Into the Vault – Dell XPS M1530

Into the Vault: Dell XPS M1530

Welcome back to the Vault

Which actually makes no sense, it’s not even a vault.

It’s my basement.

My name is Matt Mutch.

I am a computer enthusiast.

I’d like to tell you a story.

Recently, a friend moved out of his house, and as people often do, he got rid of some stuff. In particular, he got rid of a laptop. And fortunately, he thought of me. I always enjoy getting people’s cast off technology, and I’ve spent plenty of time resurrecting old tech and repairing and re-purposing it. It’s… it’s a way to kill time.

Dell’s XPS laptop designation has typically been reserved for their current high end offerings. The M1530 was no exception. While this particular one is not a top spec model, it definitely belongs to the XPS family considering its sturdy build quality, premium soft touch lid, comfortable keyboard, and integrated webcam. While it hasn’t been used in some time, my friend kept it in good condition, and it still works.

Dell XPS M1530 top case
So Handsome!

I do remember being quite envious of this laptop when he got it. It was a laptop that actually came with a discrete GPU! Apparently, good things come to those who wait.

The catch is, it was new in 2007, which at the time of this writing, is 12 years ago.

…it’s a wonder it’s still alive.

The M1530 still works. It’s working just fine. But it’s old.

The usual trick for computers, recent or old, is to toss in a solid state hard drive to give them a shot in the arm, performance wise. For a long time, the hard drive has been a primary bottleneck in computer performance, typically when an ordinary rotating one is implemented. Rotating platters just can’t keep up with the blazing, ever forward performance of constantly evolving processors and RAM. Enter: SSDs.

Inland Professional 240 GB package
#NotAnAd

Even the cheapest, most inferior SSDs (they vary wildly in performance) are at the least equivalent to the performance of an average hard drive, and are almost always faster. Some of them are incredibly faster, depending on how much you care to spend. I’ve taken to buying a particularly cheap SSD from a local retailer and I’ve just been slapping these low capacity drives in every computer I get my hands on and in daily use, or at least in my testing, they’re comfortably swift and have even impressed me with the price vs. performance.

Working primarily with Third Generation/Ivy Bridge class machines, as noted in a previous Into the Vault, an SSD compliments the raw CPU performance available in these machines very nicely and yields perfectly usable systems. Apparently this trick only goes so far.

The XPS M1530 is what I have come to call a Zero Generation machine. A zero generation machine is the CPU generation before Intel started counting their Core i-series CPU generations, beginning with the Nehalem i-series, and then the 2nd, Sandy Bridge, and the 3rd, Ivy Bridge, and so on. As of the time of this writing, we’re moving on from the 8th generation Coffee Lake CPUs toward Cannon Lake, the 9th. This zero generation machine implements a venerable Core 2 Duo CPU, actually a precursor to the one in the world’s slowest bomb, the MacBook Pro of 2010.

Dean playing video games
This guy’s computer!

While Dean’s 2010 MacBook Pro has demonstrated almost suspicious alacrity, after defusal, certainly in part due to the temporary swapping in of a cheapo SSD, the XPS M1530… does not. With a dash of hubris, I cracked right into the Dell, shoved in one of my on-hand SSDs (yes I actually have them on hand) and loaded up Windows 10. Regrettably 7 is no longer a viable option for installing, nor is 8, and the originally included Vista, well, we don’t talk about Vista. Longhorn on the other hand…! No. Podcast for another podcast.

The M1530 predates the MacBook Pro by nearly three years and it shows. Whereas the MBP can… comfortably run the next to latest MacOS, loading Windows 10 onto the M1530 proved to be… rough. It loads up nicely, quickly even, installation was painless, and rebooting is surprisingly fast. These are all great signs!

Unfortunately, Windows 10 is a little heavy for this aged machine. After booting to the desktop and letting the computer settle to what should be an idle state, the system is “idling” at about 75% of CPU busy and over 50% of the installed 3 GB RAM occupied.

Nothing is running. The installation is clean. The problem is, Windows 10 just has so much crap going on at all times, all of which any modern system (say, less than nine years old?) can cope with in the background, a 12 year old laptop is just too long in the tooth.

Leave the current OS on the M1530! I’m sure someone is saying. The previous installation, whatever it even was, was unusable, and the original Vista license would be an experiment in futility I have no doubt. So we attempt to make do with what we have access to.

We have to take more drastic measures! What’s the OS that’s lighter on resources and advertises itself as lightning quick and super secure on older hardware?

No, not Linux. We don’t talk about Linux in the vault. You can’t handle the amount of salt I have when it comes to Linux.

Chrome OS! By way of CloudReady!

Cloudready Chrome OS
You’re Our Only Hope!

Isn’t Chrome OS Chromium running on top of a basic Linux installation? Boy you talk back a lot.

Finding Friday night excitement by preparing a CloudReady boot drive and plugging it into the M1530 I loaded up Chrome OS and…!

It’s dog slow. It’s worse than Windows 10. I have not ascertained exactly why this lighter weight operating system could be so much slower but it is. Perhaps it’s a lack of optimization. Perhaps I’ve done something wrong.

Or maybe a 12 year old laptop is just too old.

Almost always, it’s difficult to accept a computer, even one over a decade old, is too slow to use anymore. At some point in time, it was perfectly acceptable, perhaps even high end gear. What happened? Did software just get so complex, or bloated, or resource hungry, that older hardware just cannot cope anymore?

Hearing the fan noise inspired one last ditch attempt at breathing life into the M1530. I pulled open the bottom cover and checked on the heatpipe cooling assembly. This is no modern laptop for sure: nearly every serviceable component, of which there are many, are easily accessible with the loosening of just a couple of screws. I removed the cooling components, scraped off the ancient thermal conductive compound, and applied brand new fresh material and put the whole thing back together.

XPS M1530 Cooling unit
Reference image – Mine was cleaner ^_^;

…to no avail. The fans continued to run. The CPU utilization remained high.

It was worth a shot. I accepted that there was no hope for the ancient, single core server we long since abandoned at work. But I had thought a Core based, dual core system, could have life breathed back into it, but so far, I’m wrong. And it should be fine. By today’s standards, the M1530 is old all around. It’s thick and heavy, it’s screen is relatively dim and low resolution at a lackluster 1280×800 pixels on a TN based panel, and it still contains a DVD drive which clunks on boot. Still. It’s a shame. I kind of thought the SSD trick was bulletproof.

XPS M1530 DVD side view
Only 90s kids will know any of these ports

Sometimes, I guess it’s too late. Sometimes, a computer is just too old. Still. It was a fun way to spend a Friday night.

Got an old computer or a new computer you like or hate or are indifferent to and want to talk about it?

I’m @geekadematt on Twitter and this has been

Into the Vault – Dell XPS M1530

The Dell XPS M1530 is a high performance laptop from 2007. It is based around an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU (T5750) with two processing cores supporting two simultaneous threads total. It operates at 2.0 GHz clock speed and is supported by 3 GB of DDR2-667 MHz RAM. Whereas previously its primary storage consisted of a 250 GB 5400 rpm hard drive, it was quickly swapped for a 120 GB SATA SSD. Graphics are handled by an onboard Nvidia 8400GS with 128 MB dedicated graphics memory. The 8400GS drives a TN based display with a resolution of 1280×800. The M1530 features an integrated DVD-ROM drive and can output on the available VGA, HDMI, or S-Video outputs. Other ports include 10/100 Fast Ethernet and a 4-pin IEEE1394A port. Networking is alternatively handled by integrated 802.11g wifi. Rounding out expansion are three USB 2.0 ports and an ExpressCard/54 slot. The M1530 also includes a 2.0 megapixel webcam and microphone.

Matt Mutch

Image Acquisition Specialist and Computer Enthusiast. I like Sad Anime.

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