Dell Inspiron 5423 review:

Dell Inspiron 5423

Connectivity, configurations, and performance
Connectivity is thin, but acceptable on the Inspiron 14z. You get a pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI-out, and the standard Ethernet and SD card connections, most hidden under fragile-feeling plastic flaps. If you need VGA video, eSATA, or simply more USB ports, look elsewhere, but this should be enough for most users.

There are several configurations of the Inspiron 14z available, but this $899 version seems like the biggest bang for the buck. For $699, you can trade down to a last-gen Intel Core i3, with integrated graphics, and 6GB of RAM. For $999, the CPU jumps up to a current-gen Core i7, but the AMD GPU and RAM stay the same as this model. All the 14z configurations have a 500GB hybrid hard drive, plus a 32GB solid-state drive (SSD).

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Even though it has a new Ivy Bridge Intel Core i5 CPU, the Dell Inspiron 14z ran slower than Apple's recent Ivy Bridge MacBook updates, some of which were faster quad-core CPUs. In performance the 14z was closer to the dual-core Ivy Bridge ultrabook sample system Intel provided for testing earlier in 2012 or the Lenovo ThinkPad X230. For mainstream use, the 14z is more than powerful enough, and 8GB of RAM prevented any serious slowdowns or stuttering while jumping between apps or windows.

The AMD 7570M GPU is an unusual choice -- we see more Nvidia laptop graphics processors these days (including a switch back to Nvidia in the new MacBooks). It's a midrange DirectX-11 card, and has more graphics muscle than you'd expect in a slim $899 ultrabook. It ran our Street Fighter IV test at native 1,366x768-pixel resolution at 44.7 frames per second, which is decent. More current games should play passably well if you keep the in-game graphics options set to lower detail levels.

Battery life for the 14z is a mixed bag. The system ran for 4 hours and 52 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. That's shorter than a lot of ultrabooks manage (and it's bad timing for Dell that this system went on sale right after the arrival of a whole slew of new MacBooks, which are renowned for their battery life), but it's also very good if you think of this as a 14-inch laptop with a discrete GPU. That said, the more you use the GPU, say for playing games, the shorter your battery life will be.

Dell offers a standard one-year warranty with the Inspiron 14z, which includes in-home service (at Dell's discretion). That's better than the mail-in-only service a lot of mainstream laptops offer. Extending this plan to three years costs an extra $149. Dell's online help tools are generally easy to use, and include driver downloads and general Q&A sections, which is good, as the better phone support experience from Dell is restricted to XPS system customers.

Call me crazy, but I've preferred the last couple of thinner z-series Dells to the company's comparable (and more expensive) XPS products. The latest generation hits a sweet spot between price, performance, design, and features. While it could be a little more ultrabooklike (perhaps by ditching the optical drive), for $899 this is a great example of a flexible, portable, mainstream laptop.

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

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

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

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Annual power consumption cost

What you'll pay

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