Back in 2007, the Dell XPS M1330 was an impressive computer as it was marketed as the thinnest high end laptop for its class, from the slot-loading DVD drive to the touch-sensitive media buttons and HDMI-output jack. It was priced at $2,000 and up so it was definitely a premium product back in 2007. But how does it perform now 10 years after?
My Dell XPS M1330 is currently running on Windows 10 Pro 64 bit (upgraded from Windows 7 Ultimate), 4GB of dual channel DDR2 ram @ 332MHz, an Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 @ 2.40GHz. For its graphics, it has the 128MB Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS with a core clock of 400MHz, capable of DirectX 10.
For the basic performance, it can keep up with daily task of using Microsoft Office 2016 and web browsing. Google Chrome notoriously hogs a lot of processing resources but the XPS M1330’s Core 2 Duo T8300 and 4GB of RAM managed to run it pretty smoothly, even with multiple tabs open. Playing videos off YouTube is good as well. Another thing that I find useful is the Fingerprint scanner. It works well with Windows 10 Hello when signing in to my computer.
For gaming, the Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS only has 128mb of Vram and it won’t be able to play the latest triple A game titles, especially those released as of 2016. But I tried a few old games such as Call of Duty 1 and Warcraft 3 and they were able to run on high settings at an average of 70-100fps. I tried if it can run a more power hungry game such as Crysis 1 but even at the lowest settings it won’t get past 10fps making the game unplayable. But then again, Crysis is a game known for bringing PC hardware to their knees, thus the question you see on most online discussions: “Can it run Crysis?”.
But otherwise, you can still pretty much game with pre-2007 titles. I tried to play small games off the Windows 10 store like Sniper Fury and Tiny Troopers 2 and they ran pretty smoothly at 30-40fps. If you want to game on this thing, there are lists of old PC games all over the internet that can run on 128mb of Vram.
Now, let’s talk about the problems with this 10 year old machine.
Originally, it came with Windows Vista Home Premium, which then was upgraded to Windows 7 Ultimate. It ran pretty well because Windows 7 specific drivers were already available at that time.
When the free Windows 10 upgrade was out, I decided to try it out. It ran okay until at some time it had driver conflicts with the WiFi card, the Intel 4965AGN. Not matter what driver version I used, I keep on getting the Blue Screen of Death with the error: DRIVER IRQL NOT LESS OR EQUAL (Netwlv64.sys).
This was caused by an outdated driver by Intel as they’re no longer supporting the WiFi card for Windows 8 or 10. So after a while of finding solutions for it, I gave up and decided to swap the WiFi card to a Qualcomm Atheros AR9485WB-EG. And that WiFi card change solved the problem. Everything else is stable and works well with Windows 10.
Finding the right drivers to work with Windows 10 not really that hard. Even Windows Vista or Windows 7 specific drivers worked right out of the box. It’s just that Intel 4965AGN caused problems for some reason.
Next problem is that the Dell XPS M1330 is known for overheating, with it’s graphics card dying due to high temperatures and poor cooling system. The gap between the heat pipe and the graphics card is too big, whereas Dell placed thermal cooling pads in between. (read this article from iFixit for more details)
Solutions formulated for this was to update the BIOS to help with thermal management (see this article for more detailed info about these BIOS updates). Others went as far as replacing the thermal pads with copper sheets to help improve thermal conductivity between the heat pipe and the graphics card (see this article for more info on copper mod).
As for me, I’ve updated the BIOS to A15 and replaced the thermal paste on the CPU, kept the thermal pads, and cleaned the fan. So far so good. For CPU temps I’m getting 43°C lowest up to 70°C highest and GPU temps are 52°C lowest to 80°C highest depending on what i’m doing. Dangerous temps that would damage the CPU and GPU is anything above 90°C. I’m planning to do the copper mod myself when I have time and I’ll update this article when I do it.
Next would be the battery. When I still had the original Dell 9 cell battery, It lasted around 4-5hrs in a single charge. When it died (batteries has an end to their lifespan), I bought a repacked 6 cell battery replacement from an online store and I get something like 1-2hrs battery life. Good enough since I’m always plugged in. The only use for the battery for me is that I need it to stay on just in case it gets unplugged by accident.
As for everything else, the webcam is pretty bad and the microphone doesn’t sound that good. For the audio speakers, I like it’s stereo separation but it sounds tinny. The slot-loading DVD drive is cool, that is if you’re still using CDs in this era. Then the sensitive touch multimedia buttons has this some kind of uniqueness in them. The IR remote also works with Windows 10 but only with certain multimedia apps like VLC, Spotify, and Windows Media Player. I would’ve wanted to work with Netflix.
So with that, how does it perform in 2017? Sure it’s a premium laptop back in the day, but that was back in the day. Today, it can still pretty much hold up with basic tasks. Don’t expect to do much with it though like video editing or hardcore gaming.
I’m sure for some people, this laptop looks ugly with its wedge shaped design compared to the Ultrabooks of today’s modern standards. Besides, it wouldn’t be worth spending much time to repair and upgrade this laptop, unless you’re an enthusiast like me.
I’m planning to upgrade my to 8GB ram, and maybe add in a Solid State Drive, plus the copper mod.
The Dell XPS M1330 still sells around US$100 in eBay, used. I found several on olx.ph a couple of months back for Php8000. Lots of spare parts are available on the internet also. If you’re like me who loves restoring ancient laptops, then you’d probably find worth spending on this one. But if not, i’d suggest saving up a little more for a modern day entry level laptop around the $100-$200 range.