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Vostro is Dell's entry-level business notebook brand, but you wouldn't know it by looking at it.
Take the 3550 — the crazily low start price of AU$649 doesn't do justice to the quality of the build, let alone the excellent screen. Or that it has a backlit keyboard. Even our top of the range review model, which has Core i7 installed, comes in at only AU$1199. The silver finish is a nice touch too, although you can opt for red or gold colours if you're willing to spend an extra AU$14.30.
While volume is impressive from the speakers compared to the competition, the sound definitely lacks bass and a well-defined sound, which ends up a muddled mess of mid and high end.
With two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0/eSATA port, another USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, HDMI out, VGA out and gigabit Ethernet, it's well appointed too. Our particular review model was equipped with a Core i7 2620M processor, 4GB RAM, a 500GB hard drive and an AMD HD 6630M.
The AMD card can switch to Intel graphics to save battery if need be, but the implementation is vastly annoying. Every time the software detects an application that might require 3D, it creates a pop up asking you to add that application to the dedicated graphics processor profile. It not only interrupted workflow, but crashed our applications more than once by stealing focus at inopportune times, particularly with games. AMD, please: catch up with Nvidia's Optimus already, this needs to be seamless.
Putting the Vostro through its paces, it reached 7474 in 3DMark06 and 8095 in PCMark05; both are great scores, which places the Vostro as an all-rounder for entertainment and productivity.
Dell's stated battery times for the Vostro should be taken with a grain of salt — while our review sample was equipped with a 90Wh battery, the default-equipped battery is only 48Wh, and at the time of writing there was no option to upgrade through the Dell site.
Regardless, with all power-saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and an XviD file played back, the larger battery lasted an impressive four hours and 47 minutes — we'd expect about half that from the standard battery, which falls in line with other laptops of similar size.
There's nothing amazing about the Vostro 3550, but there doesn't have to be. It's a plain Jane, honest-to-goodness workhorse that'll get the job done — and in our books, that's a win.