Dell Updates Vostro Laptops, Holds the Line on Prices

By Jamie Bsales | Posted April 09, 2009

Dell has introduced updated versions of its small business–centric Vostro notebook PCs. The refreshed Vostro 1320, Vostro 1520 and Vostro 1720 offer hardware and software enhancements over the 1310, 1510 and 1710 models, while holding the line on price. Improvements include an integrated videoconferencing suite, optional hard drive encryption, an available solid state drive (SSD) and even optional Blu-ray optical drives.

“In designing the series, we thought about solving problems for small business buyers,” said Alison Gardner, Vostro Product Manager. To that end, Dell is touting the Vostro series’ videoconferencing/video-chat capabilities as a way for business owners to save on travel costs in a tough economy.

If you opt for the integrated Webcam and microphone, Dell will also include its new Dell Video Chat software, a custom version of the SightSpeed service from Logitech. The company claims its real-time video chat is easy to set up and use and delivers smooth motion, allowing free PC-to-PC telechat with up to four people.

The software also supports free VoIP (voice over IP) calls between two PCs, plus low-rate voice calls to landlines and mobile phones. The Dell Video Chat interface features an IM window that integrates with your SightSpeed or Video Chat contact lists, letting you IM with up to four people at once (both in and out of a video chat). There’s also the My Message Center area of the software that lets you record and send video mail messages to any e-mail address, as well as manage video mail messages you have received.

On the hardware side, the line offers improved keyboards that Gardner says are more comfortable (and still spill-resistant), as well as the latest Intel processor and nVidia graphics platforms. The units are now Energy Star complaint, and Dell has squeezed more life from the nine-cell batteries; Gardner claims the Vostro 1320 and 1520 can run for eight hours of typical use between recharging.

Tightening Security

The new Vostro models also place an emphasis on data security. All models feature an integrated fingerprint reader, so the machines can be set to boot to Windows only after you authenticate with the swipe of a registered finger. The Vostro line also offers optional full-drive encryption thanks to Seagate’s recently introduced self-encrypting hard drives. All data written to the drive is secured by government-grade encryption.

All Vostro models feature dedicated shock absorption for the hard drive, and units equipped with a fast 7,200-rpm drive also get active protection, where an accelerometer senses if the machine falls or gets jostled and signals the drive to park the heads to avoid damage to the platters and possible data loss. For people who are particularly tough on their machines, Dell offers a flash-memory based SSD in place of the traditional platter-based hard drive. The 128GB drive is essentially crash-proof, but adds a hefty $400 to the machine’s price.

Other enhancements include the choice of an LED-backlit LCD screen on the Vostro 1520; the display consumes less power while also delivering a brighter, higher-contrast image than traditional LCDs. The Vostro 1520 and 1720 can be outfitted with high-resolution panels. In place of the standard DVD burner, you can opt for a high-def Blu-ray burner on all three models. Not only does this let you play back Blu-ray movies, but the 25GB writeable Blu-ray discs also let you use the drive to back up data and video files. 

As with past Vostro offerings, Dell complements the machines with support and service exclusive to the Vostro line. For starters, there’s a 30-day worry-free Vostro return policy. You can opt for Dell CompleteCare accidental damage protection, and Vostro customers receive priority technical support from dedicated operators. The Dell ProSupport program offers a range of IT-related services, including optional on-site system setup.

Dell’s Web site will feature three or four recommended configurations of each model, but Gardner stressed that the line is highly configurable: processors range from Celeron to Core 2 Duo, operating system choices include Windows XP and various Windows Vista operating systems, the machines accept up to 8GB of RAM, and Dell offers a choice of integrated or discrete graphics.

The Vostro 1320 is a four-pound, thin-and-light machine with a 13.3-inch screen aimed at people who need a machine for use on the go. Prices start at $629. The Vostro 1520, which starts at $569, is the mainstream model in the lineup. It features a 15.4-inch screen and weighs a still-portable 5.4 pounds. If you need the larger screen of a desktop replacement notebook that sees only occasional travel, the 6.8-pound Vostro 1720 delivers a 17-inch LCD starting at $649.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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