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.

9 thoughts on “Into the Vault – Dell XPS M1530

  • April 20, 2020 at 11:21 pm
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    Instead of running the bastardization of Linux that Google puts out why not go with a real Distro? I have Ubuntu running just fine with Gnome 3 or for a faster experience LXQT.

    Reply
    • April 21, 2020 at 12:09 am
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      That’s a good question. At the time I was strictly Non-Linux for the simple reason that I knew next to nothing about it. At this current time, I know the slightest bit more about it. If I get through the short stack of waiting articles, or just get bored, I could definitely throw Ubuntu on it to see how that works out. A Good suggestion though. Might just try it.

      Reply
  • July 21, 2020 at 10:23 pm
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    I bought my XPS M1530 before college in 2008. 12 years later, i’m finding it difficult to label it a lost cause. Every few years I would do a clean reboot and start from scratch, which usually did the trick, but I fear that the hardware just cant keep up with the newest web browsers and software. I’ve spent the last 5 hours contemplating throwing in a SSD, upgrading my 2x2GB RAM to 2x4GB (at a whopping $140), I’ve serviced the fans and replaced the thermal paste, and was considering linux, which was when i stumbled across your article. I’m happy to see there are other enthusiasts out there unwilling to give up on an old workhorse, which is completely functional, however no longer practical. Thanks for going down the routes I have been considering. You saved me some time and money…might just be time to let it go.

    Reply
    • July 21, 2020 at 10:46 pm
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      Thanks for reading and replying! Much appreciated. Can’t believe you’re still hanging on to the thing but more power to you. However, some unsolicited advice would be, that 140 dollars is literally over half way to a superior laptop nowadays, since time has set the bar so low. You seem to be having better luck to date, since my experience was that I could not even spin it up in a usable fashion. I didn’t go back and try any common Linux distributions, which I should have for completeness, but a light weight one might work out. Still can’t advise dropping more than 25 dollars for a bargain ssd into it though. Let me know what you do from here. Thanks again.

      Reply
  • March 2, 2021 at 2:21 pm
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    Hello Matt,

    I Just ran across your “Into the Vault” article from 2019. My apologies for dredging up ancient history, but FYI, my wife and I continue to use two XPS M1530s as our “portables”. (Yes, we do most of our work from “modern” desktop machines.)

    The M1530 I use has a T9500 cpu, 4 gigs ram and a regular hard drive and is running 64 bit WIndows 8.1. I picked it up “non-working” on Ebay 5 or 6 years back for $50, with Vista and the full Microsoft Office Professional installed on the HD. I figured it the problem was the well-known GPU soldering issue, so when baking the motherboard proved successful, I upgraded the original T8100 cpu to the T9500, the hard drive to an SSD and installed W8.1 (Interestingly, my preferred Windows 7 Ultimate would not work on this machine.)

    The other M1530 we had purchased for our daughter when she went off to college in 2008. It retains its original T8300 cpu and 4 gigs ram. Along the way, I had upgraded the OS from Vista to Windows 7 Professional for her. After graduation, she moved on to a newer machine and gifted it back to my wife. The only subsequent upgrade was the HD to an SSD.

    Both machines run all the business apps we utilize flawlessly … of course, we aren’t gamers and don’t do a lot of video editing, and realize that these machines would not be able to handle that heavy a load.

    The only real drawback is the horrific battery life. Incidentally, the native resolution on both of these machines is 1440 x 900, so I’m guessing your M1530 must have been an earlier motherboard with the nvidia 8400M graphic chip.

    Hey, if you still have it “in the vault”, put it on Ebay and you could still get a couple of hundred bucks for it!

    Reply
    • March 2, 2021 at 3:01 pm
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      Not at all, please, dredge up whatever! It’s incredible this post has garnered the attention that it has at all (any!). I’ve grown into a bit of a more modern era user, and I’m blown away to hear people are still using M1530s at all, for anything, let alone at all portably. Equally startling to hear you’re having any ability to use it with a halfway modern OS. I haven’t heard of the GPU issue on this model, it having been belonging to my close friend for the vast majority of its existence, and it’s great you were able to bake/reflow the gpu and board back to functionality! I would believe they run flawlessly, as Dells were a different quality back then. I am not sure about that kind of resale value, but I’ll certainly check it out now that you’ve mentioned it. HOWEVER, if you’re still replying, did you experience the soft-touch issue? The lid, red on mine, was a soft touch plastic, very popular with premium devices but the problem is it degrades and becomes sticky. This Dell is now probably too gross to sell, functional or not, unless I learn how to restore it properly. A replacement plate would probably cost more than the value of the machine…

      Thanks so much for reading and replying.

      Reply
  • March 8, 2021 at 10:04 pm
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    Yes, the top becomes a bit tacky. They also scratch very easily. New or reconditioned replacement tops can still be found at a few parts sites for $15 – $20, though last time I checked many colors/model numbers were no longer available. (The type of cover is dependent on the type of screen, so check the service number at Dell to find the original equipment specs.)

    In my opinion, Windows 7 Pro and Windows 8.1 work as well on the M1530’s as Windows 10 does on the typical desktop in use in many offices. But I am surprised that people have Windows 10 running on M1530s. When W10 was introduced, I allowed the the 7Pro machine to take the upgrade, but it performed abysmally, so I reverted to W7 … several times. I suppose I could have upgraded the machine to 8 gigs of ram, but considered $250 for 8 gigs of ram to be obscene. (Incidentally, I still consider Windows XP Pro 64 bit and Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit the two best OS’s Microsoft ever produced.)

    I checked today, and yes, XPS M1530s in good condition are still fetching $200 and up on eBay. Hey, the XPS M1530 was THE most coveted, top-of-the-line machine by engineering students and gamers in its day! And these days, it also does a good job keeping the cat warm and cozy.

    Reply
  • May 18, 2021 at 3:31 pm
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    Hi to the Vault! Believe it or not, I put Win 10 on my m1530 w/ 4gb ram and it ran pretty smooth. However, it wasn’t as fast as laptops much newer would be, plus, I have another Win 10 laptop. So I decided to install Linux on it and Peppermint is the distro I chose.it worked flawlessly from the beginning with the Nvidia drivers and all. Even the wireless works fine! Just thought I’d ad my two cents in case anyone else happens across this thread. Feel free to ask any questions, thanks. And thanks for the info here, and your site.
    Christopher

    Reply
    • May 18, 2021 at 3:36 pm
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      Still can’t believe the attention this article has gotten, and continues to get! Thanks for your $0.02, it matters! Iirc, I found Win10 to be unusable at those specs but I also did not know about Win10 “debloat” tools at the time. I haven’t heard of Peppermint Linux but it sounds feature complete to have the nvidia driver. I find I have a lot of down time and might just try that out in the near future. Thanks for reading and contributing!

      Reply

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