I bought a Dell XPS 1530 about three months ago (February ’08), and I’ve been using it as my main computer since then. I use it basically all day long, in a wide variety of applications, so I thought I would write a bit of a review of my experiences with it so far. Hopefully someone finds this useful. If you’ve got one of these or are thinking of getting one, please leave a comment at the bottom! Cheers.
First off, here are my specs:
Dell XPS 1530
Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 (2.2GHz/800MHz FSB, 4MB Cache)
3GB Shared Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz (2 Dimms)
High Resolution glossy widescreen 15.4″ LCD (1680×1050) & 2MP Camera
256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT
Windows Vista Premium
250GB 5400 RPM SATA Hard Drive
8X CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW) with double-layer DVD+R write capacity
Integrated Sound Blaster Audigy HD Software Edition
Intel Next-Gen Wireless-N Mini-card
6 cell primary and 9 cell additional Lithium Ion battery
Dell Wireless 355 Bluetooth Internal (2.0+EDR)
1 Yr Return to Depot Service, Complete Care, Tech Support with Lojack
First let me say that I received my laptop sooner than I expected – I guess Dell operates by the age-old “keep expectations low, then over deliver” adage. Compared to their timeline I think I got it a week early. Which was good, because we promptly took it to Hawaii.
It is fairly easy to travel with the XPS 1530 because it is very slim, and reasonably light. Included in the package was a slim nylon covering for the laptop with a magnetic flap. This helps protect it if you plan on throwing it in a backpack or something. On the plane, the XPS 1530 was great, because it has dual audio outputs, enabling both my wife and I to plug in and listen to movies. I think pretty much any 15″ laptop is going to be somewhat awkward on a plane (unless you fly first class everywhere), but this one fit fairly well on the tray in front of me. A major bonus was the fact that I had ordered both the 6 cell standard battery and a 9 cell backup battery. Using them together, I was able to watch movies for the duration of the 6+ hr flight. Having traveled quite a lot in the past, I can truly say it is a joy to not have to worry about where I’ll find the next electrical outlet and time to charge!
The appearance of the Dell XPS 1530 is really quite sweet. I got the Tuxedo black model; you can also get it in blue or crimson. It is a mixture of brushed aluminum (looks like it at least) and black plastic. I don’t think you’ll find too many other laptops that look as good as Dell’s XPS series; they’ve won a few awards for that as well I believe. The hinges on the side are nice, they don’t look weak like some other laptops and they really anchor the screen quite securely from flexing. One complaint I have is that the built-in speakers are hidden under a perforated plastic grille that tends to collect dust and grime, and isn’t easy to clean. The media buttons are kind of cool; they light up when you touch them. I know some people have complained about the placement of the mouse pad (its off-center), however I find it is in just the right place when you’re typing properly. The keyboard itself feels good to the touch, though mine seems to have a slight upward bow in the center. Maybe it is my imagination though because I can’t see it from every angle. The fingerprint reader is a bit of a gimmick I suppose, though it is handy as a faster way to login to windows than typing your password. I’ve been known to use this feature to login while walking down the hallway booting up my laptop…
I have my display set at max resolution (1680 x 1050) and it looks great. Colors are vibrant, everything is sharp and I find it a comfortable size to work at. Additionally, I also have a second monitor that I run off the VGA output, as an extended desktop. This works great, except for the fact that every single time I login to windows or resume from sleep mode I have to reset which side of the computer the monitor is on! (default is to extend to the right, but my monitor is on the left). This is sometimes infuriating, though I expect it is more a shortcoming of Vista / NVidia drivers than the fault of the XPS 1530. I’ve also used the XPS 1530 quite a bit with my projector (using the HDMI output) and it works well. However, another gripe with the drivers – the computer doesn’t always properly detect which secondary display is hooked up, and it screws up my custom video settings. One time after using the projector my laptop display was perpetually bright (60% or so) and every time I changed it, it would pop back a few minutes later!!! ARGH!
Network / Wireless
I don’t like Vista’s wireless admin tool. I think it sucks. They took too much control away. XP was better. That said, I use my wireless card all the time, and I haven’t noticed any slowdown as a result of my connection speed. I’m often downloading things and I often get in excess of 500kb/s download speeds. The range also seems very good (must have a very good antenna in the monitor) and my laptop far outperforms two other wireless computers I have in the house (a desktop and a Compaq laptop), both in terms of connection strength, range, and speed. Once again though, Vista sucks at handling network connections (IMHO).
I recently bought an AirPort Express, which is capable of 802.11n (draft) and the two are working beautifully together. I frequently get wireless download speeds around the 600kb/s mark. Now I just need to upgrade the other wireless cards on the network.
I got the upgraded audio option – the Sound Blaster Audigy. I notice there is a “Software Edition” tagged on the end of the line item – I’m not sure exactly what this means, but I can tell you I’m not super impressed. I’ve done some audio recording on my XPS 1530 and so far it hasn’t been able to compare to my previous desktop. Sometimes during playback (I often play music while I’m working) the sound cracks up – almost like it’s losing reception! Typically, this happens under periods of heavier stress on the CPU; using Photoshop or something of the like, but unnervingly, it also happens reasonably frequently when I am doing nothing more than scrolling my mouse! It makes me wonder if there is an IRQ conflict or something (I haven’t had to deal with with those in 10 years!!). So I’m not sure if this is a Vista configuration issue, or if it is actually a hardware problem. Nevertheless, I’m underwhelmed with the audio capabilites. The two audio outputs, as I mentioned previously, work great while traveling; when in use as a desktop the laptop automatically uses both connections so you can run a 5.1 system, which is cool. The only problem is that the connections are in front, which is annoying this time as now I’ve always got a pair of nice white speaker cables going to the front of the laptop.
Another problem related to recording is I’ve been unable to run any of my higher-end software applications like Cakewalk Sonar, due to hardware problems. I know most people probably don’t run that on a laptop, but it would sure be nice for what I’m doing. Also, I haven’t been able to monitor what I’m recording, without playing it back. That really sucks, as it is far better to monitor a live audio stream than have to play it back every 2 seconds to isolate a problem!
Dell ships a cool little remote control in the ExpressCard slot. This works great from across a room to control the laptop for music or movies. The range isn’t great, but props to Dell for including this inexpensive perk with the XPS 1530. Many times my friends have commented on the cool factor of this little remote.
Ability to run OS-X Leopard
When I was looking into what laptop to buy I seriously considered getting a Mac. The tipping factor was price. For about $1000 less at the time I was able to get a machine that was spec’d out almost EXACTLY the same as the MacBook Pro. The other thing was that I have several little programs that are only made for Windows, so even if I got used to running in OSX I’d still have to use Windows on occassion, which kind of defeats the purpose. Plus I like games.
So I looked into it, and realized that the Dell XPS 1530 had pretty much exactly the same hardware as the MacBook Pro. Right down to many of the model numbers. So I looked into it, and after spending an often frustrating Saturday afternoon on the issue I got OSX “running” on my XPS 1530, dual booted with Vista. Unfortunately, the sound doesn’t work, likewise the network drivers. I managed to get video drivers off the net, and probably by now someone has done the audio and network. I suppose if these issues could be resolved, there would be serious potential to kill the entire Vista installation and go straight from OSX Leopard, perhaps with XP as the Windows option inside of Leopard. For now though, I’m sticking with Vista. Leopard sure looks pretty on my Dell though.
I think most of the other issues I’ve had with the laptop are Vista related. Unfortunately Vista is an incredible memory hog, even with my 3GB of RAM managing to go quite slowly quite frequently. I’ve got tons of programs installed, but I’ve had to shutdown most of the background processes to keep the thing running ok. When will Microsoft come out with a slimmer OS? LOL.
Lately, I’ve also been getting several Blue Screens of Death (BSOD) – something I haven’t had to deal with since the early days of XP or Me. I’d almost forgotten about these. I think this is again related to the IRQ issue and I’ve been meaning to contact Dell regarding them. I hope my hardward isn’t screwed. This brings up another issue – warranty. Lucky me, I live in Canada so I paid more for my unit than I would have in the States (I priced it out) and I only got 1 year, depot service, while the US offer was 3 years onsite!! Argh. I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt me. I heard though that transferring warranties or getting them serviced cross-border is an absolute nightmare so I shied away from that option.
The only real beef I have with the XPS 1530 is the low quality sound card. It would likely be more than adequate for your typical user, but for the things I want to be able to do with it (recording) it is inadequate. I might have to look into some external solution. All in all though, I’ve really enjoyed the Dell XPS 1530, and I think that without the nastiness of Vista, I would recommend it to anyone.
If you’re in the market for a laptop, checkout one of the logolinks above, either the Dell Outlet store, or Dell’s main site – these links will give you access to the latest sales & promotions.