Dell Inspiron 5150 review: Dell Inspiron 5150

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The Good Superb performance; awesome battery life; big display; DVD+R/+RW drive; 802.11a/b/g wireless.

The Bad Too heavy for frequent travel.

The Bottom Line For mainstream notebooks, it doesn't get much better than the old Inspiron 5100--unless it's the souped-up 5150.

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8.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Battery 9
  • Support 7

Review summary

When designing its new Inspiron 5150, Dell started with the same sensible case that houses both the Inspiron 5100 and the Inspiron 1100, then filled it full of awesome components such as a 3.06GHz mobile Pentium 4 processor, 333MHz memory, and an ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics chip. These parts helped the Inspiron 5150 achieve outstanding scores in CNET Labs' benchmark tests. Additional highlights, such as a DVD+R/+RW drive, 802.11g wireless, and a giant battery, help this machine excel at just about any task. The 8.1-pound Inspiron 5150 is not for frequent fliers, but it offers a great combination of performance and features for the price, making it an excellent choice for small businesses.

It would be impossible to pick the Inspiron 5150 out of a lineup alongside the Inspiron 5100 and the Inspiron 1100 because all three systems share the same 13.1-by-10.8-by-1.7-inch, 8.1-pound case. The AC adapter pushes the total weight past the 9.4-pound mark.

The case falls on the heavy side, largely due to its considerable 14.8V, 6,450mAh battery. On the plus side, the system's large battery lasted an exceptionally long 254 minutes in battery-life tests. The included mobile Pentium 4 processor, which consumes less juice than the desktop chips used by the Inspiron 5100 and Insprion 1100 do, also helped extend the notebook's battery life.

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The touchpad and the mouse buttons are a new design.

The Inspiron 5150 offers an unexciting, straightforward design, but it gets the job done nevertheless. The no-frills keyboard, the touchpad (no pointing stick is available), and the two mouse buttons are large enough to work comfortably into the wee hours. A programmable button above the keyboard launches your designated application in one convenient touch. The system includes just one fixed bay that you can configure with a DVD-ROM, a combo DVD/CD-RW, or the cool, new DVD+R/+RW drive.

Dell leaves off outdated serial and PS/2 ports and includes just the ports and slots you'll use most. FireWire, S-Video-out, VGA, Ethernet, and two USB 2.0 ports are located on the rear edge, with a 56Kbps-modem jack on the right side. Finally, one Type II PC Card slot and two jacks for headphones and a microphone sit on the left edge.

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Two USB 2.0 ports reside on the back edge.
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The keyboard is less familiar than that of a desktop, but it's still comfortable.

The Inspirons 5150, 5100, and 1100 may look identical, but they contain some distinct internal differences. While both the Inspiron 5100 and the Inspiron 1100 feature cost-conscious components, such as desktop Pentium and Celeron processors, the Inspiron 5150 offers more cutting-edge parts. The system includes Intel's latest mobile CPU, the 3.06GHz mobile Pentium 4. All main memory runs at a superspeedy 333MHz and comes in amounts ranging from 256MB to 2GB. The Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics chip is ATI's top-of-the-line offering, available with either 32MB or 64MB of dedicated 266MHz video RAM. These parts paid off in CNET Labs' benchmark tests, helping the Inspiron 5150 clock some of the fastest scores we've seen to date.

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The secondary storage drive is a fixed drive on the 5150.
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The blue-and-silver case is a refreshing new look for Dell.

The Inspiron 5150 earns our approval for more than performance. The notebook's 15-inch display sports one of two native resolutions: 1,400x1,050 or the extrafine 1,600x1,200, which lets you see graphics and games down to the smallest detail. You can then use the integrated DVD+R/+RW drive to burn huge multimedia files or other important data to disc. Or you can save some bucks and fill that fixed bay with a DVD or DVD/CD-RW combo drive when you order. You can also get the fastest-possible wireless transmission speeds with the notebook's built-in 802.11a/b/g mini-PCI wireless card or save a few bucks by choosing an 802.11b/g card instead.

Dell makes sure that the Inspiron 5150's software speaks to both home and business users. The system ships with either Windows XP Home or XP Professional. Corel WordPerfect Office 11.0, with Quicken New User Edition, is the standard software suite, but you can also upgrade to Microsoft Works, Office XP, or Office Small Business Edition.

Mobile application performance
The Inspiron 5150 came in first place in mobile performance in this small test group. It beat the Eurocom D470W Impressa by 40 points and slid past the Alienware Area-51m by 8 points. The Inspiron 5150 is the first system we've tested with a 3.06GHz Mobile Pentium 4. This processor was specifically made for notebooks, and as such, it has better CPU-throttling efficiency when running on batteries than do the desktop chips running in the Alienware Area-51m and the Eurocom D470W. Thus, the Dell Inspiron 5150 easily comes out on top in mobile performance.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Dell Inspiron 5150
Alienware Area-51m
Eurocom D470W

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

SysMark2002 performance
The Inspiron 5150 achieved the highest maximum-performance score we've seen to date. There are three elements that allow the system to achieve such lofty marks. The first is its 3.06GHz Mobile Pentium 4 processor. The second is its fast 333MHz DDR SDRAM. And finally, the system houses the ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 64MB, which is faster than the ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB used in the comparison systems.

Maximum application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet content creation  
SysMark2002 office productivity  
Dell Inspiron 5150
Eurocom D470W
Alienware Area-51m

To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).

3D graphics performance
The Inspiron 5150 came in second place in 3D performance. With the ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 64MB we expected a higher score. The reason may be that this 3D test relies more on the quantity of system RAM than our other benchmarks do, and the Inspiron 5150 has only half the RAM as the comparison systems. That said, the system still scores high and would disappoint only the most jaded of gamers.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 SE  
Alienware Area-51m
Dell Inspiron 5150
Eurocom D470W

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 SE. We use 3DMark to measure desktop replacement notebook performance with the DirectX 8.1 interface at the 32-bit color setting at a resolution of 1,024x768.

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