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Editors' note: This review is part of our , which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
We can see few arguments for owning the off-the-shelf Dell Inspiron i545 1125-NBK. Its connectivity options and CPU are outdated, and its performance is among the worst in its category. Technically, this $509 desktop is actually a better value than a comparable unit from Dell online, but with vendors like Gateway staying farther ahead of the price-performance curve, and asking just a minor premium for the privilege, there's little reason to spend much time on this desktop. Keep shopping.
The Inspiron i545's chassis is standard stuff, featuring an all-black midtower with basic accessibility and features. A media card reader and a handful of ports hide behind a door on the front panel. The side panel on the left provides access to the interior, and the collection of ports on the back will be immediately recognizable to anyone who's used a computer in the last five years. You get four USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, and a set of 5.1 analog audio ports. That's it.
That familiarity points to one of our main issues with this desktop. Perhaps Dell has been bullied by its retail partners into keeping things simple. Alternatively, Dell may be making a calculated move by restricting more up-to-date features like FireWire and digital audio ports to its higher margin Studio Desktop line. We have no way to know exactly why the inputs on this desktop are so few and so uninspiring. The limited input selection is consistent with lower-end retail systems we've seen from Dell for the last year or so, and though it may be the norm for Dell, other vendors have more interesting features to offer at retail in the $500 to $600 price range.
|Dell Inspiron i545 1125-NBK||Gateway DX4831-01e|
|CPU||2.7GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5400||2.93GHz Intel Core i3-530|
|Memory||6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM||6GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||64MB (shared) Intel GMA 3100 integrated graphics chip||32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip|
|Hard drives||640GB, 7,200rpm||1TB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
The Gateway DX4831-01e is among the better examples of an up-to-date retail desktop. At just $40 more than the Dell, its rear panel features both VGA and HDMI video output, six USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 400 jack, two eSATA outputs, and an optical digital audio output. Combine that vastly improved array of inputs with the Gateway's larger hard drive and its superior Intel Core i3-530 CPU, and we'd happily pay the extra $40 for the Gateway.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
Compared with other systems in the $500 to $600 price range, the Dell, with its dated Intel Pentium Dual Core E5400, comes in on the lower end of the budget performance spectrum. Perhaps you can point to the Dell's lower end of the price scale as a mitigating factor, but the Gateway outperforms it by such a wide margin for only $40 more, that we can't make too much of an exception for the Dell's price savings. Considering both the performance gap with the subpar features, we can see few justifications for this desktop.
In practical terms, the Dell will get you through day-to-day tasks without too much trouble. If you plan on editing photos, converting music or video files to load them on to a portable device, or performing other speed-dependent work, you will have a noticeably better experience with one of Dell's competitors. We had success playing video from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other online video sources on the Dell, but there are systems, like the Gateway SX2840-01, better suited to home entertainment duties.
Should you venture inside the Dell, you'll find a fair amount of room for upgrading. You get four memory slots (all currently occupied), a free hard-drive bay, and a handful of expansion card slots, a full-size 16x PCI Express graphics card slot among them. Since we don't recommend purchasing this system to begin with, the idea of using it as an upgrade foundation seems equally inadvisable.
|Dell Inspiron i545-1125NBK||Average watts per hour|
|Raw (annual kWh)||197.26644|
|Energy Star compliant||Yes|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$22.39|
At least Dell can claim that it's the most power-efficient desktop in this most recent batch of $500 to $600 desktops. We suspect most of you would happily trade better performance for power efficiency, and considering that both Gateway systems on this list also come in at or near the top of our performance charts, those systems seem to offer a compelling balance of speed and smart power consumption.
Dell's service and support policies compare well with the average among mainstream desktop vendors. The warranty covers parts and service for one year, and you get 24-7 phone support for free. Online and on the system itself you also get a variety of support options, from live chat to system-specific driver downloads and other help.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Dell Inspiron i545 1125-NBK
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core E5400; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB Intel GMA 3100 integrated graphics chip; 640GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.93GHz Intel Core i3-530; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.93GHz Intel Core i3-530; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
HP Pavilion p6310y
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X4 630; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia Geforce 9100; 1TB, 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive
HP Pavilion Slimline s5310y
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X4 630; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia Geforce 9100; 1TB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive