A couple of months back my old Toshiba TE2100 laptop that my wife has been using packed it in and it was time to look at a new one. I settled on a Dell and took delivery of a Dell XPS M1210 laptop last week. So far I’m pretty impressed. Here’s a breakdown of the features that I picked up for AU $2840:

  • 12.1″ Screen. 1280 x 800 resolution
  • Core 2 Duo T7200 2Ghz with 4MB cache
  • 2 GB RAM (2 x 1GB SIMMS) at 667 MHz
  • 100GB 7200RPM SATA HDD
  • NVIDIA GeForce Go 7400 with 256Mb RAM
  • DVD±RW drive
  • 4 USB ports plus 1 Firewire port
  • 5 in 1 Card reader
  • Broadcom LAN, Intel WLAN, Bluetooth plus a WWAN slot
  • 5.1 surround sound with digital out
  • ExpressCard slot
  • Inbuilt Logitech web cam - no taping a web cam to my head for me
  • Creative in-ear sound isolating head phones
  • Razer Diamondback gaming mouse
  • Dell printer
  • Dell carry bag
  • 3 year international warranty
  • Windows Vista Home Premium

When I ran it up I was surprised at the amount of applications installed out of the box. There was Google desktop, McAfee Internet Security, Microsoft Works, Roxio MyDVD plus a couple of others - in all about 73 processes running at boot. Compare that with about 43 with a clean Windows Vista install and you’ve got a lot of crap there. The hard drive was also partitioned into two drives - the D: drive, which was about 6GB, had a copy of a Windows PE recovery environment. Probably useful for most normal consumers but not so for me.

So the first thing I did after saving a copy of the drivers was to wipe the drive and install the 64 bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate. Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be 64 bit drivers for the card reader or the sound card and as I don’t really see the point in going 64 bit yet I went back to the 32 bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate. Now I’ve got a far better install I think

When I installed Virtual PC 2007 I was surprised to see no hardware virtualisation support, so I had to go into the BIOS and enable it which I thought was a little odd. I would have thought that hardware virtualisation would be enabled by default; surely Intel would want OEMs to enable this feature? I presume that if you are working with virtualisation at this stage you’ll know your way around the BIOS.

The Creative sound isolating headphones are pretty good. I’ve got them on while I write this and I had expected them to sound pretty cheap, but the bass is good and even the high end is quite sharp. If you don’t like things pushed right into your ears you might be passing these one on.

There are plenty of in depth reviews of this laptop around the place, but given that hardware changes so quickly and you can customise your order a direct comparison is hard, so here’s a short break down of the good and bad points after less than a week with this laptop:

The Good

  • It’s fast, really fast. I haven’t done any performance testing yet, but it feels really snappy. I had a Windows XP virtual machine on it running in Virtual PC 2007 which felt like it was running directly on the hardware.
  • Its light, at just less than 2 kilos and being a small package its nice an easy to carry around.
  • The build quality is really good. I can pick it up from a corner and I don’t feel any flex. The keyboard feels quite nice and the lid closes without using a latch which is a nice touch.
  • It’s got a slot for a WWAN card plus a SIM card under the battery, so I don’t know if the ExpressCard slot will ever get used.

The Bad

  • The hard drive makes a high pitched whine when set to performance mode. I’ve set the hard drive to quiet mode and this has made a bit of an improvement. This might not be an issue for some people those types of noises get to me perhaps a little too easily.
  • The speakers are tinny, but with not a lot of room for any reasonable speakers it’s a bit of a trade off.
  • Sound Blaster Audigy support is software only. Disappoint with this is my fault really; I didn’t read the web site correctly and thought that I was getting it with a Sound Blaster Audigy card. It’s actually provided by software which unfortunately does require a Creative licensing service running. Sound quality is actually pretty good but it would be nice if Dell offered the XPS line with an actual Sound Blaster Audigy card.

One thing I regret not ordering is the 9 cell battery (it comes with a 6 cell by default). I had thought that the 9 cell would have increased the size and weight too much but now that I’ve got the laptop I think that the larger battery would not have an inconvenience at all.

If you are in the market for a Dell it pays to check the web site regularly for deals they may have. I actually spec’d up about three different laptops over a period of close to three months and each time the features got better and price dropped. This final configuration was almost $300 cheaper than the first one and I think I’ve got a far better deal.