Price (as tested): $808
Pros: Sleek aluminum case, leather bag, inexpensive, quiet operation
Cons: Short battery life, mediocre performance compared to Core i5 machines, battery and memory inaccessible
The Dell Vostro V130's 0.8-in. profile makes it the thinnest of this trio of executive-class notebooks.
Roughly the same size as the MacBook Air, it is angular rather than rounded. At 12.9 x 9.0 in., its footprint is midway between the IdeaPad and Asus systems' and easily fits on an airline seat-back tray.
The lustrous aluminum case is available in red or silver; it makes for a sharp visual contrast to the softer coatings that the others have, and it feels colder to the touch. The hinges and Dell's lid logo are in demure brushed aluminum. The bottom of the V130 has no hatches and doesn't allow you to change the battery or get at the memory modules.
The version I looked at came with a nice Cole Haan leather sleeve that provides room for plenty of papers but has no handle. On its own, the sleeve costs $180.
At 3.6 lbs., the Vostro is 11 oz. heavier than the Lenovo IdeaPad U260 but 4 oz. lighter than the Asus U36JC. With its small AC adapter, the Vostro hits the road with a 4.3-lb. travel weight, more than a pound heavier than the IdeaPad's travel weight.
While the Vostro has a comfortable keyboard with 19mm keys, its metallic wrist rest can't match the comfort of the padded one on the IdeaPad. Among the three systems I looked at, it was the quietest, with a fan that hardly ever went on.
The machine is powered by an Intel 380UM Core i3 processor that runs at 1.33 GHz, slightly more than half the speed of the Asus. As a result, unlike the other two laptops, it lacks Intel's TurboBoost technology for increasing the clock speed when tasks demand it. (The Vostro can now be ordered with a Core i5 470UM processor -- the same as in the IdeaPad I tested -- but one wasn't available when I did my testing.)
The system matches the IdeaPad with 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive, smaller than the 500GB drive in the Asus I tested. (A 500GB hard drive is available with some V130 models.) There's no built-in DVD drive, but Dell offers an external device for $80.
The bright screen equals the Asus laptop's in both size (13.3 in.) and resolution (1366 x 768) and is powered by the same graphics engine as the IdeaPad (Intel's GMA HD chip). Its assortment of ports is similar to the IdeaPad's, with a pair of USB 2.0 connectors but no USB 3.0 port. There are ports for VGA and HDMI, separate headphone and microphone jacks, a flash card slot and an eSATA connection for plugging in an external hard drive.
For getting online, the system offers 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and an Ethernet connector. Like the others, the Vostro comes with Bluetooth for connecting a keyboard or headset.
As you'd expect from a machine powered by a Core i3 processor, the V130 lagged behind the laptops with Core i5 CPUs in my performance tests. Its 601.2 score on the PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark was faster than only the Asus in Battery Saving mode. In real-world use, its response was more sluggish than the Asus machine's in High Performance mode, particularly when moving between open windows, and it showed fewer textures and other details in the Trainz simulations.
Its six-cell battery pack lasted for just 2 hours and 21 minutes on a charge, an hour short of the IdeaPad's six-cell battery and nearly two hours less than the Asus' eight-cell battery in Battery Saving mode. The system stayed connected to my office's Wi-Fi network only 95 feet from the router, 30 feet short of the Asus.
In addition to Windows 7 Professional, the V130 I tested comes with Office 2010 Starter and Trend Micro's antivirus software. (Models equipped with Ubuntu Linux or Windows 7 Home Premium are also available.) At $808, it undercuts the others by about $200. Its one-year warranty is second-best compared to the two years of service that the Asus U36JC includes; however, extending the warranty to three years adds just $80, a genuine bargain.
Despite an appealing aluminum case and an enviable profile, the Vostro V130 will likely disappoint mobile workers seeking the right mix of battery life and power on the road. Still, it's a beautiful system at a great price.