We first reviewed a Dell Inspiron with the S-model chassis over a year ago, back when Dell used AMD chips in its lower-end PCs. Since that time, the Inspiron has become Dell's budget sub-brand, and it's moved back to an Intel-only shop, at least for now. Based on this recent $499 Inspiron 530s model, which you'll find on shelves at Best Buy, you may appreciate Dell's return to Intel if you value image editing and multitasking. We tend to prefer features over performance in budget PCs, however, and in that case, this Inspiron 530s has less to offer than its competition.
Dell was not the first PC vendor to offer a slim-and-trim desktop, and at this point every major vendor has a similar model. Not quite as small as a Mac Mini and Dell's own Studio Hybrid, the Inspiron 530s shares a design philosophy with HP's Slimline, Acer's Aspire X1200, as well as the new eMachines EL1200 series. The idea is that by sacrificing some expandability and power, the smaller chassis gives you the option to put the system wherever you want it. Unlike a standard midtower, a small PC like this one can go in the living room, the kitchen, or some other non-traditional spot, and it's also less of an eyesore.
On a basic level, the Inspiron 530s achieves everything a system in this class is supposed to. At just over 3.75 inches wide, it's almost 3 inches narrower than a typical budget midtower. Dell also provides a respectable degree of upgrade room if you have a mind to crack this system open. To this configuration, you can add a second hard drive and a variety of half-height expansion cards, including a graphics card. The half-height card limit prevents you from turning this system into a small-scale gaming powerhouse (although it will play less demanding PC games), but you can still add a TV tuner, a wireless networking card, and other upgrades post-purchase.
|Dell Inspiron 530s||Acer Aspire X1200-U1520A|
|CPU||2.2GHz Intel Pentium E2100||2.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 4850e Dual Core|
|Memory||4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM|
|Graphics||128MB (shared) Intel GMA 3100 integrated graphics chip||256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 8200 integrated graphics chip|
|Hard drives||320GB, 7,200 rpm||320GB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||10/100 Ethernet||10/100 Ethernet|
|Video outputs||VGA||VGA, HDMI|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
We just wish that Dell had made this PC a bit more compelling out of the box. Compared with the nearly identical Acer Aspire X1200, the Dell costs $50 more, and while it's faster in some cases, it offers fewer features. The Acer system boasts a media-card reader and an HDMI video output that makes it much more living-room-friendly. Dell has neither.
While those are perhaps not crucial features, even eMachines' new $350 EL1200 system comes with a media reader, an HDMI output, and an eSATA port. Considering the Dell's higher price and situational performance edge, its feature-lag looks particularly glaring.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
The Dell's most significant speed advantage comes on our multitasking test. We'd expect the Gateway and its triple-core AMD CPU to have an edge here (that standard desktop system also offers better features than the Dell, for only $50 more), but we'll give Dell credit by outpacing the Acer by a significant margin. We attribute this to the fact that the Acer uses an energy-friendly chip design, which might not handle multiprocessing as well as a comparable full-power CPU.
The Dell's Photoshop and Cinebench scores speak to its ability to process images quickly, but that it lags on iTunes suggests that the 2.5GHz clock speed on the Acer's AMD chip can provide an advantage on standalone, CPU-sensitive tasks, such as file encoding. Neither of these systems will impress any serious digital-media editor, but each is competent enough for day-to-day photo editing, audio file conversions, and other lightweight tasks.
Dell competes well enough on its basic support offerings. The standard warranty provides one year of parts and labor protection, and you also get 24-7 toll-free phone support. We were surprised to find that this off-the-shelf Inspiron 530s doesn't provide as much bundled support software as some of Dell's direct-order PCs, though. Dell's onboard support software is not the best in the industry, but some of its system information programs gather useful stats in one convenient place. This model lacks that software, although we're also glad that it's free of annoying desktop icon clutter.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
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 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
Acer Aspire X1200-U1520A
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.5GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4850e; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 8200 integrated graphics chip; 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive.
Dell Studio Hybrid
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit); 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); 2.1GHz AMD Phenom X3 8450; 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics chip; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive.
HP Pavilion Slimline s3500f
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 5400; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 128MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 6150SE integrated graphics chip; 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive.