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Dell Inspiron 545s review: Dell Inspiron 545s

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Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Back-to-School roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.

OVR
6.1

Dell Inspiron 545s

The Good

Larger slim tower case allows for extra upgradeability; respectable single-application performance; large hard drive for its price.

The Bad

Can't outperform a less expensive Gateway; outdated connectivity options.

The Bottom Line

The Dell Inspiron 545s cuts a more robust profile than other budget Inspirons by offering better upgrade options and some decent performance for its price. It has a hard time challenging Gateway's strong budget slim tower, but this Dell might sway you, depending on your needs.

The outlook for the $570 Dell Inspiron 545s is a bit better than we found for the $480 Inspiron 537s. The two share the same slim tower chassis, and both of these dual-core systems fell behind a $510 quad-core slim tower from Gateway on our benchmarks. But the Inspiron 545s doesn't lag quite as far behind as its lower-end cousin, and it also offers at least a little more in the way of features. We'd still pick the Gateway because of the Dell's outdated connectivity options, but we can also see an argument for the Inspiron 545s if you're looking for an affordable slim tower to upgrade later.

As the Inspiron 545s has the same chassis as the 537s, its positives and negatives for design are largely the same. The Dell's large size (14.75 inches high, 3.75 inches wide, 16 inches deep) next to the Gateway SX2800-01 means that it won't disappear into the background as easily, but in exchange, Dell gives you more expansion room than the Gateway. This trade-off between case size and expansion isn't as clean between the Inspiron 537s and the Gateway, because the 537s only has two memory slots, while the smaller Gateway has four. With four slots in the Inspiron 545s as well, you make no such expansion compromise with Dell's higher-end model.

Next to the Gateway, the Inspiron 545s has a stronger component base with its larger 750GB hard drive and 6GB of system memory, but the Dell's dual-core Intel chip and its faster clock speed don't propel it significantly past the Gateway on performance. The extra hard-drive space is useful, but that's the Dell's only real advantage.

The Inspirion 545s also has a major disadvantage next to the Gateway as far as its rear panel ports. The Gateway boasts HDMI video output, an eSATA port, FireWire, and a digital audio jack, along with a bunch of USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, and 7.1 analog audio. Unlike the Inspiron 537s, the 545s at least gives you 7.1 analog audio, but it offers only USB 2.0, Ethernet, and VGA video outputs. That's a relatively poor selection of connectivity options, which does little to let you take advantage of the slim tower design as a living room PC.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Inspiron 545s
134 

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Inspiron 545s
729 

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multi-CPU  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway SX2800-01
10,085 
2,773 
Dell Inspiron 545
9,670 
2,749 
HP Pavilion p6130y
9,445 
2,452 
Dell Inspiron 545s
6,155 
3,335 

The performance story isn't as bad for the Inspiron 545s as it was for the 537s. On iTunes it edges out not only the Gateway, but also systems like the $720 Inspiron 545, largely thanks to the speedy clock frequency of the 545s's dual-core CPU. Still, the Dell can't overcome the advantage of quad core on multitasking and, obviously, multithreaded CPU performance, and on those tests the Gateway leaves the Inspiron 545s far behind. You can certainly debate whether the average budget PC customer will really perform the kinds of tasks that will let the Gateway's quad-core CPU shine. If you think you'll mostly focus on single applications performing only light-duty digital media manipulation, you'll likely see little practical performance difference between the two systems.

In addition to giving you four memory upgrade slots as we noted earlier, the Inspiron 545s also gives you a 16x PCI Express graphics card slot, a 1X PCI Express slot, and a pair of standard PCI slots, one of which is taken by the included modem. You're limited to half-height expansion cards because of the narrow slim tower chassis, but if you're inclined to upgrade you can add wireless networking, a budget 3D card, and other components to expand its usability. You can also add a second internal hard drive. Because of its size, the Gateway lacks the second drive bay, as well as the standard PCI slots.

Juice box
Dell Inspiron 545s-004B  
Off (watts) 1.28
Sleep (watts) 2.16
Idle (watts) 48.75
Load (watts) 82.18
Raw (annual kWh) 192.57546
Energy Star compliant Yes
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $21.86

Annual power consumption cost
Dell Inspiron 545s
$21.86 

We're still surprised by the Gateway's modest power consumption given its performance, but we also have to commend Dell on the Inspiron 545s's power efficiency. It comes in just a little more expensive than the Gateway on annual power cost, but the Dell still managed to achieve respectable efficiency relative to its competition.

Dell's service and support policies line up will those of the rest of the PC industry. The default plan gets you one year of parts and labor coverage, 24-7 toll-free phone support, and a variety of online resources on its Web site. You'll also find an OS X-like icon dock running along the top edge of the Dell's Windows screen that connects you to a handful of included programs to help with system maintenance and troubleshooting. Novice users might find the icon dock useful, but we also can't help thinking that it reveals a certain level of Apple-envy.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Dell Inspiron 545s-004B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7400; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics chip; 750GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Asus Essentio CM5570-AP006
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce G100; 750GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Dell Inspiron 545-006B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 3450 integrated graphics chip; 1TB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive

Gateway SX2800-01
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 640GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

HP Pavilion p6130y
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.4GHz AMD Phenom II X4 9750; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9100 integrated graphics chip; 750GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

OVR
6.1

Dell Inspiron 545s

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 6Support 7