Dell Inspiron 13 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (258,824)

Buy Direct From Manufacturer


by Jerry Jackson

The all new Dell Inspiron 13 (1318) follows the design direction of the new Studio series, as well as the XPS M1330 and XPS M1530. This sleek looking notebook offers a slot-loading optical drive, and is available at both the Dell website as well as Wal-Mart and Walmart.com. With a starting price of less than $700, this notebook is destined to be quite popular with students and average consumers looking for something more portable than a 15-inch laptop.

Dell Inspiron 13 (1318) specifications:

  • Screen: 13.3″ WXGA TrueLife Glossy
  • Processor: Intel Pentium Dual Core T2390 (1.86GHz, 533FSB, 1MB Cache)
  • Memory: 2GB RAM
  • Storage: 160GB HDD (5400rpm)
  • Optical Drive: DVD+/-RW
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g
  • Graphics: Intel X3100 Integrated Graphics
  • Built-in web camera
  • Battery: 11.1V 56Wh
  • Dimensions: 12.52″ x 9.37″ x 1″/1.51″
  • Weight: 4lbs 13.5oz
  • Retail Price: $698


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Build and Design

The design of the Inspiron 13 is remarkably similar to the  XPS M1330 and really sets it apart from the older Inspiron notebooks. The design is, in a word, attractive. The sloping look and glossy blue lid are immediately attention grabbing. The slope is akin to a fast car tear drop look. The screen hinges use the same rounded design found on the XPS M1330, but this time they’re black plastic with metal core instead of a brushed metal exterior. The wedge-like angles to the chassis design likewise make the Inspiron 13 look like it has the same DNA as the XPS line.


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Once opened the Inspiron 13 provides a conservative, black plastic design. The buttons along the top edge are touch sensitive but don’t light up with a soft glow when pressed like the media buttons on the XPS line. The black colored keyboard and textured black plastic palm rests are nice, but the palm rests are made of a textured black plastic that looks quite cheap and has the horrible side effect of picking up skin oils and sweat … making your attractive notebook look tarnished and dirty.


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The chassis is quite rigid with metal support in just the right places and little or no flex on the palm rests or anywhere on the base of the notebook. The back of the LCD does have some flex and it’s possible to produce ripples on the screen if you press firmly on the back of the panel. The hinges are extemely firm and smooth and help give the Inspiron 13 a quality look and feel.

Overall we have to say that the Inspiron 13, like the XPS M1330, is a visually appealing notebook with solid build quality.

Screen

The screen on the Inspiron 13 rates about average, with the only drawback of the panel being poor viewing angles. Screen brightness is great for around the office or classroom, but isn’t quite bright enough for outside use on a sunny day. Not only would the screen brightness be fighting against the sun, but the glossy panel would probably blind you if you were not able to get into some shade. Indoors, the screen doesn’t present such problems. It’s glossy in nature so you’ll get some reflection, but the rich and bold colors that come with having this type of screen finish is worth it.

While the direct view or horizonal viewing angles looked fine, the vertical viewing angles were hardly acceptable. At the upper viewing angles the screen washes out and loses contrast. At lower viewing angles the colors severely invert and at extreme angles the entire panel goes nearly black. While extreme horizontal angles weren’t perfect, it was the extreme vertical angles that killed this screen.


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Speakers and Audio


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The speakers for the Inspiron 13 are located at the top of the keyboard area. There’s not much to write home about the speakers, they get loud enough that’s for sure, but the sound is slightly tinny as is the case with nearly all laptop speakers. The volume audio controls are touch sensitive buttons along the top right side of the keyboard. It’s a little hard to use these buttons if you have big fingers, and most of the time the buttons won’t register a press if you press them multiple times too quickly. Overall the volume control buttons are tough to use, though they look nice, an old fashioned volume dial control is easier to use.


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If you prefer to use headphones rather than the built-in speakers, you’re set. The headphone jack and microphone jack, both located on the front of the notebook, work well with little or no distortion. If you’re trying to attach external speakers this isn’t as handy, but since this is laptop designed for mobility we doubt most people will connect external speakers to this notebook.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard look and feel is very businesslike, sporting black matte keys instead of glossy painted keys found on many new notebooks. The typing feel is excellent, with a soft, barely audible click on each keypress and very little keyboard flex. The area above the optical drive has slightly more flex than the rest of the keyboard, but it is still very minor compared to other notebooks … and the keyboard on this notebook is actually much more rigid that the keyboards on the new ThinkPad T400 and T500 series notebooks. Spacing and key size is on par with my Dell Latitude D630 and ThinkPad T60, but the overall keyboard area is a little more cramped than what you’ll find on a typical 15-inch notebook.


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The touchpad works well enough, though it’s on the small side. The Apple MacBook is a 13.3″ screen notebook and the touchpad is probably twice the size of what you get on the Inspiron 13. The mouse buttons are fine with nice, deep press and quiet clicks. The good news with the touchpad is that it’s responsive, has dedicated scroll areas and the textured feel is good.


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Performance and Benchmarks

Let’s face facts. This is a budget notebook priced below $700. You cannot expect the Inspiron 13 to perform like a multimedia powerhouse, but it still performs surprisingly well. Since the Inspiron 13 is equipped with the base model Intel Pentium Dual Core processor rather than the newer Core 2 Duo you can expect this notebook to be a little slow encoding video (transfering video from a camcorder to a computer) or audio (ripping your CDs to MP3 files). This processor offers a slower 533MHz FSB, and much less system cache. That being the case, it still performed admirably, reaching synthetic benchmark scores similar to budget notebooks with Core 2 Duo processors … like the Studio 15.

For a computer targeted towards students this provides more than enough power to handle anything form iTunes to Microsoft Word. While gaming is basically out of the question, that is not what this notebook was intended for.

WPrime 32M comparison results:

WPrime is a benchmark similar to Super Pi in that it forces the processor to do intense mathematical calculations, but the difference is this application is multi-threaded and represents dual core processors better. Lower numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Dell Inspiron 13 (Pentium Dual Core T2390 @ 1.86GHz)   44.664s 
Dell Studio 15 (Core 2 Duo T5750 @ 2.0GHz) 41.246s
HP Pavilion dv5z (Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80 @ 2.1GHz)
39.745s
Toshiba Satellite U405 (Core 2 Duo T8100 @ 2.1GHz)  37.500s  
Dell Vostro 1510 (Core 2 Duo T5670 @ 1.8GHz) 51.875s
Dell Inspiron 1525 (Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 43.569s
Dell XPS M1530 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz)
37.485s
HP Pavilion dv6500z (Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 40.759s
Sony VAIO NR (Core 2 Duo T5250 @ 1.5GHz) 58.233s
Toshiba Tecra A9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 38.343s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
HP Pavilion dv6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s

 

PCMark05 measures overall notebook performance based on processor, hard drive, operating system, RAM, and graphics (higher scores are better):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100)   3,727 PCMarks
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100) 3,998 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)
3,994 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite U405 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Intel X3100)  4,145 PCMarks  
Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100) 3,568 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 4,149 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 5,412 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 4,616 PCMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100)  3,283 PCMarks 
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks


3DMark06 comparison results for graphics performance (higher scores are better):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100) 470 3DMarks
Dell Studio 15 (2.0GHz Intel T5750, Intel X3100) 493 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv5z (2.1GHz Turion X2 Ultra ZM-80, ATI Radeon HD 3200)   1,599 3DMarks
Toshiba Satellite U405 (2.1GHz Intel T8100, Intel X3100)  539 3DMarks  
Dell Vostro 1510 (1.8GHz Intel T5670, Intel X3100) 519 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1525 (2.0GHz Intel T7250, Intel X3100) 545 3DMarks
HP Pavilion dv6500z (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, NVIDIA 8400m GS)  1,551 3DMarks
Sony VAIO NR (1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250, Intel X3100) 504 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1530 (2.20GHz Intel T7500, Nvidia 8600M GT 256MB) 4,332 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA 8600M GT) 2,905 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

All of the 3DMark06 scores for all of the systems listed above were run at 1280 x 800 or 1280 x 768 resolution. Clearly, the Inspiron 13 suffers from the use of under-powered Intel X3100 integrated graphics … but the benefit is this usually means better battery life.

HDTune results:


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Heat and Noise

The system fan and heatsinks in the Inspiron 13 do a great job managing heat when the system is under load … as we discovered when we ran multiple benchmarks back to back. The exterior of the notebook never reached the triple digit range during multiple 3DMark06 tests. The fan moved a significant amount of hot air but the noise was reasonably low and wasn’t noticeable over background noise unless the room was perfectly quiet. The external temperatures in the images below are listed in degrees Fahrenheit:


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The plastic palm rests did heat up during benchmarking, but the temperatures remained at comfortable levels. The left palm rest (where the hard drive is located) was slightly warmer than the right. If you are particularly sensitive to temperatures you might find the warmth uncomfortable, but most users will be unlikely to complain about this.

The hard drive in our review unit was virtually silent and made no audible squeals or scratching noises. The overall lack of noise coming from the fan and hard drive on the Inspiron 13 makes it a welcome companion in quiet classrooms or offices where your coworkers have sensitive hearing. In fact, the only noticeable amount of unwelcome noise coming from the Inspiron 13 is from the slot-loading drive when it loads or ejects a disk.

Input and Output Ports

The port selection on the Inspiron 13 is rather weak, with few USB ports scattered around the perimeter and quite a bit of open (unused) space. This notebook only has two USB ports, where even virtually all netbooks come with three. For a notebook of this size it is sad to see so few USB ports. The only other computer that comes to mind with fewer ports is the MacBook Air. Dell could have easily fit another USB port, but instead you are left with one on each side of the notebook.

  • 10/100LAN
  • VGA
  • FireWire
  • Expresscard/54
  • Multi-Card Reader
  • Headphone/Mic
  • Two USB Ports

Front: Headphone jack, microphone jack, multi-card reader


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Back: battery, heat exhaust and hinges


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Left: power jack, VGA out, Ethernet, USB port, Firewire, hard drive access panel


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Right: ExpressCard slot, WiFi on/off, slot-loading optical drive, USB port, security lock slot


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Battery

The 6-cell battery (56Wh) is surprisingly capable on the Inspiron 13. With the screen set to maximum brightness, wireless on, and browsing the web the notebook squeezed out 4 hours and 9 minutes of battery life. If you’re watching a DVD on this notebook you’ll get somewhere around 3 hours of battery life with the 6-cell. Bottom line, this laptop should have plenty of power to get you through the school day or a long flight.

Conclusion

With a sleek design, reasonable specs, and an attractive price the Dell Inspiron 13 is sure to be a popular notebooks this year. While there are certainly more powerful 13-inch notebooks on the market (like the impressive Toshiba Satellite U405 or LG P300) you’ll be hard pressed to find a more capable 13-inch notebook at such a low price.

While issues like cheap palm rests and a noisy slot-loading drive won’t bother most people, the limit of two USB ports and use of Pentium dual core instead of a Core 2 Duo processor might make some potential customers look elsewhere. In the end, the Inspiron 13 is an attractive, capable budget notebook. If you’re looking for a basic mobile companion with good looks and a low price tag then this is probably the right notebook for you.

Pros:

  • Attractive design
  • Solid build quality
  • Acceptable performance
  • Good battery life
  • Solid keyboard
  • Great price

Cons:

  • Only two USB ports … even $300 netbooks have three USB ports
  • Pentium dual core processor is a little weak
  • Keyboard is a little cramped and touchpad is a little small
  • Palm rest plastics look cheap and easily pick up skin oils
  • Slot-loading drive is a little loud


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