by Bernardas Morkunas, Lithuania
Overview and Introduction
Dell introduced its first AMD based system, the Inspiron 1501, about half a year ago, which has become one of the best selling notebooks in its economic segment. The Inspiron 1501 is a low-cost version of the top selling Inspiron 6400/e1505 series to keep budget-minded customers happy. While both systems are quite similar, there are some noticeable differences between them. For example, the e1505 has media buttons and specially dedicated media software. In addition, the 1501 does not feature some technologies, such as a dedicated video card or 802.11n. Most potential buyers could consider the 1501 as a less expensive option.
In my opinion, the Dell Inspiron 1501 is one of the best choices in its price range.
These are the specifications of the model tested:
- 15.4 WXGA TrueLife (1280×800)
- AMD Turion TL50 1.6GHz 2×256 Cache
- ATI-M 1150 256MB HM
- 1GB DDR2-533 (2*512mb to be more exact)
- 120GB 5400rpm Western Digital hard drive
- DVD/CD-RW (although I ordered a DVD+-R/RW drive. More on this later)
- 802.11b/g wireless
- Ports: 4x USB2.0, microphone and headphone jack, monitor-out, 3-in-1 card reader, modem and ethernet
- 6 cell battery
- Windows Vista Home Premium
- Weight: 2.81kg
- 3 year warranty
Dell Inspiron 1501 front view (view large image)
Reasons for Buying
Since I am in my last year in school, I decided to buy my university laptop now. I needed a reliable, reasonably portable computer with decent battery life and a good screen for photo editing. The main areas of usage were supposed to be document editing, picture viewing, storing, and watching some movies. All in all, I was not picky about hardware. I did not need a dedicated video card or a fast CPU for gaming.
I spent a lot of time thinking about all the available options. Finally, I came to the following choices: Fujitsu Siemens PI 1505, PA 1510, Toshiba A110, HP DV6000ea, HP NX7300, and Asus A9. After spending a lot of time in the shop, I decided to stay with Dell because:
- All of the notebooks from Fujitsu Siemens had a terrible build quality, bad screens and terrible keyboards. As common for this manufacturer, Fujitsu Siemens saves on build quality, but puts good hardware inside.
- The Toshiba keyboard was too spongy, the HDD was too small and the battery life was a bit poor.
- I simply could not stand the design of the DV6000ea.
- The NX7300 screen was unacceptable for photo editing. It’s also a business laptop and not very suitable for entertainment.
- The only Asus available in the store was without an OS. In addition, Asus did not shine in other fields as well.
All in all, I chose the Dell Inspiron 1501.
Build & Design
Most of the owners of Inspiron laptops criticize the design of their computers. Not surprisingly, most of the modified laptops are Inspirons e1505/1501. In my opinion, designers were having an "off day" when they created those white bumpers. Maybe the most annoying thing about the design is that certain parts of the notebook do not match others. For example, the keyboard, touchpad, and screen have a "keep-it-simple" design (nothing shinny, nothing stylish) while the back of the lid makes a quite different impression. Despite these style blemishes, the Dell Inspiron 1501 has some charm in its design.
Top view of Inspiron 1501 (view large image)
The overall build quality is quite good. The chassis feels sturdy, it does not creak when lifted on any of the corners. Applying even a quite strong force on the back of the lid does not make ripples on the screen appear. The screen hinges are tough and keep LCD in place. You will need to use both hands to open the lid. That said, there are places which deform when excessive pressure is applied, but this isn’t an issue. The one negative might be that the screen latch does not feel sturdy — it has a “floating” feeling as you can both move it up/down and left/right — but it holds the screen perfectly well.
A very nice feature is that you only need to remove two screws to access the memory modules, WiFi card or HDD. A little more effort is required to access the CPU (I was not that curious).
Bottom side view of Inspiron 1501 (view large image)
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Notice the text “Strike Zone” at the bottom of the notebook? Strike Zone is a Dell technology which should save (or try to) your computers HDD during falls. I don’t know how efficient it is.
However, there is one terrible drawback in the build quality. The Dell Inspiron 1501 started showing wear and tear after 2 weeks when the silver paint on the palm rests started to peal off. Maybe it’s a fault of my sweaty hands but a laptop should be at least a little more resistant to usage and maintain its stylish exterior a little longer. In addition, the paint scratches very easily. I simply don’t know where this scratch came from since I treat my electronics quite nice.
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Anyone who owns a Dell Inspiron 1501/1505 should consider placing something like these stickers on the palm rests. The stickers should save some paint on your laptop and provide a better typing experience since they are soft and absorb sweat.
Another flaw in the design is that the white bumpers are made from a soft plastic. One small, but deep, scratch appeared on one of the bumpers after a short trip in my backpack. You should be really careful with them if you don’t want to have a scratched laptop.
Weighing more than 2.8kg, the 1501 will never be an “ultra-portable.” In any case, carrying it around is quite comfortable and does not strain the shoulders too much. You should be able to carry it from point A to point B on your campus.
There are seven nice green LEDs on the chassis that give some important information about the system. Three of them are placed on a screen hinge, these include:
- Power stance LED informs the user whether the system is turned on (continuous), at sleep (blinking) or turned off (off)
- HDD activity
- Battery status/Power cord information
These diodes are easily visible from the top even when the lid is closed.
Another four LEDs are placed just above the keyboard near the shinny power switch. They can’t be seen when the lid is closed. These include:
- Num Lock
- Caps Lock
- Scroll Lock
- Wifi On/Off
(view large image)
Luckily, since Dell did not make the diodes too bright, the LEDs will not disturb your sleep if you spend nights with your computer turned on. This can’t be said about certain HP’s models (DV6000, DV2000 for example) and several Toshibas.
Overall, the Dell Inspiron looks strange, but is tough despite the fact that the body finish does not seem to be long-lasting. Anyone looking for more lasting paintjob should think about “Road Ready” PCs from Dell.
The review model has a 15.4” 1280×800 glossy screen and I was disappointed with it. The brightness next to my desktop IIyama ProLite E430 was okay and I made some pictures to illustrate that. My camera showed that the Dell is a bit brighter than the IIyama (overexposed areas are in red). In addition, there was no light leakage and the entire screen was evenly lit. (You will see that not all of the screen is overexposed in the following pictures. This is due to poor viewing angles, not unevenness of light.)
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In addition, the screen has a good dynamic range, thus you can see details in both white and black areas comparably well. A simple way to check how a monitor performs is to view this picture and see whether you can see a difference between ABCD and XYZ (the difference was easy to spot with Dell’s screen set to maximum brightness)
Sadly, horizontal viewing angles were miserable. It was impossible for two people sitting shoulder to shoulder about 75-100cm away from the screen to see the entire frame well. Vertical angles were only slightly better.
Straight on view of 1501 screen (view large image)
Horizontal view of 1501 screen (view large image)
Above view of 1501 screen (view large image)
In addition, it looks as if my Inspiron had a bad screen, because it was not sharp at all. Actually, it was unsharp and all pictures appeared a bit blurry. Since I am a photography enthusiast, this was a very disappointing thing. The screen also showed moving horizontal lines in grey areas near large white spots. I really hope that other Inspiron buyers get better screens.
Screen glossiness was not annoying to me as long as I stayed at home, but using the screen outside might pose some problems due to excessive reflections.
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Overall, the screen was bright, but not vibrant nor sharp. This must be enough for office usage, but watching movies or editing pictures will not be a pleasure. You should also note that screen quality greatly depends on the exact model.
Speakers are loud and clear. When I was watching a movie in a cafe, I had to turn the volume down to 20 percent of normal, because other visitors started "coughing." A very nice feature is that speakers are directed to the front, so watching a movie together with a friend is comfortable. Of course, like most laptop speakers, no bass could be detected. Plugging in my AKG headphones or Altec Lansing speakers gave some additional power, but clarity remained the same. Clearly, integrated speakers are enough or more than enough to show the capabilities of the sound card.
Speakers on the front side of the 1501 (view large image)
Processor and Performance
The Dell in this review had a Turion X2 TL50 1.6GHz dual-core CPU. The TL50 is the slowest of the Turion X2 series and has only 2x256kb memory installed, which looks miserable when compared to 2mb or 4mb in Intel Core 2 Duo. In any case, the Turion TL50 was as much as I needed. I did not experience any slow action in my daily usage. Few computer users need anything more unless you intend to play modern games or use some “heavy” software. In addition, the TL50 is quite good at conserving power, but more on that later.
It took about one minute to boot Windows Vista and everything ran fast enough, even with quite a lot of programs in background.
Not surprisingly, with only mediocre hardware the performance was not outstanding.
Comparison table for PCMark05
|Dell Inspiron 1501 (Turion X2 1.6GHz Dual-core)||1,970 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300)||4,084 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (Intel 1.73GHz T5300 + GMA 950)||2,981 PCMarks|
|HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270)||2,420 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite A135 (Core Duo T2250, Intel GMA 950)||3,027 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||2,994 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950)||2,732 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo)||3,427 PCMarks|
Super Pi Comparison Results
|Dell Inspiron 1501 (Turion X2 1.6GHz Dual-core)||2m 06s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300)||59s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo T7200)||1m 03s|
|Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (1.73 GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T5300)||1m 24s|
|Toshiba Satellite A205 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 34s|
|HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52)||2m 05s|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400)||59s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 02s|
|Toshiba A100 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|HP dv5000z (2.0GHz Sempron 3300+)||2m 02s|
Heat and Noise
The Dell Inspiron 1501 is not one of those “ultra-quiet” or “ultra-cold” notebooks. The fan buzzes quite frequently, but silently enough to not disturb you. Kudos to engineers for a great heat-management system. Just look at all those air vents! The bottom of the laptop gets a bit warm sometimes, but not uncomfortable. One strange item of note: the bottom of the screen gets really warm, probably due to the lamp for screen illumination.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is a really good one. It is soft (but not too soft), fast to respond and does not flex at all. In addition, the key placement is quite good, the keys are big enough and they travel a short distance. After several hours of typing I did not want to go back to my Logitech keyboard.
In addition, the touchpad is good (fast to respond and large enough). So good, that I did not use my desktop mouse with my Dell Inspiron 1501. One particularly nice feature: if you press both the left and right buttons it acts as a middle button.
Keyboard and touchpad view (view large image)
Input and Output Ports
Right: express card slot, audio out, microphone in, 3-in-1 card reader,2x USB 2.0
Right side view of 1501: ExpressCard slot, 3-in-1 card reader, microphone jack, headphone jack, 2 USB 2.0 ports (view large image)
Left: Optical device, Kensington lock
Dell Inspiron 1501 left side view with optical drive (view large image)
Back: AC-in, RJ-11 (modem), RJ-45 (LAN),2x USB 2.0, external monitor
Dell Inspiron 1501 back side view: Power jack, modem jack, ethernet jack, 2 USB 2.0 ports, VGA monitor out (view large image)
Ahh … the sweet spot. It took about 3.5hrs to discharge the battery from full to 5 percent with minimal usage (screen at 2/7 brightness, internet browsing, word processing, wireless OFF). The PC was able to play DVD for a bit more than two hours. All in all, battery performance was really good.
By the way, there is no need to turn the computer on if you want to check battery status. Simply press the red button on the battery and LEDs will inform you about charge remaining (short press) and battery health (5 sec or longer press).
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Operating System and Software
I got my PC with Windows Vista Home Premium intentionally. Personally, I liked the new OS very much — fast searching, indexing, media center (not present in most of the Windows XP distributions) and so on. Sadly, there are a lot of compatibility problems with older software. Vista liked the Dell Inspiron 1501 as well — it did not crash a single time, but Fn+Volume Up/Down got stuck several times after hibernation. Most likely some drivers needed to be renewed.
Surprisingly, I did not find a lot of bloatware pre-installed. There was an evaluation version of Anti-Virus software (I uninstalled it as soon as I found it) and Roxio. That’s all. A recovery DVD was inside the box.
Anyone buying a PC from a well known manufacturer like Dell, HP or IBM hopes to get a good customer support. No surprise, Dell provides fast and pleasant-to-use support. I had to contact them about several minor questions and replies came back very fast.
After several weeks I noticed that my laptop did not have a DVD-RW, it only had a DVD Combo. Since DVD-RW is a necessity nowadays and the optical drive cannot be changed in this PC, I went directly to the retailer. They contacted a local Dell office and I got my refund in two days. Sadly, I had to buy a new laptop or risk losing a tax refund from the government. Because they did not have any Dells left in stock, I had to go with another PC.
I highly recommend the Dell Inspiron 1501 for light business or college use, with no excessive travelling in bad conditions. I would not recommend this laptop as a media/gaming center or desktop replacement due to comparably slow CPU, no dedicated video adapter option and a bad LCD.
- Quite tough
- Good battery life
- Little bloatware
- Good and fast support
- Reliable performance (did not crash even once)
- Good keyboard and touchpad
- Cold and quiet
- LEDs are not too bright
- 4x USB2.0
- Weak CPU, no dedicated video card option
- No FireWire port (you can buy ExpressCard to FireWire adapter)
- No media buttons
- Bad LCD (this may have just been a problem with my computer)
- Body finish wears off really fast
- A bit too heavy for carrying a lot.