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Dell Inspiron 14z review: Back-to-school special

The shaved-down, affordable Inspiron 14z just might be one of the best budget laptop picks of the early fall.

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When it comes to laptops in 2011, "thinner is better" seems to be a consistent trend. The MacBook Air and Samsung Series 9 head the pack in that regard, but laptops such as the Sony Vaio SE and Dell XPS 15z have followed suit. It's no surprise, then, that the mainstream Dell Inspiron line has gotten its own thinned-out model in the Inspiron 14z. If the name rings a bell, that's because there was a previous Inspiron 14z released in 2009, with a Core 2 Duo processor, but that "thin" laptop was inferior to this new 14z in nearly every way. Dell's latest 14z is a very good laptop, and one of the best affordable mainstream models we've seen Dell make in a while.

Still, it's "thinner," not "ultraslim." The $599 starting price on the Inspiron 14z represents a reasonable budget price for the Core i3 processor, 500GB hard drive, and 4GB of RAM it includes; the highest-end Inspiron 14z tops out at a still-reasonable $829, although it lacks dedicated graphics, which will annoy some. The swappable snap-on back lid, a show-off feature of the new Inspiron R series, is also gone. Consider it a trade for a more compact form.

Improved battery life, a DVD drive, and USB 3.0 ports could make the most difference for potential buyers. The clean aluminum lid and uncluttered look are also better than we've seen from recent Dell laptops. The Inspiron 14z is a better back-to-school laptop than the Inspiron R; for not much of an extra investment, the overall design is much improved. We'd recommend it, even in its entry-level configuration, wholeheartedly. It's late in the year for a back-to-school laptop recommendation, but if you haven't bought a laptop yet, make sure you check out this late arrival from Dell.

Read the full review of the Dell Inspiron 14z.