Positioned between the business-targeted Latitude and the mainstream consumer Inspiron lines, Dell's Vostro has always been the type of computer that's half-meant for personal use, half for business: it's casual professional. The Vostro 3300, part of a revamped line from Dell, is a 13-inch laptop with a somewhat thick frame and a standard-voltage Core i3, i5, or i7 processor. It's not as slick as the more expensive Vostro V13, which takes much of its design ideas from the high-end Dell Adamo (the original model, not the newer XPS version), but it still has a bit of the Adamo magic in its looks and metal outer casing. More importantly, the 3300's price--starting at $599 for a Core i3 processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 250GB hard drive--makes it very affordable.
The Vostro 3300 isn't going to turn heads, but it is one of the best, most affordable and lightweight small business 13-inchers we've seen, with its only significant drawback being battery life. It's so nice that we wonder why Dell hasn't offered this little guy up to mainstream consumers more eagerly.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$868 / 599|
|Processor||2.26 GHz Intel Core i5 M430|
|Memory||3GB, 1066MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||320GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Intel Media Accelerator HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Professional (32-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.8 x 9.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.3/5.0 pounds|
The Vostro is meant to glide somewhere between personal and business, and that's exactly what the design of the 3300 suggests: metal and black define the outside, with squared-off edges on the front and back, and slightly rounded sides. The Vostro 3300 comes standard in Aberdeen Silver (which is what we had) in Core i3 configurations, with the option of adding Lucerne Red or Brisbane Bronze color schemes in the Core i5 configuration for an extra $40. Overall, the design lies somewhere between the trendy Adamo and the more utilitarian Latitude.
Plain, ThinkPad-esque matte-black defines the interior of this minimalist Dell, from the keyboard deck up to the material surrounding the above-screen Webcam. A few backlit media-control keys and a backlit power button above the keyboard are the only flashy touches. Because this Vostro has a slightly thick and squared bottom half, there's room to fit audio in/out jacks, an SD card slot, and a Wi-Fi toggle button on the front edge, although they're a little tightly packed together in the center below the track pad.
The keyboard on the Dell Vostro 3300 is similar to ones we've seen on other recent Dell laptops: it could be best described as a flat keyboard with individually raised keys. Though there's no number pad, it's easy to type and feels comfortable during extended writing sessions, and the keyboard goes edge-to-edge, maximizing the laptop's compact dimensions. The keyboard on our model wasn't backlit and that isn't available as an upgrade option on this exact model, but there is a Dell Vostro 3300 that includes a backlit keyboard on Dell's Web site starting at $708.
Above the keyboard, a small backlit touch-controlled media bar has basic play/pause and volume functions. It's useful, but not overly so for a business-focused machine. These might have been better spent on videoconferencing and other productivity-related toggles. To the right of these are a few LED indicators for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and battery status.
The track pad is wider and responds better than that of some brands we've seen. The plain discrete buttons below are nothing remarkable and could be slightly larger, but at least they're not overdesigned.
A 13.3-inch LED-backlit display on the Dell Vostro 3300 has a 16x9 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is standard for most laptops up to 15 inches. These screens also come standard with antiglare, which is far rarer. The experience we had was excellent--the screen has the glare-free quality of a matte display, with the crispness found in a glossy coating. Text and video were easy to watch in any lighting.
The included 2-megapixel Webcam had better clarity, sound-recording and light sensitivity than most Webcams we've come across, making it perfect for video conferencing. A small LED light also indicates the camera's in record mode. Though the camera's professional, Dell's selection of cartoonish effect overlays in its included camera software can only be described as cheese-ball.
There's only one speaker on the Vostro 3300. It's located on the front left edge of the laptop's bottom half, and though it sounds loud and clear, its off-center position makes it a weak choice for movie playback. Should you choose to take a break with a DVD, you might want to pack some good headphones.
|Dell Vostro 3300||Average for category [Mainstream]|
|Video||VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Mono speaker, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA combo, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, modem, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Dell Vostro 3300 doesn't have a huge selection of ports, but it does have eSATA. It's lacking HDMI-out, however, which is a feature that's becoming nearly universal on all laptops (excluding Macs). Thankfully, at least there's Bluetooth.
Configuration options abound on the Vostro 3300, as is often the case with Dell laptops. Customization on Dell's Web site offers either a Core i3 or i5 processor, along with RAM configurations from 2GB to 4GB and hard drives from 250GB to 500, all at 7,200rpm. RAM can be expanded up to 8GB. Despite Core i3 and i5 processors being 64-bit-ready, Dell chose to make 32-bit Windows Home Premium the default OS. Upgrading to 32-bit Professional or 64-bit Home Premium costs an extra $70; 64-bit Professional, an extra $120.
Depending on the support software, memory and other options chosen, the Vostro 3300's price can climb above $1,000, where it no longer seems like a great bargain. We'd advise you keep software services to a minimum and focus on basic needs. Our configuration, at over $800, just straddles the border of what we'd consider paying before looking elsewhere.
Intel's Core i3 and i5 processors are both more than enough for any user's multimedia-viewing and multitasking needs. The i5 processor is notably faster, but we wouldn't be opposed to downgrading to a Core i3 based on our previous experience with the CPU, although our benchmarks on the Vostro 3300 are limited to the Core i5 configuration. It's excellent for most business needs, including PowerPoint, but our system did tend to run a bit noisily and warm after a few minutes of dedicated Hulu streaming.
As far as graphics go, there aren't any to speak of except for Intel's integrated HD GPU. This machine is perfect at handling video playback, but it can't handle games beyond casual or browser-based ones. Dell does offer discrete graphics--an Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU--on its highest-end Vostro 3300 configuration.
|Mainstream (Avg watts/hour)|
|Raw kWh Number||51.42|
|Annual Energy Cost||$5.84|
The Dell Vostro 3300 ran for 2 hours and 5 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included 4-cell battery. Anything under 3 hours on a mainstream laptop is disappointing, and although the Vostro uses a lower-capacity 4-cell battery, it's a mar on an otherwise strong design. Yes, this is a budget laptop, but few business customers would want to risk such a brief amount of battery life when traveling. Upgrading to an 8-cell extended-life battery ($99) is a must.
Dell includes an industry-standard, one-year warranty with the Vostro 3300, including on-site service. Extended warranty options can be selected when purchasing the Vostro--an extra year for $50 or two years for $90--or a more expensive but comprehensive Business Class Service Plan for about $70 extra per year. Support is accessible via chat, e-mail, or toll-free phone. An online knowledge base and driver downloads are relatively easy to find.
Dell Vostro 3300
Windows 7 Professional (32-bit); 2.26GHz Intel Core i5 M430; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1275MB (Total) Intel MHD; 320GB Seagate 7200rpm
HP Pavilion dm4-1003
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1695MB (Total) Intel MHD; 320GB Toshiba 7200rpm
HP ProBook 5310m
Windows 7 Professional (64bit) 2.26Ghz; Intel Core 2 Duo, 2048MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz, 64MB Intel GMA 4500MHD, 320GB Seagate 7200rpm
Lenovo Thinkpad Edge
Windows 7 Professional; 1.3Hz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 ULV; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Seagate 5400rpm
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