I set a budget of $800 max which I thought was fair. That budget would include any extras that I might also have to purchase. The difference between a 4200 and 5400 rpm HDD is noticeable. If a laptop couldnt be configured with or didnt include a 5400 rpm option then the price of a drive from Newegg had to be included in the total cost. The same goes for the Compaq/HP AMD systems. HP ships the AMD systems with PC2700 but the ATI chipset and CPU were built for PC3200. A memory purchase would be required and added to the cost of the laptop.
I read reviews, played with laptops in stores and searched many forums for insight. I decided on the Compaq V2000Z with the ML-32 Turion as being the best choice. I was all ready to order but, call it fate or accident, I ended up with something completely different. While I was browsing the Dell Outlet for a friend I came across an XPS M140. I hadnt considered the M140 since, at the time, it was $999 to start and out of budget. I quickly read reviews and did some quick searches but when I finished and added the M140 to my cart it was already gone. Lesson number one, when in the Dell Outlet move fast.
I ended up ordering an M140 with the Pentium M 740 (1.73/533/2MB L2), 1GB 533 DDR2, 60GB 5400 rpm HDD, Intel 2200 wireless, CDRW/DVD combo drive and Windows XP MCE for $689. $689 was much much less than the new configured price and was certainly with in budget so I was very pleased with the purchase. Warranty time was 1 Year same as new and since it was an XPS I received the specialized XPS support.
The XPS M140 (and its twin the 630M from small business) is a Centrino laptop. Its using the Intel 915 chipset and includes standard specs as follows:
DDR2 533MHz support, 2 DIMMS
4 USB 2.0 ports
5 in 1 memory card reader
One firewire port
Audio in (Mic), out
One ExpressCard slot
14.1 (wide) WXGA 1280x800 resolution (TrueLife option)
Intel Media Accelerator 900 with up to 128MB shared
Weight: 5.5lbs (6 cell battery)
First lets talk about the XPS name. I have read a good many reviews about this Laptop using the XPS name and they were very disappointed after they received their M140 that it didnt game well. I would think the integrated GMA900 would have been a huge indication of its gaming possibilities and as such I dont think you should be too shocked to find it doesnt game well at all. Regardless of its GPU, its still an XPS and as such it receives the same dedicated XPS support staff.
The included software was the basic stuff and to my disappointment it was all in the taskbar at first boot begging for your attention. Start/Run/msconfig and a reboot fixed that and I immediately started uninstalling stuff. I know Dell isnt the only company who does the bloated pre-install stuff but I would rather have a clean install with a nice software CD for me to pick and choose from. As a computer company I would think you would want the customer to receive the system and be impressed by its speed. Instead you are faced with slow boot time and a busy mouse as you click through all the windows. I certainly would say this was on the Con list for me but like I said, Dell isnt the only company that does it.
After my order I was a bit apprehensive about XP Media Center Edition. I would be doing a good amount of wireless and XP Pro would have fit my needs better. I was under the impression that MCE was nothing more than XP Home with added media software. Thankfully I was wrong. MCE is based on XP Pro so it contains all the extras that come with Pro vs Home. I cant comment too much on how I like MCE yet as I havent gone much farther than playing a DVD, but it isnt the resource hog that I feared and stays completely out of your way until you open it.
Those (like myself) that would like to do a fresh install of Windows are going to be surprised to find that you dont get an Operating system CD like you used to. Dell instead includes a restore partition that takes up about 5GB of your drive. The partition is activated by pressing CTRL + F11 at boot. A DOS based program runs and installs your OS as new, bloatware and all. I have tested it and it does work. The restore partition has a huge Achilles heel though. If anything would happen to the Master Boot Record (MBR) your left with a system and no restore. You cant alter the partition sizes in any way either and lastly they dont give you a way to burn the Ghost image to DVD for safe keeping. Fortunately you can contact Dell and they will send you the OS and software CDs. I used the easiest method by going to dell.com/chat where you enter your service tag number, address and ask a question. I was immediately connected with someone from the XPS staff who put the info through and I should receive the CDs in 3-5 days. It actually arrived in two via DHL and cost me nothing.
Back to the M140, build quality is outstanding. The shell is plastic but it doesnt give when you press against it. Pushing on the back of the display does not cause ripples in the LCD like most of the sub $800 systems Ive tested. The gaps between the different pieces that make up the shell are very tight. The LCD is kept away from the keyboard when it is closed. Im very impressed with how sturdy the M140 is, big A+.
The design is very modern and pleasing to look at. I really dont like black laptops. They just seem so dull to me. The M140 has a black bottom with an all silver top. The middle keyboard area has a white border than graduates into silver. The black keyboard looks great against the light colors. On the front there are media keys. One of the coolest features of this laptop is the ability to play music or DVDs without loading the OS. The system is called Media Direct 2.0. You can access the optical drive and any external drives including memory cards to instantly view pictures, music or video.
I received the TrueLife glossy LCD on my system. Some have complained that the surface is too reflective but personally I dont think its any worse that the other glossy screens on the market. The default background is XPS wallpaper with black as its main color which causes more reflection to be seen than a lighter color. Switching over to MCEs default Electric Blue theme removes a great deal of the reflection. Colors are very true and vivid on this LCD. White has a grainy texture to it but nothing you would notice unless youre really close to the screen. Text is crisp and easy to read and the viewing angle is very wide even at the lowest brightness setting for the LCD.
The keyboard is full sized white text on black keys. Laptop function keys are in blue and stand out just enough to be seen but not become annoying when using the keyboard. The keys make a dull thud when typing, which I prefer over a click. Typing is very comfortable.
The track pad is wide but seeing as this is a widescreen it works very well. The software can adjust the track pad to do just about everything other laptops can do like tap to click and edge scrolling. The scrolling feature works very well with no effort. The buttons are easy to push and dont make a loud click when they are pressed.
Im very impressed the thermal qualities of this laptop. The bottom doesnt get hot, although it does get warm when using the HDD a lot (more on why later). The fan rarely kicks on and when it does its very quiet. I have to commend Dell on the design of this laptop. Since the CPU is located off the keyboard and the HDD isnt directly under the palm rest neither get hot. It always annoys me to set my hands on overly warm keyboards and palm rests.
Since this is a Centrino notebook it is using Intel wireless. Signal strength is fantastic. Windows controls the wireless by default and since MCE is based on XP Pro you receive the same wireless/networking offerings as Pro.
I received the 6 cell battery with mine but there is also a choice of a 9 cell. With the screen at its dimmest setting you can still read in darker areas or on overcast days. When things get brighter you will want to turn up the screen a bit. Even with the screen set to half bright I can get 4 hours and 15-20 minutes of battery time. With the screen at its lowest, browsing with the wireless and working in office I can get very close to 5 hours. The 9 cell is good for 6-7 hours of battery time.
I discussed this before but it deserves a deeper look. The M140 wears the XPS badge but does not come with dedicated graphics. It relies on Intels integrated graphics which can use up to 128MB of system memory. Having built several mATX systems in my life I have come to loathe integrated graphics but I have to say, the M140 is still very speedy. The GPU is using system memory but it is very seamless. As for gaming performance, well there is none. GTA Vice City is my all time favorite game. The GMA will run it, and run it very smooth albeit at very low resolution. It does look good however since its only a 14.1 screen.
I have the lowest CPU Dell offers in the M140 but the 1.73 Pentium M 740 is hardly a slacker. SuperPi calculations are 43 seconds for 1 million places and 1:46 for 2 million. The hard drive pulls in a respectable 29/31MB/s read/write in Raptest. This is a very peppy system.
Finally lets talk about upgrading. One of the best design features of this laptop is the extreme ease in which you can upgrade. The HDD, modem, wireless mini PCI, Bluetooth card and even the CPU and heat pipe can all be accessed but removing small panels on the bottom of the laptop. Memory slot B is accessed on the bottom also but slot A is under the keyboard. Despite being under the keyboard its still very easy to gain access to. There is one lock screw holding the optical drive in place and the drive is of standard size. Im actually thinking of upgrading my current combo drive with a slot load DVD burner later.
Well it has been a long road but Im very happy where it ended. I think the M140 is a wonderful laptop with great features, speed and build quality. I would highly recommend this laptop to anyone in the market.
For more info on the M140 you can visit Dells page here
For more info on Windows media center, including setup, you can visit Microsofts MCE page here
A review of MCE can be found at Anandtechs site here
See Maranello 's review and pictures here: »Dell XPS M140 Review