Note: This review is part of our Back to School 2008 roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
We were very fond of Dell's 14-inch Inspiron 1420 laptop when Dell launched it in the spring of 2007, as we find that 14-inch models offer the optimal balance between portability and usability for mainstream users. Since then, Dell has introduced new 15-inch systems, and a whole new line, the Studio series, but no new 14-inch models.
This $799 retail configuration, called the Inspiron 1420-123B, offers a reasonable mix of components, including 3GB of RAM, but lacks the updated features found on Dell's latest 15-inch Inspirons, including touch-sensitive media control buttons and an HDMI output, making it look and feel a little dated.
|Price as reviewed||$799|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5750|
|Memory||3GB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB 5400rpm|
|Chipset||Intel GMA X3100|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel 965GM Express|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||13.1x10.3x1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.5 / 6.3 pounds|
Because Dell has revised its 15-inch basic Inspiron chassis more recently than the 14-inch version, we end up with an unusual situation where the 1420 is actually a hair thicker than the larger Inspiron 1525. Still, it has a smaller footprint and is easier to tote around on a frequent basis than the bigger 15-inch version, which weighs 0.6 pound more.
The basic Dell laptop keyboard remains unchanged and is comfortable to type on, but the small square media control buttons look and feel dated compared with the touch-sensitive versions found on even the cheapest non-14-inch Dell laptops.
The 14.1-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, which is standard for budget-minded mainstream systems, but may not offer enough screen real estate for busy students who need to have multiple windows open simultaneously. The configurable version available on the Dell Web site offers an upgrade to a higher 1,440x900-pixel resolution.
|Dell Inspiron 1420-123B||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, S-Video||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, multiformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
This fixed-configuration system lacks Bluetooth (and the HDMI jack found on similarly priced Dell 1525 models), but does include FireWire--a connection that's becoming something of a rarity in today's USB-powered world.
Our Inspiron 1420 featured a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5750, which is the standard CPU for a mainstream budget system these days. It's perfectly fine for basic multitasking, including Web surfing, working on office documents, and media playback--but with the upcoming release of new Centrino 2 CPUs from Intel, this is probably the last generation of systems we'll see with this processor. Among the other midsize laptops at Best Buy in the $730 to $800 price range, the Inspiron 1420 preformed admirably, trailing only the Gateway T-6836, which benefits from 64-bit Vista and an extra gigabyte of addressable RAM (32-bit Vista cannot use more than 3GB of RAM).
The 1420 ran for 3 hours and 15 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. That's an impressive score for a mainstream system and beat five similarly priced and sized laptops you'll find at Best Buy this summer. The next closest competitor, the Gateway T-6836, conked out 17 minutes sooner on our demanding battery drain test while the rest of the systems failed to make it past the 2.5-hour mark. With smart use of the sleep and hibernate options in Windows Vista, should get you through a full day of classes with the Inspiron 1420.
Dell includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, and the Dell Web site has a robust collection of support tools, including online chat, a Flash-based question widget, and 24-7 toll-free telephone support. Retail stores offer a variety of extended warranty plans with your laptop purchase, but they're generally expensive and hard to use, so we do not recommend them.