Dell Vostro V131: A Budget Business Laptopby Jarred Walton on October 28, 2011 1:55 AM EST
Dell Vostro V131: Business Class for Less
We mentioned ultrabooks at the start and raised the question of how a thin and light business laptop would compare with such offerings. In looking at the MacBook Air and the ASUS UX21E, the breakdown is pretty simple. The Vostro offers more computational power and better battery life in a slightly larger package, and it comes with a better warranty. It can also be had for several hundred dollars less than an ultrabook. What it doesn’t offer is a better display or comparable build quality, and the SSDs used in the MBA and UX21E definitely help those laptops to feel more responsive when booting the OS, launching applications, and in general office work. Adding an SSD to the V131 should eliminate most of those advantages, but you’ll have to do so on your own as Dell doesn’t offer a pre-configured V131 with an SSD.
Of course, performance is arguably one of the least interesting topics to discuss for mainstream “everyday” laptops. Yes, we can show with benchmarks which laptops are faster and which are slower, but outside of the very low power chips (e.g. Atom and perhaps Brazos), typical home and office tasks will run well enough on any modern laptop. This is actually something to consider when shopping around as well. In the past, it used to be that you would buy a PC and it would become woefully outdated in a couple years; maybe if you were a masochist you could stretch it to four or five years. Today, we’re at the point where most tasks will run even on processors from six years back, especially if you have enough RAM.
As an interesting anecdote, my wife still has an old Dell Latitude D620 with a Core Duo T2500 processor that she uses. It handles most of the tasks she needs without problem, though the lack of RAM and a slow hard drive really hold it back. Even with some very outdated hardware, it still manages to offer substantially better performance than Atom netbooks. If I were to upgrade that old laptop to an SSD, add a couple GB of RAM, and replace the worn-out battery, my wife would happily continue using the laptop for several more years. And that’s not even getting into the LCD discussion—even in 2006, we had 1440x900 widescreen laptops; the LCD may not be as bright as modern LED backlit offerings, but I’ll be darned if I don’t prefer the 1440x900 display to most modern 1366x768 panels!
There’s a reason I bring up that old Latitude, of course. It may not be Dell’s best-ever laptop, but it was built well and even after five years (including a couple years at a university being hauled around in a backpack), the hinges feel pretty solid and everything continues to work. That’s the value in purchasing a high quality business laptop. The laptop and accessories, including a printer and docking station, originally sold for around $2000. Most consumer notebooks from the same era have long since retired to the scrap heap of history. So where does that leave the Vostro V131?
As a business notebook, you get certain features and support that most consumer laptops miss out on—a fingerprint scanner, a matte LCD, and next business day on-site service are at the top of the list. It also looks like a business laptop and performance should be more than adequate for office tasks (and even some more demanding tasks if you want). Pricing on the V131 is very reasonable; I’d skip right past the base model with its Celeron 847 ULV processor, but the $600 model with an i3-2330M (2.2GHz) is a healthy step up, and with 4GB RAM it should be fine for many years. Then again, for just $70 more you can get 4GB RAM and a larger HDD with an i5-2430M (only $10 more than the i3-2330M model with 4GB RAM) with the current $200 coupon. At that price, I’m willing to forgive quite a bit.
Where the Vostro V131 doesn’t impress quite so much is in the build quality, particularly in the palm rest and bottom chassis. The chassis feels like a major step down from something like a Latitude E6420, but it’s a big step down in price as well. How will the V131 handle a few years of daily use? A lot of that depends on the user, but even ThinkPads and Latitudes start to show some wear after a few years. Gazing into my crystal ball, I suspect after two or three years of use people will have a few more issues with Vostro laptops than Latitudes, but most units will still be in good shape and could go for four or five years.
I’ve actually talked with an IT friend that supports a company that switched last year from Latitudes to Vostros; most of the employees—people that aren’t computer experts—feel like the Vostro laptops aren’t as nice, and most of that comes from the way the laptop feels when you carry it around, open it up, type on it, etc. They would rather be using Latitude laptops; however, they’re not completely unhappy with their Vostros. If they had to buy their own laptops, I’m not sure but what they would follow in the steps of the business owner and choose to save $500 and give up some build quality—and weight. Interesting to note is that the Dell XPS 14z and Vostro V131 are essentially the same size and weight; between the two I’d take the XPS 14z build quality but I still prefer the Vostro keyboard. Would I be willing to spend an extra $200 to get the XPS 14z, though? I don’t think so.
If you’re looking for a way to shave costs for a small business in today’s economic environment, as far as computers go probably the best way to do so is to keep using your current PCs. If you have to buy new equipment, though, buying less expensive Vostro laptops in place of Latitudes would be one way to save some money. Long-term, I’m not sure the difference between a $700 laptop and a $1200 laptop over a three to five year period is that significant, especially when compared to employee salaries and benefits. Still, there’s nothing that immediately stands out as being bad with the Vostro V131; it’s very light and gets good battery life, and it looks nice as well. Certainly it’s preferable to buying a $700 consumer laptop for business use, especially if you pay the extra $80 to get a 3-year NBD warranty. However, if I were in charge of an IT department, I’d still try to convince the bean counters to spend up for Latitudes—at least for the laptop I was going to use.
The V131 is only one of many Vostro offerings; some offer higher performance and better specs, others less, but in general you get what you pay for. I’m guessing most of our readers—particularly those in IT departments—feel similar to me in regards to Vostro (and other “inexpensive business” offerings). They’re good machines for the price, and I actually like the Vostro quite a bit, but at the end of the day I use computers all the time and would prefer something better. Anyway, if you’ve had experience with such products, good or bad, I’d like to hear what you think, and I’m sure Dell would as well. Sound off in the comments and let us know how Vostro has worked for you.