Note: This review is part of our Holiday 2008 Retail Laptop Roundup, covering specific new configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
Dell's Inspiron 1525 is an excellent mainstream choice for basic computing, especially because the direct-from-Dell version is highly flexible, offering extensive configuration options. For those more interested in picking up a ready-to-go package and hitting the checkout counter, this $649 fixed-configuration version, called the Inspiron 1525-139B, is nearly identical to the Inspiron 1525-121B we looked at for our 2008 Back-to-School roundup of retail laptops.
Both of these systems skip the standard Intel Core 2 Duo in favor of a basic Pentium Dual-Core CPU. The newer 1525-139B at least replaces the 1.8GHz Pentium Dual-Core T2390 with a faster 2.0GHz T3200, but we're more concerned that this new model has a less powerful battery than the previous version, leading to a decrease in battery life.
Since the small uptick in processor speed led to only marginal improvements in performance, we're especially disappointed that we're paying the same $649 for a laptop that will run only two-thirds as long as the model it replaces. Fortunately, the older Inspiron 1525-121B is still available, slightly discounted even, from some retailers.
|Price as reviewed||$649|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200|
|Memory||3GB, 677MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 965GM Express|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel 965GM (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14x10.1x1.45 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.0/6.9 pounds|
The Dell 1525 is never going to be mistaken for a high-end laptop. Its plastic construction and spartan design point to a philosophy of commoditization, acknowledging that in this price range, providing the best value is paramount.
The keyboard is the same full-size model found on Dell's other Inspiron laptops, and it feels solid and responsive, and has virtually no flex under the fingers. Above the keyboard sits a row of media control buttons, which are of the touch-sensitive variety we're partial to--we credit Dell for helping make these the industry default, even for budget-minded laptops. Two things you won't find are a Webcam or fingerprint reader--both available in slightly more expensive models, such as the $729 Dell Inspiron 1525-122B.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, which is standard for budget-minded mainstream systems, but on a screen this big, text and icons can look a bit big and unwieldy--we generally prefer 1,440x900-pixel resolutions on screens of this size--that's an option on the configurable version of the 1525 available on the Dell Web site.
|Dell Inspiron 1525-139B||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||HDMI, S-Video, VGA||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The four USB jacks should be more than enough for all your accessories and there's even a mini-FireWire port, but no Bluetooth. Adding an HDMI jack is a nice high-end touch, even if you never use it.
While the vast majority of laptops currently have a CPU from Intel's Core 2 Duo line, this 1525 (and several other sub-$700 systems) use a 2.0GHz Intel Dual Core T3200, which sits at the low end of Intel's current CPU lineup. It's still adequate for basic multitasking--Web surfing, working on office documents, and playing media files--but we ran into occasional sluggishness as we worked. Nevertheless, the Dell 1525-139B was fairly evenly matched with other laptops in this price range, such as the Acer Aspire 5735-4624 and the Gateway T-6330U, which have the same CPU, and much faster than the Compaq CQ50-215NR, which has an 1.9GHz AMD Athlon X2 Dual-Core QL-60processor.
The biggest puzzle was why the 1525-139B ran for only 2 hours and 7 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, while the nearly identical (and now discontinued) version from this past summer, the 1525-121B, ran for more than 3 hours on the same test. Both laptops have six-cell batteries, but that's not always the most useful number to look at.
Most laptop batteries are labeled for 56Wh (or Watt Hours), which means they can hypothetically power a one-watt load for 56 hours. The older 1525-121B had a standard 56Wh battery, while the new 1525-139B has only a 41Wh battery, which one would never notice without taking the battery out and reading the fine print stamped on it--as the batteries (and systems) look physically identical. Thus, our shorter battery life, and one more area where budget-minded PC makers are apparently trying to shave a little cost from their systems.
Dell includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the Inspiron 1525-139B, 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.
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Dell Inspiron 1525-139B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 965GM; 160GB Samsung 5,400rpm.
Acer Aspire 5735-4624
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 64MB Intel GMA 4500MHD; 160GB Hitachi 5,400rpm.
Compaq Presario CQ50-215NR
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 1.9GHz AMD Athlon X2 Dual-Core QL-60; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8200M G; 160GB Hitachi 5,400rpm.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200; 3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 965GM; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.