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Dell I15-156B review: Dell I15-156B

Dell I15-156B

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

5 min read

Editors' note: This review is part of our Winter 2009 Retail Laptop Review Roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.

OVR
5.8

Dell I15-156B

The Good

Dual-core CPU and 3GB of RAM for the same price as a Netbook; 16:9 wide-screen display.

The Bad

Very stripped-down design, missing the media controls and HDMI port from previous low-end Inspirons.

The Bottom Line

For less than $500, the Dell Inspiron I15-156B offers few frills, but is about as cheap as a dual-core laptop gets.

A decent Netbook configuration, with an Intel Atom CPU, 1GB of RAM, Windows XP, and a good-size hard drive will run you about $499, or the same as this basic 15-inch Inspiron I15-156B laptop from Dell.

Trading away size and portability, you get a dual-core Intel CPU (but not an official Core 2 Duo), 3GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, Windows Vista, and something foreign to Netbook users--a DVD burner. For another $150, you can trade up to Dell's similar Inspiron I15-157B, which doubles the HDD and has a faster Core 2 Duo T6400 CPU.

The cheaper 156B model performed well against similarly priced laptops (many in this price range have AMD processors), but we were disappointed by its poor battery life compared with our favorite current entry-level retail laptop, the HP G60-235DX.

Price as reviewed $499
Processor 2.16GHz Intel Dual Core T3400
Memory 3GB, 667MHz DDR2
Hard drive 160GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset
Graphics Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)
Operating System Windows Vista Premium
Dimensions (WD) 14.6x9.3 inches
Height 1.1-1.4 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 5.7/6.5 pounds
Category Mainstream

Nearly identical physically to the Inspiron I15-157B, the 156B trades that model's matte black lid for a glossy midnight blue. We think the matte look is a little classier, but that aside, the two laptops would be difficult to tell apart, even if sitting right next to each other.

While it is never going to be mistaken for a high-end laptop, its plastic construction at least offers simple, clean lines. This is the laptop cast as commodity, aiming to provide the best value for the dollar (it may not entirely succeed, but it at least makes a good argument).

The keyboard is the same full-size model found on Dell's other Inspiron laptops; it feels solid and hardly flexes under the fingers. The individual letter keys are a bit too tapered for our tastes, but they are perfectly functional. Missing are the media control buttons we've become accustomed to finding on even low-end Dell laptops--a victim of cost-cutting, perhaps. While there's no fingerprint reader, you do still get a built-in 1.3-megapixel Webcam.

The 15.6-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for budget-minded 16:9 systems, and the same as the more expensive Inspiron I15-157B. By way of comparison, Dell's online version has a 15.4-inch 16:10 screen, with a 1,280x800-pixel resolution.

  Dell Inspiron I15-156B Average for category [mainstream]
Video VGA-out VGA-out, HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/34 ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

While you're probably not going to be hooking up a budget machine like this to a big-screen TV via HDMI, we do miss Bluetooth, which was quickly becoming standard equipment in even the least expensive systems. However, finding an ExpressCard slot in a $499 laptop is a nice extra, and is useful for adding a mobile broadband modem.

Most of the laptops in the Entry Level section of out Winter 2009 Retail Roundup (covering laptops up to $599) have AMD processors. These systems, for the most part, were slower than the two entry-level Intel-powered systems we tested, the HP G60-235DX and this one, the Dell Inspiron I15-156B. Unlike some of our previous low-end Intel versus AMD comparisons, it wasn't a blowout, and the real-world performance difference will be minimal.

All these systems are acceptable for basic multitasking--Web surfing, working on office documents, and media playback--and will handle multiple applications much better than an Intel Atom-powered Netbook. Running too many applications or opening too many windows at once will lead to slowdown, so keep your expectations modest.

The Inspiron I15-156B ran for 1 hours and 43 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which was the lowest score from any of our entry-level retail laptops. We generally like to see closer to 3 hours of battery life from a 15-inch system, but very inexpensive systems usually fall short. HP's largely similar G60-235DX ran for 2 hours and 20 minutes in the same test. The step-up model from Dell, the Inspiron I15-157B, ran for 2 hours and 40 minutes, thanks to its larger-capacity battery (56Wh versus 41Wh).

Dell includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, and the Dell Web site has a robust collection of support tools, including online chat, a Flash-based question widget, and Dell includes 24-7 toll-free telephone support. Retail stores offer a variety of extended warranty plans with your laptop purchase, but they're generally expensive and hard to use, so we do not recommend them.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP G60-235DX
1,006 
Dell Inspiron 15-156B
1,011 

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Inspiron 15-156B
210 
HP G60-235DX
217 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP G60-235DX
199 
Dell Inspiron 15-156B
201 

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP G60-235DX
140 
Dell Inspiron 15-156B
103 

Find out more about how we test laptops.

Compaq Presario CQ60-215DX
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon X2 Dual-Core QL-62; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8200M G; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.

Dell Inspiron I15-156B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.16GHz Intel Dual Core T3400; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 32MB Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 160GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.

Gateway MD2614u
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.1GHz AMD Turion X2 Dual-Core RM-72; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.

Toshiba Satellite L305D-5934
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.0GHz AMD Turion X2 Dual-Core RM-70; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3100; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.

Toshiba Satellite L355D-S7901
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.1GHz AMD Turion X2 Dual-Core RM-72; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3100; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.

HP G60-235DX
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.16GHz Intel Dual Core T4200; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 64MB Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.

OVR
5.8

Dell I15-156B

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 5Battery 4Support 6
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