While many laptop buyers will gravitate toward specialty machines--such as a tiny Netbook for travel or a massive desktop replacement for gaming or video editing--there are still plenty of people who need a traditional midsize laptop. We call these 14-, 15-, and 16-inch systems members of the "mainstream" category, and they are the workhorse backbones of the laptop biz.
Dell has done more than anyone to keep the midsize laptop in play, churning out inexpensive, reasonably configurable systems, such as the Inspiron 1440. For less than $700, we got a perfectly fine 14-inch dual-core, wide-screen laptop, with plenty of configuration options if we wanted to add or subtract features.
We did, however, wish we could add a better graphics option, as we found on the similarly priced Dell s1440-022B (a retail-only model that is unfortunately no longer available). Also, be aware that usually standard features, such as a Webcam or Bluetooth, will cost extra here, so make sure to factor that into your price estimate.
|Price / Starting price||$694 / 449|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6600|
|Memory||3GB DDR3 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB at 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.4 x 9.5|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.0 / 5.8 pounds|
In recent years Dell has expanded its options for laptop personalization, adding new colors and graphic images for lids. Our Inspiron 1440 had a glossy purple finish on the back of the lid, which adds a surprisingly stiff $40 to the base price. The interior contrasts a matte-black keyboard with a glossy gray keyboard tray. Combined with the somewhat chunky shape of the chassis, the overall effect looks and feel plasticky and vaguely toylike--this is not going to be mistaken for a high-end status symbol. That's fine for a laptop that starts under $500, but less so for a fully loaded $1,000-plus configuration.
The wide, flat-topped keys are Dell's current default and provide a pleasant typing experience--the firm, quiet keys are among the most upscale-feeling features on the system. A large-enough touchpad works fine, but the diminutive mouse buttons it's paired with feel cheap and click down unconvincingly. With no media control or quick-launch buttons, you'll have to use the Function keys for volume control and the like. Oddly, it wasn't that long ago that even very inexpensive Dell laptops had a row of dedicated multimedia and quick-launch buttons.
The LED display measures 14.0 inches and features an extrawide 16:9 aspect ratio that matches up with HD video. With 1,366x769 native resolution, it's great for 720p HD content, although the glossy screen coating can attract distracting glare from other light sources. A 1,600x900 display is available as a $75 option if you want a higher screen resolution (keep in mind, this will make text and icons smaller at their default size).
|Dell Inspiron 1440||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA||VGA and HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11g Wi-Fi,||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Dell offsets many features to the optional accessory category, offering a Webcam ($25), Bluetooth ($20), Blu-ray drive ($125), and 802.11n Wi-Fi ($25). While it's a Dell mainstay, we didn't see a mobile broadband antenna as an available option on this particular model. We do like that 15 months of Norton antivirus protection is included in the base price.
In the $600-$900 range, we'd expect to see a standard Intel Core 2 Duo CPU in a midsize laptop, such as the 2.2GHz T6600 found here. It performed on par with the most recent batch of similarly configured mainstream laptops we've seen, which all use the slightly slower 2.0GHz T6500 CPU. One area in which the Dell Inspiron 14 fell slightly behind was in our hard-drive-intensive Photoshop test. Interestingly, the systems we used for comparison all had 320GB Hitachi or Toshiba HDDs--the Dell was the only one with a 250GB Seagate HDD. (Even more interesting--Dell's online configurator now only offers 320 and 500GB drives as options).
That aside, the end result is a fast, reliable experience for mainstream users, very much in line with our expectations.
|Dell Inspiron 14||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||0.44|
|Sleep (10 percent)||0.73|
|Idle (25 percent)||9.52|
|Load (15 percent)||40.74|
|Annual energy cost||$4.73|
On our video playback battery drain test, the Dell Inspiron 14 ran for 2 hours and 31 minutes--short of what we'd expect from a mainstream laptop. Other 14-inch systems, including Dell's own Studio 1440 and the HP dv4-1465dx, ran for well over 4 hours on the same test. Dell does offer a nine-cell battery as a $40 upgrade over the default six-cell model, but we shouldn't have to add weight and bulk to get a reasonable battery life from a laptop with an LED display and no discrete graphics.
Dell backs the Inspiron 14 with a standard one-year parts-and-labor mail-in warranty. Moving up to in-home service is an extra $70, or $260 for three years of in-home service. Dell's pitches for its varied support options--In Home service, Complete Care, Your Tech Team--are confusing to follow and not clearly priced, so take extra time to choose the support option you need.