Dell Inspiron 537s-002B review: Dell Inspiron 537s-002B

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MSRP: $480.00
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2.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Extra expansion card slots; room for two hard drives.

The Bad Behind-the-times features; slow performance; too many better, faster systems available for just a few more dollars.

The Bottom Line You might find a better deal from Dell if you configure an Inspiron 537s online, but this retail only model has little to recommend it. From slow performance to a weak feature-set, this budget slimtower is outclassed by too many other retail desktops.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

5.2 Overall
  • Design 6.0
  • Features 4.0
  • Performance 5.0
  • Service and support 7.0

Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Back-to-School roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.

This retail version of Dell's Inspiron 537s is the most inexpensive PC in our back-to-school desktop round, but that doesn't let Dell off the hook for offering such underwhelming features. We don't expect the world for $480, but when your specs look outdated next to not only your current competition, but also systems from six months ago, we can't help feeling disappointed. We recommend you pass this system by. It's not worth your money.

The Inspiron 537 line debuted back in March, and if you configure one online you can select from multiple case colors as well as a much better array of features than this retail model. This unit comes in attractive-enough black. As a slimtower system, the Inspiron 537s also lends itself to a variety of different usage models. You can use it as either a vertical or horizontally-oriented desktop system, but its small profile also lets you put it in your living room or some other more visible location without it causing too much of an eyesore.

  Dell Inspiron 537s-002B Gateway SX2800-01
Price $480 $510
CPU 2.5GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200
Memory 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 32MB Intel GMA X4500 32MB Intel GMA X4500
Hard drives 640GB, 7,200rpm 640GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit

We don't want to overwhelm our reviews with exhaustive features lists, but there's actually a much larger difference between the Inspiron 537s and its closest competition, the Gateway SX2800-01 aside from its price and the CPUs. You have only to look at our performance tests below to see how badly Dell lags behind not only the quad-core Gateway, but also its dual-core budget competition. While Dell's other components line up well enough against the Gateway, Dell skimped badly on the motherboard connections.

You get four USB 2.0 ports, a VGA video output, a modem, an Ethernet jack, a set of analog audio jacks, and a pair of mouse and keyboard inputs on the back of the Dell. That's it. Turn the Gateway around and you'll find all of those features, plus digital audio out, an eSATA external hard drive connection, and an HDMI video out. Throw in the Gateway's more compact size, and it's clear that Gateway has joined its brand-parent Acer, as well as Asus, in offering slim towers that live up to the full potential of their versatility. We realize Dell has Studio Hybrid units to move, but that doesn't excuse it from letting the 537s languish at retail.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Asus Essentio CM5570-AP002
Dell Inspiron 537s

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multi-CPU  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway SX2800-01
HP Pavilion p6110y
Dell Inspiron 537s

With quad-core PCs readily available for about $500, along with reasonably fast dual-core systems at the same price, the Dell and its 2.5GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 chip looks inordinately slow. Again, we understand that this system costs $20 to $30 less than its competition, but that's not enough of a price cut to justify both subpar features and such slow performance. Sure, the Inspiron 537s will handle whatever basic tasks you might ask of it, but with so many faster systems available for just a few dollars more, we find little reason to accept this system's laggard speed.

We mentioned that the Gateway has a more compact case than the Inspiron 537s, and while these are still slim tower systems with limited upgrade paths, the larger size does afford the Dell a bit more upgrade room. Again, though, Gateway did a better job of playing to a slimtower's strengths. Dell gives you half-height expansion slots for a 1X PCI Express card, a 16X PCI Express graphics card, and a standard PCI card, and it has room for a second internal hard drive. Gateway lacks the extra PCI slot, and it can only take a single hard drive, but Gateway also wisely allows up to four memory sticks. The Dell also has only two RAM slots. We'll give Dell the nod for more expansion card options, but we'd much rather have room for more RAM than a space for a second hard drive. You can add more storage via an external drive or over a network. You have no such alternative if you want to expand the system memory.

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