by Alexander Britvin
03/17/2008 | 10:58 PM
The release of a new product series is nothing special for the modern IT market. Product updates, press releases, expositions and announcements help the manufacturer remind the potential customer about his brand. However, this may have a negative effect if product series change too frequently: the technological stuffing doesn’t keep up with the exterior design updates, and the customer begins to perceive the term “new model” as meaning “the same model as before but in a differently colored case”. So it is the more interesting when a manufacturer not only develops its old products but also tries to reach out into new areas.
That’s what Dell has done with its new Vostro series which includes a few notebook models that are meant to fill in the gap between home and corporate machines. These are models for small businesses, companies with a few dozen employees, for which it wouldn’t be effective to establish an IT department to keep the equipment up and running. So, such companies need reliable and reasonably priced solutions with a strong support on the manufacturer’s part for solving everyday tasks. Today, we will discuss one model from the new series, the Dell Vostro 1400.
Interestingly, the new series may come with either Windows Vista or Windows XP (whereas the Inspiron series, for example, comes with Windows Vista only). Each model has its own targeting. The Vostro 1000 is intended for solving office tasks. The Vostro 1400 is adapted for working on the run. The 1500 model is a top-performance electronic assistant while the 1700 model is a full-featured desktop replacement.
The notebook supports all modern types of wireless communications including 3G. Otherwise, it is a sturdy workhorse without any claim for high performance or record-breaking compactness.
The packaging of the Vostro series has changed somewhat since Dell’s earlier models, but has not become any more attractive. It is still an ordinary neat cardboard box.
It’s all very simple on the inside, too. You won’t find a bag to carry the notebook in or a heap of accessories in there. Besides the notebook, the box contains the following: a 6-cell 5000mAh battery with a charge level indicator, a power adapter with an indicator, a modem cable (RJ-11), an additional adapter for a phone cable, documentation, and a set of discs. The discs are:
The Vostro 1400 doesn’t look like a typical awkward Dell notebook thanks to the lucky combination of color, shape, rounded-off corners, and chrome details. The notebook features a robust case made from a magnesium alloy.
The manufacturer’s logo proudly resides in the center of the lid.
There is no lid lock here. The elements that keep the notebook closed or fix the lid at the desired angle are located in the screen hinges. There is a jutting chrome piece at the front of the lid to help you open the notebook up.
On the notebook’s front panel, below the mentioned chrome piece, there are two headphones sockets and one microphone input. The manufacturer must have intended the notebook for use by two persons simultaneously.
On the left of the front panel there is a card-reader that supports Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Multi Media Card, Secure Digital, SDIO and xD-Picture Card. To the right of the card-reader’s slot is a three-position WLAN switch that can be set at “On”, “Off”, or “Searching”. A WLAN indicator is located nearby. It indicates the status of the Wi-Fi connection in the following manner:
Above the card-reader, there is a large group of system indicators that remain visible irrespective of the position of the lid (from left to right):
The battery indicator has several possible states. When the notebook is powered by the mains this indicator means the following:
When the notebook is powered by the battery, this indicator means:
This orange-blue battery indicator is not very handy. The blue blinking of the near-charged state is rather irritating to the eye.
The display hinges stick out of the notebook’s body allowing to unfold the notebook by a large angle.
The interior of the Vostro 1400 matches its exterior design. Everything is black here except for the small silver dots of chrome buttons (multimedia controls, Power, and Dell MediaDirect). The rubber pads around the screen for a softer contact with the notebook’s body are almost the same color as the screen bezel.
In the top part of the screen bezel there is a tiny eye of the integrated 2-megapixel web-camera. The camera is fixed in its place, and you can set its angle only by changing the tilt of the display. On both sides of it there are two microphone holes. The indicator of the camera’s activity is placed to the left of it.
The Vostro 1400 is equipped with a widescreen 14.1” LCD matrix that has a maximum resolution of 1280x800 pixels and an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). The viewing angles look wide visually. The “glassy” coating of the display the manufacturer calls TrueLife technology makes the colors more saturated. Alas, this coating produces reflections and flares as is always the case with such matrixes.
We measured the brightness and contrast of the notebook’s display using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL version 3.7.8 software. We selected the highest brightness setting before this test. The power-saving services reduced the notebook’s brightness in the battery mode.
AC power source:
DC power source:
Among all the Dell notebooks we have tested so far, the Vostro 1400 is the first one to have a normal keyboard, without questionable innovations. Its 86 buttons are springy, yet quiet. The movement keys are level with the keyboard’s baseline, so there’s a higher risk of your pressing them accidentally. The bottom left corner is occupied by a Control key – that’s all right for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. Numeric buttons and two Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is to the right of the spacebar; the Windows Logo key is placed over an Alt button to the left the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Home, Page Up, Page Down and End form a column on the right. Num Lock, Print Screen, Insert and Delete are placed in the same row with the functional buttons. The letters are painted white and the functional keys are painted blue (you should press the functional keys in combination with Fn to access their additional functions).
The manufacturer claims the keyboard of the Vostro 1400 is dustproof and waterproof, which is a valuable property for a notebook that is expected to travel frequently.
The touchpad has the same color and texture as the surface surrounding it. The sensitive area is sunken a little to prevent your finger from slipping off it. The touchpad’s sensitivity isn’t high just as in some other Dell products we have tested. There are scrolling zones marked on the touchpad. A scrolling joystick is missing. The touchpad buttons with a very soft click are placed below the sensitive panel. Alas, the touchpad is not very handy. Users of the Vostro 1400 are likely to prefer an external mouse.
Above the keyboard there is a second group of indicators together with an instant button (to launch Dell MediaDirect) and a Power button. These keyboard indicators include:
A block of multimedia buttons is to the right of the Power key (from left to right):
The farthest part of the notebook’s body is covered with a grid with fake holes, but the holes are real near the right and left panels, covering two stereo-speakers.
Now let’s see what interfaces and connectors the notebook offers. You can find the following on its left panel (from left to right):
On the notebook’s right panel there is:
The following can be found on the notebook’s rear panel (from left to right):
And that’s what you can see on the notebook’s bottom: memory, HDD, CPU and thermal module compartments, two battery locks, a battery module, and stickers with the model specs and the OS serial number.
The memory compartment accommodates two slots which are both occupied by 512MB modules. The maximum memory amount supported by the notebook is 4096 megabytes.
The hot air is exhausted leftward while cool air is taken in from below. Each compartment has vent grids but some of them are going to be blocked if you place the notebook down on your laps. There is no danger of overheat, though. The Vostro 1400 proved to be a rather cold machine.
There is a shock protector below the HDD designed like a rubber pad.
The notebook’s 6-cell battery has a capacity of 5000mAh.
There’s a battery charge indicator at the back. It’s very handy to be able to check out the charge level without turning the notebook on.
The last thing we want to note about the exterior design of the D620 is that it offers a 3G module. The SIM-card slot is in the battery compartment, above the battery. You have to shut the notebook down to replace the card.
The Dell Vostro 1400 is based on an Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 processor with a clock rate of 1.80GHz (65nm Merom core with 2 megabytes of shared L2 cache). The FSB frequency is 800MHz.
The Core 2 Duo T7100 supports Intel’s 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture and also features Intel Wide Dynamic Execution technology which means more decoders and execution units in the CPU core. The speed of processing SSE and floating-point instructions has been increased, too.
Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 in two power modes with FSB Frequency Switching disabled
Besides Intel’s traditional Enhanced SpeedStep technology that gives the notebook’s software and BIOS the control over the CPU frequency multiplier (to reduce it under low loads), this CPU supports Dynamic Power Coordination (the power consumption of the cores can be independently adjusted depending on the current load; one core may even slip into Deep Sleep mode with the lowest power consumption possible), Dynamic Cache Sizing (unused segments of the CPU cache can be turned off to save power), and FSB Frequency Switching (the FSB clock rate is automatically lowered at low loads). For more information about Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors refer to our review called "Santa Rosa + Vista: Three Notebooks Reviewed" or to the manufacturer’s website.
This implementation of the Santa Rosa platform also incorporates an Intel PRO/Wireless 4965AGN adapter (with support of the Draft N standard) and an Intel Crestline GM965 chipset. The 965 series chipsets support a FSB frequency of 800MHz. The GM965 offers a PCI Express x16 interface for an external graphics card and also features an integrated graphics core called Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100. Connected to the North Bridge via a special-purpose Direct Media Interface, the South Bridge (ICH8-M) supports three Serial ATA-300 ports, ten USB 2.0 ports and Intel High Definition Audio. It also offers six PCI Express x1 lanes to connect external devices. For more information about the platform, visit the manufacturer’s website.
GMA X3100 is the first graphics core from Intel to support shaders on the GPU. As a result, the new integrated chipset features improved performance and compatibility with 3D applications, particularly with Windows Vista’s Aero interface. The X3100 can also support DirectX 10 using the recently released driver. The new core is clocked at a frequency of 500MHz and incorporates 8 unified shader processors for 3D rendering as well as for video playback acceleration. Thanks to them, the X3100 provides hardware acceleration and post-processing for video content in MPEG-2 and WMV9 formats. The core doesn’t support the new compression standards H.264 and VC-1 (Blu-ray and HD-DVD), though. Besides higher performance, the new graphics core has acquired more advanced power-saving features, mostly meant to reduce the consumption of the LCD panel which is the main power consumer in a notebook together with the CPU. The X3100 supports Display Power Saving Technology 3.0 that is automatically adjusts the brightness and contrast of the screen to reduce power consumption yet keep the image quality high. The Display Refresh Rate Switching technology can be used to reduce the refresh rate of the screen when the notebook works on its battery.
The notebook comes with a Seagate Momentus ST9120822AS hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 120GB capacity, SATA interface) and a TSST TS-L632D DVD-burner with the following speed formula:
The Dell Vostro 1400 works with DDR2-667 SDRAM, the fastest memory available on the Santa Rosa platform. Each memory slot contains a 512MB module, and the memory subsystem works in dual-channel mode. The maximum amount of memory the notebook supports is 4096MB.
We measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebook’s surfaces with an infrared thermometer after it had worked for half an hour in PCMark 2005 (the ambient temperature remained constant at 23°C during this test) and got the following numbers:
The following table lists the specs of the Vostro 1400 in comparison with its opponent ASUS U3S in the Power Saver mode (i.e. when the notebook uses the integrated graphics core):
The notebook’s hard drive was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then we installed Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate and drivers from the included disc.
The following settings were used for the tests:
Two power modes were used. First, we selected the High Performance power mode for maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then we switched to the Power Saver mode for the maximum battery run-down time.
There are three test modes in Mobile Mark 2007:
As usual, we will first run our synthetic benchmarks.
The SiSoftware 2007 suite features an updated enhanced-functionality interface, runs on three platforms (Win32 x86, Win64 x64, WinCE ARM), contains 13 tests and 34 informational modules, and supports a large range of devices thanks to the developer’s collaboration with Intel, AMD, ATI, SiS and VIA. The program is supported in six languages and has a free Lite version for personal and educational purposes. SiSoftware Sandra measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems.
PCMark benchmarks the computer performance in office and office-related applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem). PCMark 2005 carries on the tradition of complex benchmarks of the series and uses fragments of real-life applications as tests. This makes it somewhat more relevant for end-users as opposed to fully synthetic benchmarks. After running a series of 11 tests on the different components of the system, the program calculates an overall performance score in units called PCMarks. PCMark 2005 can check a computer out at processing HD video and encoding audio, and offers enhanced tests of the CPU and hard disk under multi-threaded load. The overall score is calculated by the formula: PCMark Score = 87 x (the geometric mean of the basic tests), where the geometric mean is calculated as (Result 1 x Result 2 x…) divided by the number of results. PCMark Vantage is the first synthetic benchmarking suite developed for Vista. It contains more tests than the previous versions of the benchmark.
The CPU performance is quite normal for the notebook’s CPU model. It is lower in the battery mode due to the power-saving features implemented in the Merom core. PCMark is not a gaming benchmark, yet it is clear than the performance of the integrated graphics core is rather low. The smaller amount of system memory is reflected in the memory subsystem tests. The notebooks don’t have enough of memory to pass the appropriate test of PCMark Vantage.
The new version of SYSMark is intended to reveal a system’s performance under different types of load. It simulates a user who is solving practical tasks in a few popular applications. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads. The results for each test load are shown separately:
The Vostro 1400 is slower because SYSmark 2007 is a CPU-dependent benchmark and there is a 0.4GHz difference between the CPUs of the tested notebooks.
The E-Learning test emulates the creation of an educational website with diverse media content. This script makes use of the following applications: Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Macromedia Flash 8 and Microsoft PowerPoint 2003.
It’s the same as in the previous test. Besides the CPU frequency, the small amount of system memory and the twice smaller L2 cache affect the performance of the Vostro 1400.
The next script is about creating video clips using special effects. The clips are combined out of several sources, including static images. The result is prepared in two formats: HD and for online viewing. The following software is utilized here: Adobe After Effects 7, Adobe Illustrator CS2, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9, and Sony Vegas 7.
The notebook with a weaker configuration has a lower result.
The Productivity test models typical office activities such as sending e-mail, processing data, managing a project, working with documents. Applications employed: Microsoft Excel 2003, Microsoft Outlook 2003, Microsoft PowerPoint 2003, Microsoft Word 2003, Microsoft Project 2003, and WinZip 10.0.
This 0.4GHz difference in the clock rates has a serious effect on the performance of the two notebooks.
The final script from SYSMark 2007 is about creating an architectural presentation including a photorealistic image of the building and a clip with a flyby of it. Two applications are used: AutoDesk 3ds Max 8 and SketchUp 5.
The final script agrees with the previous ones.
Next we tested the notebooks in a few real-life applications.
It’s logical that the faster CPU wins when the notebooks are powered from the mains. In the battery mode the notebooks deliver similar performance.
The notebook with the faster CPU wins in both modes here.
Adobe Photoshop produces the same picture. We should note that we couldn’t achieve repeatable results from the Vostro 1400 in this test whereas the U3S would show the same numbers every time.
There’s a small gap between the notebooks in Excel, although the faster CPU wins again.
The difference is small in Winrar, some 5-10% only. This test depends on the memory bandwidth rather than on the CPU frequency.
In the next test a script is used that prepares a video clip for uploading to YouTube. The clip was made out of four video fragments captured from a digital camera. The Dell Vostro 1400 is defeated when the notebooks are powered from the mains.
The results of the final rendering test are proportional to the CPU frequency. The notebooks deliver similar performance in the battery mode just like they did in the video encoding tests.
Next we tested the notebooks in four versions of 3DMark: 3DMark 2001SE Pro, 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0 and 3DMark 2006 1.1.0.
3DMark uses its own rendering engine to create a set of 3D scenes that load the graphics subsystem in various ways. Compared with the previous version, 3DMark 2005 uses Shader Model 2.0x/3.0 instead of Shader Model 1.x, provides full compatibility with Shader Model 2.0, includes more complex tests (over a million polygons per each frame), and employs normal maps. 3DMark 2006 brings support for HDR, Uniform Shadow Maps, and multi-core CPUs. It is overall oriented at Shader Model 3.0, but two out of its four graphics tests work within the Shader Model 2.0 framework.
These results don’t need much commenting upon. It is not a slideshow, yet GMA X3100, the most advanced of Intel’s integrated graphics cores, is meant for office work mostly. Let’s check it out in games.
The integrated graphics core is indeed too weak to run modern 3D games. Well, the Vostro 1400 is not actually positioned as a gaming computer.
Battery life is just as important a parameter of a notebook as its performance. The notebook’s battery life was measured with MobileMark 2007. We disabled standby and hibernate mode for the test.
The first scenario, Productivity, emulates the user’s working in typical office applications. The load is not constant as the user is frequently distracting from his work. The second scenario measures the notebook’s battery life when the user is reading text from the screen in Adobe Reader. The third scenario is about DVD playback in InterVideo WinDVD.
The Vostro 1400 wins this test. Few notebooks can boast a battery life of 4 hours! This travel-oriented notebook shows its best in this parameter.
Summing up the pros and cons of the Vostro 1400 you’ll certainly have a positive overall result. This notebook has a robust case, a balanced configuration, reasonable mass and weight parameters, a neat and official appearance (which is important for a business machine), and a long battery life. The Vostro 1400 is up to its positioning as a reliable companion for businessmen who travel a lot.