Dell Vostro 1500 User Review

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Dell Vostro 1500 Review

The Dell Vostro 1500 is the small business equivalent of the Inspiron 1520. This computer, starting at less than $600, can be configured with anywhere from a Celeron M540 processor to a much faster Core 2 Duo 7500. Unlike the Inspiron model, an AMD option is unavailable.

Configuration:  (Total: $877)

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T5470 (1.6Ghz)
  • 1GB 677Mhz DDR2 SDRAM
  • 120G 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • nVidia GeForce 8600M GT, 256MB
  • 8x DVD Burner with Double Layer capability
  • 15.4” widescreen anti-glare screen (1280×800)
  • Dell Wireless 355 Bluetooth Internal (2.0 + Enhanced Data Rate)
  • Dell Wireless 1505 Mini-Card (Pre-802.11n)
  • 85 WHr 9-cell Lithium Ion Primary Battery
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic

Note: Since this machine was purchased, Dell has increased the price of this computer.

First Impressions


Dell Vostro 1500 (view large image)

Upon unpacking the Vostro 1500 and first handling it, I was rather impressed by the build. Upon picking up the system, it’s clear the computer is very sturdy and will hold up over time. Unfortunately, the side effect of this build quality is the heaviness and size. This machine is a beast. I make a note of handing it to people and watching their reaction. Everyone is shocked by the sheer weight of this machine.

Build/Design

The design of this system is rather spartan, but also very professional with the solid black styling. It’s not flashy like a high-end gaming laptop would be, but it doesn’t look bad to my eyes. The LEDs have a nice saturated blue color, though Dell was inconsistent in the styling. Several lights, including the battery level LEDs, the CD drive LED, and the “Wi-Fi Catcher” LED are green. In addition, the low battery light is an odd shade of hot pink, which fits with nothing else in the system. While this is by no means a major functional concern, I would have preferred the colors to be more consistent. I also dislike the hot pink color the battery light turns when the battery reaches a low level.

The build of this system, as noted above, is very good. The back of the screen and bottom of the case appear to be a fairly thick magnesium alloy, which is solid, but has the side effect of adding a lot of weight. My configuration, without the battery, is 6.2 pounds. The battery is 1.1 pounds, as is the charger. In total, the system carrying weight is 8.4 pounds. Clearly, this computer is not designed to move very far. When I pushed around the casing, the only places that gave were in the largest areas of the palm rest, and then only a little bit. The keyboard has no discernable give. I was disappointed, as I was with the Inspiron 1501, with the Express Card release button. In the out position, it’s extremely difficult to push back in for those of us with chubby fingers.

The build of the screen is a not quite as good as the rest of the notebook. Neither twisting nor pushing on the back of the screen yielded any rippling. However, the screen itself is relatively easy to twist, and squeaks when twisted. Pushing on the top of the screen yields only a small amount of wobbling, but not enough to be a problem in my opinion. As noted in reviews of the Inspiron 1520/1521, the screen latches leave a slight amount of room between the rubber pads on the screen and the palm rests, about the thickness of a dime. This is enough to wiggle a bit and make some noise if it’s closed and it gets jostled.

Right side

The right side of the case features the DVD burner, Firewire, two USB ports, the memory card reader, and Ethernet.


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Left Side

The left side of the case includes the wireless card switch, as well as the audio plugs and the ExpressCard slot.


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Back

The back of the case has the modem, the power plug, two USB ports, and an S-Video plug.


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Front

The buttons on the front are the media control buttons, which are mute, volume up, volume down, pause/play, skip backward, skip forward, and stop. Also on the front is the infrared window (receive only).


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Screen:

The screen on the Vostro 1500 is relatively ordinary. I opted for the anti-glare 1280×800, 15.4” resolution model. The vertical field of view on this screen can be described as poor at best, and I frequently find myself adjusting the tilt of the screen to match the way I’m sitting. The horizontal field of view is considerably better than the vertical, and I have no complaints. Even looking closely at the screen, I am unable to distinguish the “Dell noise” that some other reviewers have described. What does bother me, however, is this screen’s ability to attract dust. Cleaning the screen is an ordeal that has to be done frequently to remove the dust from the screen. I do not know if the glossy screen would improve this or not.

In the screen’s defense, it is rather bright when put on full brightness, and colors seem adequately saturated and accurate to my eye. The light leaks are relatively minor on this computer and are only noticeable on a completely black screen, and then only on the top and bottom.

Speakers:

As can be expected of most laptops in this price range, the speakers are nothing spectacular. There is an excess of sound in the 4K range, and not nearly enough in the lower-end range, causing very tinny sounding speakers. I would recommend using an equalizer if you intend to listen to music on this computer. As an example, the following screenshot shows my iTunes EQ settings. Fortunately, these speakers do get rather loud, and due to the position on the underside of the computer, they don’t get muffled by hands.

 

Processor, Performance, and Benchmarks:

The Core 2 Duo processor is, simply put, awesome. The T5470 that was configured in my system was the slowest processor available in the Core 2 Duo variety, but it still performs tasks with great ease. When multi-tasking, the dual-core functionality of the system really shows what it’s capable of. Having run single-core processors up until this computer, the difference is amazing. It’s possible to do CPU-intensive tasks and still have a perfectly responsive computer at the same time, which is a welcome relief.

Super Pi is an application that calculates Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy and reports the time it took to perform the calculation. The time on the T5470 was 1 minute 16 seconds with no applications running, and 1 minute 27 seconds while watching a DVD in Windows Media Player.

Notebook Time
Dell Vostro 1500 (Intel T5470 1.60GHz) 1m 16s
ThinkPad X61s (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo L7500) 1m 08s
ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300) 1m 01s
Macbook Pro (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo T7700) 53s
HP 6515b (1.6GHz Turion64 X2 TL-52) 2m 05s
ThinkPad T42 (1.8GHz Pentium M 745) 1m 58s
Sony TX850p (1.2GHz Core Solo U1400) 1m 22s
ThinkPad R60 (1.66GHz Core Duo T2300e) 1m 26s
Lenovo C100 (1.5GHz Celeron M) 2m 19s
VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M 740) 1m 45s

PCMark 2005 is a synthetic benchmark that tests all areas of system performance. The Vostro 1500 was, however, unable to complete this test. I am uncertain why, but it seemed worthy of note.

Unfortunately, the stock 5400RPM hard drive doesn’t always cut it. Since I now use this computer as my standard gaming computer, I’ve loaded games onto it. What I’ve discovered is that with some games, Battlefield 2 in particular, the hard drive loads everything slowly enough that by the time I have loaded the game, the match is half over. If you’re intending to use this computer for gaming and you have the money, spend the extra on the 7200RPM hard drive.  If you intend to use it solely for less hard drive-intensive applications, the 5400RPM drive will be fine.

HD Tune is a basic hard drive benchmark that tests the transfer rate and access speed of the hard drive. As is evident, this hard drive sets no performance records, and the transfer rate is inconsistent.


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The graphics card, the 8600M GT, in this computer configuration has been no less than spectacular thus far. Among the games I own, I was unable to find one that I could not run at full graphical settings acceptably.

3DMark 2006 is a synthetic graphics benchmark that is designed to take advantage of the latest and greatest in graphics technology. The 8600M GT performs well for this price range, at 3319 3DMarks.

3DMark06 comparison results:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5470, Nvidia Go 8600M GT) 3,319 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1720 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600M GT) 2,930 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,329 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 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
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 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

 

Optical drive performance was not what I would consider spectacular. The DVD burner drive appears to be capable of reading and writing at a maximum of 24x for CDs, and is capable of burning DVDs at 8x. Nero InfoTool shows the drive’s capabilities:

Running Nero CD-DVD Speed on an audio CD reveals the drive’s lackluster speed:


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Heat and Noise:

The Dell Vostro 1500 produces an ungodly amount of heat if you run processor or video-card intensive programs. While the system manages to keep itself cool enough to continue operating, it can get almost uncomfortable to leave this computer on your lap while playing games or running processor-heavy applications. The areas I noted that get the hottest are noted below.


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While it does get hot, this computer never gets noisy. The whir of the hard drive and fans remains whisper-quiet even when the fan is on full blast. I often keep the system on overnight because I can hear no difference between having it on and having it off.

Keyboard and Touchpad:

The keyboard and touchpad of the Vostro 1500 are both very sturdy and without flex. The keyboard, as with all laptop keyboards, takes some adjustment to learn the unique positioning of the keys. I am a huge fan of the way Dell laid out this machine’s keyboard. The function key, as seen in pictures, is placed just to the right of the control key, and is the same size as the Windows key (I have on occasion pressed the Windows key instead of the function key). The delete key is positioned in the upper right corner, and it’s probably the most natural spot it can go. It’s out of the way enough not to be accidental, and it’s easy to find.  Function keys are fairly standard, and include F1 for sleep/hibernate, F3 for battery status (Which requires installed Dell software to operate), F8 to switch monitors, and the up/down arrow keys for monitor brightness. One gripe I have is that the numpad not only requires numlock to be on, but the function key must also be held down while using it. I also had a key stop working properly for a while. I will explain in the customer support section.

The touchpad is not as good as the keyboard. Dell chose to move down the keyboard in this line of computers, which, while it makes it more attractive and better laid out, shrinks the touchpad significantly vertically. By my own measurements, it’s 3” wide by 1.5” tall — certainly usable, but far too short for my tastes. The scroll zones at the top and bottom are also difficult to adjust properly using software, and I frequently have trouble getting them to activate regardless of their setting. Large-handed users beware: I often find the edge of my palm rests or taps the touchpad on occasion, causing clicks where they weren’t intended. The large buttons placed below the touch pad are suitably sized, though they are mushy as with the older Inspiron computers. There’s no satisfying click as there is with some touchpad buttons.

Input and Output Ports:

This computer features a host of ports, though surprisingly it lacks a DVI-out port as may be expected. The VGA port is located on the right hand side of the system. Dell designed this system to have 4 USB 2.0 ports, two on the back next to the power plug, and two on the side next to the Ethernet port. Also featured are an IEEE 1394 (Firewire) port on the same side as the VGA plug, 10/100 Ethernet port, and the CD drive. The system also has an 8-in-1 memory card reader, which can read: SD, xD, MMC, SDIO, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Hi Speed-SD, and Hi Density-SD. In contrast to the heavily utilized right side, the left side of the case features few ports. There is a microphone jack, a headphone/speaker jack, and an Express Card slot. The back is also fairly unused, with nothing but the power input, an S-Video output (notably also supporting several adapters Dell will sell you for component video and the like), and the two USB ports I noted earlier.

Wireless:

I opted for my computer to use the Dell Wireless 1505, which features pre-N functionality. The wireless range on this card is fairly average, and it connects to most networks with ease. However, it’s important to note that this card does not communicate with all wireless routers without a fight. My recommendation, for compatibility, is the Intel Wireless card instead of the Dell wireless. It seems to be more compatible according to what I have read (the lower-end Dell cards also seem to have the same connection problems). I do, however, like the wireless switch on the left-hand side of the notebook. This switch allows control (configurable via the Dell software in Windows or through the BIOS) of the system’s internal wireless cards, including, if installed, Bluetooth, 802.11X, and any WWAN cards. This switch has three options: On, off, and a third, momentary switch, dubbed “Wi-fi Catcher.” This technology, if used while the system is off, will turn a small LED green if a wireless network is detected in range of the system within around five seconds. If used from within Windows when the Dell software is installed, a window will instantly pop up with all the wireless networks in range. While it sounds pointless, considering a similar feature is available through Windows, the Wi-Fi Catcher is considerably faster.

Battery:

I opted for the 9-cell extended life battery on the notebook. This battery extends about three-fourths of an inch past the edge of the computer, and spans nearly the entire back. On the underside of the battery are 5 LEDs and a button which, if pushed, illuminates the LEDs to indicate battery charge remaining (20% per LED). I tested the battery life by instructing the computer to standby when the battery got to 2% and to not shut down anything on inactivity. On full brightness, while connected to a wireless access point and watching a DVD, I managed to squeeze 3 hours and 20 minutes out of the battery before it abruptly went into standby. This seems adequate for most purposes, and it is likely that with lower power consumption (Word processing on low screen brightness with no wireless, for example) would yield above four hours, a reasonable amount of time for a desktop replacement machine. Don’t expect it to be a road warrior. If you need the extra battery life, Dell offers a battery that replaces the optical drive.

Operating System and Software:

The Dell Vostro 1500 comes with only two CDs: One to reinstall the Dell MediaDirect feature and the other is a driver CD, including both XP and Vista drivers. No operating system reinstall disk is included, much to my dismay. The Dell MediaDirect install disk appears to be only for Vista, if Vista was the chosen operating system. More on this in a moment.

My system came preconfigured with Windows Vista Home Basic. After a day with Vista, I decided I preferred Windows XP, and promptly began to install the older operating system. This process, which in the past has taken around an hour, took 10 hours to do. My attempts were plagued by the Dell MediaDirect software. MediaDirect, for those not familiar, is a quick-booting Linux operating system accessed using a small ‘home’ button near the power button. It allows one to watch movies, read documents, listen to music, look at pictures, and a few other things. According to the instructions packaged with the disk, the MediaDirect disk is to be installed first, then the operating system is to be installed in the empty partition MediaDirect leaves. I did this. Several times. As it turns out, Dell did not intend to leave a downgrade path. When I tried invoking MediaDirect, the first few times it didn’t install properly. When it finally did, it set itself up then told me it couldn’t access the information on the hard drive. Upon restarting the system, it became apparent that MediaDirect was going to be a problem. It went through its “unable to access the hard drive” routine again- I was stuck out of Windows. Eventually, my solution was to install Windows without MediaDirect and simply not press the MediaDirect button.

The software on the Vostro is surprisingly free of bloatware, as is advertised on the Dell website. I requested my system without security software, and it came exactly as I wanted it: A clean slate. This was a very welcome relief after some systems I’ve worked with that take hours to uninstall the bundled software.

The Dell configuration software is relatively spartan and pales in comparison to the configuration software available in systems manufactured by some other companies, particularly Toshiba. There are a few power setting options, a configuration tool for the Wi-Fi Catcher, some basic screen settings, and that’s all that’s included. There is no option to slow down the CPU to improve battery life that was visible to me.

Customer Support:

Several weeks after receiving the laptop, the ‘a’ key on the keyboard began dropping keypresses seemingly randomly. I contacted Dell technical support on a Sunday evening with my problem. They asked for an address and by Tuesday morning, the new keyboard was at my doorstep. It was a self-install keyboard, which was easy due to the instructions in the substantial manual. When I was done, I put the old keyboard back in the box that was shipped to me and used the included return label to ship the old keyboard to Dell. (If you don’t do this, they invoice you for the replacement keyboard).

On the note of the manual, it is impressive by today’s standards. It’s 222 pages long and covers everything that a basic user could likely need. In the second half of the book is the shortened service manual, which includes how to remove and install the hard drive, memory, keyboard, and wireless cards. For me, having the printed copy was a nice touch.

Conclusion:

The Dell Vostro 1500 is a moderately powerful and relatively inexpensive system for businesses and home users alike. Its good build quality and good configuration options allow it to be an excellent and versatile machine for many different applications. Despite some design flaws, the Vostro 1500 is still an excellent machine.

Pros:

  • Tough construction
  • Many configuration options
  • XP available preinstalled
  • Good keyboard
  • Quiet
  • Comprehensive manual
  • Fast support

Cons:

  • Heavy!
  • Mediocre screen
  • Tinny speakers
  • Slow hard drive
  • Picky wireless card


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