Hands on with Dell's Inspiron R and Vostro laptops, with new Intel CPUs

Dell's new laptops get upgraded with next-gen Intel Core i-series CPUs and a few new design tweaks.

The Dell Vostro 3000 series update, with Sandy Bridge.
The Dell Vostro 3000 series update, with Sandy Bridge. Scott Stein/CNET

Dell has announced the new Vostro 3350 small-business laptop, along with a new Inspiron R laptop with changeable lids. They both feature Intel's new Sandy Bridge Core i-series CPUs, which are finally making their way into laptops in stores. We paid both laptops a visit for a brief look.

The Vostro has always been an intriguing line to us: borrowing the look of the Adamo and some affordable pricing, the industrial-looking compact laptops could be an appealing pick for those gravitating to a laptop like a ThinkPad or an HP ProBook. Intel's new Core i-series CPUs could make an even bigger impact on laptops like the Vostro: Dell claims significant battery life improvements, which we'll obviously need to check when we review. Still, so far we've seen battery life gains on Sandy Bridge laptops we've reviewed, so we're optimistic. Also, the improved integrated Intel graphics should give these compact laptops some graphics power that they previously lacked. Other new additions include a new raised chiclet-style backlit keyboard, USB 3.0 ports, an improved HD Webcam, and SRS sound that filters and dynamically processes background noise for Web chats. One note: only the 14-, 15-, and 17-inch Vostro 3000s have the HD Webcams.

The updated Vostro 3000 series covers the 13- to 17-inch models, and they start at aggressive prices: the 13-inch 3350 for $599, the 14-inch 3450 and 15-inch 3550 for $499, and the 17-inch 3750 for $549.

The new Dell Inspiron R: a bit sleeker.
The new Dell Inspiron R: a bit sleeker. Scott Stein/CNET

The new Inspiron R has gotten a bit more of a redesign compared with the Vostro we saw. The particular unit we saw looks cleaner and a bit sharper on the inside, with a redesigned raised keyboard. On the outside, the Inspiron R flaunts a new series of interchangeable lids. Unlike previous Dell laptops and their sometimes-wacky designs you had to live with, the new concept mimics the days of Nokia cell phone case-swapping: lids can be detached and interchanged, and cost $19 to $29 each. The new lid design feels solid when snapped on, but it looks like it adds a bit more thickness. We'll have to see when we play with one for a while how well the lid system works, but theoretically it's a clever way to give your laptop a cheap face-lift.

Upgraded graphics options (AMD on the smaller-screened models, Nvidia on the larger Inspiron Rs), and low starting prices--$529 for the new 15R, and $579 for the 14R and 17R--could make these popular, provided you like black lids (those other colors, they cost extra). Like the Vostro 3000 series, these Inspiron Rs will have second-gen Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs.

That's probably the biggest news here; while most of the Sandy Bridge laptops we've reviewed so far have been pricier models, these are the first we've gotten wind of that have gotten to the $500 range.

 

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