Dell XPS M140 review: Dell XPS M140

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The Good Low starting price; very good mobile performance and long battery life; bright, wide-aspect screen; built-in multimedia controls; can play CDs and DVDs without booting to Windows; double-layer DVD burner.

The Bad Loaded configurations get pricey; on the heavier side for a thin-and-light; mediocre speakers.

The Bottom Line Quite portable for a Media Center laptop, the Dell XPS M140 offers a worthy set of multimedia and entertainment features, great performance, and good battery life.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 8
  • Support 5

Dell XPS M140

The newest member of Dell's XPS luxury line of laptops, the XPS M140, comes without a discrete graphics card. Hard-core gamers and graphics pros, take note: If you're looking for a more portable version of the XPS M170, keep looking. Still, starting at $999, the XPS M140 is one of the least-expensive (and most portable) laptops to feature Windows XP Media Center 2005. In addition to its multimedia-centric design, the $2,040 fully loaded unit CNET tested delivers speedy mobile performance and lengthy battery life. It's a solid choice if you're looking for a higher-grade multimedia experience; if you want a slightly less expensive laptop that still has a good multimedia tilt, check out the $1,618 HP Pavilion dv1000.

The silver, black, and white XPS M140 measures 13 inches wide and 9.6 inches deep; its thickness slopes from 1.5 inches in back to 1.2 inches in front. While those dimensions are about average for a thin-and-light, the system's 5.9-pound weight (when configured with a nine-cell battery) edges up against that of such midsize competitors as the 6.32-pound, $2,049 Sony VAIO FS680. With a six-cell battery, the XPS M140 weighs 5.6 pounds, which is more in line with the weight of the 5.5-pound Pavilion dv1000 and the 5.5-pound, $2,299 ThinkPad Z60t. The XPS M140's three-prong AC adapter weighs 0.86 pound.

As on the XPS M170, the Inspiron 6000, and the Inspiron 9300, eight handy multimedia buttons sit smack in the middle of the XPS M140's front edge. With Dell's included Media Direct software, the buttons let you play CDs and DVDs and adjust the volume without booting up Windows, though they also work when Windows is booted. The two speakers in the front-edge corners sound the same as those of most portables: clear, but lacking bass. Because the buttons and the speakers sit on the front edge, you can access them with the lid shut.

We enjoyed typing on the XPS M140's spacious keyboard, and its touch pad and two mouse buttons are nice and big. The crisp 14.1-inch wide screen features a 1,280x800 native resolution and a light-reflective coating that makes colors appear especially vivid. The coating is also reflective, which can be mildly annoying in particularly bright environments.

For a thin-and-light, the XPS M140 offers a remarkably full complement of ports, jacks, and slots. The left edge features S-Video-out and four-pin FireWire ports, headphone and microphone jacks, an Express Card slot (replacing the aging Type II PC Card technology), and a convenient 5-in-1 memory-card reader that supports all the major flash formats. The right edge includes a double-layer DVD burner in addition to VGA-out, Ethernet, 56K modem, and two USB 2.0 ports. Two more USB 2.0 ports are built into the back edge. Both the Sony VAIO FS680 and the HP Pavilion dv1000 have slightly fewer ports.

Our XPS M140 test system came preloaded with Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE)--an anomaly (and a pretty neat one) for a thin-and-light. In addition to offering improved management of your multimedia activities, Windows MCE lets you use the laptop as a TV and a DVR (with Dell's optional $130 external TV tuner). The software bundle includes the Corel WordPerfect Office 12 minisuite, Adobe Photo Album 6 Deluxe, Corel Paint Shop Pro X, Sonic Digital Media Plus (for disc burning), and a 36-month subscription to McAfee Security Center--a pretty decent package for home users.

For $2,040, our XPS M140 offered some high-end parts, including a 2.13GHz Pentium M processor and 1GB of extrafast 533MHz memory. For the price, we would have preferred to see a slightly larger hard drive than the 80GB, 5,400rpm unit in our test unit (a 100GB drive adds $60 to the price). To maximize battery life (and at the cost of gaming and advanced-graphics performance), Dell opted not to include a discrete GPU. Instead, it used an integrated Intel 915GM graphics chip, which borrows up to 128MB of main memory. Clearly, the XPS M140 is not meant to rival the graphics prowess of the XPS M170, which features a high-end GPU and delivers one of the best gaming performances money can buy.

In CNET Labs' productivity tests, the XPS M140 outperformed the competition. It ran 33 percent faster than the Pavilion dv1000 and 37 percent faster than the VAIO FS680. However, each of those laptops carried slower processors and other inferior parts, and the HP costs considerably less than the XPS M140. Given the XPS M140's subpar graphics engine, it's no surprise that it earned extraslow gaming scores on Doom 3 (5.3 frames per second (fps)) and Unreal Tournament 2004 (16.38fps). That said, aside from gaming, there's virtually no productivity or entertainment task that the XPS M140 can't handle.

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