The Inspiron 518 is a welcome update to Dell's traditional, mainstream desktop line. Basic configurations start at $399, although our $784 review unit is a competitive showcase of some of Dell's more advanced configuration options. We wish Dell sold this system with 64-bit Windows Vista, as competing mainstream PCs from HP and Gateway have already made the switch. However, even without that forward-looking operating system, the Inspiron 518 stands strong on performance and offers a useful case update. Anyone looking for a utilitarian PC with good value will like what they find in this computer.
Although the Inspiron 518 has a new chassis design, the only significant changes from the old Inspiron 530 are a new black-with-silver-trim coloring and a tray on the top designed to cradle external devices. Dell put two USB 2.0 ports on the rear edge of the tray, which gives you a convenient place to store, charge, and connect your digital camera, cell phone, or other portable, PC-compatible hardware.
Configuration-wise, the Inspiron 518 has few unique features, although Dell charges a fair price for what you get. Dell currently offers fewer options for the Inspiron 518 than the Inspiron 530. You can no longer add a Blu-ray drive or a Draft N wireless networking adapter, and you're limited to either integrated graphics or the low-end ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card featured in our review unit. If you really want those or other more advanced features in a midtower desktop, you can find them on Dell's XPS 420 or a system from another vendor. Still, we're not sure what Dell would lose by making those features available here as well. Gateway may not offer configurable PCs anymore, but HP's Pavilion m9300t offers a much wider range of options in a similar mainstream desktop.
|Dell Inspiron 518||Gateway DX4200|
|CPU||2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600||2.2GHz AMD Phenom X4 9550|
|Memory||2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM||6GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450||256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450|
|Hard drives||320GB, 5,400rpm||640GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
Compared with Gateway's new DX4200, the Inspiron 518 has half the hard-drive storage and a third as much RAM. If that extra storage is your primary concern, we'd suggest that the Gateway is your better bet in this price range. The Gateway's memory is probably overkill at the moment given the lack of consumer programs that can take advantage of 6GB of RAM, and indeed the impact on our benchmarks was less than we thought.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
If we only compared on-paper specifications without testing, we might have said that the Gateway is far and away the better choice than the Inspiron 518, especially for digital photo editors. However, performance-wise, the Dell fared much better than we expected. We suspect its speed advantage is tied to its faster processor, which comes through in particular on our Photoshop test. We've seen the benefits of 64-bit Windows and large amounts of RAM can have on this test, and that Dell closes the gap with only 2GB and a 32-bit operating system speaks very well of the Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 chip in the Inspiron 518. Once 64-bit supporting software hits the market, as we expect it to toward the end of this year, 64-bit systems may have more of an advantage. Keep that in mind for future-proofing, but for now, the Inspiron 518 is just as potent as anything else in its price range.
You can of course add RAM to the Inspiron 518 down the line. Our 2GB model came with two free memory slots for the purpose. Dell doesn't offer 64-bit Vista yet, so that's a bit of a hindrance to future memory expansion (because 32-bit Vista will only support about 3.25GB of memory), but you could always upgrade the operating system yourself, as well. Of course, at that point you might as well just build your own desktop. Our review unit also came with an extra hard drive bay and a handful of PCI and 1x PCI Express expansion card slots.
Along with Dell's Studio Hybrid, the Inspiron 518 is also one of the first Dell systems we've seen with the Dell Dock, a decidedly Apple-like cluster of icons at the top of the Windows desktop. You can move short cuts directly from the desktop to the Dock, and a settings page lets you reposition the Dock's location, or shut it down entirely. We are neither impressed nor offended by the Dell Dock. Our only recommendation for it is if you have a smaller monitor and you decide to leave the Dock on, you might end up with a crowded Windows desktop screen.
Dell's service and support stands out because it's one of the few vendors who still offer in-home service as part of the default warranty. You'll need to submit your computer to a remote diagnosis before Dell will agree to send a live technician, but that's a small inconvenience for in-home support. But the onsite plan and the warranty last for one year. You also get 24-7 toll-free phone support, as well as a variety of helpful resources from Dell online.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Dell Studio Hybrid
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics chip; 250GB 5,400rpm Samsung hard drive.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.2Ghz AMD Phenom X4 9550; 6GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 640GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.
Dell Inspiron 518
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.
Velocity Micro Vector Campus Edition
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.53Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo E7200; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 384MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GS graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive.
ZT Affinity 7225Xi-35
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3450 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive.