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Dell Inspiron 5160 review: Dell Inspiron 5160

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The Good Sturdy, attractive design; decent price; includes a multiformat dual-layer DVD burner; exceptionally comfortable keyboard; integrated 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi.

The Bad Mediocre productivity performance; poor gaming performance; only two USB 2.0 ports.

The Bottom Line Slower but less expensive than the competition, the Inspiron 5160 makes a decent system for nondemanding home or small-office use.

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7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 7

Dell Inspiron 5160

The Inspiron 5160, Dell's follow-up to its Editors' Choice award-winning Inspiron 5150, has some distinct differences from its predecessor, both good and bad. The Inspiron 5160 still weighs about 8 pounds--average for a desktop replacement--yet it features a sturdier, more sophisticated-looking case made entirely from silver-gray magnesium alloy. It also includes a cool new multiformat, double-layer DVD burner, and it has a reasonable $1,424 price (as of November 2004). Like the Inspiron 5150, the Inspiron 5160 is custom configurable, but Dell has added new internal components to the mix; our test unit featured a late-model 3.2GHz Intel mobile Pentium 4 processor and an Nvidia GeForce Go5200 graphics chip with 64MB of dedicated memory. Unfortunately, the new specs resulted in mediocre performance in CNET Labs' tests. For folks other than speed-seeking gamers and graphics pros, the Inspiron 5160 will provide a decent overall computing experience. Those who need better performance from a laptop can consider the slightly faster, similarly priced Gateway M520X Plus.

The Inspiron 5150 featured an unassuming blue-and-silver color scheme, but the new Inspiron 5160 comes in a sleeker silver-gray, which we prefer. Otherwise, the case design is nearly identical. The Inspiron 5160 forgoes bells and whistles in favor of unpretentious functionality. Weighing 8.1 pounds and measuring 13.1 inches wide, 10.8 inches deep, and 1.9 inches thick, it's 0.2 inch thicker than the 5150 but still a manageable size for a desktop replacement.

The Inspiron 5160's case retains an especially firm keyboard with quiet keys, along with a standard-size touch pad and mouse buttons that are plenty big enough for large hands to manipulate comfortably. Among its many configurable options, the Inspiron 5160 offers a 15-inch display with your choice of either a 1,024x768 or a 1,400x1,050 native resolution. Also onboard are a handful of useful multimedia and connectivity features--FireWire, S-Video out, Ethernet, and 802.11a, b, and/or g wireless--though we were a little distressed to find only two USB 2.0 ports. One nice new addition is the multiformat double-layer DVD drive. Dell ships the Inspiron 5160 with Microsoft Windows XP Home and the WordPerfect Productivity pack.

The Inspiron 5160 features the Intel mobile Pentium 4 processor, configurable from 2.8GHz to 3.2GHz. The company also ousted the 5150's ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 graphics chip in favor of the slower Nvidia GeForce FX Go5200 chip, which was likely responsible for the laptop's sluggish performance in CNET Labs' benchmarks. Our test unit featured the speediest processor, as well as a fast 5,400rpm, 60GB hard drive (100GB is the maximum available) and 512MB of 333MHz memory (2GB is the maximum). Still, the system delivered merely average scores in CNET Labs' benchmarks, falling behind competing desktop-replacement laptops, such as the Gateway M520X Plus and the eMachines M6811. Although CNET no longer runs benchmark tests on desktop-replacement battery life, the Inspiron 5160's average-size, 14.8V, 4,300mAh battery lasted just 60 minutes in our informal testing of a DVD movie run.

Dell's basic service-and-support policy for the Inspiron 5160 falls in line with that of most other vendors: a one-year warranty on parts and labor, and you must mail your system back to Dell for service. You'll get toll-free, 24/7 telephone support for the duration of the warranty, and you can always extend these terms by purchasing one of Dell's additional warranty options; packages range from night and weekend service, onsite repairs, and more for up to $363. Dell's support Web site provides the typical FAQ information and downloads, along with a handy community forum so that you can bounce questions off of other users.

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