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Laptops

Dell Inspiron 17R

The Dell Inspiron 17R hopes to appeal to families with its big screen, swappable lids and the latest Intel chips.

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The old Dell Inspiron 17R had a big screen, bright colours and didn't break the bank. This year's version seeks to build on that by offering the latest Intel Ivy Bridge processors for some hopefully powerful computing.

I went hands-on at a Dell showcase event with a model that packed an Intel Core i7 processor, although different configurations are available. 

They're available now from the Dell online store. 

Design

The name may have given you a clue, but the 17R is a 17.3-inch machine. That should immediately suggest to you that this isn't going to be your portable travelling companion -- and you'd be absolutely right.

In order to house that big old screen, the body has to be both wide and deep. Exact dimensions weren't available, but the previous generation 17R was 418mm wide, so I expect the new model to be very similar. That means you'll probably struggle to cram it into a bag and at around 3.3kg, you're not going to want to carry it far either.

Dell Inspiron 17R lid
Hot pink was my favourite colour, but there are tonnes more to choose from.

The 17R is best suited to staying at home, either sat on a desk or on your lap on the sofa while you juggle a brew in one hand and a cat in the other.

The interchangeable lids are still available on the new model, letting you change the colour scheme as your mood sees fit. Dell offers various solid colours -- such as the delightful hot pink I saw -- as well as a bunch of mad patterns that easily click into place. You pick one when you buy the 17R and you can buy more separately.

It's pretty handy being able to change the lids as it not only means you can replace it if it gets scratched and bumped (as my laptop certainly does) but also means that if you've got several people using the same machine (you and your kids, perhaps) each person can have their own skin to put on whenever they want. Whether you can be bothered swapping out the panel each time you pick it up is up to you, but it's a fun option.

Under the lid you'll find things get a little less colourful as the keyboard and surrounding wrist rest are coloured with varying shades of grey. The wrist rest itself has been given a brushed-metal look that adds a certain premium touch, although I don't think it really is metal -- Dell wasn't able to confirm either way at the time.

Dell Inspiron 17R keyboard
The inside's not as exciting, but the keyboard's comfy enough.

The keyboard uses rounded, black, isolated keys set into a black plastic tray. They're quite small but easy to press and I enjoyed a comfortable typing experience in my brief hands-on -- but I'll see how it really handles in the full review. The trackpad is fairly wide and has a slightly rough texture making it easy to slide your finger around on. The two separate buttons are big and easy to click, which makes sending your cursor flying around a web browser as comfortable as it can be without using a separate mouse.

There's not much in the way of design flair under the lid, so you might want to choose the brightest design for the outside to detract people's gaze from the inside. The varying shades of grey aren't exactly pretty, but they're at least functional and hopefully won't clash too much with your living room decor.

Screen

The 17-inch screen boasts a resolution of 1,600x900 pixels, which is a little disappointing. Many 17-inch models -- such as the Toshiba Qosmio X770 -- offer 1,920x1,080-pixel displays, letting them show off Full HD videos at their best.

I asked Dell whether a high-definition model would be available -- a spokesman said it might be, but there are no firm plans at the moment. The Inspiron series is directed at family computing and doesn't come with a premium price tag, so it's not a massive problem that it doesn't offer Full HD, and it is at least over 720p.

Its sheer size means it's great for watching movies on when you can't be bothered to watch them on your proper TV. It's a good choice for kids wanting to watch their own shows while Mr and Mrs Parent are hogging the TV with Gardener's World, Songs of Praise or whatever it is grownups watch these days.

Dell Inspiron 17R lid off
The lids are swappable, like an old-school Nokia. Here it is without one.

It's also a good size as a combined TV and computer for a student, where space -- and of course price -- are key issues. Rather than having a TV and a separate laptop in those small halls of residence, the 17R could be used for studying in the day while being big enough to enjoy a good film in the evening.

It might not be Full HD, but it at least seems fairly bright and bold. I wasn't able to test it properly and had to make a quick judgement underneath the gallery lights at Dell's showcase, but it seemed perfectly acceptable for playing back DVDs (there was no Blu-ray player on the model I used), checking out some YouTube clips or settling down for some work when the deadline has finally arrived. I'll leave my final judgement for the full review though.

Specifications

The 17R I had my sweaty hands on came packing an Intel Core i7-3612QM processor along with 6GB of RAM. Those are some pretty spicy specs, so you can expect a good performance.

I wasn't able to run any of my usual benchmark tests, so it's difficult to say just how it will cope with different tasks, but it will at least be able to handle some intense multi-tasking and hopefully be able to turn its hand to more demanding tasks such as photo and video editing.

It's using the latest version of Intel's Core series processors, known as Ivy Bridge, which promise much better built-in graphics performance. Whether it has enough visual grunt to let you play recent games titles without a dedicated graphics card -- which previously hasn't been offered with the Inspiron series -- remains to be seen. The graphics boost will at least help out with photos and video though.

The previous generation 17R didn't offer much opportunity for customising when you buy from the Dell site, but I'm told various options will be available, so if you don't need the power from a Core i7 processor, you could probably save yourself a few quid and opt for a lesser-spec machine, perhaps with an Intel Core i5 chip instead.

Outlook

The Dell Inspiron 17R offers a big screen for movie lovers and interchangeable lids that should keep the kids happy. Let's hope the price is right and the Core i7 processor offers enough power for everyone's needs.

Where to Buy

Dell Inspiron 17R

Visit manufacturer site for details.

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