Dell XPS M1210 with Core 2 Duo Review (pics, specs)

by Angrymob Reads (180,086)

Buy Direct From Manufacturer


Dell XPS M1210 with Core 2 Duo Review


Dell XPS M1210 with Core 2 Duo (view large image)

Introduction

The Dell XPS M1210 has been a rather pleasant surprise to many ever since rumors of its existence leaked out earlier this year. By combining a portable 12.1″ widescreen form factor, 2-spindle design (HDD + Optical drive), A/V capabilities with 3G WWAN ready antenna, high quality Logitech webcam, and the option of a dedicated nVidia GeForce Go 7400 graphics chip, the M1210 packs a lot of punch in such a small size, rivaling many larger 15.4″ or 17″ models.


Dell wasted no time in offering the latest from Intel to boost the performance of this model even further — in the form of a 64-bit dual-core processor known as Core 2 Duo (codename Merom), after only 4 months of launching it with the original Core Duo. Today we’ll take a look at how the updated model performs in the age of 64-bit dual-core computing.

Pre-Purchase Decisions

Ever since Dell launched the XPS M1210, I’ve been drooling over it as my possible replacement for the Toshiba Tecra S2, but I was holding back on the first generation Core Duo processors, seeing as it is 32-bit only (not as future proof). Once the Core 2 Duo was launched and made available, the Toshiba (along with its relative large size and completely unsatisfactory 2 hour real-life battery endurance) was promptly sold and an order with Dell was placed.

Since I’ve been traveling a lot for the past year or so, my mobile computing need has changed. I found myself often not needing the latest and greatest mobile GPU power, but rather wanting something much lighter and portable, with a 4 hour or more real-life battery endurance. However, I still want the option of a capable discrete graphics subsystem for the occasional gaming needs (mainly CS:Source, C&C Generals, various MMORPGs or the classic game of Doom II). This narrowed down my choices to:

The Sony was way too overpriced compared to the Dell (not to mention I have had first hand experience with one and the webcam was just marginal at best in terms of quality, and it wasn’t as spectacular as Sony has marketed it to be), and I have no luck in trying to find a place which sells the ASUS with the Core 2 Duo at the time of my purchase.

The next decision for me was to order it from which Dell region — Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand or the USA, as I was originally from HK, moved and lived in NZ ever since but I’ve been living in Canada (Calgary) from the start of this year and frequently travel down to the States. But as you can see from the following section, I ended up getting it via Dell Hong Kong.

Specifications, Ordering and Shipping

The specifications of this particular model is as follows:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 (2.0GHz/4MB L2 Cache/667MHz FSB)
  • 1GB (2x512MB) Dual Channel DDR2-667 Memory
  • 60GB 5400rpm SATA HDD
  • 8x DVD+/-RW DL Writer
  • nVidia GeForce Go 7400 TurboCache 256MB (64MB Dedicated/192MB Shared)
  • 12.1″ WXGA with TrueLife (1280×800)
  • SigmaTel HD Audio Codec
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 802.11a/b/g Mini Card
  • Dell Wireless 355 Bluetooth v2.0 + EDR Module
  • A/V Communications Package (1.3MP Logitech Webcam + 3G WWAN ready antenna)
  • 9-cell Lithium Ion Extended Primary Battery (85 WHr, Made by SamsungSDI)

I have also configured it with the following:

  • Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition with SP2 (Traditional Chinese)
  • S-Video to TV component and SPDIF connector
  • 3 Years Next Business Day Warranty Onsite Response
  • 3 Years 24×7 Telephone Support
  • (International support for the above)
  • 3 Years CompleteCover accidental coverage
  • (Asia/Pacific region only for CompleteCover)
  • Dell Slim Nylon Carry Case/Messenger Bag

Total price including shipping comes to HK$ 12,729 / US$ 1,635

I’ve also purchased the following items to be upgraded once they arrived in my hands:

  • 2GB (2 x 1GB) Kingston DDR2-667 Memory (From local HK shops – HK$ 1900 / US$ 244 including shipping)
  • 100GB HGST 7K100 7200rpm SATA HDD (From ZipZoomFly — US$ 168 / HK$ 1303 including taxes/shipping)

One thing I have always done when ordering a system from Dell, is to pick the most basic memory/HDD configuration possible, and upgrade them myself, since Dell always overcharges for upgrades over the baseline configuration. Using my order as an example, they would have wanted:

  • HK$ 3100 / US$ 398 extra for 2x512MB to 2x1GB DDR2-667 memory upgrade
  • HK$ 1500 / US$ 192 extra for 60GB 5400rpm to 100GB 7200rpm HDD upgrade

Not to mention you wouldn’t get the extra memory and HDD as spares you can reuse/resell somewhere else!

Also for those of you who worry about the original warranty, Dell will honor it 100% on the rest of the machine as memory and HDD are end-user replacable/upgradable (this is speaking from personal experience with my previous Dells).

Therefore, my total purchases are:

  • Notebook package from Dell — HK$ 12729 / US$ 1635
  • 2GB memory upgrade — HK$ 1900 / US$ 244
  • 100GB 7200rpm HDD upgrade — HK$ 1303 / US$ 168
  • EMS International Courier from HK to Calgary, Canada — HK$ 479 / US$ 62

Total: US$ 2108 / HK$ 16411

As of the time of writing up this review (23rd September, 2006), if I were to purchase the same system configuration and warranty period (along with the memory/HDD upgrades) in Dell USA or Canada, it would’ve set me back approximately:

  • Dell USA: US$ 2,440 (excluding taxes as it varies from State to State)
  • Dell Canada: US$ 2,456 / CAD$ 2746 (including 6% GST and shipping)

Therefore, even after all the hassle of ordering it in a region half a globe away, and including International Courier shipping, I still saved over US$ 300.

I placed my order on the 6th Sept., payment was confirmed and cleared from VISA on 7th Sept., and only after 2 days, it showed as finished building/testing/shipped out from Dell’s Xiamen factory in China on 9th Sept., talk about efficiency! Final delivery to HK was handled by DHL (Ground) and arrived in my relative’s hands 5 days later on 14th Sept.. It was then forwarded to me using EMS International Courier on 15th Sept. and arrived at my doorsteps on 19th Sept, just a little under 2 weeks / 13 days from when I originally placed the order.

Build and Design


Closed lid top view (view large image)

Although not as slick and clean looking as Apple’s MacBook / MacBook Pro, I found the XPS M1210 quite attractive and in my opinion, just as well designed as the Apples. The whole case structure and LCD screen lid is made from aluminium/magnesium alloy metal, making it feel very solid, and well built. The screen hinge is robust and there are minimal flex (there are no LCD ripple effect when you push it from the back). One of my concerns was the fit for the extended battery, and I am happy to say that fits perfectly well with no loose/wobbly feel whatsoever. The colour scheme of black on silver makes it look more professional (mimicking the business Latitude line) than the white trim on silver of the consumer Inspiron line. The use of LCD back lighting is subtle on the front media buttons, and not as over-the-top as its bigger brother, the M1710 (with the lighted exhaust vents and glowing XPS/Dell logo on the back).

Even though some people say it is rather thick for a 12.1″ form factor notebook, I actually don’t “feel” the thickness, compare to my roommate’s Dell Inspiron E1505/6400 or my previous Toshiba Tecra S2. Below are some comparative shots with the E1505/6400.

 
Side by side top view (view large image)
 
Side profile view (view large image)
 
Screen open front view (view large image)
 
Screen open rear view (view large image)

At just slightly over 2kg/4.4lbs for the notebook itself with the 9-cell extended battery, and under 2.5kg/5.5lbs travel weight including my Logitech G5 mouse and AC adapter, in my opinion it is very portable. I can comfortably open it up and use on a standard airline economy seat tray table, which cannot be said with any 15″/15.4″ sized notebooks (my old 15″ Toshiba Tecra S2 barely opens up in the United Economy Plus section, and that is assuming the person sitting in front of you don’t recline his/her seat back).

Input and Output Ports

The XPS M1210 is armed with a myriad of input and output connections on all 4 sides


(view large image)

Front view: Multimedia buttons on the top, with 2 headphone out and 1 microphone in 3.5mm audio jacks in the lower center


(view large image)

Left view (left to right): RJ-11 Modem, 2x USB 2.0, S-Video out, Heatsink exhaust (top), WiFi catcher/switch (bottom), ExpressCard 54 slot (top), SATA HDD bay (bottom)


(view large image)

Right view (left to right): DVD+/-RW DL Optical drive (top), 5-in-1 Flash Media card reader (bottom), IEEE1394 Firewire, 2 x USB 2.0, VGA Analog Monitor out


(view large image)

Rear view (left to right): RJ-45 Network, Battery (Extended battery shown), DC Power input, Kensington lock slot


(view large image)

Bottom view: Battery bay (extended battery shown) (top), Communications Mini Card slots (left), Memory slot (center)


(view large image)

Bottom view (slot covers open)

Screen

Having been using a 15″ normal aspect matte (non-glossy) LCD screen for the past 4 years on various notebooks (SXGA+ 1400×1050 on the Toshiba Tecra S2, and UXGA 1600×1200 on the Dell Inspiron 8200), it was certainly a big change moving down to a 12.1″ Widescreen XGA (1280×800) glossy screen. It took me a day or two to adjust to the smaller desktop space, but the widescreen aspect helped as I “feel” I have not lost too much desktop real-estate space despite the lower resolution.


The 12.1″ WXGA widescreen with TrueLife (notice the reflection the keyboard from the glossy coating)  (view large image)

The glossy coating of the screen (which Dell advertises as TrueLife) made video/movie watching a more enjoyable experience compared to matte (non-glossy) screened notebooks I had, as colours are more vivid. However, the fact that I can see my own reflection with a dark/black background will need some getting used to.

Ready for some Truthiness from Colbert? (view large image)

There are no visible defects (bright/dark pixels) on the screen, and it is evenly lit with minimal light leakage. Response time is also very good after playing some FPS (such as Half-Life 2) on it, as I didn’t notice any image lag or ghosting.

Audio and Speakers

I stayed with the base SigmaTel High Definition Audio CODEC as the Sound Blaster Audigy HD upgrade is a gimmick in my opinion (seeing it’s only a software emulated layer and costs quite a bit of spare change just for a driver CD). The speakers are located below the LCD panel, and I found them surprisingly well made despite their size, and the fact that they are laptop speakers. I can certainly rely on them when using it at home to play any video/DVDs. Dell also very nicely put a total of 3 audio jacks on the front, 2 headphone out and 1 microphone in, which makes sharing the screen with a buddy when watching a movie, say, during a flight, that much easier as each of you will have your own set of headphone jacks to plug your headphones in.

Built-in Webcam

The built in Logitech webcam as part of the “A/V Communications Package” is well worth its price. It is rated to take still pictures at 1.3MP and movie clips at 640×480 and has a very clear image quality. In fact, after seeing the many webcams on various ASUS notebooks and the one on the Sony SZ series, the one on the M1210 beats them hands-down. The camera can rotate 180 degrees and the software will even automatically flip the image for you so you’ll always be the “right side up”.

The included microphone is also of notable mention. It is of “hypercardioid” design, meaning it can pick up the audio source placed in front of it very clearly while filtering out surrounding background noises.

During the many MSN/Skype sessions I have with my family and friends, they all tell me that the webcam quality is excellent and can hear my voice quite clearly.

Wireless Communications

Equipped with the Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 802.11a/b/g WiFi Mini Card and Dell Wireless 355 Bluetooth Module supporting v2.0 + Enhanced Data Rate, your bases are pretty much covered in terms of wireless connectivity. The wireless reception is excellent, and I’m able to pick up much more access points/routers in my apartment than my desktop’s USB WiFi card in the same location.


Communications PCI Express Mini Card slots (view large image)

Opening it up the cover on the bottom of the notebook reveals something interesting. Dell has included a total of 5 antenna cable connectors, 3 for the WiFi Mini Card, and 2 for the WWAN Mini Card. The 3 connectors for WiFi are no doubt to take advantage of the coming 802.11n standard (you can even opt for the Dell 1500 Draft-n card right now).


Under the battery bay: SIM card holder for 3G WWAN service, and Dell Wireless 355 Bluetooth module (view large image)

Since I purchased my M1210 from Hong Kong (as all the mobile operators there uses the 900/1800MHz GSM/EDGE and 2100MHz UMTS/HSDPA band), there’s a slot where you can put your 3G SIM card in for some UMTS/HSDPA connectivity goodness under the battery bay (of course you’ll also need to purchase the accompanying 3G WWAN Mini Card). The antenna will also work for the North American 850/1900MHz bands as well.

Keyboard, Lights and Various Buttons


The full-sized keyboard with Traditional Chinese characters (view large image)

Despite the fact that it’s a 12.1″ notebook, the keyboard is full-sized and very comfortable to use. Since I have chosen Windows XP Home Traditional Chinese edition, it came with a extra Traditional Chinese characters on the keyboard (not to mention it’s cool to have a unique keyboard in the parts of the world I’m and make it feel more personalized).


MediaDirect, Power, Webcam buttons, and status LEDs (view large image)

There are 3 buttons above the keyboard — MediaDirect button (which launches the MediaDirect software if you choose to have it installed), power button which glows blue, and a camera button to launch the Logitech webcam application. All the states LEDs are grouped on the top right hand corner, showing Power, HDD and Battery status on the top, and Num Lock, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, WiFi and Bluetooth status on the bottom.

A full set of audio controls are on the center front edge of the case just below the touchpad, and the glow a soft blue when the machine is switched on (you can choose to have it disabled within the BIOS setting).

Performance Benchmarks

Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for.


Powered by the new Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 (view large image)

This little machine is powered by the latest and greatest Intel Core 2 Duo processor, having a model number of T7200 and running at 2.0GHz with 4MB of shared L2 cache on a 667MHz front side bus. Supporting MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSE4 and EM64T. In short, 64-bits of dual-core power-efficient processing goodness.


nVidia GeForce Go 7400 with TurboCache graphics processor (view large image)

The integrated nVidia GeForce Go 7400 graphics chipset is not the fastest chipset available for a notebook. However, it packs quite a punch for its size and power consumption, and certainly MUCH MUCH better than the Intel GMA950 integrated graphics. I’d highly recommend people to get it as an essential upgrade for this system.


Default clock speeds for the GPU (view large image)

The GPU runs at 450MHz, uses 64MB of dedicated 64-bit wide 900MHz local memory, and 192MB of shared main memory (I recommend configuring the main memory as dual-channel DDR2-667 to minimize any bottlenecks) using TurboCache technology to boost the overall total to 256MB.

The notebook is tested with the original 1GB (2x512MB) Dual Channel DDR2-667MHz memory, 60GB 5400rpm SATA HDD, a clean install of Windows XP Professional with SP2, and nVidia ForceWare driver v81.98 (patched to support nVidia mobile GPUs).

Super Pi

Notebook

Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits

Dell XPS M1210 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo T7200)

1m 02s

Dell XPS M1210 (2.16GHz Core Duo T2600)

1m 11s

Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo T7600)

0m 56s

ASUS A8Ja (1.66GHz Core Duo T2300)

1m 27s

Dell Inspiron E1505 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo T7200)

1m 02s

HP Pavilion dv6000z (1.8GHz Turion X2 TL-56)

1m 54s

Lenovo T60 (1.83GHz Core Duo T2400)

1m 17s

Lenovo Z61t (2.00GHz Core Duo T2500)

1m 16s

3DMark05

Conducted with default program settings (1024×768, No AA, Optimal Filtering)


(view large image)

Notebook

3D Mark 05 Results

Dell XPS M1210 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7400 256MB)

2,048

Dell XPS M1210 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7400 256MB)

2,090

Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB)

3,542

ASUS A8Ja (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 512MB)

3,850

Dell Inspiron E1505 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 256MB)

1,958

Dell XPS M1710 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX 512MB)

8,524

Lenovo T60 (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 64MB)

1,045

Lenovo Z61t (2.00GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA950 Integrated)

582

Toshiba Satellite P100-222 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GS 512MB)

6,214

3DMark06

Conducted with default program settings (1280×800, No AA, Optimal Filtering)


(view large image)

Notebook

3D Mark 06 Results

Dell XPS M1210 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7400 256MB)

809

Apple MacBook Pro (2.00GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 128MB)

1,528

Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB)

2,183

ASUS A8Ja (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 512MB)

1,973

Dell XPS M1710 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GTX 512MB)

4,744

HP Pavilion dv6000z (1.8GHz Turion X2 TL-56, nVidia GeForce Go 7200 256MB)

674

Sony SZ-110B in Speed Mode (1.83GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7400 256MB)

794

Toshiba Satellite P100-222 (2.16GHz Core Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7900 GS 512MB)

3,534

CounterStrike : Source Video Stress Test


Video settings (view large image)


Result (view large image)

Setting of 1280×800, most detail settings to high (default settings)

Average Frame Rate of 53.82 fps

Half Life 2 : Lost Coast HDR (High Dynamic Range) Video Stress Test


Video settings (view large image)


Result (view large image)

Setting of 1280×800, most detail settings to high (default settings)

Average Frame Rate of 41.13 fps

Battery and Power

One of the main reasons that sway me towards the M1210 is the exceptional battery life it provides. Even though Dell advertises it with “up to 7 Hours of battery life”, most of us have now learn to take any manufacturer’s claim with a large grain of salt.

I went for the extended 9-cell battery providing 85 Watt-Hours as I know the dedicated nVidia graphics chip will use up a bit more power when compared to the Intel GMA950 integrated solution. The battery cells were made by SamsungSDI in Korea and therefore safe from the recent problems with Li-Ion cells catching fire everywhere (where the blame squarely lies with defective Sony cells).


Extended battery pack, worldwide AC adapter and various mains lead (view large image)

The power adapter is a standard Dell PA-12 65 Watt power supply, auto-switching worldwide (100V-240V, 50-60Hz), and features an integrated cable management system with a rubber strap. It is not as small as some power supplies that other ultra-portable comes with, but definitely much smaller than say, the 150W+ bricks that power-hungry 17″+ notebooks comes with these days, or the Xbox360′s power supply for that matter. It came with a UK/HK style AC power lead, but luckily Dell uses a standard figure eight appliance connector, so getting a replacement AC lead is dead easy.

The PA-12 power supply is also compatible with virtually all other current Dell notebook range such as the Inspiron E1405/640m, E1505/6400, Latitude D series etc., therefore spares are plentiful and inexpensive (one of the good things of standardizing on common components).

I have conducted several real-life battery rundown tests instead of using a synthetic benchmark for a more accurate and real world usage pattern. One can also calculate the amount of power the system consumes by dividing the WHr rating of the battery with the runtime.

Worst Case scenario

Screen to maximum brightness (7/7), CPU and GPU at maximum speed, WiFi and Bluetooth turned on.

3DMark06 in looped demo mode

1 Hour 45 Minutes (105 Minutes)

System power usage: 48.5 Watts

Video watching via WiFi

Screen to medium brightness (3/7), CPU with SpeedStep management, GPU at minimum (PowerMizer set to max battery), WiFi on, Bluetooth off.

Streaming videos off WiFi network from media server continuously

3 Hours 40 Minutes (220 Minutes)

System power usage: 23 Watts

General web surfing and light workload

Screen to medium brightness (3/7), CPU with SpeedStep management, GPU at minimum (PowerMizer set to max battery), WiFi on, Bluetooth off.

Surfing the internet, chatting online, using MS Word/Excel etc.

4 Hours 30 Minutes (270 Minutes)

System power usage: 19 Watts

Over the past few days of using it on battery power, I find that I consistently get between 4 to 4 hours of battery life using it for general purpose work, watching videos off the media server, and surfing the internet. This is pretty good for a notebook of this size and weight. If you were to turn WiFi off and the screen down to minimum brightness, I would expect squeezing 5 to 5 hours out of a single battery charge. This will last you on a trans-continental flight between the East and West coast easily.

If you were to configure the M1210 with the Intel GMA950 integrated graphics option, I’d expect another hour worth of battery life on top of what I got (to about 6 hours under general light workload). However, I still think the nVidia dedicated graphics is well worth the trade off and a must have configuration.

Time to fully recharge the battery from 3% (this is the point when Windows kick in and goes into Stand-by mode), while the notebook is being used, is about 4 hours. If you were to recharge the battery only with the system off, it’ll be much quicker and only takes about 1 hours.

Heat and Noise

The whole system is cooled by a single fan and a major exhaust vent on the left hand side of the system. Overall it is very quiet, and the fan rarely spins up at full speed even when running CPU/GPU intensive applications (such as 3DMark06 or when I am playing CS:Source).


Dell system monitoring utility (I8kfangui) showing vital system temperatures (view large image)

During idle, the CPU stays between 40C — 50C, the GPU between 45C — 55C. Under heavy load the CPU will go up to 70C and the GPU to about 65C. This is probably due to the relaxed thermal regulation in favor of a quieter running system (by not spinning up the fan as often and at high speed). It does get a little warm underneath, but never to a level where you will find discomfort when using it on your lap. The palm rest area stays relatively cool as well even when the HDD or Optical drive is engaged for extended periods of time. It does get a little warm, but again, never to a level of discomfort.

Overall, I find the system to be pleasantly quiet and does not have any heat dissipation issues.

Conclusion

“Battery Life, Performance, Size”. It is often said that for a notebook computer, you can only take 2 and compromise on the last attribute. With the XPS M1210, Dell managed to find a nice harmony of all three. Great things do come in little packages, and this is certainly the case here. Armed with the dual-core 64-bit Core 2 Duo processor and a capable nVidia discrete graphics option, it is ready for Windows Vista. The “A/V Communications Package” is a definite winner here, Dell did not skimp on quality and implemented a Logitech unit, and the integration of the WWAN antenna means that it is ready for the road. The robust aluminium-magnesium alloy chassis construction shows that it is ready for you to take it anywhere.


Pros:

  • The amount of power available in such a small package (Core 2 Duo processor and dedicated nVidia graphics option)
  • Complete coverage of all wired/wireless communications (Modem/LAN/WiFi/BT/WWAN)
  • Excellent quality Logitech webcam and microphone
  • Nice long battery life (typically up to 4 — 5 hours under normal workload)
  • Robust build quality: Metal chassis and nice fit and finish overall
  • Nice competitive pricing compared to similar configured machines from its rivals (Well, Dell is well known for its discount coupons and low prices)

Cons:

  • Battery life could be even longer if a hot-swap device bay is implemented (so the Optical drive can swap out for a 2nd battery)
  • Not exactly “ultra-portable” and as thin as other 12.1″/13.3″ widescreen notebooks out there
  • Could be even cheaper if coupons are offered for the XPS line (come on Dell! Extend the coupons beyond the Inspirons!)
  • Pricey RAM and HDD upgrade options (not exactly a fault of the M1210 as Dell overcharges for upgrades on all their systems)


LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.