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Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL review: Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL

Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL

Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott Contributor
Matt Elliott, a technology writer for more than a decade, is a PC tester and Mac user based in New Hampshire.
7 min read

Editors' note: This review is part of our 2010 retail laptop and desktop back-to-school roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.


Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL

The Good

Good looks; above-average audio output; multitouch touch pad; HDMI and eSATA ports.

The Bad

Squeaky space bar on the keyboard; poor battery life; performance lags behind similarly priced Intel-based laptops.

The Bottom Line

We'd like the attractive and affordable Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL more if it wasn't so slow and squeaky.

The Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL offers a pleasing design, a multitouch touch pad, and a useful selection of ports, but it can't quite keep pace with competing Intel-based models.

Worse than its yielding application performance to rival Intel, the AMD-based Inspiron iM501R offers below-average battery life and its keyboard squeaks. Perhaps the grating, high-pitched squeak is unique to our review unit; you can check one out for yourself on the shelves at Best Buy, where you'll find the Dell Inspiron iM501R listed for $549. We would instead recommend the $529 Asus K501J-BBZ5, which offers better application performance, excellent build quality, but no HDMI port.

Price $549
Processor 2.1GHz AMD Athlon II P320
Memory 3GB DDR2 SDRAM 1333MHz
Hard drive 320GB at 5,400rpm
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium
Dimensions (WDH) 14.8 x 10.3 x 1.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 5.8 / 6.6 pounds
Category Midsize

You'll likely see a rainbow of Inspiron iM501R models on retail store shelves. Our review model, the iM501R-1212PBL, features a bright blue lid (Dell calls it peacock blue, hence the PBL suffix); other color choices include black, red, green, and pink. Open up the laptop and you'll find a brushed-aluminum finish on the keyboard deck and a glossy black bezel framing the display. The keyboard is matte-black and the touch pad is a matte-charcoal gray. The overall design looks clean and simple. It's a hair thinner than other 15.6-inch laptops we've recently reviewed, such as the Asus K501J and the HP G62-225DX. It weighs 5.8 pounds, however, which is average for its size.

The keyboard is roomy and easy to type on. A narrow number pad is squeezed into its right side, but no keys are shortened to accommodate its inclusion. The four arrow keys are half height, however, but you may not find yourself using them all that much, because the touch pad features multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling. We initially liked the keyboard, but only for a minute or two before we began to notice a squeaking noise. We tracked it down to the space bar; with every space entered it would emit a high-pitched squeak--highly annoying. It may be unique to our review model, but it makes us question the build quality of the keyboard on this budget laptop. Be sure to test it out in the store before you decide on a purchase. Unlike the space bar, the mouse buttons below the touch pad are silent when pressed. They offer a soft feel, with almost too much travel. We still prefer them to the stiff mouse button on the HP G62-225DX.

The 15.6-inch display features a 1,366x768-pixel resolution and LED backlights. The screen is hard to differentiate from other 15.6-inch laptops, which is to say it delivers images that look bright and crisp. Like any other 1,366x768-pixel display, it qualifies as HD--its 768 vertical lines support 720p video but fall short of 1080p.

Helping differentiate the Dell Inspiron iM501R from the Asus K501J and the HP G62-225DX is its audio, which we'd describe as slightly above average. Its speakers won't rattle the wall--we've yet to hear laptop audio that can do that--but they do offer relatively full sound that stays clear at max volume, making movie dialogue discernible even when you're not hunched over the laptop. Helping the audio punch is the speakers' position; they aren't located in the standard spot above the keyboard but instead project out from the front edge.

As opposed to the lower-end Webcams on the Asus K501J, the HP G62-225DX, and nearly all other budget laptops, the Dell Inspiron iM501R features a Webcam not with a 1.3-megapixel resolution that lets you snap pictures or record video at 1280x1024 pixels. We also like Dell's Webcam Central app, which loads quickly, appears like it was designed within the past 10 years (we're looking at you, CyberLink YouCam app), and includes buttons for uploading to YouTube or Photobucket.

  Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL Average for category [mainstream]
Video VGA, HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/ microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 4 USB 2.0, eSATA, multiformat media card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

Connectivity and expansion on the Dell Inspiron iM501R is generous and conveniently located. There are four USB 2.0 ports, one of which doubles as an eSATA port. You'll find one USB port on the left edge, another on the right edge, and two on the back edge. The power connection is also located on the back edge, making it convenient no matter if the nearest outlet is to your left or to your right. The VGA port is also on the back edge, and an HDMI port is on the left edge. Networking comes by way of 802.11n Wi-Fi and 100/100 Ethernet.

The Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL features the 2.1GHz AMD Athlon II P320, a fairly low-end dual-core processor, and 3GB of fast 1333MHz DDR2 memory. Competing systems in the budget group at Best Buy (the Asus K501J and the HP G62-225DX) feature the dual-core Intel Pentium T4500 processor and performed far better in labs testing.

On CNET Labs' multitasking test, the Inspiron iM501R was a whopping 78 percent slower than the Asus K501J and 59 percent slower than the HP G62-225DX. The Dell closed the gap somewhat on our Photoshop and iTunes tests, but still trailed the Asus and HP by considerable margins. It was 32 and 27 percent slower than the Asus and the HP on our Photoshop benchmark, and 36 and 42 percent slower than the Asus and the HP on our iTunes test, respectively. In real-world terms, the Dell took 1 minute 15 seconds longer than the HP to convert 19 MP3s to ACC format, which reinforces our standing advice to stick with low-end Intel dual-core CPUs in the lowest-priced midsize laptops.

You do get a boost from the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250 graphics, which gave us 21.8 frames per second in Unreal Tournament III at 1,280x768-pixel resolution. That's not exactly playable, but simpler non-shooter games should work fine, if expectations are kept modest.

Juice box
Mainstream (Avg watts/hour)  
Off (60%) 0.78
Sleep (10%) 1.02
Idle (25%) 14.09
Load (05%) 45.75
Raw kWh Number 55.89
Annual Energy Cost $6.34

Annual power consumption cost
The Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL uses a standard six-cell battery and lasted a mere 2 hours, 28 minutes on CNET Labs' demanding video playback battery drain test. That's a poor showing; only the HP G62-225DX was worse among the current crop of budget laptops in our retail roundup. Considering the low-power CPU, we expected better.

Dell backs the Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL with an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty. Dell's Web site features many useful support tools, including online chat, a Flash-based question widget, and 24-7 toll-free telephone support. Retail stores offer a variety of extended warranty plans with your laptop purchase, but they're generally expensive and hard to use, so we do not recommend them.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dv5-2035dx
Dell iM501R-1212PBL
Toshiba Satellite C655-S5049
Compaq CQ62-215DX

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Compaq CQ62-215DX
Dell iM501R-1212PBL

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:

Dell iM501R-1212PBL
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.1GHz AMD Athlon II P320 Dual-Core; 3072MB DDR2 SDRAM 1333MHz; 384MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250; 320GB Toshiba 5400rpm

Asus K50IJ-BBZ5
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core T4500; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1696MB (Total) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Western Digital 5400rpm

Asus K50IJ-BNC5
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core T4500; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1696MB (Total) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 500GB Western Digital 5400rpm

Compaq Presario CQ62-215DX
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.19GHz AMD Sempron V120; 2048MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250; 250GB Western Digital 5400rpm

HP G62-225DX
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core T4500; 3072MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 64MB (Dedicated)/1696MB (Total) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 320GB Samsung 5400rpm

HP Pavilion dv5-2035dx
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.29GHz AMD Turion II P520 Dual-Core; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 320MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4250; 320GB Seagate 5400rpm

Toshiba Satellite C655-S5049
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel Celeron 900; 2048MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 128MB (Dedicated)/829MB (Total) Mobile Intel GMA 4500MHD; 250GB Toshiba 5400rpm


Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 7Performance 4Battery 4Support 7
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