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 In the past, it used to be that you would buy a PC and it would become woefully outdated in a couple years; maybe if you were a masochist you could stretch it to four or five years.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 Even with some very outdated hardware, it still manages to offer substantially better performance than Atom netbooks.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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  • Penti - Saturday, October 29, 2011 - link

    Your supposed to make a backup/rescue disc with the supplied software, it usually have some kind of rescue partition too, using other media is always forbidden on OEM-computers and are essentially the same as running unlicensed. If you really need it Dell might supply a disc for your modell if you ask, but just might. Reply
  • agent2099 - Saturday, October 29, 2011 - link

    If I remove the original hard drive I assume the rescue partition will still be in the laptop, perhaps some kind of storage soldered onto the motherboard.

    If that's the case will it allow me to install from the rescue partition directly to the SSD without hassle.

    I'm surprised this isn't a more talked about topic as it seems replacing hard drives is common in laptops. I guess everyone just has a spare DVD of Windows 7 lying around the house.
    Reply
  • Penti - Sunday, October 30, 2011 - link

    Your supposed to make your backup, moving your preinstalled Windows to a SSD is fully possible. Not optimal but you just have to buy a business-laptop with media included (optional) if that's not good enough if you don't want to ask for a disc, it's as much a Microsoft issue as a OEM-issue. Using other media isn't allowed. As said. It's a pain but cloning your preinstalled Windows or install a warez-copy isn't insurmountable. Businesses also needs a volume license to handle their OS's.

    Or as they do offer it you can just ask them for a rescue disc in accordance to their rules regarding that.
    "Dell Customers can now request a set of backup discs containing the factory-installed operating system as well as the device drivers and utilities specific to your system.

    *Requests are limited to one (1) set of backup discs per system purchased.
    *The backup discs requested must match the operating system that was factory installed on the original order."

    What's more depressing are that there usually aren't any clean or retail-like installation discs provided. By supplying recovery rather then installation. OEM-specific drivers are another matter. That don't hurt what your whining about though, if you request a disc or if you burn out a few dvd-/+r you can just use them to restore the system to a SSD or you can just clone your drive (with your backup tool of choice) to a external drive and restore from that ones you have put in the SSD. Users who know enough to change out drives will probably know enough to both make backups and rescue discs before they install it. Ordinary home users can probably just use the restore partition/function if they screw up and has no disc. Or just order one. Hardly life or death just a nuisance.
    Reply
  • Zap - Friday, November 04, 2011 - link

    I have a Vostro V131 sitting here (just got, haven't even powered it on yet) and it does come with discs.
    1) Trend Micro (useless)
    2) Dell branded Windows 7 Professional SP1 64-bit (this is the disc you are looking for)
    3) Dell branded APPLICATION "For Reinstalling DigitalPersona Personal Fingerprint Software (fingerprint reader)
    4) Dell branded Resource Media "Contents: Device drivers: Utilities"
    5) Dell branded Resource Media "Webcam Central"
    Of course it doesn't come with a way to use the discs, but that's what my external USB optical drive is for. Once the SSD shows up, I'll probably be using discs 2 and 4.
    Reply
  • ixelion - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    toshiba hard drives are horrible, failure rate is insane. Disapointed to see another vendor using them probably cheap$ Reply
  • Penti - Saturday, October 29, 2011 - link

    While I don't totally rule out a Vostro in low-end business, small businesses and for example one-computer-per-child schemes at secondary education level, junior high or equivalent it sure doesn't seem worth it compared to cheaper Lenovo models like Lenovo L520 kinda ThinkPad that you can actually get with a "high-res" screen, 1600x900 for about 850 dollars (864 USD right now on the web, add another 150 USD to have it properly spec out regarding BT, network and RAM though) both 1600x900 screen and docking support (which means you can hook up a screen of more then 1920x1200 if you happen to have that). A Dell Latitiude E5420 might be more interesting with a upgraded screen though. That is about $859 right now on the web for Core i5-2410M, 4GB DDR3, 320GB and 1 year basic warranty. Even if you have pretty basic demands though 1600x900 screens there appears to be a few options to choose for business/prosumer instead of the Dell, Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba and HP models that don't. If you really like a compact 132 there is also the 1100 dollar Asus UX31* now too. Seams like a small stretch. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, October 30, 2011 - link

    Fixed, thanks! Reply
  • Jehnavi24 - Tuesday, April 03, 2012 - link

    Dell Vostro V131 is basically a good, cheap business laptop, but boasts some of the great features that make it stand somewhere in the market.
    http://www.techiecop.com/
    Reply
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