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Dell Inspiron i545s-3055NBK review: Dell Inspiron i545s-3055NBK

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Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Holiday Roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.

OVR
6.5

Dell Inspiron i545s-3055NBK

The Good

Space-saving slim tower case offers room for future expansion; commendable single application performance.

The Bad

Outdated connectivity options; cheaper Gateway is faster multitasker.

The Bottom Line

The Dell Inspiron 545s-3055NBK improves on previous models with more upgrade options and faster performance. Its modest components can easily handle the most common tasks, but shoppers looking for a home theater PC should consider the Gateway SX2800-01 or Dell's forthcoming Zino HD instead.

If you liked the slim tower design of the Dell Inspiron 545s-1476N but couldn't get past its mediocre performance, the $579 Inspiron 545s-3055NBK might catch your interest. Both systems feature the same space-saving chassis, but the 545s-3055NBK's 2.93GHz Intel processor helped it edge out the Gateway SX2800-01 in our lab. We have no issue recommending the Inspiron as a light-duty media editor or a family computer, but the Gateway (or perhaps Dell's own Zino HD) remains a better living-room PC thanks to its more up-to-date connectivity options.

Although we've already praised the design of the 545s series in the Inspiron 545s-1476N review, we're still fans of the slim tower chassis. The glossy front panel blends seamlessly into the matte-black body and will surely please design nerds and utilitarians alike. You get a DVD burner, a covered media card reader, two USB ports, and a collection of audio jacks for headphones and a microphone. The Gateway SX2800-01 comes in smaller on all sides, but Dell offsets the difference with more expansion room, offering two standard PCI slots and an extra hard-drive bay.

The Dell Inspiron 545s-3055NBK and the Gateway SX2800-01 both live in the same price range, but the Dell gives you a bit more power for $70 more. In lieu of a quad-core CPU, Dell includes a fast dual-core CPU at a higher clock speed that shows its benefit in the iTunes and Photoshop tests below, while Gateway takes the lead in the other two multitasking benchmarks.

Dell adds two extra memory sticks (for a total of 6GB), a 750GB hard drive, and a Wireless-N card for general use, but its lack of updated video connections on the back (VGA only) prevent us from recommending it for the living room. On the other hand, the Gateway's quad-core processor and a spread of ports including HDMI video output, eSATA, FireWire, and 7.1 analog audio jacks keep the SX2800-01 in the game.

If you're seriously considering a separate home theater PC and don't edit a lot of graphics-heavy media, the Gateway might even be too much computer for you. For that, we offer Dell's new Inspiron Zino HD, a small Windows box, complete with an HDMI output, and options for Blu-ray and 802.11n Wi-Fi that starts at $299. Although we haven't had a chance to review it yet, the Dell Inspiron Zino HD sounds like an impressive low-profile living room PC on paper.

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway DX4300-11
10,199 
2,872 
Gateway SX2800-01
10,085 
2,773 
HP Pavilion P6210y
9,692 
2,743 

As our tests show, the Inspiron 545s-3055NBK keeps ahead of the Gateway SX2800-01 in both the Adobe Photoshop and Apple iTunes encoding tests, mostly due to its high clock speed. As expected, the Gateway and the other quad-core computers easily beat Dell in multitasking environments as well as multithreaded CPU performance. That said, we're confident that the Dell Inspiron can meet the single-application needs you'll encounter most commonly at home.

The Dell's slim tower design limits standard-size PCI cards, but you still get room for a 16x PCI Express card slot, two standard PCI slots, and an extra hard-drive bay. The 1x PCI Express slot is already taken by the wireless networking card, and all four memory slots are filled as well.

Annual cost after calibration

Juice box
Dell Inspiron 545s-3055NBK Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 1.14
Sleep (10 percent) 2.15
Idle (25 percent) 43.67
Load (5 percent) 78.32
Raw kWh 174.63
Annual energy cost $19.82

We applaud Dell's capability to keep energy costs low on the Inspiron 545-3055NBK. At only $19.82 per year to operate, it's on par with other systems in its category. The one advantage of the Dell's dual-core chip next to the Gateway's quad-core CPU is that the Dell uses just a bit less energy. It's not enough to make a dramatic difference in annual operating cost, but at least this system is behaving as it's supposed to.

Dell offers the standard one year of parts-and-labor coverage with the Inspiron 545s-3055NBK. You also get 24-7 toll-free phone support and a variety of FAQs and troubleshooting help on the Dell Web site.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations :
Asus Essentio CG5270-BP004
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 32MB Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7200rpm hard drive

Dell Inspiron 545s-3055NBK
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit (SP2); 3GHz AMD Phenom II X4 945 Quad Core; 8GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 384MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics chip; 1TB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Gateway DX4300-11
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.5GHz AMD Phenom II X4 805; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3200 integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7200rpm 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, 7200rpm hard drive

HP Pavilion P6210y
Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 2.6 GHz AMD Phenom II X4 620; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 9100 integrated graphics chip; 640GB, 7200rpm hard drive

OVR
6.5

Dell Inspiron i545s-3055NBK

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 8Support 7