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Editors' note: This review is part of our , covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.
While predominantly known for its direct-to-consumer custom-built PCs, some of Dell's best deals can be found in fixed-configuration laptops stocked in retail stores. Case in point: the $429 15-inch Dell i1545-012B, which includes a dual-core Intel CPU (but not an official Core 2 Duo), 2GB of RAM, and a decent 160GB hard drive for about the same price as you'd pay for a decently configured Netbook.
For under $500, we've seen only one mainstream laptop in our current Back-to-School Retail Roundup that's in the same ballpark: Asus' K50IJ-RX05, which adds a bigger hard drive, more RAM, and a few other features for about $70 more. Many of the laptops in this price range trade down to an older Intel Celeron CPU; we think as long as you stick with one of the Dual-Core models, you should have a reasonably satisfying experience.
|Price as reviewed||$429|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T4200|
|Memory||2GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.7 inches wide by 9.6 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.8/6.6 pounds|
Largely identical physically to the last few retail 15-inch Inspiron-class Dells we've looked at, the i1545-012B has a no-nonsense, matte, black exterior that doesn't betray its budget price. Inside, the glossy, black keyboard tray and screen bezel are predictably fingerprint prone. About average size and weight for a mainstream laptop, this isn't something you'd want to lug around in a laptop bag every day, but should be fine for occasional trips to the coffee shop.
Minimalist to a fault, the only button or control on the keyboard tray (aside from the keyboard and touch pad) is a small, square power button--no media controls or Wi-Fi switches. The keyboard itself is a bit of a throwback to traditional tapered-style keys; we're much more used to seeing wide, flat keys these days, even on Dell systems. The indented touch pad has a subtle surface texture that lets your finger glide easily, and is accompanied by two pleasingly large mouse buttons. Unlike some other budget Dells we've seen in the past, there's no fingerprint reader or even a Web cam (something usually found on systems in this price range).
The 15.6-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for budget-minded 16:9 systems. Text and icons are perfectly readable, but the screen is not high-res enough to natively display full 1080p HD videos.
|Dell i1545-012B||Average for category [mainstream]|
|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|
|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|
Finding an ExpressCard slot in a $499 laptop is a nice extra, and potentially useful for adding a mobile broadband modem or Bluetooth adapter (although Bluetooth is common enough to be part of the standard rollout, even in budget systems).
While three of the laptops in the Entry Level section of our Back-to-School 2009 Retail Roundup (covering laptops up to $499) have older Intel Celeron processors, the best performance came from the two Intel Dual-Core T4200 systems (including this model), and the Toshiba Satellite L505D-S5965, which had an AMD Athlon X2 Dual-Core QL-65 CPU. Any of these multicore choices should be fine for general computing, but the Asus K50IJ-RX05 used its 3GB of RAM plus the Intel T4200 to slightly edge out the competition.
Still, the Dell i1545-012B works well for basic multitasking--Web surfing, working on office documents, and media playback--and will handle multiple apps much better than an Intel Atom-powered Netbook.
|Raw (annual kWh)||50.66|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$5.75|
The system ran for 2 hours and 27 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which is reasonable for such an inexpensive laptop, but still short of our general 3 hour target. The Asus K50IJ-RX05 is again more impressive, running for about 20 minutes longer on the same test.
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 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.
Note: While this machine comes with Windows Vista, many retailers, including Best Buy, and some hardware manufacturers are offering a free upgrade to Windows 7 for systems purchased after the end of June.
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Toshiba Satellite L305-S5955
Windows Vista Home Basic SP1; 2.2GHz Intel Celeron 900; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 160GB Toshiba 5,400rpm.
Compaq Presario CQ60-417DX
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.2GHz Intel Celeron 900; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 160GB Samsung 5,400rpm.
Toshiba Satellite L505D-S5965
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.1GHz AMD Athlon X2 Dual-Core QL-65; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon 3100; 250GB Toshiba 5,400rpm.
Dell Inspiron 1545-012B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T4200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 160GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T4200; 3072MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Seagate 5,400rpm.