Dell Inspiron 23 review: A slim all-in-one with gaming chops

Sarah Tew/CNET

Multimedia functions on the keyboard are still mapped to the F-keys in an old-fashioned manner, requiring you to hold the Fn key down to, for example, raise and lower the volume. Other PC makers, such as HP, reverse those function-mapped keys so you can adjust volume and screen brightness more easily from the keyboard, although the Inspiron 23 does have screen brightness touch controls below the right side of the screen.

The 23-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, which is standard for a 23-inch all-in-one. Some larger models, such as Dell's own XPS 27 (which starts at only $200 more than this $1,399 configuration) trade up to better-than-HD 2,560x1,440 screens.

Covered by edge-to-edge Gorilla glass, the capacitive touch screen is responsive and looks clear and bright from any angle you'd swivel the screen to. One nice extra we sometimes see in larger all-in-ones, but not often in 23-inch models is an HDMI input, allowing you to use the display as an external display for a game console or media player.

Dell Inspiron 23
Video HDMI in/out
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 4 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery
There are plenty of USB ports on the base of the Inspiron 23, which gives it an advantage in this category over tabletop-style all-in-one systems, which have to fit any ports into the outer rim of the display itself.

The different configurations of the Inspiron 23 start at $999, and for that you'll get a still usable Intel Core i3 CPU, but miss out on the discrete AMD graphics, big 12GB of RAM, and the hybrid hard drive that combines 1TB of HDD space with a 32GB mSATA SSD.

Our $1,399 includes those upgrades, and a powerful 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ CPU, which is part of Intel's latest fourth-generation Core processor series. Because this system doesn't have an internal battery, it misses out on the biggest advantages of those new CPUs (also known by the code name Haswell), but modest performance gains over last year's Intel CPUs can be expected.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A family friendly 23-inch all-in-one desktop probably doesn't need a high-end Core i7 processor, but the Inspiron 23 made excellent use of it in our benchmark tests, scoring very close to Dell's much more expensive XPS 27, which used an even faster version of Intel's latest Core i7.

One unexpected bonus is that our Inspiron 23 includes an optional discrete graphics card from AMD, the Radeon 8690. It's not a high-end gamer-centric card, but performed nicely at casual gaming if you keep your expectations modest. In our tough Metro: Last Light test, it ran at 4.9 frames per second, but turn the detail levels down to low and you'll get 15.9 frames per second in the same test, both at full 1,920x1,080 resolution. Skyrim ran well at medium settings, as did a host of casual games downloaded from the Windows 8 app store, including the new Halo: Spartan Assault. This ain't going to be a gamer's machine, but at least you don't have to give up gaming entirely.

Conclusion
Without its two standout features, it would be easy to dismiss the Dell Inspiron 23 as just another upscale all-in-one. But the lie-flat screen makes it a system that can fit into use cases (including group activities) that other desktops can't, and the optional AMD graphics mean you can take advantage of our current renaissance in PC gaming, as long as you're not expecting to run games at their higher detail levels.

With those two features, plus the slim display and not-inexpensive as-configured price, this really does feel more like a product from Dell's XPS line than its overly broad mainstream Inspiron line.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
iTunes and Handbrake

System configurations
Dell Inspiron 23
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ; 12GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB AMD 8690A Graphics; 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Dell XPS 27
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro 64-bit; 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-3770S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell XPS 18
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.8GHZ Intel Core i5-3337U; 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip; HD1 32GB SSD HD2 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive

HP Envy Rove 20
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i3 4010U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000 embedded graphics chip;1TB SSHD hard drive

What you'll pay

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    About The Author

    Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal.