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Dell is often derided for embodying all that is bad about faceless corporate PC makers: they churn out an endless supply of boxy, unimaginative PCs that, while functional, are about as exciting as rush-hour traffic. But with the help of its XPS brand, it's now arguably as funky as any PC maker.
We're huge fans of the XPS 710 H2C, we love the enormous XPS M2010, and now we're about to go doolally for the new XPS M1330. It's easy to see why: Dell says it's the thinnest 13.3-inch laptop in the world. It's also lighter than equivalent Apple MacBooks, and is arguably just as sexy.
Dell reckons the M1330 is the thinnest 13.3-inch laptop in the world. In a sense, that's true -- the thinnest edge of the wedge-shaped chassis measures just 25mm. Unfortunately the fatter rear edge is a comparatively bloated 36mm. So, yes, it's the thinnest in the world, but it's arguably also the thickest.
Despite this, the wedge shape gives the M1330 a very sleek appearance -- it's a far cry from the lardy-looking XPS M1210. The three colour options (Tuxedo Black, Pearlescent White and our favourite -- Crimson Red) make a welcome change from the norm. The inside portion of the laptop is, predictably, silver, but it's a slightly futuristic gunmetal silver, which makes the laptop look somehow more expensive.
The keyboard itself feels very good to type on. Each key provides good feedback so you always know exactly when keystrokes are registered. The mouse trackpad is a little small, but this solves more problems that it causes: there's little likelihood of accidentally touching the pad while typing, and you can increase the trackpad's sensitivity to avoid using multiple finger strokes.
Dell has done a lot to make the M1330 look sleeker than its predecessor, the XPS M1210. Notably, the rotating webcam at the top of the screen has been replaced with a less-intrusive non-rotating model. The resolution has also been boosted from 0.3 megapixels to 2 megapixels on select models, so it can be used for legitimate self-portraits as well as Web conferencing. The optical drive has been replaced with a gorgeous slot-loading DVD drive, and the PC Card slot is home to a tiny remote control, which can be used to access and control your music and video from a distance.
The M1330 is its first consumer laptop to include a fingerprint reader. This is located to the right of the laptop below the keyboard and is intended, primarily, to allow secure logins. It has another trick up its sleeve, though -- it can launch different Windows applications depending on which finger you swipe. This feature is so clever we wonder why nobody has ever thought of it before. Our only gripe is the fact the laptop only has two USB ports. By the time you add a USB mouse and one other device, you'll have wished you bought a USB hub.
The XPS range is all about high performance, so it's no surprise to see the XPS M1330 uses the fastest available Intel Core 2 Duo mobile CPU. Both cores on the T7700 run at a heady 2.2GHz and are backed by 4MB of level 2 cache memory. Other CPU options are available, including a 2.2GHz T7500, 1.8GHz T7100 and 1.5GHz T5250, which save you £176, £387 and £517 respectively.
The M1330 has 1GB of 667MHz DDR2 memory as standard, but this can be upgraded to 2GB for an extra £111 or 4GB for an extra £581, although we suspect this would be overkill. We'd recommend saving some cash to upgrade from the standard Intel GMA X3100 graphics card to the faster Nvidia GeForce Go 8400M GS. It's by no means the fastest graphics card in the world, but it'll let you play games -- something many 13-inch laptops can only dream of.
Two types of display are available -- an LED lit model and a traditional CCFL version. If you have an extra £82 to spare, we'd recommend the LED version. Not only is it brighter than the CCFL version (300cd/m2 versus 220cd/m2), but it should, in theory, enable longer battery life and is kinder to the environment. Both have a native resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, which is par for the course for a screen of this size. The aforementioned 2-megapixel webcam is only available with the CCFL screen -- the LED version only has a 0.3-megapixel camera, for some reason.
Hi-def aficionados will be pleased to hear the M1330 includes an HDMI port. Dell also promises a Blu-ray drive as an option, which gives the yummy prospect of using the laptop as a portable Media Center machine. In its current incarnation, the only optical option is an ultra-slim 8x DVD rewriter. This supplements the standard 120GB hard drive, though there are 160GB (5,400RPM) and 200GB (7,200RPM) options for £47 and £176 extra respectively. If money isn't an option, and you're more concerned about drive speed and reliability than storage space, a 32GB solid-state drive is available for an additional £458.
The M1330 has excellent wireless connectivity. It has 802.11a,b,g Wi-Fi, plus 300Mbps 802.11n compatibility. More importantly, it has three separate Wi-Fi aerials installed in the lid. These not only provide greater wireless range, but the fact there are three aerials means the M1330 is MIMO capable. That is to say it uses multiple-input multiple-output -- a method of data transmission using multiple analogue signal paths to increase throughput and range. We also like the fact it has an optional integrated Vodafone 3G SIM card so you can surf without being in a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The M1330 package is rounded off with a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium Edition (Ultimate is an extra £94) Microsoft Works 8.0 and a one-year premium support warranty that gives you priority over non-XPS Dell owners.
The M1330 is quick, as you'd expect from an XPS laptop. It registered a PCMark 2005 score of 4,527, which is among the highest score we've seen in a laptop of this size. It was slower than the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p, but beat our Sony Vaio CR series laptop, which used a 1.8GHz CPU.
3D performance was fairly good. Its 3DMark 2006 score of 1,457 was much more impressive than the 762 achieved by the Sony Vaio CR. We wouldn't go as far as to say the M1330 is a gaming laptop -- far from it -- but it won't shy away from games like Half-Life 2, Doom 3 and the like.
We didn't expect much in the way of battery performance, and we didn't get it. The laptop lasted 83 minutes in our BatteryEater test, when using the accompanying six-cell battery. A nine-cell battery is also available for an extra £12, so you may want to purchase this if you intend to be away from the mains for any great length of time.
The XPS M1330 is one of the best Windows-based laptops we've seen. It isn't quite as stylish as a MacBook, but it's probably the best-looking Windows laptops on the market. If you don't mind the fact it's a Dell, (and why should you?) then our message is go forth and purchase.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield