I’ve been given the unique opportunity to analyze my laptop purchase choice in the Dell XPS M1330. The other laptop I was strongly considering at the time was the Dell D630, a 14.1″ laptop from Dell’s Latitude business line. My dad was issued one from his place of work and I’ve had a chance to take it for a quick test run and pore over its details – physical, performance, power consumption and the like – for several days.
First, let me go over what made me consider the D630 in the first place. As part of Dell’s Latitude line of business laptops, it has very good build quality and the materials used imbue a sense of solidity. Especially enticing was the 3 year, next business day onsite warranty service. As a university student, having onsite warranty could be very useful – there’d be no need to go laptop-less for weeks for service, if something were to go wrong. Finally, the price was very reasonable.
Let me get this out of the way first. The D630 I have in front of me is a very different beast from what I would have purchased. Armed with a Core 2 Duo T7700 and a 160GB 7200RPM drive, it would have been more than I was willing to spend. Obviously the sheer power makes me slightly biased against the T7100 and 120GB 5400RPM drive in my M1330. The secondary modular bay battery is also a nice touch, adding more battery life without sticking out the front like the 9 cell for the D630 does.
At the time, for the same price, I could have purchased a slightly faster D630, and then only because I received such a good deal of my M1330, else the comparison would have been even more lopsided. However, more importantly, the D630 would have come with a 3 year warranty, compared to the 1 year of the M1330. So the trade off I had to make was slightly lower performance and build quality and less warranty for a slightly more portable system with better battery life and a more aesthetically pleasing design. I’ll touch on performance and battery life first.
Now more than ever, I realize I need a laptop not for performance but for mobility and battery life. The extra performance I could have had with the D630 at the same price as the M1330 wouldn’t have been worth the decrease in battery life. Based on some quick testing, the D630 I’ve had a chance to work with has idle power consumption of 15.5-16W. My M1330 idles at 12.5-13W. Granted the D630 has more power-hungry components, it’s also running Windows XP, as opposed to Windows Vista, so it’s quite likely the numbers for the M1330 could be lower under Windows XP. Taking both component and OS differences, and fudging around with the numbers a bit, we’re still talking about a 15-20% battery life deficit for the D630.
On the other hand, the D630 does have a modular bay, which can accept a secondary battery. Plugging that 48WHr bay battery in the D630 takes the combined capacity up to over 100WHr, which should easily make up for the difference in power consumption compared to my M1330 with the 9 cell battery. Plus, the media bay battery has the added benefit of not protruding from the laptop, unlike the M1330’s 9 cell.
All this talk of adding battery capacity brings me to my next topic, portability. In terms of physical dimensions, the two laptops are quite similar. The M1330 is a bit smaller – almost 1 inch less wide. The D630’s thickness is fairly uniform throughout, while the M1330 is wedge-shaped, sloping down from the back to the front. Towards the back, the two laptops are nearly the same thickness, but the M1330 becomes quite a bit thinner at the front. Keep in mind this is with the LED-backlit panel with the M1330. With the regular CCFL panel, the M1330 may very well end up a bit thicker overall than the D630, which is somewhat surprising. The hinge design of the M1330 allows the display to sit lower to the desk, meaning the panel is almost an inch less high than the D630 when open.
Comparing the M1330 and the D630 both with 6 cell batteries and an optical drive, the D630 does feel a bit heavier. According to Dell, the D630 in that configuration is just about 5lbs while the M1330 is around 4.3lbs. I could notice a small difference as I hefted each laptop, one after another. However, I’ll admit I’d be hard pressed to actually notice a difference if I wasn’t able to directly compare them side by side. Still, with the configuration outlined above, the D630 would only be able to provide 3-3.5 hours of battery life, while the M1330 should do close to 4. That is significant.
Quality versus Aesthetics
Let me qualify the following discussion by saying that I don’t believe the M1330 suffers from poor build quality. Far from it. There were undoubtedly initial problems with things such as the uneven base and fit and finish. However, the materials used are top notch and the laptop feels quite solid overall. It’s just that compared against a business laptop like the Latitude D630, it pales in comparison.
The main gripe I have with the M1330 is the LCD lid. Because the LED backlit panel is quite thin, it is prone to flexing. When I carry the laptop, I am careful not to put much pressure on the lid itself with my hand. There’s already some signs of physical wear towards the top, near the webcam where the panel has flexed into the touchpad, causing a groove in the bezel. I’ve ameliorated the problem somewhat by placing two small spacers at the front corners of the laptop, lifting the panel slightly above the chassis when it is closed.
The D630’s panel, on the other hand, is absolutely solid. The magnesium alloy lid protects the screen well and is not prone to flexing at all. There’s no need to be cautious when carrying the laptop. The lid doesn’t flex in the hand. Given the thin lid of the M1330, I think Dell should have considered a stronger material than the thin plastic currently being used. It would impart a sturdier feel when carrying the laptop and would stiffen up the lid, preventing or at least reducing flex.
Clearly the M1330 and D630 aren’t aimed at the same target market. Where the D630 excels in build quality, the M1330 sparkles in its attractiveness. It’s all the more obvious as I placed the two laptops side by side. The D630 is all business. Aesthetics have clearly taken a back seat to build quality and usability, although that’s not to say it’s ugly. It’s just that day in and day out, the M1330 that sits on my desk is still one of the prettiest pieces of technology that I own.
Am I Second-Guessing My Choice?
Now that I’ve had a chance to try out my other laptop choice, do I still think I made the right choice with the M1330? It’s a slightly less resounding yes, but the answer is still yes.
With any choice, there would have been compromises. The question is what compromises would I have been willing to make. By far, portability and battery life are my two top priorities. In terms of size and weight, the M1330 and D630 are quite similar, but when it comes to battery life, the M1330 with the LED backlit panel wins the day. For certain, I would have preferred a stronger LCD lid in the M1330 and the added peace of mind of the 3 year next-business-day warranty, but I take care of my computers and I doubt I’d keep the laptop for 3 years anyways (knowing me, 1 year will be tough enough).
For me, the M1330 was the right choice, and even having used the D630 for a little while, I stand by that decision. I hope my discussion of the two laptops’ similarities and differences will help those who are faced with the same choice as I was. Consider your priorities; they may not be the same as mine.
As for me, I’m already eying the leaked E-series Latitudes. The rumoured LED backlit displays, light weight, physical appearance and Latitude build quality could be just the thing I’m looking for in my next laptop.