Editors' Note (June 2009): The Dell Inspiron 1525 reviewed here is no longer a current product. Instead, we'd advise you to check out the most recent CNET coverage of Dell 15-inch laptops or all Dell laptops.
With a complete top-to-bottom revamp of Dell's entire laptop line in mid-2007, why the need for a new mainstream model so soon? While the current 14-inch Inspiron 1420 hits the size/features/performance sweet spot, and the high-end XPS M1330 and the XPS M1530 are slick, thin 13- and 15-inch models, respectively, the middle-of-the-road Inspiron 1520 was always a little too big and clunky for its own good. When compared with the 14-inch version, Dell's basic 15-inch Inspiron--long the bread and butter of the company's consumer laptop line--got lost in the shuffle, offering a small increase in screen size but at the expense of a larger, more unwieldy chassis.
Dell's taken these points to heart, and the company has reworked the 1520 in the form of the Inspiron 1525. It's a smaller, lighter version of the previous 15-inch Inspiron 1520. However, after getting used to the brushed metal of the XPS M1530 (which itself starts at only $999), the new Inspiron 1525 has a somewhat cheap plastic feel, and we're not sure how much abuse it would stand up to on the road. But for a laptop that starts at only $499, it offers a lot of bang for your buck, including an HDMI output and touch-sensitive media controls, which are solid extras for a budget laptop. Our review unit bumps the spec up and includes a T7000-series Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and 2GB of RAM, for about a still reasonable $1,024--but within Dell's crowded laptop lineup, you may still prefer the smaller 14-inch 1420 model, or the slightly more expensive (but much nicer-looking) XPS M1530.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,024 / $499|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7250|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||120GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel Express 965GM (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.0x10.1x1.45 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.0/6.8 pounds|
With the upgraded Inspiron 1525 (hey, nobody ever accused these guys of being too creative in the naming department), Dell has managed to shave a little bulk off of the system--it's about 30 percent thinner and a half-pound lighter than the 1520 model it replaces--and the smaller chassis leaves less dead space on the keyboard tray.
The keyboard is the same full-size model found on Dell's other Inspiron and XPS laptops. While the keyboard is not our favorite, because of its tapered keys that may not offer enough surface area for chubby fingers, its feels solid and responsive. Above the keyboard sits a row of media control buttons. These are of the touch-sensitive variety we're partial to, and the Inspiron 1525 is the cheapest laptop we've seen those on yet. An additional quick-launch button is also above the keyboard for starting Dell's proprietary multimedia management software, but chances are you'll stick with more established programs such as Windows Media Center or iTunes. Our review unit also had a 2-megapixel Webcam built into the display, which is a $25 add-on.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. Our screen was glossy, as is common on consumer laptops (they make for a better video-viewing experience), but an antiglare option is available at no extra charge. We typically see matte screens on business systems, and generally prefer them rather than trying to fight the glare from our desk lamp or sunlit window.
|Dell Inspiron 1525||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI-out||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||Express card slot||PC Card or Express card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Inspiron 1525 offers all of the ports and connections you'll probably need, but in typical Dell fashion, almost everything is an extra-cost add-on. Bluetooth is $20, 802.11n Wi-Fi is $50, and a DVD burner is $30 (as opposed to a plain CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive). In a move that our friends at Apple should take note of, mobile broadband antennas from both Sprint and Verizon are offered. Each antenna costs $150, but signing up for service will get you a $100 rebate from either carrier.
While our $1,000-plus review unit was a perfectly capable dual-core system, what exactly do you get for the $499 base price? We would steer far clear of the lowest-end components, which include a 1.8GHz Intel Celeron 540 CPU, Vista Basic, an 80GB hard drive (same size as the MacBook Air), and only 512MB of RAM. Upgrading to 1GB of RAM is only $50, and adding an Intel Core 2 Duo T5450 is $100--we would call that the bare minimum for a usable laptop.
With 2GB of RAM and a 2.0GHz T7250 CPU, the Dell Inspiron 1525 offered no surprises on the performance front. Dell's upscale XPS version--the XPS M1530--was faster, sporting a better processor and video card (the 1525 is stuck with basic Intel integrated graphics), but similarly configured versions of both systems would offer nearly identical performance, with the XPS premium going for better design and construction.
The Inspiron 1525 ran for 2 hours and 41 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery, a decent score for budget 15-inch laptop. A nine-cell battery is also available, but it's large enough to stick out conspicuously from the back of the system. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.