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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  • jigglywiggly - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    I don't really like the vostro series, they skimp on all the little things and they added up.
    For my vostro 1310, the power plug solder is messed up so you have to keep plugging it in, this is a common issue, and I rma'd the laptop 3 times and they never fixed it. Actually I lied, I never had this problem to begin with but I got it with an RMA. I RMA'd because of the gpu overheating on any 3d games, they never fixed that either. What they did do was change the whole body though, they did fix my mouseclick problem though.

    Screen is crap, but that's expected. I had to fix the overheating issue my self. There isn't enough pressure on the gpu. So I stuck a bunch of ram sinks on the heatpipe, and then put one in a place where the plastic of the case would force more pressure on the GPU. This fixed my issue.

    Still... I don't like the vostro line, or atleast the 1310. The latitiude series is lovely though, love the d630.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    But that's a vostro 1310, not a 131 so the story isn't really relevant in the great scheme of things. I don't judge every model of Hp just because one is faulty (Envy 13 runs cool and quiet compared to 15/17) Reply
  • Samus - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    Cheap plastic crap. Better off with a HP DM1z for half the price and double the quality (and battery life) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    Don't make me laugh, Samus. We liked the dm1z quite a bit, but it's hardly "double the quality" -- it's a predominantly plastic laptop, with consumer level support no less. http://www.anandtech.com/show/4187/

    As for battery life (and what the heck, performance as well), "double the battery life" apparently means that the Vostro V131 offers 5% (idle), 10% (Internet), and 23% (H.264) better battery life. And the lowly i5-2410M in the Vostro is both faster in graphics and three or four times faster in CPU intensive workloads. The dm1z does have slightly better relative battery life in several areas, but even then it's at most 12.5% better than the V131:
    http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Product/436?vs=335

    If you've ever supported the PCs even at a small company, you'll find that anyone over 40 that isn't a computer geek will likely complain about laptop screens smaller than 14" and running at more than 1280x800 resolution. An 11.6" 1366x768 display will get both complaints, and trying to type on an 11.6" laptop on a regular basis will not be a happy experience for a large number of users.

    As an accessory laptop/netbook, the dm1z is awesome -- far better than any Atom-based laptop for sure! But business people do work on laptops (presumably), and improved multimedia abilities at the cost of general performance is a poor tradeoff, even if the price is only $450 instead of $600. The dm1z isn't a bad laptop, but for a business I'd take the Vostro V131 in a heartbeat.
    Reply
  • Samus - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    Since you're die hard set on the (un)fact the any Vostro is a 'business' class laptop, and we're not basing things purely on price and durability (which is why I brought up the DM1z) then you'd be quite crass to purchase a Dell Vostro over a Lenovo Thinkpad T-series, such as the T410 you guys reviewed last year (which can now be had for the same $800 as this Vostro) or Dell's own Latitude series, which is maybe 20% more expensive, but often can be found on sale quite comparably to this price.

    I just think calling a Vostro product 'business class' is an oxymoron. Vostro, after all, started a Dell's cheapest, lowest quality home-only product line. Look at the legendarily unreliable Vostro 1500/1600 series laptops which chronically overheat, have an awful power plug that I constantly see broken, and the keyboard feels like your typing on play-dough.

    Dell has an interesting product model. Interesting, because all of their basic product lines are about the same price, but vary vastly in quality and support.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 29, 2011 - link

    The class of support is really what makes this a business laptop. Take that away and you're right: go buy something else. If you read the conclusion, you'll see I said the exact same thing as you're suggesting: were I the person in charge of IT purchases, I'd still push for Latitudes because the $200 to $500 you might save over the lifetime of a laptop isn't worth the loss in quality.

    Also, I wouldn't say their products are "all about the same price"; there's overlap with Insprion and Vostro, XPS and Latitude, and Alienware and Precision. If you look at Vostro and Latitude, the cheapest Latitudes also overlap Vostro, but specs take a hit. Spend the same amount of money and Vostro will give you a faster CPU, more RAM, and more storage (with lesser build quality).

    If we take the V131 here for instance, even without a sale price you can buy that for $800 with 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, and i5-2430M processor. For Latitude, if you want 13.3" you'd have to get the E6320. The cheapest E6320 currently has a $450 "sale", but it will still cost $960 ($1000 with Windows 7 Pro). It also has an i3-2330M, 2GB RAM, 250GB 5400RPM HDD, no webcam, and a 3-cell battery--but it does have a 3-year support contract. So $200 extra for build quality and a longer support contract but you lose performance in every other area. Upgrade to similar components as the Vostro and it will cost you over $1300.

    As far as the power plugs, all of the Dell laptops I've seen in the last couple of years from the lowly Inspirons up through the most expensive Precision models have the same power connector. I haven't had problems with them getting broken if you're careful, but it can certainly happen. Luckily, Dell power bricks are ubiquitous so pricing isn't too bad if you have to buy a new one.

    So that's what I'm saying: Vostro gives you business support on a laptop that looks like a business laptop (even it it's built more like a consumer laptop). You can get that for around $650 with reasonable components. It's not perfect, but it's a lot more affordable than higher quality business laptops.
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Saturday, October 29, 2011 - link

    Jarred already pointed out what makes a business-class laptop, but in extreme conciseness for the benefit of all reading this post (and especially you Samus), if the laptop manufacturer will send a tech to your location to repair a hardware problem, you are using a business laptop. If not, you are using a consumer laptop

    This is truly the only distinction between the 2.
    Reply
  • jahlive2 - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - link

    Funny that ppl are still praising the D630 (i still have it myself)
    It still works with just a few problems.
    The cpu always get;s quite hot (around 95C) under load ofc
    Noiselevel is moderate but not rly silent.
    The intel wireless NIC driver sometimes doesn't let the laptop go in sleep mode, and maybe once every 6 months, i experience a blue screen..other thn that. Rly not bad
    Reply
  • aznofazns - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    I am so weary of manufacturers using these subpar LCD panels in laptops. I hate to say it, but Dell should take a leaf out of Apple's book here.

    By the way, clockspeeds on page 1 are incorrect.
    Reply
  • aznofazns - Friday, October 28, 2011 - link

    By this way, this is coming from someone using a Dell E4310. The LCD is pure sh*t. Tilting it 15 degrees forward or back inverts the colors to hell. It's such a glaring flaw that the awesome build quality and solid performance aren't enough to make up for it. Reply

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