Editors' note: This review is part of our , which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
The $529 Dell Inspiron i1545-4266IBU is available in a rainbow of colors, but no matter which hue you choose, the polished design masks a substandard feature set. We love the fit and feel of this budget laptop--comfortable keyboard, roomy display, still light enough for daily travel--but competing models offer better features for the same money. By comparison, the $529 Asus K60I-RBBBR05 boasts an LED-backlit display and Wireless-N Wi-Fi--two features absent on the Inspiron i1545-4266IBU--plus double the hard-drive capacity. Also absent on the Dell and found in abundance on the Asus, however, is bloatware.
The Inspiron i1545 is about the cheapest dual-core laptop you'll encounter, and though it delivers good performance for the price, laptops with Intel's latest Core i3 are tempting because they can be had for less than $100 more. The Gateway NV7915u, for example, features the Core i3 330M chip and costs only $599.
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T4400|
|Memory||3GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.7 x 9.6 x 1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.7 / 6.5 pounds|
The Inspiron i1545 is available in one of six colors; we reviewed the Ice Blue model. The light-blue lid has a glossy coating and a small Dell logo at its center. Inside, the screen bezel and keyboard tray are a piano black, and the keyboard and touch pad have a matte finish. You won't find any media control keys; you'll need to use the Function keys to play, pause, fast-forward, rewind, and adjust the volume instead. The row of Function keys actually operates like a strip of media control keys because they are mapped so you don't need to press the Fn button to skip a track, lower the screen brightness, or mute the volume, for example. Only a power button resides above the keyboard, lending a very clean and simple look to laptop.
In keeping with the clean design, the laptop ships with a pristine hard drive devoid of the bloatware found on other mainstream laptops and particularly budget models. The only trials you'll find are useful: 60 days of Microsoft Office 2007 and McAfee. The hard drive is smaller than you'll find on competing budget laptops. It's a 250GB hard drive, smaller than the 320GB drive found on most models at this price and half the capacity of the drive on the Asus K60I.
One flaw with the design is the display hinges. The hinges aren't sturdy enough to keep the screen firmly rooted in place. Our thunderous typing resulted in the screen wobbling. In the course of writing this review, we experienced also some skittish behavior in Word, with keyboard shortcuts engaging at random. We thought a stuck Ctrl key was to blame, but after a thorough investigation, we were unable to pinpoint the cause. It's likely specific to our review unit, but it bears mentioning.
The keyboard is exceedingly comfortable. The keys feel roomy and offer good travel. Unlike many 15.6-inch laptops such as the Asus K60I and the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018, the Inspiron i1545 does not feature a dedicated number pad. We don't think this omission is necessarily a bad thing since most people won't find much use for it. Without it, the keyboard is centered below the display and not a single key is shortened.
The touch pad blends in with the piano black wrist rest. It's demarcated by a matte finish and a slight recession. The two mouse buttons are like buttah: soft without offering too much travel and nearly silent when pressed. We greatly prefer them to the stiff, somewhat clacky mouse buttons on the Asus K60I.
The Inspiron i1545 weighs 5.7 pounds, average for a 15.6-inch laptop. It's the biggest-size laptop we recommend for daily commutes. It's a great size for home use, with 13.3- and 14.1-inch laptops saving you a pound or more of travel weight. The Inspiron i1545's display features a typical 1,366x768-pixel native resolution for the size. Movies look great on the wide-screen display; colors are vivid and the glossy screen coating helps smooth edges. The screen is also a good size for productivity, providing decent room for working with multiple open windows. The Asus K60I, however, features an LED-backlit display, which is more energy efficient than a traditional LCD lit by fluorescent tubes. As you'll see below, the Asus K60I offers better battery life despite using a slightly lower-capacity battery.
The Dell Inspiron i1545 features merely an average pair of laptop stereo speakers. They reach a decent level at max volume, but the sound is predictably tinny. They'll suffice for YouTube video and DVDs, but headphones are the better option for music playback.
|Dell Inspiron i1545-4266iBU||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/ microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, multi-format media card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Inspiron i1545 supplies an average collection of ports and connections. You'll find three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port, an Ethernet jack, an ExpressCard/34 slot, a multiformat media card reader, and headphone and microphone jacks. Absent are HDMI and eSATA connections. We would have liked to have seen HDMI, which can be found on only slightly more expensive laptops such as the Gateway NV7915u and the HP Pavilion dv4-2145dx. Lastly, though nearly every other laptop at this price point features Wireless-N Wi-Fi, the Inspiron i1545 supplies only 802.11b/g connectivity.
The laptop features the Intel Pentium T4400 processor, a dual-core chip clocked at 2.2GHz. It's found in many chips because it is an entry-level dual-core processor, a rung below Intel's venerable Core 2 Duo line that delivers excellent bang for the buck. Budget buyers will find that it provides more than enough muscle for general use, including heavy multitasking scenarios. It finished within a percentage point or two of the Asus K60I and the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018 on CNET Labs' application benchmarks, not surprising result given that all three feature the same Pentium T4400 processor. The Asus has 4GB of memory to the Dell's 3GB, but the Dell's memory is faster at 800MHz compared with 667MHz on the Asus. The difference in memory speed offsets the difference in memory amount, according to our test results.
Though we have no trouble recommending a Pentium T4400-based budget laptop for general use, we would also point out that laptops with the Core i3 processor, one of the successors to the Core 2 Duo, cost less than $100 more. For example, the Gateway NV7915u costs $599 and uses the Core i3 330M CPU. The Gateway finished our multitasking benchmark with a 30 percent faster score than the Inspiron i1545. That's a significant number when you consider the laptops are only $70 apart in price. The performance difference on single applications is less drastic; the Gateway finished the Photoshop and iTunes benchmarks 12 percent and 4 percent faster than the Inspiron i1545, respectively.