If we only compared on-paper specifications without testing, we might have said that the Gateway is far and away the better choice than the Inspiron 518, especially for digital photo editors. However, performance-wise, the Dell fared much better than we expected. We suspect its speed advantage is tied to its faster processor, which comes through in particular on our Photoshop test. We've seen the benefits of 64-bit Windows and large amounts of RAM can have on this test, and that Dell closes the gap with only 2GB and a 32-bit operating system speaks very well of the Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 chip in the Inspiron 518. Once 64-bit supporting software hits the market, as we expect it to toward the end of this year, 64-bit systems may have more of an advantage. Keep that in mind for future-proofing, but for now, the Inspiron 518 is just as potent as anything else in its price range.
You can of course add RAM to the Inspiron 518 down the line. Our 2GB model came with two free memory slots for the purpose. Dell doesn't offer 64-bit Vista yet, so that's a bit of a hindrance to future memory expansion (because 32-bit Vista will only support about 3.25GB of memory), but you could always upgrade the operating system yourself, as well. Of course, at that point you might as well just build your own desktop. Our review unit also came with an extra hard drive bay and a handful of PCI and 1x PCI Express expansion card slots.
Along with Dell's Studio Hybrid, the Inspiron 518 is also one of the first Dell systems we've seen with the Dell Dock, a decidedly Apple-like cluster of icons at the top of the Windows desktop. You can move short cuts directly from the desktop to the Dock, and a settings page lets you reposition the Dock's location, or shut it down entirely. We are neither impressed nor offended by the Dell Dock. Our only recommendation for it is if you have a smaller monitor and you decide to leave the Dock on, you might end up with a crowded Windows desktop screen.
Dell's service and support stands out because it's one of the few vendors who still offer in-home service as part of the default warranty. You'll need to submit your computer to a remote diagnosis before Dell will agree to send a live technician, but that's a small inconvenience for in-home support. But the onsite plan and the warranty last for one year. You also get 24-7 toll-free phone support, as well as a variety of helpful resources from Dell online.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.2Ghz AMD Phenom X4 9550; 6GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 640GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.
Dell Inspiron 518
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.53Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo E7200; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 384MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive.