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Dell Inspiron 15 review: Dell Inspiron 15

Dell Inspiron 15

Scott_Stein.jpg
Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg
Scott Stein Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

6 min read

Dell is one of the most popular computer brands worldwide, and a default choice for many shoppers. Located right in the middle of the company's lineup, the Dell Inspiron 15 is one of the most versatile and affordable midrange laptops, offering configurations for as low as $379. We tried a configuration from Dell with a Core 2 Duo processor and 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon graphics, which cost $794, which is not far off from the cost of more fully featured multimedia machines.

OVR
7.1

Dell Inspiron 15

The Good

Extremely customizable; good keyboard; solid construction.

The Bad

Add-ons can get expensive; lack of extra ports.

The Bottom Line

As a highly configurable budget-range black box, Dell's Inspiron 1545 laptop line can be a good value--as long as you don't pile on the upgrades.

While our configuration was priced relatively high, remember the Inspiron 15 line is essentially a ridiculously customizable laptop line that can cover a lot of bases. It's no surprise that it's "Dell's most popular laptop," simply because the Inspiron 15 line is literally and figuratively a giant black box--it can be made into a huge number of configs, which adds selective value for the consumer.

But, boy, it can get a bit confusing choosing everything from the CPU to the Wi-Fi card--perhaps preconfigured systems like the very attractively packaged Gateway NV5807u (or Dell's own i1545-012B) aren't such a bad idea after all.

Price as reviewed / Starting price $794/$379
Processor 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400
Memory 3GB, 800MHz DDR2
Hard drive 250GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Mobile Intel PM45 Express
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330
Operating system Windows Vista Premium
Dimensions (WD) 14.7 x 9.6 inches
Height 1.02-1.48 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 5.86/6.78 pounds
Category Mainstream

Covered in glossy black plastic on the inside and matte black plastic on the outside, the Inspiron 1545 looks as if it's headed off to an undercover sting. It's not an unattractive look overall, it's just not that distinctive, and feels like too much black. A wide variety of other colors and designs (including Cherry Red, Promise Pink, Jade Green, Passion Purple, and...you get the idea) can be added for $40 each, which is not a bad deal if you're dead set on something with more flair.

The interior couldn't be any more minimal: above a straightforward keyboard sits a lone silver power button, and below is a black touch pad with black buttons. With a matte texture, the touch pad was average size and worked fine for our fingers. The old-fashioned tapered keys on the 1545's keyboard had good response and travel, with decent spacing between keys, which made for comfortable typing with a few misses here and there. The base of the laptop, however, does feel a bit wide--they probably could have fit a number pad in there with some effort. That's it for buttons: all other controls are operated with the keyboard (but without needing to press the function key at the same time, which is nice).

The Dell Inspiron 1545's 15.6-inch glossy wide-screen LED screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is standard for laptops in this price range (while budget 15-inch systems typically have 1,280x800-pixel displays). While a higher-resolution option is available (1,600x900), we found the screen to be perfectly adequate for most mainstream applications. Text and icons were easily readable, but the screen isn't full-HD (1080p) for true hi-def content.

While glare was minimal during casual use, the colors and brightness seemed slightly less vibrant than other screens we've seen recently. One note on audio: the Inspiron 1545's speakers are almost unusually loud and were more than adequate for games, music, or movies. We almost never had the volume above the halfway mark in the office.

  Dell Inspiron 1545 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

Port-wise, the Inspiron 1545 comes with 3 USB 2.0, VGA-out, and Ethernet/modem jacks, all fairly standard stuff, plus an SD card reader and an ExpressCard slot, which are useful for adding a broadband modem or Bluetooth card. 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be added for $35 and $20 respectively, but it feels as if we're being incrementally nickel-and-dimed.

We recently reviewed a preconfigured retail version of the 1545 line, the Inspiron 1545-012B, for our back-to-school retail roundup. Although that version had a dual-core Pentium processor, a smaller hard drive, and no dedicated graphics to speak of, it also only cost $429, a veritable bargain.

Our 1545 shared the same shell, plus a Webcam, and a more powerful processor inside, and it has 1GB more RAM and a larger hard drive. The Inspiron 15 line starts at $379 at its base model, before a flurry of add-on options. The processors can be upgraded from an Intel Celeron 900 (Netbook-level power) all the way up to a P8600 Core 2 Duo (an extra $200). System RAM, hard drives, a larger 9-cell battery, and even Blu-ray are all available options. In short, the Inspiron 15 line can be as affordable or as ridiculously expensive as you like. But the higher up you trick out your Inspiron 1545, you do invite the question of why you're not simply buying a fancier multimedia laptop such as the Sony Vaio NW160J.

Note that our config included an Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 processor, but Dell's current closest option is the T6500--nearly the same processor performance wise. This budget version of the Core 2 Duo is a good all-around mainstream laptop processor and will handle most multimedia and office tasks perfectly well. In our benchmark tests, however, our Inspiron 1545 config didn't fare as well as other similar laptops, including the $150-cheaper Gateway NV5807u. In real-world usage, you'd be unlikely to notice the difference while Web surfing, e-mailing, working on office docs. or watching multimedia files.

A 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD4330 is a $100 upgrade option on Dell's Web site, and adds some basic gaming capabilities to the Inspiron 1545. Unreal Tournament 3 ran at 33.4 fps at 1,280x768, which is not ideal, but is passable. We tried launching Street Fighter 4, however, and got barely playable results even with settings turned down. Using this type of config for serious gaming will only end up in disappointment; you're probably better off saving for a real gaming laptop or a beefier one, or cutting out this upgrade option altogether.

Juice box
Dell Inspiron 1545 Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.5
Sleep (10 percent) 0.92
Idle (25 percent) 13.6
Load (5 percent) 38
Raw kWh 49.86
Annual energy cost $5.66

The configured six-cell battery ran for 2 hours and 34 minutes on our video-playback battery drain test, which is less than we'd like for a midsize mainstream laptop. The Sony Vaio NW160J had more than 40 minutes of additional battery life. Also note, the Inspiron 15's basic configuration on the Dell Web site starts at only a four-cell. While upgrading to a nine-cell battery should solve that problem (an extra $75 from the four-cell starting point versus $35 for a six-cell), that's also a much larger battery and will make the system less portable.

Dell includes an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty (called "classic protection") 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. Upgrading to three years of basic warranty service will cost an extra $90.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio 1440-022B
947 

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

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

Annual energy cost (Juice box)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Dell Inspiron 1545
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400; 3072MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330; 250GB Western Digital 5400rpm

Gateway NV5807u
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 128MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Hitachi 5400rpm

Sony Vaio NW160 J
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570; 400GB Fujitsu 5400rpm

Dell Studio 1440-022B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 1066MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9400M G; 320GB Toshiba 5400rpm

Find out more about how we test laptops.

OVR
7.1

Dell Inspiron 15

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7Battery 6Support 7
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