying from a distance provided the microphone is pointed in the direction of the sound source.

Conclusion

I’ve had just a ton of fun with the M1210.  I get to play with a lot of notebooks with the work I do, and believe it or not that can actually get tedious when you see one laptop after the other that’s just kind of the same.  The M1210 is different though, it’s a 12.1″ laptop that’s designed to be powerful and fun.  You can game on it, comfortably watch and listen to movies on it, use it to record video, be highly mobile and connected with the EVDO option and to top it all off the look is really great.  I love the black lid and blue accent lights.  It’s certainly one of the thicker 12.1″ notebooks out there, but the goal was not to be the thinnest and lightest in the category, but rather the most functional and well equipped.  I think Dell accomplished that, the XPS M1210 offers the most fun and most possibilities in a 12.1″ screen form factor of any such notebook on the market.


Pros

  • Dedicated nVidia Go 7400 graphics in a 12.1″ screen form factor makes gaming a possibility
  • Optional EVDO built-in is a very nice option
  • Excellent rotating web camera and software gives you many possibilities for usage, not just recording yourself
  • Great design!  Build is also overall good
  • Excellent selection of ports available, 4 USB 2.0 ports for this sized laptop is great
  • Good touchpad and mouse buttons
  • Nice screen

Cons

  • Keyboard flex on the right hand side detracts from the typing experience and overall feel
  • Very thick for a 12.1″ screen notebook, not exactly “ultraportable” since it’s 4.5 lbs + with the recommended 9-cell battery
  • Can get a bit warm when gaming

Click here to view some glamour shot pictures of the XPS M1210




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