Dell's Inspiron 530 may be the best PC deal on store shelves. Thanks to an aggressive CPU and hard-drive selection, this $599 desktop outclasses its competition, delivering the best performance we've seen in a desktop for less $600. It also provides an instructive lesson regarding processor speed versus processing cores and what you get from each at this price. If speed isn't your primary concern, you can find PCs with comparable or better features for less. If you're looking for fast, affordable performance, the Inspiron 530 is a bargain.
Back in April, we reviewed the Inspiron 530 in a different configuration available from Dell's online store. This one comes off the shelf of Best Buy, and as such, its features cannot be customized prepurchase.
Like most lower-end PCs, the Inspiron 530 offers little in the way of fancy extras or groundbreaking new technology. Its design is thoroughly standard, with the exception of its hard-drive cage. Unlike most PCs, where you slide the hard drives in and out like a cartridge, the hard drives in this system mount flat against an internal panel. This design causes no operational difference, and like most budget desktops, you still get room to add an extra internal hard drive.
|Dell Inspiron 530||Gateway GT5692|
|CPU||2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7300||2.1GHz AMD Phenom X3 8450|
|Memory||4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||256MB (shared) Intel GMA 3100 integrated graphics chip||256MB (shared) AMD Radeon 3200 integrated graphics chip|
|Hard drives||640GB 7,200rpm||500GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||10/100 Ethernet||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
We'll compare the Inspiron 530 with the Gateway GT5692, a system with a triple-core AMD CPU we reviewed a few months ago. Among the features the two have in common, each comes with 4GB of RAM, 64-bit Windows, and integrated video chips. And while the Gateway is $30 cheaper, it has a significantly slower CPU, as well as a smaller hard drive. The Gateway's Gigabit Ethernet jack is an advantage if you transfer a lot of large data files over your home network, but for most single system network traffic, the Dell's 10/100 network jack is fast enough.
What we like most about the Inspiron 530 is its fast Intel Core 2 Duo E7300 dual-core processor. At 2.66GHz, its clock speed is faster than almost any other PC in this price range. You may have heard that with dual-core and quad-core CPUs out there, clock speeds matter less these days. To a certain extent that's true. But horsepower will still get you some benefit, especially when everything else in its class is significantly slower.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
We expected the Dell would outperform the Gateway on certain tests, but we admit we're surprised at both the multitasking and the CineBench multicore CPU scores. Both of those tests tend to favor core volume over processor speed. It seems that because of its much higher clock speed, the Dell was able to overcome any performance benefit the 2.1GHz triple-core AMD chip provides the Gateway. The Inspiron 530 is easily the best-performing PC among systems we've tested in the $450 to $600 price range over the last few months.
Keep in mind that we haven't reviewed every system in this price bracket, and more recent PCs have hit store shelves since we wrote about the Gateway GT5692. The Gateway DX4710-05, for example, has similar specifications to the Dell, including the same hard drive for $509, but with a slower Intel CPU. That system is attractive if you care more about features than performance. We'll be reviewing that model and a newer PC from HP in the next week or so.
Aside from its performance, the Inspiron 530 is fairly unremarkable. It has the standard DVD burner/media card reader package that comes with nearly all modern desktops. You get six USB 2.0 ports between the front and the rear of the system, the 10/100 Ethernet jack, and a standard array of 7.1 analog audio ports. PCs with more recent chipsets, particularly from Acer and Gateway, tend to offer better options in this regard, including HDMI video and eSATA ports.
The Dell also offers a basic complement of internal expansion options. We mentioned that you can add a secondary hard drive; you also get a graphics card slot, a 1x PCI Express slot, and a standard PCI slot. Removing the PCI modem card will free up another expansion slot. Sadly, Dell uses four 1GB RAM sticks in this system, which means if you want to upgrade to 6GB or 8GB, you'll need to throw out at least two of the current memory sticks.
As we noticed with the Dell Inspiron 530s, the retail version of the Inspiron 530 includes little in the way of preloaded software, aside from Windows Vista. A Roxio disc-burning application is the only extra program. On the one hand this is good, because lean installs free up system resources for other things. On the other hand , the system information software Dell ships on its other systems can be useful.
For other support, Dell provides the same level of coverage as its built-to-order PCs. The warranty covers parts and labor for one year, and you get a toll-free 24-7 phone line and a variety of useful resources at Dell's Web site if you need technical support. You'll also likely have to fend off Best Buy's service and support up-selling if you purchase this system in a store.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Acer Aspire X3200
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.1GHz AMD Phenom X3 8400; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 8200 integrated graphics chip; 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.
HP Pavilion SlimLine s3500f
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 5400; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE integrated graphics chip; 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive.
Dell Inspiron 530
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7300; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Intel GMA 3100 integrated graphics chip; 640GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.
Dell Inspiron 530s
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Pentium E2200; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA 3100 integrated graphics chip; 3200GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.1GHz AMD Phenom X3 8450; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.