Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dell’s solid midsize laptop

As middle-of-the-road as a laptop gets, Dell's Inspiron 1525 is an excellent go-to choice for basic computing, especially if you take the time to configure a system to your needs via Dell's online configurator.
This $649 fixed-configuration version, called the Inspiron 1525-121B, has a low-end 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T2390 CPU, and is cheaper than the $729 T5750 version we reviewed, but it also knocks the RAM down to 2GB from 3GB, and the hard drive down to 160GB from 250GB.
The system trades some performance for the price cut, and may strain under a heavy collegiate workload of writing papers and encoding MP3s, but its battery life is actually better--on par with the 14-inch Dell Inspiron 1420.
When you add the 1525's touch-sensitive media control buttons and an HDMI output, you get a not wholly unreasonable package at the lower end of the price scale.
If your planned course of study will not include running demanding graphics or scientific applications, the In
f your planned course of study will not include running demanding graphics or scientific applications, the Inspiron 1525-121B should get you from initiation to graduation. If you can spend a bit more, the Gateway P-6836 offers better performance for only $150 more.
Dell has managed to shave a little bulk off its previous 15-inch Inspiron model, and this version is even thinner than 14-inch Inspiron 1420, although its bigger footprint is not as well suited for lugging around campus all day.
The keyboard is the same full-size model found on Dell's other Inspiron laptops, and it feels solid and responsive. Above the keyboard sits a row of media control buttons, which you won't find on the Sony VAIO NR430, a brand more commonly associated with multimedia endeavors than a jack-of-all-trades Inspiron.
The media controls are of the touch-sensitive variety we're partial to, and the Inspiron 1525 has helped make these the industry default, even for budget-minded laptops. This version lacks the 2.0-megapixel Webcam found on the $729 configuration of the 1525.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1280x800-pixel native resolution, which is standard for budget-minded mainstream systems, but on a screen this big, text and icons can look a bit big and unwieldy -- we generally prefer 1,440x900-pixel resolutions on screens of this size -- that's an option on the configurable version available on the Dell Web site.
There are plenty of USB jacks for all your accessories and even FireWire, which we're seeing less frequently, but no Bluetooth. Adding an HDMI jack is a nice high-end touch, even if you never use it.
Unlike the Inspiron 1525-122B, this 1525 uses a 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T2390, which sits at the low end of Intel's' current CPU lineup. The system is no speed demon, we ran into occasional sluggishness while multitasking -- Web surfing, working on office documents, and playing media files -- but it's still adequate for basic academic work.
The system finished first or second on CNET Labs' benchmarks among the five entry-level back-to-school laptops we tested this summer. For an extra $80, however, you can trade up to a faster T5750 CPU, 3GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive (plus a Webcam) -- which seems like a reasonable set of upgrades for the price, although we saw minimal benefit in this price range from adding that third GB of RAM on our tests.
The Inspiron 1525 ran for 3 hours and 10 minutes on our video playback battery drain test using the included six-cell battery, which is a nice improvement over the more expensive 1525, which lasted only 2 hours and 15 minutes on the same test -- perhaps because of its more powerful CPU. There's a pretty obvious trade-off to consider: slower performance and longer battery life versus faster performance and shorter battery life.
Dell includes an industry-standard, one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, and the Dell Web site has a robust collection of support tools, including online chat, a Flash-based question widget, and 24-7 toll-free telephone support.

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