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October 15, 2007

Dell XPS M1330 Review

Posted in: Gadgets

Since 1999, I've been developing on a laptop. I grew tired of sitting at a desk, having a "formal" area to do work at home. I had a Dell laptop at the time, and transferred some of my work over to it, and began working from my recliner, in front of my big screen TV and home theater system. I've never gone back! I have an end table, where I keep a wireless mouse, so I don't have to fiddle with the touch pad. There is no question...it is the absolute best work place in the world. If I get tired, I can lean back and take a little snooze. I can watch my favorite TV shows, listen to music and quite effectively get my work done.

For the last three years, I've had a Dell Inspiron 1150 laptop. It's more than served it's purpose and been a good laptop. But over time, the XP installation has become bogged down. New software has emerged that I use and software I've always used has updated. This made for a painfully slow system.

Dell M1330 XPS Laptop

Dell XPS M1330

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After researching for a few weeks, I had decided on the Dell 1420 or the XPS M1330. Obviously, the Dell M1330 was the most appealing of the two. It's currently billed as the lightest and thinnest laptop on the market. But the 1420 seemed a little less expensive, until I started trying to upgrade and match it to the XPS. By that point, it was just a few hundred dollars less, at most.

After scouring ebay for a week, I found what I felt would be my best deal on the XPS M1330. Dual Core Intel processor running at 1.8 Ghz, 160 gig hard drive, 2 gig 667 memory, and most importantly, that 4mb of L2 cache that Dell is having a hard time keeping in stock. Additionally, it came with a web cam (I have no use for it, but OK!) and an additional case. All told, $1930 and the BIN price was $1380. Barely a week old too!

If you try to order this unit on Dell.com, you can expect a 4-6 week wait for your XPS laptop, as Dell is very behind on delivery of this popular unit. So, for $500 off retail and 2nd day delivery, how could I resist?

The hard drive it came with was a 5400 RPM 160 gig drive. Plenty of room for storage, especially compared to my 100 gig I had in my Inspiron, however, 5400 RPM is slow. After some research, I discovered Hitachi has a 7K200 drive for notebooks which is 200 gig in size, 7200 RPM AND!!! has 16mb of cache, as opposed to 8mb cache that most 7200 RPM drives have. This makes it, by far, the largest/fastest notebook drive on the market today.

With the speed of Dell M1330, how could I resist? I had to add the fastest hard drive to one of the fastest laptops! Fortunately, both arrived the same day! The first thing I set out to do, was replace the hard drive with the new 7200 model. It was a breeze! Four screws on the case, pull out the drive, two screws on the drive holder and the new drive was in place.

Here's where I can save you some time. If you are going to replace your drive and go through the process of reinstalling everything again, make sure you start with the MediaDirect Reinstallation CD. This CD prepares the hard drive for the MediaDirect feature, and if you just put in the Vista CD and reinstall, then you won't be able to use the MediaDirect features.

So after using the MediaDirect CD to prepare the drive, I used the Vista CD and reinstalled the OS. No problem here. Smooth and fast! Next, I needed the Drivers CD. This is where I had a huge delay. The laptop box didn't come with a spec sheet for what wireless card I had. Looking at the list of possible drivers, I could have any one of six. After some searching around, I found out that I could enter my service tag number on Dell's website and retrieve the build sheet for my M1330. After scanning the options, sure enough, I found the wireless adaptor my Dell came with and proceeded to install the driver.

I had two more unanticipated quirks to deal with at this point. First, I took my old hard drive from my Inspiron and put it into a USB case so I could plugin to the M1330 and copy over all my data. I copied over a few folders at a time, so as not to bog anything down. Blinding fast! I was amazed at how fast everything was moving over. Then I hit my "websites" folder that has all the source code and .psd files from all the websites I manage. To my surprise, I encountered an "out of memory" error on this folder, telling me I didn't have enough memory (though I had 2 gig) to finish the copy.

After checking the web and going through a number of forums on this very issue, I came across one where a member had determined this error was caused because Kaspersky Anti-virus was installed. Others confirmed it. And sure enough, the first thing I did when I got my new laptop setup, was installed Kaspersky. I'm a huge fan, have been using it for seven years now and I wouldn't trust anything else.

It wasn't enough to disable Kaspersky. You have to uninstall it. So I did that and sure enough, the "websites" folder copied across fine. No idea what this bug is about, but I reinstalled Kaspersky after that.

The second issue I ran into was very unanticipated. I had an old Negear M814v2 wireless router. A router is a router, right? Not in this case. I was getting very intermittent internet access. Constantly timing out. I'd go to upload files via FTP and could barely do a file at a time, without the server connection dropping. So, off to google again, to see if anyone else is having this problem. Sure enough, many were reporting problems with the Centrino processor and the M814v2. Solution? There was none. Netgear has discontinued this model and there was no firmware update. I already had the latest firmware on it.

So, off to Best Buy to get a new router. I like Netgear, have always had good luck with them. I didn't hold it against them, that my 3-4 year old router didn't work with today's technology. Just time to upgrade. So I picked up the most expensive one, that claimed support for Centrino and 15x the speed of normal 802.11 connectivity. I didn't really expect it to be faster, just expected it to work. To my surprise, after installing/setting it up, my connection smokes! Pages load faster than I have ever seen with my cable service. Had I known that a router could make such a HUGE difference in net speed, I'd have purchased this a long time ago.

So there's my story. All in all, it went relatively smooth. To top things off, I went ahead and bought a new Logitech G7 Wireless mouse. I'm partial to Logitech because the fit is perfect for my right hand. I replaced my previous Logitech with this one. Very nice! Carbon fiber look, comes with a battery charger that runs on USB. Additionally, I bought a Logitech USB port extender. The Dell XPS M1330 comes with two USB ports. One on each side. Since I work in a recliner, I needed them both on the right side, where my end table is. So, with the port extender, I can plug it in on the right side, then plug in my external USB hard drive, the G7 USB connector and a few other toys.

What could be better? The Dell XPS M1330 is incredibly faster than my old 2.6 P4 Inspiron 1150. The display is bright, very nice, and I'm really liking the move from XP to Vista. Plenty of ram to keep photoshop, dreamweaver, ftp, half a dozen browsers, Eudora (email), and other apps open, without even a hint of system drag. Worth every penny!

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