Dell XPS M140 and Inspiron 630m Review (pics, specs)

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by Andrew Baxter, New York USA

Dell XPS M140 (view larger image)

Dell XPS M140 Review

The Dell XPS M140 is a 14-inch widescreen notebook that’s also sold as the Inspiron 630m via Dell’s business site*.  The M140 / 630m replaces the venerable Inspiron 600m 14-inch notebook (600m review) that was offered by Dell for nearly 2-years.  The XPS M140 features an excellent battery life, good performance, dedicated XPS customer support technicians and the ever popular optional glossy screen, dubbed “TrueLife” by Dell.

* Note, the 630m does not come with Windows Media Center Edition as an option and does not come with the XPS support, prices and deals also differ on these notebooks along with the badget indicating XPS M140 or 630m

Specs as Reviewed:

  • Intel Pentium M Processor 750 (1.86GHz/2MB Cache/533MHz FSB)
  • Genuine Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
  • Unit Price: $1,173.00
  • Display 14.1 inch WXGA TrueLife LCD Panel
  • Memory 512MB Shared DDR2 SDRAM (2 256MB Dimms)
  • Video Card Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900
  • Hard Drive 60GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • Integrated Modem and NIC Internal 56K Modem and Integrated Network Card
    Optical FREE 8x CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW) with double-layer DVD+R write capability
  • Wireless Networking Cards Intel PRO 2200 Internal Wireless (802.11 b/g, 54Mbps)
  • Battery 6-cell Lithium Ion Primary Battery (53 WHr)
  • Dimensions: 1.5 inches x 13.0 inches x 9.6 inches (height x width x depth) (with the 9-cell extended battery the depth increases to about 10.25-inches)
  • Weight: 5.47 lbs. with 6-cell battery and 40GB HD, about 5.9 lbs with the 9-cell battery
  • Limited Warranty, Services and Support 1 Year Limited Warranty plus 1 Year Mail-In

XPS — What’s in the Name?

When the XPS M140 was released and we found out it was to be a 14-inch screen notebook, everyone rejuvenated and assumed this would be along the lines of prior XPS machines and have a decent graphics card and thereby serve as a highly portable gaming machine.  But this wasn’t the case, as the graphics solution for the XPS M140 turned out to be Intel integrated graphics, meaning no Doom 3 or Half Life 2 game playing.  Some ventured a guess that eventually the XPS M140 would be upgraded to offering a dedicated graphics card, but this will not be the case.

When you buy an XPS machine you get a better product packaging experience than the regular brown box you usually get with a Dell (view larger image)

Dell explains that the XPS nomenclature does not equate to “gaming notebook” but rather a better experience in some sort of way, with the XPS M140 that means better battery life than other Inspiron machines (giving greater mobility) and a dedicated team of XPS customer support people and technicians.  You’ll also get nicer packaging and product presentation than the average Dell Inspiron — the box the machine arrives in has XPS branding and so does the desktop wallpaper, that’s meaningful to some and not others.

Reasons for Buying

My reason for buying this notebook was simple; I was curious about this new XPS non-gaming notebook and wanted to review it.  I’m a big fan of portable machines, especially in the 14-inch and under category.  It’s not a laptop I’ll keep, simply one I’ll play with and then sell on eBay — that’s just what I do.

Where and How Purchased

I purchased this notebook via Dell.com on November 1st 2005, which was the week it was released.  They estimated a ship date of November 16th, as this was a new notebook I expected slower ship times.  November 16th arrived, and no notebook, but Dell sent an email of order delay with the following text:  “We have reviewed your order. Although we had anticipated being able to ship your order sooner, we are experiencing an unexpected delay with your order ######### and will not be able to ship this order and any associated orders until on or before 11-23-2005.  No action is required to proceed with the new date, however, if you do not wish to wait, you may cancel your order.”  Fair enough, the communication was clear and I had tracked my order previously and knew it wasn’t going to be on time.  But then the next day, 11/16/2005 I got a ship notification email from Dell that said “Thank you for shopping with Dell!  Congratulations! Your order shipped on 11-17-2005.”  And then the next day UPS delivered it, on 11/18 — two days after the estimated date, which was fine since everything was communicated and I could track it.

I’ve never experienced order problems through Dell, I think they do a great job, maybe the best of any company out there.

Design and Build

The XPS M140 adopts the same look as what we’ve seen with many of the recent Dell Inspiron notebooks.  That being a grey body, with white trim — or “white bumpers” as some like to call them, although collision protectors they are not, so don’t go playing  bumper laptops.  Overall the look is okay, I would have preferred something more along the lines of current XPS offerings from Dell in which the body is grey and the trim is black for a slightly more professional look.

Above view of XPS M140 (view larger image)

The overall build of the XPS M140 is pretty decent, it uses metal hinges for a secure feeling screen and lid opening and closing experience, it certainly won’t wobble like some of those flimsy budget offering notebooks.  The actual protection provided by the lid is very good, there’s some reinforcement there to protect the screen and if you push in on the back you won’t cause ripples on the screen — which means that when you shove your XPS M140 in a tightly packed bag there’s less chance of damaging the screen and it will get overall better protection.  The rubber stops on the screen seem to be the right height to prevent any scratching of the keyboard keys on the screen, something that’s not always the case — I’ve even seen many an Apple PowerBook with screens marked up by key rub.

Notice the white trim on Dell XPS M140, it’s the same as what you see on the Inspiron 9300 and Inspiron 700m (view larger image)

The M140 is definitely more portable than the bigger Dell 6000, you won’t feel like you’re lugging a brick around with the M140.  It’s not a thin and light as it is 1.5″ thick – a true thin-and-light should be very close to 1″ thick.  However, the weight of 5.5lbs (with 6-cell battery) isn’t bad at all and it won’t weigh you down too much in carrying it around.  The battery life is excellent also (discussed later) so the combination of low weight and good battery make this a great selection as a portable notebook with a screen large enough for comfortable viewing.

The body casing is made of plastic, but it’s not flimsy, it is rigid and has no sag or give to it.  The palm rests are definitely firm.  The brush metal silver look of the case is meant to give a metallic look — the white plastic on the edges sort of gives away the true plastic construction though and is a big reason I don’t like it that much.

Screen

The Dell XPS M140 widescreen provides for nice and bold color contrast (view larger image)

The XPS M140 screen is a 14″ Widescreen XGA (WXGA) with the option of TrueLife (glossy screen) for +$25.  The glossy screen upgrade is pretty popular, I selected it.  Those that are not familiar with the shiny finish will be quite surprised by the amount of reflection you get in the screen.  I like it for the fact blacks seem blacker and whites whiter, the overall contrast and boldness of colors is improved.  The glossy finish is usually achieved simply by adding a special layer on top of the regular screen — which is the approach Dell has taken with the M140.

The Dell XPS M140 TrueLife screen is reflective as is demonstrated in this photo as it reflects upon itself (view larger image)

The display is bright and easy to see, everything is crisp and bold.  The horizontal viewing angles are okay, although you’ll find that viewing head-on while watching a movie is better than sitting off to the side where things get a big darker.  Light leakage is fairly minimal and not a concern, you can see the backlight at the bottom but only in a dark room.

The Dell XPS M140 has a tiny amount of light leakage at the bottom, but nothing outside of what is normal (view larger image)

The one complaint I do have is it seems on white backgrounds there’s a certain amount of what can be described as graininess in the background, this is often described as “sparkles” in notebook discussion forums.  This has been a complaint with certain Dell notebooks in the past such as the XPS2 (Dell XPS2 Review) that apparently uses the same manufacturer, Samsung, for the LCD display as the M140.  Honestly though, this issue is not a huge bother for me, a lot of it is psychological and will vary by individual as to whether you notice or care about it.

As a side note, I used an Inspiron 700m notebook for a while and have to say I still find that to be the best display on a Dell notebook that I’ve used.  I wish the M140 duplicated that experience.

Speakers

The speakers on the XPS M140 are a very pleasant surprise.  I was blown away to be honest.  I always have low expectations with notebook speakers, and usually those expectations are fulfilled, but the XPS M140 provides loud, clear nice stereo sound from its front located speakers.  It’s definitely great for DVD watching and I’d even go far as to say if you’re using this laptop to travel just leave the travel speakers behind if you have them, the extra hassle of carrying speakers wouldn’t be worth it as the built-in speakers are good enough.  If you’re at home or the office, you may think about getting some external speakers for extra bass and richness.  A big thumbs up on the above average built-in speakers though.

Processor and Performance

You can configure the Dell M140 with up to a Pentium M 770 processor (2.13 GHz).  This would have been overkill for my needs, so I chose the Pentium M 750 (1.86 GHz).  If you’re not playing games and don’t need the best performance possible then the 1.73GHz or 1.86GHz are the most popular speeds to choose.  These speeds will provide very snappy performance, installing programs will be fast and multitasking a bunch of regular office applications is not a challenge for the 1.86GHz processor.

There’s no dedicated graphics processor with the Dell XPS M140, so this means you will not be able to play demanding games on this notebook and running intensive video editing sequences in Adobe After Effects will prove slow.  Again, this is not a gaming notebook, look to the Inspiron 9300 or XPS M170 for that type of capability.

The standard speed for a hard drive in the XPS M140 is 5400 RPM, which is better than a stock 4200RPM hard drive you’ll get with an Inspiron.  Hard drive speed can often be a bottleneck, so this 5400RPM standardization is a welcome step up.  7200 RPM hard drive configurations are also available with the XPS M140.

Benchmarks

We use the program Super Pi to calculate the number Pi to 2-million digits of accuracy, this is a good way of simply forcing the processor to do work to calculate a number and deriving performance from the time it takes to achieve the end goal.  Below is a table showing how the XPS M140 with the 1.86GHz processor stacks up against other notebooks.

Notebook Time
 Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 41s
 Dell Inspiron 9300 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 Asus Z70A (1.6GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 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
 HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)  1m 53s
 Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s

Below are benchmark results gained from running PCMark04 and 3DMark05, the results of the XPS M140 are compared to an HP dv4000 15.4″ screen notebook with a dedicated ATI Radeon X700 graphics card.  Notice the dv4000 scores way higher on graphics related tests, highlighting the fact the M140 will not do well on graphics intense software.

Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  Dell XPS M140 (1.86GHz Penitum M, Intel graphics) HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.32 MB/s 3.36 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 26.66 MB/s 27.7 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 23.46 MB/s 24.3 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 10.87 MPixels/s 11.04 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1866.81 MB/s 1986.89 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.85 KB/s 2.95 KB/s
 File Decryption 53.74 MB/s 55.58 MB/s
 Audio Conversion 2478.85 KB/s 2555.25 KB/s
 Web Page Rendering 5.53 Pages/s 5.44 Pages/s
 DivX Video Compression 50.35 FPS 52.4 FPS
 Physics Calculation and 3D 98.57 FPS 186.5 FPS
 Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 479.95 FPS 1830.06 FPS
Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores
3DMark Score 274 3DMarks 2,536 3D Marks
CPU Score 2281 CPUMarks 3557 CPUMarks
Gaming Tests
GT1 – Return To Proxycon 1.1 FPS 10.3 FPS
GT2 – Firefly Forest 0.9 FPS 8.0 FPS
GT3 – Canyon Flight 1.4 FPS 12.6 FPS
CPU Tests
CPU Test 1 1.3 FPS 1.3 FPS
CPU Test 2 1.8 FPS 3.1 FPS

For those interested in the hard drive performance of this notebook the HDTune benchmark screen capture after being run is below:

Keyboard and Touchpad

Dell XPS M140 keyboard and touchpad (view larger image)

The Dell XPS M140 has a typical Dell style keyboard.  It has a standard layout and is full size.  It has what I would call light touch keys, meaning it doesn’t take too much pressure to register a key strike.  I’m used to using a ThinkPad notebook in which the keys are much more firm and you can really feel each key individually.  But since there’s no flex in the keyboard and it feels solid, there’s not much to complain about.  It doesn’t feel as nice as a ThinkPad keyboard in my opinion, but it’s certainly good overall and I like it.

The touchpad is fairly large in size and smooth feeling, both good characteristics.  I especially like the buttons, they make a very light noise when clicked and you can really feel them as they have a good amount of travel when pushed.

Input and Output Ports

You get the following ports and slots with the M140:

  • 4-USB 2.0 ports
  • Audio jacks: Line-out (external speakers/headphone) and external microphone
  • Video: 15-pin monitor connector
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394 port)
  • S-Video: 7-pin mini-DIN connector
  • 10/100 Ethernet LAN: RJ-45 connector
  • Modem: RJ-11 connector
  • ExpressCard slot
  • 5-in-1 Flash memory card reader

You can’t complain about the number of ports here, the port offerings are on par with or better than just about any other 14″ notebook out there.  Dell was able to cram in more ports due to the fact this machine isn’t as thin as some other 14″ screen notebooks, but if you value ports over thinness of a laptop then that’s going to be a positive for you.  4 USB 2.0 ports on a 14-inch screen laptop is really generous.

Right side view of Dell XPS M140 ports: optical drive, 2 USB 2.0 ports, modem port, ethernet port (view larger image)

Left side view of Inspiron XPS M140: fan, S-video port, FireWire, microphone jack, headphone jack, multi-card reader, ExpressCard slot (view larger image)

Dell XPS M140 back side view: 2 USB 2.0 ports, power jack (view larger image)

Dell XPS M140 front side view: On the front are the two speakers on either side, in the middle are 8 media buttons for mute, volume down, volume up, play/pause, back, forward, stop, media direct button (view larger image)

Heat and Noise

While the XPS M140 is quiet, it does get rather warm on the bottom and on the palm rests.  It’s not a terrible amount of heat, but more than I’d like and worse than average.  It becomes uncomfortable to use on the lap after some time, especially if you’re running more demanding applications that push the processor. 

Wireless

You have the option of configuring the XPS M140 with either the Intel PRO 2200 or 2915 internal wireless card.  You can also get built-in Bluetooth.  I configured the XPS M140 with the Intel 2200 card and it works fine for me with a Netgear 802.11g router I have.  I can also detect many other surrounding wireless networks.  Thanks to the fact Dell places antennas in the screen to get better reception you’ll find the number of networks and strength of the signal you’ll get are enhanced.  The default software for managing connections is the Intel wireless software.

Battery

The XPS M140 has the option of being configured with a standard 6-cell battery or longer life 9-cell battery.  I opted for the 6-cell battery to see what the standard configuration of the XPS M140 would offer.  The answer is, the results are quite amazing.  I got 4-hours of battery life using the XPS M140 at level 5 brightness (5/8) with Wi-Fi on and just doing light tasks.  The 9-cell battery should get you about 7-hours of battery life (according to Dell), but the drawback with the larger battery is it sticks out of the back a bit and will add extra weight to the notebook.  It just depends where and what you use a notebook for as to whether you feel the 9-cell is a worthy upgrade for you.

Operating System and Software

Unfortunately the XPS line still comes with the typical amount of garbage software you’ll get with a Dell Inspiron notebook.  McAfee is on there continually popping up messages every 10-seconds and doing something on its own, whether you want it to or not.  Stuff like AOL, QuickBooks trial and some Corel trial image software are on there to name a few and will pop up and try and get you to subscribe/buy the software.  Those that are savvy enough might try doing a fresh install of Windows XP, but for others that don’t want to do that you can go through the process of uninstalling programs or removing them from startup using msconfig (Start > Run > type: “msconfig” and go to the “Startup” tab).

The operating system I got is Windows Media Center Edition 2005.  This is basically Windows XP with media center software on top.  I didn’t get a TV tuner with my config because I’m just not interested in the hassle of an external tuner (no option of built-in).  I could have just selected Windows XP Home and I’d have the same functionality as I’m not using any of the Media Center options.

One very nice thing you get with the XPS M140 is the Media Direct functionality that allows you to quickly load up the machine to play music, view pictures or watch a DVD.  You do this by clicking the “Media Direct” button on the front of the laptop.  The first time you do this it takes a minute to boot and configure, but after that it’s a quick 15-seconds to getting to an application that allows you to play music and other media.  I was impressed by the interface and ease of use, all of the media buttons on the front work just as they do in the actual Windows bootup.

Customer Support

Dell has a dedicated staff of technical support people for the XPS line of notebooks.  These technicians are located around the world so that no matter when you call you can get help.  I haven’t called customer support or had any need to, from reading online opinions though it seems that the service level and speed in which you get to somebody is improved.  I’ve never had a problem with Dell service and support, they’ve always been prompt and there’s both online chat and phone support.  Dell is rolling out a new service called Tech Direct that will allow you to interact with a service support person online, during the session you can go to a website and they’ll be able to take over your machine and fix it as you watch.  So Dell is being proactive with continually improving support, and that deserves kudos.

Conclusion

In the end the Dell XPS M140 turns out to be a well rounded portable machine.  The battery life is great, the screen is nice (albeit a couple of faults), the number of ports offered is excellent, the build and design pretty good and the extra XPS customer support can’t hurt either.  The 14″ screen gives you a pretty comfortable viewing experience, things aren’t cramped, yet still allows you to have a portable machine.  Road warriors will still want something a bit slimmer and lighter for a 14-inch laptop, so the XPS M140 isn’t for them.  It’s too bad the M140 has no graphics card as this means Dell still has no answer to the Asus W3V or Sony S series portable notebooks that offer dedicated video cards and the ability to do some higher end gaming.  But overall the plusses by far outweigh the minuses for the M140 and if it seems this machine will fit your lifestyle needs then don’t hesitate to push the buy button on this laptop.

Pros

  • Excellent battery life of 4-hours with a 6-cell battery or 7 hours with a 9-cell
  • Nice screen overall
  • Good amount of ports, above average for a 14-inch screen notebook
  • Good keyboard
  • Good overall build
  • Dedicated XPS customer support

Cons

  • On the heavier side for a 14″ screen notebook, 5.6lbs with a 6-cell battery and about 6lbs with a 9-cell
  • No graphics card offering
  • Some graininess on the screen with white backgrounds — if you don’t like reflections on the screen avoid the TrueLife
  • Runs warm on the bottom and can get uncomfortable in the lap
  • No SXGA resolution offering

Pricing and Availability: Dell XPS M140 Pricing


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