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 In the past, it used to be that you would buy a PC and it would become woefully outdated in a couple years; maybe if you were a masochist you could stretch it to four or five years.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 Even with some very outdated hardware, it still manages to offer substantially better performance than Atom netbooks.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.

Dell Vostro V131: Not a Good LCD
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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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