The Good Sturdy, attractive design; decent price; includes a multiformat dual-layer DVD burner; exceptionally comfortable keyboard; integrated 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi.
The Bad Mediocre productivity performance; poor gaming performance; only two USB 2.0 ports.
The Bottom Line Slower but less expensive than the competition, the Inspiron 5160 makes a decent system for nondemanding home or small-office use.
Dell Inspiron 5160
Dell Inspiron 5160
The Inspiron 5160, Dell's follow-up to its Editors' Choice award-winning Inspiron 5150, has some distinct differences from its predecessor, both good and bad. The Inspiron 5160 still weighs about 8 pounds--average for a desktop replacement--yet it features a sturdier, more sophisticated-looking case made entirely from silver-gray magnesium alloy. It also includes a cool new multiformat, double-layer DVD burner, and it has a reasonable $1,424 price (as of November 2004). Like the Inspiron 5150, the Inspiron 5160 is custom configurable, but Dell has added new internal components to the mix; our test unit featured a late-model 3.2GHz Intel mobile Pentium 4 processor and an Nvidia GeForce Go5200 graphics chip with 64MB of dedicated memory. Unfortunately, the new specs resulted in mediocre performance in CNET Labs' tests. For folks other than speed-seeking gamers and graphics pros, the Inspiron 5160 will provide a decent overall computing experience. Those who need better performance from a laptop can consider the slightly faster, similarly priced Gateway M520X Plus.
The Inspiron 5150 featured an unassuming blue-and-silver color scheme, but the new Inspiron 5160 comes in a sleeker silver-gray, which we prefer. Otherwise, the case design is nearly identical. The Inspiron 5160 forgoes bells and whistles in favor of unpretentious functionality. Weighing 8.1 pounds and measuring 13.1 inches wide, 10.8 inches deep, and 1.9 inches thick, it's 0.2 inch thicker than the 5150 but still a manageable size for a desktop replacement.
The Inspiron 5160's case retains an especially firm keyboard with quiet keys, along with a standard-size touch pad and mouse buttons that are plenty big enough for large hands to manipulate comfortably. Among its many configurable options, the Inspiron 5160 offers a 15-inch display with your choice of either a 1,024x768 or a 1,400x1,050 native resolution. Also onboard are a handful of useful multimedia and connectivity features--FireWire, S-Video out, Ethernet, and 802.11a, b, and/or g wireless--though we were a little distressed to find only two USB 2.0 ports. One nice new addition is the multiformat double-layer DVD drive. Dell ships the Inspiron 5160 with Microsoft Windows XP Home and the WordPerfect Productivity pack.
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