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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  • Luke2.0 - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    Uh, could you guys review ASUS' N55 ?

    The one with the new i7-2670QM, a 1080p 15.6-incher and, well, an external subwoofer.

    Thank you in advance.
    Reply
  • gostan - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    STOP MISGUIDING YOUR READERS! Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    RTFA. With the 4-cell battery it's .83" thick. OMG, that's 0.03" thicker than ultrabook spec! What's this world coming to? Reply
  • juampavalverde - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    It's amazing how the big players in the market are not paying attention to the NEED in the business sector for good quality displays. As latitude d620, i am uber happy with the relatively snappy performance and high quality of my thinkpad t60 (core duo yonah, 2 gb ddr2, 14" 1400x1050 display) and i really do not understand why they are shipping new laptops with this awful screens, poor for productivity, when even 1280x800 is a lot more comfortable to work than a 1366x768, and its not about consumer laptops, business laptops are getting these ugly displays too! Reply
  • jiffylube1024 - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    The Vostro V131 delivers on the promise of the V13 and V130 that preceeded it, with little to no compromises (I don't consider a lack of DVD drive a compromise in late 2011). The V13 was weak on processing power (1.3 GHz ULV Core 2 Duo), and lacked an HDMI port. The V130 added a more powerful but still underperforming CPU (1.33 GHz Nehalem ULV that turbo's up to 1.86 GHz) but had horrid battery life.

    The V131 delivers a lot of value for the money: 2x USB 3.0 ports, amazing battery life, backlit keyboard, 2.1+ GHz Sandy Bridge CPU (finally! No more compromise on speed!).

    Yes, there is still a lot of plastic on this laptop, and the screen isn't fantastic - it's a mediocre TN film that at least has a matte finish like the rest of the Vostro series. Still, you can literally buy two of these with 3-year warranties for the price of one Macbook Air. Adding an SSD is incredibly easy - just one screw. I do worry about breaking the plastic tabs with repeated removing of the cover, but as long as you go slowly and around in a circle one tab at a time, it's pretty quick and painless.

    I got one for my wife and she loves it -- all the power of her Vostro 3450 but a pound less and barely any perceptible screen size difference.

    I do wish Dell would put a 1400x900 option on this model -- I'd buy it in a heartbeat. Dell is usually a cut above when it comes to putting higher res screen options.

    All in all, I've been wanting to get my wife a 4lb (or less) laptop on a budget for awhile now, and this one delivers.
    Reply
  • OS - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link


    I have a Vostro V3550 and it has similar problems to those noted here, the chassis is build rather poorly, it flexes alot and the screen sucks despite being matte. Washed out colors and bad contrast.

    Whats sad is my previous laptop was an Acer Aspire 5534, and oddly it had richer colors and contrast and the chassis was more rigid.
    That's kind of sad when the budget leader has better qualities than a supposed business line.
    Yes it was glossy vs matte, but being matte alone is not really useful if every other aspect of the screen sucks.

    That said the feature set of the vostro is great, usb 3.0, eSATA, bluetooth 3.0, HDMI and sandy bridge. Great features and performance.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    You might want to check if Intel's "Display Power Saving Technology" is enabled; that will futz with contrast and backlight intensity in order to save power. The result is that it makes washed out colors of poor TN panels look even worse, unfortunately, while providing perhaps 5-10% more battery life. It's for this reason that I disable the feature on any IGP-equipped laptops. Reply
  • 86waterpumper - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    Man I am on the fence about this one...the price isn't too bad for the specs, but everyone keeps trash talking the screen. Is it really THAT bad. I mean that much worse than any other typical crap tn panel? Reply
  • agent2099 - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    Dell does not give you a Windows 7 disc with this correct. So if you upgrade the hdd to an ssd how are you supposed to reinstall windows on it? Reply
  • OS - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    MS has a bootable USB/ISO tool, you can even use it to load win8 developer

    the win7 ISOs are generally uncontrolled, you can find it on google search and reuse the key on the bottom of the laptop.
    Reply

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