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Dell Vostro V13 review

Lightweight notebooks usually have lightweight specs, but as John Brandon discovers, the Dell Vostro V13 is an exception to the rule…

This article originally appeared in issue 90 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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OS: Ubuntu 10.04
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.3GHz
Memory: 4GB RAM
Storage: 320GB HDD
Dimensions: 230 x 330 x 16.5mm
Weight: 1.6kg
Price: £492
Buy Direct: Dell Europe

Pros: A smart, lightweight, business laptop
Cons: No removable battery and short battery life

This business-minded notebook comes in basic black, has a unique hinge that makes the 13.3-inch WLED screen look like it is a digital picture frame, and is made from a durable metal that feels like it can withstand some abuse. For any company thinking of deploying a laptop en masse to employees, the V13 is a solid and dependable system and is available with Ubuntu 9.04 pre-installed and ready to go.

Under the hood, there’s a slightly older Intel Core 2 Duo processor that provides just enough heft for most computing tasks, although it lacks the unique battery management characteristics of the newer i3 and i5 processors. (Dell says there will be an updated version of the Vostro with these new CPUs later this autumn.) The new processors actually put some cores into a standby mode to save battery power when they are not needed. This explains why the V13 only runs for about 3-4 hours on its six-cell battery compared to the 5-6 hours of i3 and i5 systems.

Still, the system is aided by the integrated Intel 4500MHD graphics, providing a boost that was noticeable even in basic apps like Evolution and Firefox – where the laptop seemed to have an extra spark, especially compared with any recent netbook.

One reason the V13 would work well as a notebook you use for most employees – even including developers and artists – is that the system is streamlined for getting work done. It is remarkably thin, at just 16.5mm, so it has a low profile. There’s aluminium plating and hinges made from zinc to add durability. The notebook weighs just 1.6kg so it has a pick-up-go quality that’s ideal for mobile users, yet has the specs of a full notebook with a powerful enough processor and 4GB of RAM.

One slight complaint is that, when testing the system, it is a little too easy to accidentally brush the mousepad, situated as it is directly under the space bar. Type too fast or without much accuracy and you may find your mouse jumps to a different location in OpenOffice. Other notebooks, such as recent Toshiba models, position the mousepad a bit farther away from the space bar to avoid stray finger swipes.

That said, the keyboard keys are soft and springy enough for fast typing – they feel a bit like Sony VAIO keys or Apple Mac Book

and less like the clunky keyboards of older Dell notebooks. The sizeable 320GB drive in our tests system was a welcome addition since many standard notebooks tend to just offer 250GB.

Another slight surprise is that our system, configured with Ubuntu 9.04, did not support 802.11n. This means, stuck at 802.11g, your Wi-Fi speeds will be around 45Mbps instead of the much faster 100Mbps that 802.11n provides.

Power users – those who need the latest graphics processing techniques or a fast enough system for running multiple applications and maybe a compiler or two – will find that the V13 is still adequate. In our tests, running about six applications including the Ekiga softphone client and several business apps, the V13 hummed along quite nicely without choking on a paltry allotment of RAM.

Verdict: 4/5
There’s actually just a couple of minor issues with this laptop. One is that, since the battery is not removable, you can’t carry a spare to help in those times when you need to keep working on a project but can’t recharge. The system also has plenty of RAM and benefits from the Core 2 Duo processor, but the actual clock speed of 1.3GHz is a bit slow for major compiling projects, though more than capable. Ultimately, though, this durable and stylish notebook is a smart all-around top performer that’s ideal for just about any home or office-orientated task.

You can view more Linux User & Developer reviews here, or follow the link to see what else featured in issue 90.

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