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 In the past, it used to be that you would buy a PC and it would become woefully outdated in a couple years; maybe if you were a masochist you could stretch it to four or five years.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 Even with some very outdated hardware, it still manages to offer substantially better performance than Atom netbooks.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