Dell Inspiron 1520 User Review

by Stella Reads (247,220)

Buy Direct From Manufacturer


By Laura Rushing

Overview

The update of Dell’s popular E1505, the Inspiron 1520 has generated a lot of interest in the notebook community. It features a complete design update, the new Intel Santa Rosa platform, and the best graphics card Dell has ever offered in a laptop of this size. With this notebook, Dell is making a solid entrance into the 15” performance market. The 1520 has tangible benefits over other 15” notebooks that only offer the 8400M and 1280×800 resolution like the HP dv6500t, and it tends to be less expensive than similarly featured notebooks like the Asus G1S.

As with all of Dell’s computers, the pricing and options for the 1520 can vary greatly depending on your region. Here are the specifications for the system as reviewed:

  • Microsatin Finish in Spring Green
  • Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 (2.0GHz, 800MHz FSB, 4MB Cache)
  • 2GB RAM at 667MHz
  • 160GB 7200 RPM HD
  • 256MB Nvidia Geforce 8600M GT
  • 8X DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Drive
  • Dell Wireless 1390 802.11g Mini Card
  • 15.4” WSXGA+ Display with TrueLife
  • Integrated 2.0 MP Webcam
  • 9 Cell Battery
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • “DellCare Plus” Warranty (three year warranty with Complete Care and a few “extras” like 10 GB of online storage)

My final cost was $1,640.55. I chose not to include internal Bluetooth or Bluray, but they are offered as options in most markets. I placed the order over the phone as I have found that is the best way to ensure a quick confirmation. Of course, the order confirmation was the only quick and convenient thing about dealing with Dell’s customer support.

Reasons for Buying

The 1520 is a new direction for me in laptops. My last two have been 12.1” ultraportables—the Dell 700M and the XPS M1210. While I prefer the smaller size in most cases, I’m traveling much less now and have really been feeling the need for more powerful graphics and more screen real estate when gaming. I seriously considered the Asus G1S, but could not justify the cost. When Dell announced their new Inspirons, I was sold immediately. I loved the ability to customize the exterior and must admit that choosing the color was the hardest decision I had to make. The price was definitely right for me.

First Impressions

The 1520 arrives in a very boring brown box in a very boring white Styrofoam shell. The following items were included in the box:

  • CDs including all preinstalled software and drivers
  • Product Information Guide
  • Contacting Dell Guide
  • Dell Inspiron 1520 Owner’s Manual
  • Creative Ear Buds
  • A/C Adapter

The ExpressCard remote control mentioned in other reviews is not included by default; you must request it when you order your system and may be charged for it. When I first unwrapped the laptop, I was shocked by how vibrant the color actually is—it is brighter and richer than it appears in pictures. I had been using an M1210 and an E1505 and the 1520 looked much larger even than the E1505 due to the absence of white bumpers to break up the outline. The design is truly sleek and beautiful—I spent several minutes admiring the exterior before I even powered it up.

Build and Design

This is the first computer I just enjoy touching. The finish on the lid has a pleasant, almost rubbery tactile surface. Dell’s term for it is “Microsatin,” and I have to agree with that description. My first concern was that the material would scratch, but after some vigorous scratching with my thumbnail I was unable to produce a mark.


Top view of the Inspiron 1520 (left) compared to the E1505 (right). (view large image)

Because of the lovely rounded edges, the notebook does not appear overly thick, especially while open. However, at 14.12” x 10.59” x 1.47”, it is rather large for a 15.4” laptop. With the 9-cell battery, it weighs slightly less than seven pounds. While it is great for occasional traveling, at this size it is probably a poor choice for people who are frequently on the move, such as business travelers or students who want to carry their laptops to class. At the same time, the 1520 does feel sturdy enough to handle being bounced around daily.

In the 1520, the hard drive, battery, and power indicator lights are located to the top right of the keyboard. The lights extend to the side of the computer and can be viewed while the laptop is closed. This is a pretty nifty feature for some, but may be irritating to those who keep their laptops in their bedrooms and like to sleep in complete darkness as the power indicator light alone is pretty bright.


Right side views of the Inspiron 1520 (bottom) and the E1505 (top). (view large image)

One disappointment for me is that the 1520 retained a similar latching system to the E1505. It does not feel especially strong, and the release is a little awkward. There is a little play while the laptop is closed; the latch does not hold it firmly shut. The media buttons along the front are also not as aesthetically pleasing as the rest of the laptop. While functional, they are hard to press and the blue backlight shines through in such a way that imperfect paint on the buttons is highlighted.

Style note: Dell is currently offering really chic-looking Belkin bags in colors to match the new Inspirons. I personally did not purchase one because they are not yet offering the sling bag in the Dove/Tarragon color to match my computer.

Screen and Camera

The screen on the 1520 is solid with very little screen flex. I was unable to produce any rippling of the LCD even with some decent twisting. The WSXGA+ resolution is a great fit for me—I have plenty of room to work with but text doesn’t seem too small. This particular screen does seem a little grainy, though. There is about 1/4” of light leakage along the bottom of the screen, but I have not found any dead or stuck pixels.


(view large image)

The 2.0 MP camera and the integrated microphone are located above the screen, just under the latch release. They are very unobtrusive—there’s just a tiny square for the camera lens and three small holes for the microphone and indicator lights. The picture quality is markedly improved over the last generation of Dell integrated webcams. The performance is adequate even in lower light situations.

Speakers

In the 1520, the speakers have been moved from in front of the palm rests in the E1505 to under the front edge of the computer. I would have preferred for them to be above the keyboard somewhere, but at least where they are now you are less likely to block them with your hands than you were on the E1505. The speakers get surprisingly loud without too much distortion, and sound quality is quite good. I will add a caveat here that I am used to M1210 speakers, so my definition of good sound is probably going to be less demanding than some others.

If you opt for the webcam and integrated mic option, you will also receive a pair of Creative ear buds. These provide really nice sound reproduction and even include three different sizes of rubber earpieces for comfortable in-ear use.

Benchmarks

Super Pi:

Notebook Time
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300) 1m 0s
HP dv2500t (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300) 58s
HP dv2000t (1.83GHz Core Duo) 1m 22s
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
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 1m 29s

3DMark06:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300, Nvidia Geforce 8600M GT 256MB) 2,906 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, nVidia GeForce Go 7600 256MB  2,183 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 794 3DMarks
Samsung R20 (1.73GHz T2250 and ATI 1250M chipset / GPU) 476 3DMarks

3DMark05:

Notebook 3D Mark 05 Results
Dell Inspiron 1520 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300, Nvidia Geforce 8600M GT 256MB) 5,316 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad R61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 728 3DMarks
HP Compaq 6510b (2.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, Intel X3100) 916 3DMarks
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270) 871 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 2,013 3D Marks
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 1,791 3D Marks
Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB) 4,236 3DMarks
Alienware Aurora M-7700(AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB) 7,078 3D Marks
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,092 3D Marks
Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI x700 128 MB) 2,530 3D Marks
Dell XPS M1210 (2.16 GHz Core Duo, nVidia Go 7400 256MB) 2,090 3D Marks

Rivatuner:

Ntune:

Processor and Performance

The 1520 is based on the new Santa Rosa platform which features an 800 MHz frontside bus, improved integrated graphics, and new incorporated wireless n capabilities. With this system as configured with discrete graphics and a Dell wireless card, the only potential improvement is in the bus speed. Still, the comparable original Core 2 Duo T7200 provided excellent performance and the T7300 is no slouch. It shows a slight performance increase in Super Pi, but at this point I do not think there is a practical difference between this generation of processor and the last generation for the average user.

The computer is very responsive and load times are brief or instant, as is expected with this configuration. I would recommend a minimum of 2GB of RAM for getting the best performance out of Vista.

Graphics and Media

As with many other Dell laptops, the 1520 features MediaDirect which allows you to boot directly into MediaDirect without loading your operating system. This helps you extend your battery life and allows you faster access to your media files.

The graphics card has been hotly debated on the NotebookReview.com forums. The 8600M GT is in theory the most powerful mobile card currently available, but it comes in a few different configurations with different RAM speeds and different factory clocks so the performance can vary between different models of computer. For the more experienced user, I have included screenshots of factory performance with both Rivatuner and Ntune so you can draw your own conclusions. For the less experienced user, you can expect to run all current games on this card with medium to high settings and next generation DX10 games with at least medium settings, depending on the resolution you choose.

I have not had time to do much real world testing of the graphics performance, but I did load Command and Conquer 3 and play around with it a little bit. I averaged about 20 FPS at native resolution with everything on high  except anti-aliasing. To get a truly playable RTS, the resolution and possibly a few other settings might need to be reduced.

Please note that all benchmarks were done with Vista and factory settings (except for uninstalling Google tool bar and changing the computer to High Performance mode). It definitely may be possible to get much better graphics performance with XP or by overclocking the card, but I will leave that testing to the really experienced gamers.

Heat and Noise

Noise is about average for a laptop computer. There is a soft hum, but nothing that I find offensive. Even when the fan is on, it is not really any louder than ambient room noise.

I have really been impressed by the heat dissipation. Even while running graphics-intensive benchmarks the computer remains cool enough to actually be used on my lap. The wrist rests are cool or just slightly above room temperature to the touch, and even the actual vents are not uncomfortably warm.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard material seems to be the same as that used for the M1210 and it has a nice grip to it, unlike the smoother keyboards of the previous generation Inspirons. Key placement is excellent—far superior to either the M1210 or the E1505. The Delete key is in the upper right corner and the Page Up, Page Down, End, Home, and arrow keys are all full-sized. Typing on it is very comfortable even for extended periods.


The Inspiron 1520′s keyboard and touchpad. (view large image)


The Inspiron 1520 (left) compared to the E1505 (right). (view large image)

Input and Output Ports

  • (4) USB 2.0 Ports
  • Integrated 10/100 LAN and 56K Modem
  • IEEE 1394a
  • 8-in-1 Card Reader
  • VGA Video Output and S-Video
  • Stereo In, Headphone/Speaker Out and Dual Digital Mics
  • ExpressCard 54mm Slot 


Left side view with lock slot, Wi-Fi "catcher" switch, headphone and microphone jacks, and ExpressCard 54 slot. (view large image)


Right side view with optical drive, card reader, firewire, VGA-out, Ethernet, and two USB ports. (view large image)


Front view with media keys and screen latch. (view large image)

Wireless

My wireless choice is pretty unexciting. I went with the basic Dell g card because I do not expect to be upgrading to wireless n before I replace this laptop. The largest benefit of the Intel card over the Dell card appears to be better driver support, which does not affect me since I am sticking with Vista. It is functional and unremarkable.

One interesting thing to note is that my wireless did not work out of the box. After playing with the advanced settings for the card, I found one for Bluetooth Collaboration that was enabled. I disabled that as I did not opt for Bluetooth and the wireless card immediately began to correctly detect networks. I hope this does not happen to other users that might be less tech savvy (or just less lucky) as I can see it taking quite a while to diagnose this over the phone with tech support.

Battery

Effective battery life under heavy processor load with high performance settings appears to be about three hours with the 9-cell battery. You could probably extend that to four hours or more by disabling wireless, turning down screen brightness, and using less intensive applications. The 9-cell battery does extend about 3/4” from the back of the laptop, but this does not seem especially noticeable given the already larger size of the notebook.

Operating System and Preinstalled Software

I opted for Vista Home Premium as I have been using it for about a month now with no incidents. The many reasons for choosing one operating system over another are discussed ad nauseum elsewhere.

I was very impressed by the lack of preinstalled bloatware. I had opted out every time I was given the option, and all I received was Dell’s basic software, Roxio Creator DE, and the dreaded (at least by me) Google Toolbar and Desktop.

Something to note for users that also opted for a package that includes Datasafe is that it will not actually be active until July 15th per a tech support rep I spoke with on July 9th. I was told that my one year of storage would not start until the site goes live, but we will see how that actually works out.

Customer Support

Without going into too much detail about all of the hassle I went through with this particular order, I will say that I have come to the conclusion that the problem with Dell’s support is the complete lack of consistency. Like many others, when purchasing this computer I found the extensive options for pricing  and frequently changing specials to be both irritating and impractical. Even the sales reps rarely know the current specials. Representatives also frequently contradict each other and the website, to the point that I spoke with one rep who told me he could not correct my order because it had been invoiced and then proceeded to transfer me to a different rep who told me that he could not correct my order because it had NOT been invoiced. I also had one rep offer me a $100 compensation for an issue with my taxes only to be told later by an escalations manager that the rep did not in fact have the authority to issue any sort of credit. I was offered an upgrade to overnight shipping and my shipping was listed as next day on my order status page, but when my laptop was actually mailed it was shipped via ground. Luckily DHL was able to expedite my package and deliver it on time. I have now received the credit from Dell, but they still have not responded about the shipping error or price matching.

Conclusion

The Dell Inspiron 1520 is a beautiful and functional computer. The performance is really unmatched for this price, especially in such a sturdy and attractive package. However, the ordering process can be very unpleasant and can sour the fun and excitement of ordering and receiving a new laptop.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous design
  • Great specs
  • Low cost
  • Solid build

Cons:

  • Confusing and complicated to order at the best possible price
  • Larger and heavier than some other laptops in its class
  • Flimsy latch
  • Unattractive media buttons detract from overall appearance
  • Silver interior may show wear more quickly


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