While a worthwhile vendor of mass-market mainstream laptops and desktops, Dell has never been known as an innovator in consumer product design. In fact, the company's stodgy, boxy products have been blamed for a loss of market share to the bolder design strokes of competitors such as HP and Gateway. That's what makes the new 13-inch XPS M1330 such a pleasant surprise. From our first behind-closed-doors peek at it last month, we've been impressed with the emphasis on the user experience in this superthin, high-end laptop, from the slot-loading DVD drive to the touch-sensitive media buttons and HDMI-output jack. At $2,000 and up, it's definitely a premium product, but worth it if head-turning design is as important to you as specs and performance.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$2,188 / $1,299|
|Processor||2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||128MB Nvidia GeForce Go 8400|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||12.5x9.4x0.87-1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter [pounds]||4.3 / 5.1 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
Unlike the bulky, unattractive 12-inch Dell XPS m1210, the M1330 has clearly been built with an emphasis on good looks and clean lines, ditching the earlier model's cumbersome, rotating Web cam and thick chassis. The system is slightly wedge shaped, going from 0.87 inch in the front to 1.3 inches in the rear. At less than four pounds, it's one of the lightest 13-inch laptops we've seen--nearly a full pound lighter than the popular yet hefty 13-inch Apple MacBook, and a touch lighter than the 12-inch XPS M1210.
The keyboard tray is brushed silver with black accents, while the lid is available in black, white, or red. Our review unit had the matte-red finish (Dell calls it Crimson Red), which looks great, but more color options (as with the newly revamped Inspiron line of laptops) would have been welcome.
Dell manages to squeeze a good number of extras onto the keyboard tray, including touch-sensitive controls for volume and media playback, an eject button for the slot-loading DVD drive, and a quick-launch button for Dell's proprietary Media Direct software. The biggest drawback we found with the M1330's design was the tiny, 2.75-inch touchpad, which we found to be particularly frustrating given the fact that there's plenty of room on the wrist rest for a bigger pad.
Rounding out the laptop's external features are a Webcam on top of the display and a small, credit-card-size remote control that pops into PC card slot on the side.
The LED-backlit display, also seen in the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, helps to make the system's lid thinner (less than a quarter-inch thick) while also extending battery life, although users should not expect the display to look any different than a traditional LCD laptop screen. With a native resolution of 1,280x800--the same as on the 13-inch MacBook--you get the best mix of screen real estate and readability.
|Dell XPS M1330||Average for category [thin-and-light]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone (2x)/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Two USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a multiformat memory card reader||Three USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||Two Type IIIA Mini-Card Slots||Type I/II PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
With only two USB ports, some accessory-heavy users may feel shortchanged, but we suspect they'll be few and far between. The HDMI output is a welcome bonus, but we're not sure how useful will be until Dell adds a Blu-ray drive to the configuration options. Wireless 802.11n networking is rapidly becoming the new default for laptops, and we would have been disappointed not to see it here. We were also pleased to see Dell offer an optional mobile broadband antenna, with service from Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint.
Our prerelease review unit had a decent set of specs, but we'll have to wait until Dell's online configuration utility is live to see exactly what your options are. We do know the high-end 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 processor is available--our review unit featured a 2.0GHz T7300--as well as your choice of Intel's integrated 3100 graphics or Nvidia's GeForce Go 8400. A non-LED backlit display is also an option, but as it adds weight and thickness; we'd avoid it. Solid-state hard drives and Blu-ray optical drives are promised in the near future, but exact dates for those features making their way to the M1330's configurator aren't known.
Compared with other recent 13-inch laptops, the Dell XPS M1330 performed as expected, closely matching the performance of the similarly configured Apple MacBook, and easily beating the Fujitsu's 13-inch AMD-based LifeBook S2210, thanks to the strength of Intel's Core 2 Duo processors and Centrino Duo platform. Hardware has evolved to the point where laptop performance comes only into play if a system is somehow working slower than it should be and as we'd expect for any recent Core 2 Duo laptop, the XPS M1330 is a speedy performer, even when running multiple apps such as iTunes, Word, and IE at the same time.
The Nvidia GeForce Go 8400 isn't the fastest laptop GPU out there, but it's at the upper end of what you can find outside of 17-inch desktop replacement systems. We got a very playable 33.3 frames per second in Quake 4 at 1,024x768, even with high-end options such as antialiasing turned on, meaning the XPS M1330 has decent gaming chops, as long as your expectations are reasonable.