After years of producing solid but unexciting gray boxes, Dell adopted a "design-first" philosophy in 2007 that led to both smartly redesigned versions of its mainstream Inspiron laptops, and one of our favorite laptops of the year, the 13-inch XPS M1330. Dell is now taking the basic design of that system and building a new 15-inch laptop around it. Mid-size 15-inch laptops are perhaps the hardest to make interesting, and the $1,899 XPS M1530 isn't nearly as revolutionary as the earlier model (which had an LED-backlit screen and was less than an inch thick), but it's still the best-looking 15-inch laptop we've seen in a long time, and reasonably configurable, starting at just $999 with high-end touches such as a slot-loading DVD drive, touch-sensitive media buttons, and HDMI-output jack.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,899 / $999|
|Processor||2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.1 x 10.3 x 1.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.9 / 7.0 pounds|
The M1530, like the M1330 before it, is slightly wedge-shaped, going from 1.2 inches in the front to 1.5 inches in the rear. At a hair under 6 pounds, it's a bit lighter than most 15-inch laptops we've seen, and the overall look is slim and attractive. A few color options are offered, although the only difference is in the back of the lid, which is available in black, white, or red. Our review unit had the matte-red finish (Dell calls it crimson red), which looks great and is the color seen in Dell's ads and promotional materials. More color options (as with the current Inspiron line of laptops) would have been welcome.
The keyboard tray is brushed silver with black accents and includes touch-sensitive controls for volume and media playback and an eject button for the slot-loading DVD drive. We've never been crazy about the slightly tapered keys on Dell's laptop keyboards, which seem to leave you less typing surface area, because the individual keys are wider at the base than the top. On the plus side, a tiny credit-card remote control sits tucked into the Express Card slot and is a standard feature on XPS laptops.
Dell is currently offering only a 1,280x800 resolution LCD display, but our review unit had a slightly higher native resolution, 1,440x900 screen, which Dell says will be rolled out as an option in the coming weeks. The lid itself is very thin, slightly more than a quarter-inch thick, even though it's a standard LCD screen, not the power-saving LED backlit display found in the M1330.
|Dell XPS M1530||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, S-Video, HDMI||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||Express card slot||PC Card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; mobile broadband (Sprint or Verizon)||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Slot-loading DVD burner||DVD burner|
For a laptop that starts at $999, it was good to see extras, such as a Webcam and HDMI output, included as standard equipment. In typical Dell fashion, everything else, from 802.11N Wi-Fi to Bluetooth, costs a few extra dollars. Both Sprint and Verizon mobile broadband cards are available, for $150 each (but both have $100 rebate offers from their respective carriers).
While our review unit cost nearly $2,000, you can dial down many of the components to hit $999 with an Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, 1GB of RAM, and a 120GB hard drive. To the other extreme, you can opt for a 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7800 for $400 more than our perfectly adequate T7500.
The Dell XPS M1530 performed as expected, closely matching the performance of the similarly configured HP Pavilion dv6500t, and falling slightly behind Apple's latest T7700 revision to its flagship Apple MacBook. As we'd expect for any recent Core 2 Duo laptop, the XPS M1530 is a speedy performer, even when running multiple apps such as iTunes, Word, and Internet Explorer at the same time.
The included Nvidia GeForce Go 8600 isn't the fastest laptop video card available, but it's better than your only other configuration option, the slower GeForce 8400. While it's nowhere near the latest 8800-series cards we see popping up in high-end gaming laptops, we were still able to get a decent 72.1 frames per second in Quake 4 at 1,024x768 with 4x anti-aliasing turned on.
The XPS M1530 is available with two battery options, and we tested both the 6-cell and 9-cell versions. While the 6-cell fits flush with the system and ran for 2 hours and 9 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, the 9-cell battery ran for 3 hours and 22 minutes on the same test. The catch is that the 9-cell battery is positively gigantic, raising the rear of the laptop from 1.5 inches to 2.2 inches, although it fortunately doesn't extend past the back of the system. The weight goes from 5.9 to 6.4 pounds when you switch to the larger battery. Notably, the default slim battery in Apple's 13-inch MacBook runs even longer than the extended Dell battery.
Dell includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, including in-home service, a perk for customers of the higher-end XPS line. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base and driver downloads.