REVIEW: A 13.3-inch laptop that's slim, light, inexpensive and well performing

The Dell Vostro V130 notebook offers a lot more your money than it's predecessor

Dell's Vostro V130 business laptop offers a lot more bang for your buck than its predecessor, the Vostro V13, when it comes to performance and it now also includes a handy digital video output. It's well worth a look if you want an ultraportable laptop that's inexpensive, easy to type on and also quite well built. It runs an Intel Core i5 ultra-low-voltage CPU and it has decent grunt for office work and multimedia tasks, but it tends to run a little warm and its sealed battery design is also a drawback.

The 13.3-inch laptop is the successor to the Vostro V13 that we reviewed back in January 2010. The V130 doesn't look very different to the V13, but on the inside significant changes have been made. The CPU has been upgraded from a Core 2 Duo ultra-low-voltage model to an Intel Core i5-470UM, which has two cores, Hyper-Threading and runs at a frequency of 1.33GHz. Surrounding the CPU are 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, an integrated Intel HD graphics adapter and a 7200rpm, 500GB hard drive.

Dell Vostro V130: Performance

It's this configuration that makes the Vostro V130 a leap and bound better than the Core 2 Duo–based Vostro V13 — even though the Core 2 Duo-based Vostro V13 ran at 1.3GHz, the 1.33GHz Core i5-based Vostro V130 is a lot more efficient when it comes to processing data. In our Blender 3D rendering test, the V13 notched up a time of 1min 47sec, which is 30 per cent faster than the time of the Vostro V13, while in the iTunes MP3 encoding test, the V130 recorded a time of 1min 40sec, which is 60 per cent faster than the V13. What all this means is that the Vostro V130 will handle productivity applications with ease, and if you were really dedicated, you could also use it for some media creation and encoding work.

A fast 7200rpm, 500GB hard drive is installed in the Vostro V130: it recorded an average transfer rate of 35.33 megabytes per second in our tests, which is remarkable in that it's the identical rate we received from the Vostro V13. There were no such similarities in the graphics tests, in which the Vostro V130's Intel HD graphics recorded a score of 1153 in 3DMark06, double the score of the Vostro V13's Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics.

Dell Vostro V130: Design

While the performance of the unit has improved markedly as the price of the unit has come down, the 13in Vostro's design remains the same. The Vostro V130 has a similar magnesium alloy palm rest to the V13, similar metal hinges, and it has a sealed chassis design in which the battery is trapped and can't be easily replaced. This is one aspect of the Vostro V130's design that we find hard to tolerate, as we like to be able to carry a spare battery on long trips. But the snugly fitting battery inside the chassis is one of the reasons why Dell has been able to make the Vostro V130 so thin — it's only around 20mm thick with the lid closed, and this thickness doesn't vary much from the front to the rear like it does with a MacBook Air, for example.

Because it's so thin, there isn't much airflow in the unit and it tends to get warm after a while. You can use it on your lap for a short time before it starts to warm up and feel uncomfortable. The heat comes from the 7200rpm hard drive primarily, so we'd like to see this unit offered with a solid-state drive. There are vents on the rear through which the accumulated heat can escape, and you have to be mindful of these when you do use the unit on your lap, so that you don't block them.

We think the screen on the V130 could be better. It has a native resolution of 1366x768 and a LED backlight, but its poor contrast and colours make it unsuitable for scrutinising photos and videos.

The keyboard of the V130 is comfortable to hit and the only part of its layout that we don't like is the column of Page Up/Page Down, Home and End keys, which reside to the right of the Enter and Backspace keys. This is similar to the design of the Fujitsu LifeBook SH530 (the Dell is a little better in that the Delete key is placed in the top-right corner). The touchpad is large (80x44mm), and it has soft left- and right-click buttons, but its multitouch software wasn't always reliable in our tests. Even after we enabled multitouch scrolling, the gesture would sometimes cause the pad to stop responding but the buttons would continue to work. We had to restart the system to get it working again.

Dell Vostro V130: Connectivity

Around the edges of the Vostro V130 you'll find almost nothing; it's at the rear where all of the ports make their home. You get three USB 2.0 ports (one shared with the eSATA port), VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, and there is also an HDMI port. One of our criticisms of the Vostro V13 was its lack of a digital video port, so we're glad this has been rectified on the Vostro V130. There is no built-in optical drive, nor is there an expansion slot (unlike on the Vostro V13), but you do get an SD card reader on the right side of the unit. A webcam, Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi are also present.

Conveniently — especially for business users — the Vostro V130 has a built-in 3G modem (Dell Wireless 5540 HSPA Mini-Card Network Adapter) and a SIM slot is located at the front of the unit. To insert a SIM card, you'll have to first find a thin screwdriver or bobby pin with which to pry the slot open. Dell's Mobile Broadband Manager software was installed on our system; however, we weren't able to test the 3G capability of the laptop as our review unit shipped with UK Vodafone profiles that we couldn't change. We're awaiting word from Dell as to whether the 3G module will be locked to Vodafone in the shipping models.

Update: Dell told us that while our review unit shipped with a 3G modem, this would not be offered to Australian users at the time of launch, but it might be offered in the future.

Dell Vostro V130: Battery life

The sealed 6-cell battery inside the Vostro V130 lasted 2hr 7min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, maximise brightness, enable Wi-Fi and loop an Xvid-encoded video. This is a few minutes better than what the 1.3GHz Core 2 Duo–based V13 recorded in the same test, but it's a little short of the 2hr 25min that the 13-inch Fujitsu LifeBook Sh530 recorded, and much shorter than the 2hr 51min of the Samsung Q330-JS03AU.

Conclusion

Even with some drawbacks (the screen, warmth and battery life), the Vostro V130 is still a 13.3-inch business laptop to be reckoned with. Its slim profile, light weight and reasonably good performance make it a great tool to use while on the road. However, we wish it was easier to access its internal components, that it didn't get so warm and that the screen was better.

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