Dell is one of the most popular computer brands worldwide, and a default choice for many shoppers. Located right in the middle of the company's lineup, the Dell Inspiron 15 is one of the most versatile and affordable midrange laptops, offering configurations for as low as $379. We tried a configuration from Dell with a Core 2 Duo processor and 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon graphics, which cost $794, which is not far off from the cost of more fully featured multimedia machines.
While our configuration was priced relatively high, remember the Inspiron 15 line is essentially a ridiculously customizable laptop line that can cover a lot of bases. It's no surprise that it's "Dell's most popular laptop," simply because the Inspiron 15 line is literally and figuratively a giant black box--it can be made into a huge number of configs, which adds selective value for the consumer.
But, boy, it can get a bit confusing choosing everything from the CPU to the Wi-Fi card--perhaps preconfigured systems like the very attractively packaged Gateway NV5807u (or Dell's own i1545-012B) aren't such a bad idea after all.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$794/$379|
|Processor||2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400|
|Memory||3GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel PM45 Express|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.7 x 9.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.86/6.78 pounds|
Covered in glossy black plastic on the inside and matte black plastic on the outside, the Inspiron 1545 looks as if it's headed off to an undercover sting. It's not an unattractive look overall, it's just not that distinctive, and feels like too much black. A wide variety of other colors and designs (including Cherry Red, Promise Pink, Jade Green, Passion Purple, and...you get the idea) can be added for $40 each, which is not a bad deal if you're dead set on something with more flair.
The interior couldn't be any more minimal: above a straightforward keyboard sits a lone silver power button, and below is a black touch pad with black buttons. With a matte texture, the touch pad was average size and worked fine for our fingers. The old-fashioned tapered keys on the 1545's keyboard had good response and travel, with decent spacing between keys, which made for comfortable typing with a few misses here and there. The base of the laptop, however, does feel a bit wide--they probably could have fit a number pad in there with some effort. That's it for buttons: all other controls are operated with the keyboard (but without needing to press the function key at the same time, which is nice).
The Dell Inspiron 1545's 15.6-inch glossy wide-screen LED screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is standard for laptops in this price range (while budget 15-inch systems typically have 1,280x800-pixel displays). While a higher-resolution option is available (1,600x900), we found the screen to be perfectly adequate for most mainstream applications. Text and icons were easily readable, but the screen isn't full-HD (1080p) for true hi-def content.
While glare was minimal during casual use, the colors and brightness seemed slightly less vibrant than other screens we've seen recently. One note on audio: the Inspiron 1545's speakers are almost unusually loud and were more than adequate for games, music, or movies. We almost never had the volume above the halfway mark in the office.
|Dell Inspiron 1545||Average for category [mainstream]|
|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, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Port-wise, the Inspiron 1545 comes with 3 USB 2.0, VGA-out, and Ethernet/modem jacks, all fairly standard stuff, plus an SD card reader and an ExpressCard slot, which are useful for adding a broadband modem or Bluetooth card. 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be added for $35 and $20 respectively, but it feels as if we're being incrementally nickel-and-dimed.
We recently reviewed a preconfigured retail version of the 1545 line, the Inspiron 1545-012B, for our back-to-school retail roundup. Although that version had a dual-core Pentium processor, a smaller hard drive, and no dedicated graphics to speak of, it also only cost $429, a veritable bargain.
Our 1545 shared the same shell, plus a Webcam, and a more powerful processor inside, and it has 1GB more RAM and a larger hard drive. The Inspiron 15 line starts at $379 at its base model, before a flurry of add-on options. The processors can be upgraded from an Intel Celeron 900 (Netbook-level power) all the way up to a P8600 Core 2 Duo (an extra $200). System RAM, hard drives, a larger 9-cell battery, and even Blu-ray are all available options. In short, the Inspiron 15 line can be as affordable or as ridiculously expensive as you like. But the higher up you trick out your Inspiron 1545, you do invite the question of why you're not simply buying a fancier multimedia laptop such as the Sony Vaio NW160J.