Dell XPS M1330

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Dell XPS M1330
  • Dell XPS M1330
  • Dell XPS M1330
  • Dell XPS M1330

Pros

  • Media Direct, High-end CPU, Stylish, Battery life, Screen quality, HDMI output

Cons

  • Only two USB ports, Speakers distort at high volumes

Bottom Line

The Dell XPS M1330 is the most powerful notebook we've tested to date. It's slim, it's stylish and for your money, it's even good value. There's little to complain about this notebook, except if you don't have one.

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When it comes to big things in small packages, the Dell XPS M1330 is a prime choice. This super slim, high powered notebook is packed with style and evokes analogies of childhood superheroes like AstroBoy or Mighty Mouse, whose stature is far outweighed by the power within. Named in part for its 13in screen, the black and silver XPS M1330 that we tested is one of the slimmest notebooks we've seen, and topped the charts with its benchmark scores. It offers good battery life, a nice LCD and even sports an HDMI output.

It's no surprise that Dell has built the M1330 on Intel's latest Centrino platform (codenamed Santa Rosa). In our review model Dell has installed the high-end T7700 2.4GHz CPU with an 800MHz front side bus and a 4MB L2 cache for the maximum performance results. There's also a tasty 2GB of DDR2 RAM installed and one of NIVIDA's new mobile graphics chips, the GeForce 8400M GS for good measure.

Just to rub it in, Windows Vista Ultimate has been installed including all the perks of both the Home Premium and Business editions, plus a few extras such as Windows DreamScene. The 13in screen has a native resolution of 1280x800 which looks great for its size. Watching DVD's is a pleasure. The colours are nice, the contrast is good and the brightness is fair. The viewing angle is one of the best we've seen in a notebook for some time. Volume and playback controls are flush, touch sensitive icons just above the keyboard. The slot loading DVD re-writer also has an eject button among these controls. As they are touched a subtle blue outline lights up the icon, which is a nice finish.

As far as watching movies go, there's only one minor flaw. The speakers are clear at low volumes, but begin to distort at higher volumes. Of course a headphone jack and a microphone jack are available, too. There's even a spare headphone jack for a friend. We also found that if you're not using the Dell Media Direct software (for example, if you use Windows Media Player) the volume will not go beyond a medium volume level. Overall we found Dell Media Direct to be a good alternative to Windows Media Center, with shortcuts to music, photos, home videos and online updates.

Dell Media Direct is quickly accessed via a shortcut key above the keyboard. Shut the computer down completely, hit the Media Direct button and it will boot into a pre-operating system Media Direct interface (the same as is used in Windows), where you can play DVDs and music, or view videos and photos. There's no need to pre-select the folders or drives Media Direct can access, as you have full access to your hard drives and removable storage. It took us 13 seconds from an off state to get into Media Direct and 28 seconds until the DVD was rolling. This state will also consume less power, and is perfect if all you're doing is media focused. A media card reader is also included on the unit, supporting SD, MMC, MS and MS-Pro cards. There's even a Webcam built into the screen.

In WorldBench 6 the Dell XPS M1330 performed exceptionally. It achieved the best score to date with a total of 93. In our MP3 encoding tests the CPU showed its muscle. Converting 53 minutes of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3 files using Cdex, a single-threaded application, took the Dell XPS M1330 just 109 seconds; the quickest time yet from a notebook. Using iTunes, a multi-threaded application, took just 69 seconds to compress to 56Kbps. In our gaming tests, it held its head above water, but didn't do tricks. Using 3DMark 2006 it scored 1466, a low enough score that we wouldn't recommend that this system get used for high-end gaming, at least not without an upgrade to the graphics card (which must be done before purchasing and at an additional cost). In 3DMark 2001 SE we clearly see that older games will run without problems as it scored 13679.

As far as battery tests go, the Dell XPS M1330 performed as well as other notebooks using Intel's latest Centrino platform, lasting 90 minutes in our DVD rundown test. This test was done within Windows, using Windows Media player, not Dell Direct (like all our other notebooks are tested) and the test is considered a worst-case scenario due to the added strain of the optical drive and speakers. Subsequently we expect it should last longer under normal load.

Only two USB ports are installed, which seems a little limited. In addition to HDMI, VGA is also included as a video output. One FireWire port is present a well as one Express Card slot. There is an Ethernet connection and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g and draft-n, but the usual 56k modem has been omitted. A 160GB (7200rpm) hard drive has been installed, which is a nice extra touch of speed.

The keyboard is quite comfortable to type on and doesn't feel cramped. The touchpad is nice and responsive and its silver finish blends into the brushed metal palm rest. Unlike other XPS notebooks and PCs this model doesn't have the garish flashing lights that advertise "gamer" or "nerd" even if you still do. As an added little pleasantry, the M1330 comes with a custom made bag. It's not a carry bag; it is more of a protective sleeve.

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