Help me make a good purchase this time.
March 6, 2007 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a Dell XPS M1210, or look elsewhere?

I am one of the unlucky schleps who got taken by the Toshiba a75 series of notebooks. They kind of suck (overheating, spontaneous reboots, etc), and there was a class action lawsuit against Toshiba (which means I keep getting bounced like a ping-pong ball between Office Depot and Toshiba, with no one willing to actually do anything).

Boo hoo hoo. Poor 4ster.

Anyway, I am considering getting a new laptop. My Toshiba weighs about eighty pounds, so I am considering something small. I like the look of the Dell XPS m1210. It seems like it gets good reviews, but here at AskMe, Dells don't seem to fare so well.

I have looked at ThinkPads (I had a 701cs back in the day), but it appears the 12" models don't have optical drives. However, I guess I could look at a 14".

At work, I do a lot of word processing, e-mail, and internet.

I am also open to other brands, so feel free to make suggestions. Thanks for your help.
posted by 4ster to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Also, if you like the Dell, what do you think about buying certified reconditioned at their outlet store.
posted by 4ster at 8:14 PM on March 6, 2007

I personally had a great experience with Dell, but that was a desktop a few years ago. I've since moved on to more high-performance PCs and upgrading on my own, but the Dell machine was excellent for years, then for years afterwards when my friend used it as a linux-running server.

If I were buying a PC laptop I'd probably go with Dell - I never had any problems with their service and if things haven't changed the build quality is probably very good.

Then, of course, you could always get a mac - my desktop is Windows but I use a MacBook Pro, which might be a little pricey but the regular Macbooks are great too. Just saying, they're good machines too.

I'd second the reconditioned though, Dells are hardy enough to live through quite a lot of refurbishing so you'd be getting a like-new product for like 25% off.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:30 PM on March 6, 2007

I haven't really heard great things about Dell laptops. I know two people with them (sisters, incidentally) and they've both had problems with the charging cord--one even went out about 4 months after the laptop was purchased--and in both cases, the cord had to be replaced.

I think you can do a lot worse, but I don't know if Dell is your best bet. Desktops, yes, but I don't know that I could recommend a Dell laptop. I'm not getting one when I buy a new laptop in April.
posted by DMan at 8:35 PM on March 6, 2007

I've heard that Dell builds their smaller computers with better components than their larger computers (because to get the components small, they have to pay more attention to quality), so that would bode well for your choice.

I have to say, I love my Mac. If you're open to the possibility, I would wait until they start shipping with Leopard and buy a MacBook.

This comment from a previous thread might be helpful - but then again, since the poster seems to think pretty well everything on the market is crap, it might not.
posted by Dasein at 8:36 PM on March 6, 2007

This repeat customer is totally happy with Dell, despite all the crap I've taken over the years from the Mac snobs in my life, including my wife. I've watched one Mac book after another get sent in or replaced, all the while tapping happily on my little Inspiron. I like ordering to my specifications and customer service has always been good. Yeah, it's about as sexy as Sears underwear but if the worst thing that happens to you is having to replace your power cord or endure the smug looks from some hipster with a Mac at Starbucks, won't you be pretty happy?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:59 PM on March 6, 2007

it appears the 12" models don't have optical drives

If you really need 12" in a bad way, the Fujitsu Lifebook series has a 12.1" with an optical drive, as do the Sony VAIO TX series.

Personally I'd go with a slightly-larger Thinkpad, but that's because Thinkpad's are notoriously good Linux systems. If someone offered me the choice between a Thinkpad and a Sony TX, however, I would really have to think about it. Those Sonys are pure sexiness.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:01 PM on March 6, 2007

Knocking wood.

I've had four or five Dell laptops in the last eight years for work and personal use. I've had exactly one problem. A hard drive crashed. It sucked, but it happens. Dell is the first place I would look if I was getting a new PC laptop. I may be moving to a Macbook when it comes time for a new machine.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:07 PM on March 6, 2007

My household is a mixed PC/Mac household.

We use Dells for the PCs, and don't have any really significant complaints. The trick is to skip the Latitude line.

Mrs. Oil has a d420, which is a different 12" Dell. She loves it, uses it all the time to help with her MBA classes.

My new XPS had some hard to diagnose hard drive problems (it would occasionally lock up/reboot, but passed the basic diags, showed no SMART errors, etc), but once we got them figured out, Dell worked with me pretty well to get it fixed.

Similarly on the Mac front, when I had an HD die there (more obviously, SMART errors and all), it was pretty easy to get them to get it fixed without much inconvenience.
posted by PEAK OIL at 9:10 PM on March 6, 2007

Oh, and fwiw, she got the Latitude d420 because it's lighter than the m1210, and looked less boxy. Fully specced out, it was $1900 and change, but that was with pretty much all the options.

If you like the XPS m1210, you might want to take a look at the Latitude d420 (it's under the small business section on the website.)
posted by PEAK OIL at 9:13 PM on March 6, 2007

Oh, and I don't know about the XPS, but the Latitude's optical drive is actually external. Kinda lame, but it has the upside the it makes the day-to-day useful part a bit lighter.
posted by PEAK OIL at 9:14 PM on March 6, 2007

PEAK OIL, you said to skip the Latitude line, but the d420 is OK?
posted by 4ster at 9:17 PM on March 6, 2007

Never had a problem with Dell (4 workstations, 2 notebooks, 2 PDAs).

Their support can be hit or miss, but they always took care of the issue. In all cases where something needed to be repaired, it was done extremely fast, and on site (motherboard replacement).
posted by mphuie at 9:22 PM on March 6, 2007

I've had the dubious joy of working with 3 laptops over the last 2 years. Impressions of each:

Averatec tablet PC: Not enough memory, and maybe 45 minutes to an hour of battery life. Developed stress cracks around the hinge. Adequate email, word processing, and general lying around as long as you didn't mind being tethered by the cable. Would not buy again. 1500$ish.

Dell Latitude something or other. Work laptop, completely inadequate for developing software, fine for email, word processing, etc. Wouldn't buy. 1500$ish.

MacBook Pro. Work computer. The first laptop I've ever found adequate for developing software. Has slowly taken over my general computing. Has ugly OS X quirks that are about equivalent to ugly Win32 quirks. You'll spend some time remapping your keyboard shortcuts mentally. You'll have to deal with Apple advocates, and it will wear on you. You might miss a few software packages. If you're a gamer and you use your laptop for that, say goodbye to any selection. OTOH, it's the first laptop that has weaned me from desktops. I use it in preference to a tweaked out desktop with multiple LCDs. Still disturbs me. $3kish.

My next personal laptop will be an Apple.
posted by minedev at 9:41 PM on March 6, 2007

I got a refurb Dell Inspiron for a good price about a year and a half ago. Works great.
posted by justkevin at 9:48 PM on March 6, 2007

Funny - I'd say the opposite of peak oil. I love the Latitude line, think the Inspirons are junk. I've owned several Latitudes over the years and am typing this on a D500 that's served me well for just over 3 years now. When I replace it it'll be with another Dell Latitude.
posted by phearlez at 9:53 PM on March 6, 2007

PEAK OIL, you said to skip the Latitude line, but the d420 is OK?

Oh whoops. I meant skip the Inspiron line. (the low-end consumer line). The higher-end consumer line (XPS) and the business line (latitude) both have much higher reliability.
posted by PEAK OIL at 10:00 PM on March 6, 2007

Dell Latitudes are decent mid-line laptops, if you are looking for a Windows machine. Right now, the big problem is Vista. Stick with Windows XP offerings now, as machines requiring Vista-only drivers may be problematic. Vista, at some point in the future will be backwards compatible, if you need/decide to upgrade, but if you buy a Vista machine, you might not be able to get XP going on it, so easily.
posted by paulsc at 10:22 PM on March 6, 2007


I've ordered over 100 Dell computers. Here are my thoughts.

The laptops are pretty good. The majority of the problems we have are with the desktops, but as long as you get the CompleteCare package, Dell is pretty good about fixing things.

The most common issue with the laptops seem to be toasted motherboards, but a lot of them travel overseas where power is iffy.

I have absolutely no complaints, and would instantly order another dell again.

As far as latitudes vs. Inspirons go...personally, I like the Inspirons better. The Inspirons are sleekier and usually prettier. The Latitudes are more bulky.

Dell has flip flopped there lines from what they were in the past. At least 2-3 years ago, the latitudes were the crappy budget laptops and inspirons were the nices ones. Now they've rebranded the latitudes as the business machines and the inspirons as the home machines (the same goes with the optiplexs vs. the dimensions). Whatever, it's all the same to me. Every dell computer is made in Malaysia, and probably at the same factory, so i'd expect opinions on differing build qualities to be merely anecdotal.

Whatever you do, get the highest warranty you can get. Seriously. Don't skimp out on this. You'll save money on a Dell vs. an IBM anyway- just invest that money in the warranty. If something breaks, they'll send a tech straight to your door the next day and fix things.
posted by unexpected at 10:35 PM on March 6, 2007

I love my M1710 with upgrades. The whole thing was just over 3K but worth it. Super fast. The display is awesome, the highest resolution you can buy in a laptop. The case is made by ASUS.
The thing is this "laptop" is humonguous and heavy. If that doesn't bother you than go for it.
Look at CNET's reviews. One I read said "this machine is so fast it creates it's own weather". Gamers love it for the graphics and fast processor speeds. Without the upgrades you can get one for less than 2K but that's no fun.
posted by bkiddo at 11:29 PM on March 6, 2007

I think the 1710 is the one with the red back, right? Wow, that's one of the ugliest laptops I've ever seen. Also, a 17" so not as portable as the OP seems to want.

On portability stakes the d420 is amazingly tiny, so light and small, and sure it doesn't have a DVD built in, but so what? It has USB, who carries DVDs around anyway? We had a couple in the office a while ago, really really nice. I was highly tempted, but decided that the screen was probably a little bit too small for me in the end.

So, my next laptop (currently running a Thinkpad) is almost sure to be a d630 (which is probably coming out next month), the successor to the d620. Great case (all magnesium alloy, very very strong), core 2 duo, and so on (though pretty much all laptops are now).

They are let down a bit by the video card options (which are great for business apps, not so great if you want to play any modern 3d game), which is actually the main reason I'm waiting to see the specs for the d630. (I figure that new laptops will be designed for Vista, and have higher performance video cards because of it.)

Weighs about 2.5 kilos.

I don't think it's crazy to get a Dell at all, but I must admit that because of my workplaces relationship with them I get goldclass for 4 years, so I don't really need to worry about anything going wrong at all.
posted by The Monkey at 2:36 AM on March 7, 2007

Buy a Mac
posted by sneakin at 5:16 AM on March 7, 2007

I've owned several, and have had several at work.

My first Dell Lappie, a Inspiron 4510 from 2002 or so, survived for a whole 3 years before its HDD died. Considering how often I used it that's pretty good. I bought a M700 after that (sold the old one to a friend after replacing its HDD), which is the same 12-inch model before it became an XPS-only model. Text is really small, but you can get used to it; ditto for the keyboard. If this is going to be your only PC, definitely do invest in a standalone monitor and keyboard.

My work PC's have not faired much better; Over the course of 6 months, I've had 3 desktop Dells die on me. I'm on a handmedown M60 now, which has lasted for almost two years now w/o problems.

The best thing about the M1210 it seems, is that it offers a dedicated 3D card -- something you don't see often in a package of that size. Do note that it will cut down on your battery life considerably, so if you don't plan on playing any games on it then stick with the on-board graphics. It's cheaper anyway...

As far as optical drives go, I don't think you should make your system decision on whether or not it needs to be externally mounted. They're not that cumbersome to carry, and CD/DVDs you use frequently can be archived on your hard drive and accessed using virtual drive programs like Daemontools. I have my mp3's and some DVDs on a 100GB external 2.5" hard drive which I can take with me when I go on a business trip.

By the way, This Sony Vaio case is the perfect size for the 700M, and most likely the M1210 as well. The AC adapter case was an useless trinket for about a year, until I got the previously mentioned external notebook drive, and found out the case fit perfectly for the drive and USB cable.
posted by Muu at 5:52 AM on March 7, 2007

I own this computer right now (it's my 5th dell) and I love it. No problems, plays latest games fine (I got the upgraded graphics card and the 2gigs of RAM), handles work stuff great (web dev, lots of programs open at the same time)
posted by Mick at 6:38 AM on March 7, 2007

Echoing Dman about the power cord. I think I'm on my 4th or 5th one now. That means they last less than a year for me...

On my Inspiron 8200, I've also had a lot of trouble with the jack that the power cord plugs into. The first time this went out, the system was still under warranty and I had to send it to Dell to be fixed. The second time, it was out of warranty and Dell charged ~$700 to fix it, since it required a motherboard replacement. The third time, we bought a junked Inspiron on eBay and replaced the motherboard ourselves.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:24 AM on March 7, 2007

I'm very happy so far with the Dell latitude d420 work gave to me.

It has an external optical drive. I'd max the memory out in the configuration.
posted by zackola at 9:11 AM on March 7, 2007

I've had (actually, still have and still use) 3 dell laptops (7 years, 5 years, and 3 years old - all Inspirons). Like FlamingBore, I've only ever had one problem - a dead hard drive; and Dell replaced it with no questions asked (this happened about a month before my 3-year service plan expired). I haven't seen any of the power cord issues that others have experienced.

My current "daily driver" is a Thinkpad R52; and I'm quite happy with it. The Thinkpad's case is significantly more solid than the last 2 Dells and it comes with a lot less crapware installed on it, but I kind of miss my Windows key.

That said, I would not hesitate to buy Dell again.
posted by jknecht at 2:32 PM on March 7, 2007

Thanks to everyone for the comments. They are really helping.

Could someone help me better understand the 1210's processor choices? They are:

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T5600 (1.83GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 667 MHz FSB) [Included in Price]

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T7200 (2.00GHz, 4MB L2 Cache, 667 MHz FSB) [add $75]

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T7400 (2.16GHz, 4MB L2 Cache, 667 MHz FSB) [add $250]

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T7600 (2.33GHz, 4MB L2 Cache, 667 MHz FSB) [add $500]

Is the difference between choices 1 and 2 worth $75?
posted by 4ster at 5:37 PM on March 7, 2007

Yes, it's worth it - you'll want the larger L2 Cache.

Re the 1210: we bought one for my mom for Christmas and she just loves it. A coworker just bought another one and I have to admit I'm extremely tempted to get one for myself. It's probably the nicest Windows laptop I've seen, outside of Sony's offerings (I'll never buy a Sony though as their build quality/warranty coverage sucks and they treat their customers like crap).

Second all the recommendations to max out your warranty coverage. The one time I had a problem with my current Dell laptop (an Inspiron 8200), Dell fixed it with no stalling/no questions asked (the problem occurred near the end of the warranty period too).
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:35 PM on March 7, 2007

OK, I seem to have narrowed this down to three finalists, which I have tried to comparably equip (as far as parts, warranty, etc):

Dell XPS M1210: $1662
Apple Macbook (2.0 Ghz white): $1,567
Thinkpad T60 14": $1467

Any further suggestions/reflections welcomed.

Thanks again.
posted by 4ster at 8:08 AM on March 8, 2007

I don't know what to suggest out of those, but make sure you trying typing on them. I know for a fact that I don't like the keyboards on the smaller Dells, or on the regular (non-pro) macbook.
posted by PEAK OIL at 11:56 AM on March 9, 2007

I've actually pondered making a mac my next desktop myself (when I decide I've used my D500 as long as I want to/can) but make sure when you're doing the above price comparison that you're keeping in mind the amount of money you need to buy that $80 copy of Parallels if you want it, as well as the Windows license.
posted by phearlez at 9:09 AM on March 12, 2007


I went with the Dell XPS m1210 from the Dell Outlet. i saved about $525 that way. A few specs:

Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7200 (2GHz/667MHz/4MB)
80 GB HD (5400)
Integrated Camera
Upgraded sound card
Integrated video card
9 cell battery
3-year at home warranty.

$1,374.45 shipped

Thanks to everyone for your help. They were all best answers.
posted by 4ster at 9:50 PM on March 12, 2007

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