Dell Vostro V131: What’s in a Name?

We’ve reviewed just about every line of laptops that Dell makes over the years, but we haven’t had a chance to look at the Vostro line until today. Vostro is essentially Dell’s entry-level business laptop brand, with an emphasis on business-class options while maintaining a lower price point than the Latitude line. What that means is you give up some of the performance options of Dell’s consumer lines, but you get a default 1-year warranty with next business day service along with a matte LCD. The V131 we received for review is also quite thin, nearly at ultrabook levels, which raises an interesting question: how does an $800 business laptop compare with ultrabooks and other thin-and-light laptops?

Let’s start with a brief overview of what makes something an ultrabook, as we can then easily see where the V131 falls short. We’ve covered this before, but here’s the short version: an ultrabook needs an SSD (or at least SSD caching), it needs to be “secure” (e.g. include Intel’s Identity Protection Technology), it needs to be at mainstream prices (under $1000), and it needs to be thin—really thin—0.8” thick or less to be precise. The Dell Vostro V131 already hits most of these areas, but it doesn’t have an SSD and even with the stock 4-cell battery it’s 0.83” thick. So, it’s not an ultrabook, but does that even matter?

If you put an SSD in a 4-cell V131, I’d say it’s close enough for all practical purposes. The problem is that the 6-cell extended capacity battery bumps the thickness up to 1.25”; it’s one thing to compare 0.83” with <0.8” thick, but when the comparison becomes 1.2” vs. ultrabooks there’s a noticeable increase in size. Still, I find the V131 to be “thin enough” for my purposes, particularly when we factor in the improved battery life. As for SSDs, you can’t configure the V131 with an SSD from Dell, but they’re easy enough to add on your own—and you also get to choose which particular brand/model of SSD you want rather than going with whatever Dell selects. What will be more interesting to see over the coming months is how much of a difference the ultrabook features and specs make compared to “regular” laptops like the Vostro.

Here’s the full overview of our test system features and specifications. We were shipped a higher-end configuration, and we’ve bolded the component choices where applicable in the following table. Other Vostro V131 models come with lower cost (and lower performance) CPUs, HDDs, and memory configurations.

Dell Vostro V131 Specifications
Processor Intel Celeron ULV 847 (dual-core, 1.10GHz, 2MB L3, 17W)
Intel Core i3-2310M (dual-core + HTT, 2.10GHz, 3MB L3, 35W)
Intel Core i3-2330M (dual-core + HTT, 2.20GHz, 3MB L3, 35W)
Intel Core i5-2410M (dual-core + HTT, 2.30-2.90GHz, 3MB L3, 35W)
Intel Core i5-2430M (dual-core + HTT, 2.40-3.00GHz, 3MB L3, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM67
Memory 2GB (1x2GB DDR3-1333, 1 free SO-DIMM)
4GB (2x2GB DDR3-1333)
6GB (1x4GB + 1x2GB DDR3-1333)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics (Celeron)
Intel HD 3000 Graphics
Display 13.3” WLED Matte 16:9 768p (1366x768)
(LG 133WH2)
Hard Drive(s) 320GB 7200RPM HDD
500GB 7200RPM HDD (Toshiba MK5061GSYN)
Optical Drive N/A
Networking Gigabit Ethernet(Realtek RTL8168/8111)
802.11n WiFi + Bluetooth 3.0 (Intel Wireless-N 1030)
WiDi Ready
Optional 3G/4G Mobile Broadband
Audio Stereo Speakers
Headphone jack
Battery 4-cell, 44Wh
6-cell, 11.1V, ~5.7Ah, 65Wh
Front Side N/A
Left Side Memory Card Reader
Exhaust vent
1 x USB 2.0
HDMI
Right Side Headphone Jack
2 x USB 3.0
VGA
Gigabit Ethernet
Back Side AC Power Connection
Kensington Lock
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Dimensions 4-Cell: 12.96" x 9.36" x 0.63-.83" (WxDxH)
(329.3mm x 237.6mm x 16.1-21.0mm)

6-Cell: 12.96" x 9.36" x 0.72-1.25" (WxDxH)
(329.3mm x 237.6mm x 18.3-31.8mm)
Weight 4.03 lbs (6-cell) / 1.83kg
Extras 1MP Webcam
86-Key backlit keyboard
Flash reader (SD, MS, MMC)
MS Office 2010 Starter
65W Power Adapter
Warranty 1-year warranty with NBD on-site service standard
Up to 3-year extended warranties available
Pricing Starting Price: $499
Reviewed Configuration: $859 (with 6GB RAM)
($659 with coupon code HCQL82SHPFRSC$)

Now that we’ve listed the specs, let’s clarify a few things. First, the 4-cell battery is quoted as an option on the spec sheet, but it doesn’t actually show up on the current four configurations. The 6-cell battery lifts the back of the laptop up about half an inch, making it quite a bit thicker. We pulled out some measuring tape and found that the front was a bit higher off the table surface than the quoted .63”, but more importantly the back is 1.25” thick with the 6-cell battery. (Measuring without the battery, the back of the laptop is 0.81” thick.) So it’s definitely thicker than an ultrabook, and the bulkier 6-cell battery really pushes it out of ultrabook contention, but otherwise the specs look pretty good on the $800 model.

The CPU offerings cover quite a wide spectrum, and your choice of CPU also influences other elements. The base model $500 V131 comes with a Celeron ULV 847 and 2GB RAM, with no option to upgrade either component (though you can still do so on your own). The Celeron 847 is a 17W part, which sounds good from a battery life perspective, but with a clock speed of 1.1GHz and only two cores it’s not going to be much faster than the old Pentium SU4100. The next bump up costs $100 more but gives you a 2.2GHz clock on the i3-2330M, plus Hyper-Threading; you also get the ability to customize the RAM and hard drive configuration.

The top-end configuration comes with an i5-2430M, 4GB RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. Our review unit is slightly out-of-date and comes with an i5-2410M, but that shouldn’t matter much, and it also has a $60 upgrade to 6GB RAM. Normally priced at $859, Dell is currently running a coupon code on the top-end model that drops the price $200. Needless to say, $659 for the i5-2430M configuration is a very reasonable price, particularly when you consider the warranty.

As a business class laptop, the Vostro line comes with next business day (NBD) on-site service standard. I’ve supported Dell systems in the past, and their NBD service worked very well. Unless something has changed, you basically call up and give them a description of the problem, and the next day someone shows up with either replacement parts (or potentially a replacement laptop). I never had issues with their local service provider, and compared to the runaround you often get with consumer support it’s hard to overstate the importance of fast service for business users. If you’re at a company that’s large enough to have an IT department, it probably doesn’t matter much, but for smaller companies minimizing downtime is critical. Bumping up to a 3-year NBP warranty is also priced at just $80; that compares to a $119 charge to do the same on an Inspiron 14z, or $299 (WTF!?) to get a 3-year warranty on the XPS 15z. (Note: all of those prices I just quoted are liable to change, sometimes by a large amount, at any given time.)

While the specs may not be enough to set the world on fire, business generally aren’t interested in the bleeding edge. Instead, they want a well-built laptop that will stand the test of time, and while the Vostro V131 may not include the spill resistant keyboard or magnesium alloy frame of a Dell Latitude, the V131 does try to strike a nice balance between features, build quality, and cost. It also looks unassuming (unless you get the red version), which is what most companies prefer. So how successful is the V131 at maintaining that balance? Let’s dig a little deeper.

A Closer Look at the Vostro V131
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  • retrospooty - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    "1360x768 for a "business" laptop?! Seriously, give me a break"

    All low end laptops start with this, business or personal... Its extremely irritating, most people buy it not knowing, and on the business end, some IT dept's buy it cheaply not caring.

    Unfortunately, its cheap, and it sells more than any other res, so they keep making them and the cycle continues.
    Reply
  • Pirks - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    hey retro did you see this one? ==>> http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2011/10/why-p...

    I know it's offtopic, still wanna know if you saw this :)
    Reply
  • retrospooty - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    meh... that guy is just an Anti Android troll and has no idea what he is talking about with regards to smartphones, or IT's take on it.

    This is more the real deal =)

    http://money.cnn.com/2011/10/26/technology/rim_pla...
    Reply
  • Pirks - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    This doesn't touch businesses though who use bridge and because of bridge they don't care about consumer email clients or consumer Android apps. Since businesses are the primary target for RIM they couldn't care less about consumer backlash for now. And Apple controls consumers anyway so why bother.

    I see RIM promoting PlayBook for businesses mostly these days, they don't yet have ammo to fight Apple for consumer dollar, they just released PlayBook NDK and the 3D games like N.O.V.A. 2 and more serious apps like Skype Android port just started to appear in the App World.

    Probably it's like six more months until they release next version of PlayBook OS and maybe then they could see some success in fighting against Apple. They also have an option of undercutting the Apple price since with time manufacturing costs go down.

    Apple is obsessed with huge bulky 10" designs with beefy and expensive GPUs to drive high resolution screens and this drives manufacturing costs up a lot, RIM can exploit this fact with their smaller lighter 7" form factor. They already did it this month during two promotional sales weeks, I see more of that coming as manufacturing costs keep going down.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    We've gone for the i5-2430M model. I'm a fan of the fact that skipping from 320GB to 500GB hard drive costs a mere £10 (approx. $16 - take note, Apple). Additionally, there's no 6GB option here - we chose 8GB. Shame the SSD option is so expensive - add £180 ($290), and the RAM upgrade from 4GB to 8GB is £100 ($161) though you do end up with a dual channel machine at that point.

    To save going into too much detail, here's the UK version of said machine:

    http://configure.euro.dell.com/dellstore/config.as...

    We've bought it for our (interim) head so I'm sure we'll know about any problems soon enough. ;)
    Reply
  • fokka - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    first i want to thank you for the great review! anandtech is the go-to site if you really wanna know whats inside a machine! thanks.

    i live in austria and got my first vostro (1310) in 2008. back then they were quite a bit thicker and built 100% out of plastic, but still delivered the best bang for the buck, imho. i only made the mistake of "upgrading" to a geforce 8400gs and while gaming on low details (gta san andreas!) was great, of course the gpu died on me, although i copper-modded it for better cooling.

    thats when i first came in contact with the dell business service, which is nothing but world class support. they fixed the issue (new mainboard) and the machine is running strong since then.

    in my opinion its hard to get better laptops than the vostros for that little money, which is the reason i recommend them to people who are looking for a everyday-machine and want to stay under, say, 800€.

    especially the new series (3300 and newer) dont fail to impress me, since they are quite thin and feel very sturdy.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    I'm using a 2007 17" Dell Inspiron with a dual core T7200 (2 Ghz, 4 MB cache) and a 1920 x 1200 true-life display and is talking about "upgrading" me to a 17" version of this. I'm a bit torn - I love my current screen, and I upgraded my current system with an SSD and maximized the RAM, and it's quite a fast system. Even though I typically run the system at 1440 x 900 resolution, I like the possibility of running at 1920 x 1200 when I need to. I really wish they still made 1920 x 1200 displays... Reply
  • nklak - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    My company is dell direct partner in Europe and I as manager recently choosed this little vostro for my new laptop replacing HP models after 10years. What made me do this is the size of laptop and battery life as I am always on the move and carry notebook with myself 24/7. For strict bussines use even i3 is good enough, SSD is for speed lovers, and this should be enough for 90+% of bussines users.What is bad and what was the ONE AND ONLY reason to dump this notebook is LCD. Crap resolution, shit quality (color quality, wash away effect, very bad angles etc). End of discussion, deal breaker. I spend my 10+ working hours WATCHING at this screen, for proffesionals it should be biggest issue over everything else. I have money, I can afford latitude no problems, but trust me no latitude model is match for this little fellow in usability/portability. 6420 is just to big/heavy for me (who else still need optical drive inside). This is reason apple made it right. They made it like Steve liked it, and everyone else said WOW. I personaly can not use mac, and what makes me thinking is why nobody took their aproach. When you build bussines notebook build what bussines man needs. Try not to pack everything inside, you cant please all. Home users got inspiron, power users XPS, latitude can be for professionals top speced, but be rare manufacturer who makes bussines notebooks and make Vostro a bussines laptop. Needed options, top quailty, and I am in. Right now, mr. dell, one of your partners just ordered sony for himself... Reply
  • Stuka87 - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    The next BDS still works pretty well. I ended up having my Precision 4500 replaced due to BSOD's that they could not track down. And lucky for me, it go replaced with a brand new M4600, which I have to say, is a great machine. I have been very happy with it. Reply
  • Stuka87 - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    Oh, and as for the Vostro, never been a huge fan of them. Although it looks like this one may be a step up from previous models. Reply

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