Dell XPS M1530 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (1,228,773)

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by Jerry Jackson

Dell made a serious effort in 2007 to listen to customer feedback criticizing Dell’s older, thick and heavy laptops. The result was the amazingly thin and light XPS M1330, one of the sexiest looking notebooks of 2007. The new Dell XPS M1530 is an impressive 15.4" screen notebook designed similar to (just larger than) the very successful 13-inch XPS M1330.


Dell XPS M1530(view large image)


Our pre-production XPS M1530 is equipped with the following specs:

  • 15.4-inch WXGA (1280 x 800) CCFL glossy screen
  • "Crimson" red paint (also available in "Tuxedo" black or "Alpine" white)
  • 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T7500 processor, Santa Rosa chipset (up to 2.4GHz available)
  • 2GB DDR2-667 SDRAM (up to 4GB DDR2 SDRAM available)
  • 160GB 5400 RPM SATA HDD (32GB SSD drive available)
  • Slot-loading dual-layer DVD±RW drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600M GT with 256MB GDDR3
  • WWAN option for Verizon
  • Ethernet, 802.11a/g/n (Intel 4965), Bluetooth option
  • Integrated 2.0 megapixel webcam
  • HDMI, VGA, S-Video, Firewire/1394, three USB 2.0 ports, integrated media reader (MS, SD, xD), fingerprint reader
  • Media Center remote located in ExpressCard slot
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Dimensions (with 6-cell battery): 14.06" x 10.34" x 0.93" – 1.38"
  • Weight starts at 5.9 pounds with 6-cell battery (6.29 pounds with 9-cell)

Build and Design

The Dell XPS M1330 has received high praise for its design and feature set in a 13.3" portable form factor, but the most popular selling laptops are in the 15.4" screen size. Dell, being in the business of selling more laptops and making customers happy, figured it would be wise to offer something that’s larger and appeals to more people. And that’s exactly what the M1530 is — a larger version of the M1330.

As we said in our First Look article, it’s as if Dell put the M1330 on steroids and the M1530 is the end result — the laptop size increased proportionally and it’s also more powerful in its new form. The design and look is mostly the same, the keyboard feels the same, the touch sensitive controls are replicated and for the most part the ports are the same (though you do get an extra USB 2.0 port on the M1530). That said, when we compare the M1530 and the M1330 side by side we can’t help but think the design of the M1530 is "overweight" in comparison.


Above view of Dell XPS M1530 (view large image)

There are some notable differences other than size between the M1530 and M1330 however. The M1530 can be configured with a more powerful Nvidia 8600M GT graphics card for boosted gaming performance over the XPS M1330 that only offers up to the Nvidia 8400M GS. The M1530 also offers up to a 2.80GHz Intel T7800 processor, whereas the XPS M1330 tops out at an Intel T7500 2.2GHz processor. Obviously if you’re all about the performance metrics and don’t carry a laptop around much, the XPS M1530 is a better fit for you.

Some people might wonder if they should go for the Dell Inspiron 1520 15.4" notebook or the Dell XPS M1530 15.4". After all, they’re both consumer notebooks from the same company that can be configured similarly, so what’s the point? For one, the XPS M1530 is way more eye catching in terms of design than the Inspiron 1520. The barrel hinge, dropdown screen and sloping look of the M1530 is just cool. Second, the XPS M1530 weighs just 5.9 lbs with a standard 6-cell battery and just 6 lbs and 4.6 ounces (6.29 lbs) with its 9-cell battery. The Inspiron 1520 weighs more than 7 lbs with the 6-cell battery. Other benefits of the XPS M1530 notebook include a sleeker slot loading optical drive, touch sensitive light-up buttons, dedicated XPS tech support, media remote control and thinner profile.

Screen

Another difference that should be mentioned is that currently the M1530 is offered with only a standard 15.4" widescreen XGA (1280 x 800) display, while the XPS M1330 has the option for a thinner and more power efficient LED backlit display. Dell says the XPS M1530 should be available next year with different resolution screens … including LED backlight options.

Even though some will be a little put out by the lack of LED backlighting being offered on the M1530 initially, the standard CCFL display is still gorgeously bright and flawless. Plus you get a higher 2.0MP web cam with the standard thicker CCFL screen, whereas with a thinner LED screen only a VGA resolution cam can be fitted.

The screen on our pre-production unit looks flawless from straight on and the horizontal viewing angles are great. Upper vertical viewing angles are good, but colors did begin to invert at lower viewing angles when the screen is tilted back.


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Keyboard, Touchpad and Media Controls

The keyboard on the XPS M1530 is fairly similar to the XPS M1330, with obvious reasons. The keyboard is firm with virtually no flex and the keys have excellent travel and cushion. The XPS M1530 is really quite a pleasure to type on. The only complaint I have for the keyboard is that if your fingernails are slightly long they might get caught under the keys, this shouldn’t be a problem for most males though.


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The touchpad works well enough, though it’s seems a little on the small side given the size of the notebook. The mouse buttons have excellent travel and cushion, though I did feel like they made a bit too much of a "clicking" sound when pressed. The good news with the touchpad is that it’s responsive, has dedicated scroll areas and the textured feel is good.


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A series of touch-sensitive media buttons with blue LED backlights are located above the keyboard similar to the buttons on the M1330. One nice feature about the media buttons is that the blue LEDs only stay lit for a fraction of a second after being pressed, so they won’t distract you by staying lit all the time.

Dell also includes a Media Center remote control that fits neatly into the ExpressCard slot on the side of the notebook. This is a great accessory for presentations or if you want to control a DVD from across the room.


Included remote with XPS M1530 (view large image)

Ports and Features

The port selection of the M1530 is resonably good for a notebook of this size. Here’s a quick rundown of what you get:


Front profile view: Microphone in, dual headphone out, and memory card reader. (view large image)


Left side: DC power jack, two USB ports, VGA out, Ethernet/LAN, HDMI, and FireWire. (view large image)


Right side: ExpressCard slot, WiFi on/off, WiFi catcher, slot-loading optical drive, USB port, S-Video out, and Kensington lock slot. (view large image)


Back profile view of the XPS M1530: no ports here. (view large image)

The built-in HDMI is a very nice thing to have for those that want digital video output, S-Video is also there for the more old-fashioned approach to that. With FireWire, three USB ports, a media card reader, two headphone jacks, microphone jack, ExpressCard slot and Ethernet port you’re well equipped ports wise.

I was a bit let down by the fact the M1530 only includes three USB ports since most 15.4" notebooks have four. However, the multiple video-out options and overall thin design make the lack of USB ports "somewhat" understandable.

Some of our editorial staff are huge fans of slot-loading drives and while I think these drives look amazing, I’m not entirely sold on the technology. Slot loading drives don’t like small DVDs or CDs like those you sometimes receive with hardware drivers or in the mail. Another issue is that slot-loading drives tend to be a bit more noisy than traditional tray-type drives (more on that later in this review).

Speakers

The speaker quality was "acceptable" for a notebook without a built-in subwoofer. Based on the M1330 that one of our editors owns I would suspect that the speakers in the M1530 are the exact same part as the speakers used in the M1330.

The speakers for the M1530 are located at the top of the keyboard area above the media buttons. There’s not much to write home about the speakers, they get loud enough with minimal distortion, but the sound is slightly tinny as is the case with nearly all laptop speakers.

Performance and Benchmarks

Without any tweaks to drivers or removal of software, the machine performed very well — the 2.20GHz Core 2 Duo processor and Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB card will satisfy most gamers with exception to those more hard core, and will certainly please the average PC user. The 3DMark benchmarks might look unusually high at first glance, but the Nvidia 8600M GT card in the M1530 uses GDDR3 RAM instead of the more common GDDR2.

Frame rates for games like the Crysis demo and Call of Duty 4 were all quite playable and smooth with a few moments of lag during Crysis.

Game Average Frame Rate (FPS)
Crysis ~20
Call of Duty 4 ~40

Of course, the M1530 is also available with Nvidia 8400M GS graphics for those customers who don’t care about playing the latest games.

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.485s
Portable One SXS37 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 41.908s
Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
Alienware M5750 (Core 2 Duo T7600 @ 2.33GHz) 38.327s
Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s
Samsung Q70 (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 42.218s
Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi (Core Duo T2500 @ 2.0GHz) 42.947s
Samsung X60plus (Core 2 Duo T7200 @ 2.0GHz) 44.922s
Zepto Znote 6224W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 45.788s
Samsung Q35 (Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83GHz) 46.274s
Samsung R20 (Core Duo T2250 @ 1.73GHz) 47.563s

 

3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 4,332 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 2,905 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB 2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66GHz Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 5,412 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 4,616 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 3,487 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks


HDTune results:


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Heat and Noise

The XPS M1530 does a reasonable job keeping heat under control. The system fan and heatsinks in the M1530 do a great job managing heat when the system is under load … as we discovered when we ran multiple benchmarks back to back. The CPU temperature peaked at only 58 degrees Celsius during multiple 3DMark06 tests. The fan moved a significant amount of hot air but the noise was reasonably low and wasn’t noticeable over background noise most of the time. However, when the fan was at the highest setting we did record the volume of the noise at 53-56dB from about two inches away from the fan exhaust.


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Unfortunately, noise was something of an issue with the M1530. The slot-loading optical drive was quite loud during Windows startup, inserting a disk, or ejecting a disk. The sound is something like a small power drill muffled under a pillow. That said, the optical drive produces acceptable noise levels when a disk is spinning in the drive.

The real noise issue involved the hard drive. Because of the way the hard drive is mounted to the case (and due to the thin metals used) the spinning/scratching noise of the Hitachi-brand hard drive was magnified under the left palm rest. The hard drive noise was so loud that I was able to hear the hard drive making scratching noises from two feet away even while playing music at a resonable volume over the built-in speakers. That’s just too loud.

Battery Life

The 9-cell extended-life battery provides excellent battery life for the M1530. With Vista’s power management running in "high performance" mode, screen brightness set to maximum and wireless on, the 9-cell battery delivered more than 3 hours and 30 minutes of battery life. We’re certain that the 9-cell battery could deliver more than 4 hours of life with the notebook set to "balanced" or "power saver" mode and the screen brightness turned down.

One thing to mention is that with the 9-cell battery in you get an overall greater slope to the keyboard, we actually like this for ergonomics, it feels more comfortable for typing.


The 9-cell battery adds almost another 0.75" to the back. (view large image)

Dell also included a standard 6-cell battery with our pre-production review unit. Unfortunately, the standard 6-cell battery had been abused (cracked) before we received the unit, so we decided to play it safe and did not conduct tests with the 6-cell battery.

Conclusion

Overall, the Dell XPS M1530 is a solid addition to the Dell notebook lineup. We praised the smaller XPS M1330 for having "a design that is second to none in its price range" but we didn’t feel quite as strong about the design of the larger M1530. While this is certainly the hottest 15.4" notebook available from Dell, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re looking at a "fat" M1330 with a larger screen.

While issues like a noisy slot-loading drive, noisy hard drive, and limited screen options will make some demanding buyers look elsewhere, the M1530 is an excellent alternative to HP’s popular dv6500t notebook in the same price range.

Pros

  • Thin and light … for a 15.4" Dell notebook
  • Nvidia 8600M GT card option uses high-performance GDDR3 memory
  • Reasonable battery life
  • Nice keyboard, touchpad and media buttons

Cons

  • Only three USB ports
  • Slot-loading drive is loud during loading and ejecting
  • Hard drive noise is magnified by the case/mount design
  • Limited screen options at the time of this writing


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