by Kevin Giberson
The Dell Inspiron e1405, a recently released portable notebook that includes the relatively new Intel Core Duo CPU, seems designed for those who value a combination of significant processing power and portability but don't want to spend a lot of money to get it. This model, also named the Inspiron 640m on Dell's Small Business website, replaces the non-business XPS M140 (which, by the way, was named the Inspiron 630m when sold as a business model), and its primary advantage over its predecessor is the dual core option. Like the Inspiron e1705, a large desktop replacement notebook that I recently purchased and reviewed, and the Inspiron e1505, a mid-size entertainment notebook, the e1405 can be configured with a glossy screen and comes with Windows XP Media Center Edition, which includes a host of entertainment and multimedia features that appear to target those who desire a computer that will readily and capably handle the ever-increasing entertainment possibilities of our world. One significant difference between the e1405 and its older and larger siblings is the absence of a dedicated graphics option that would allow for intensive gaming. But you can't have everything, including portability, for a mere seven or eight hundred dollars, which is about what a well-configured e1405 will cost you if you're careful about your purchase and do a little preliminary research.
Dell Inspiron e1405 (view large image)
Dell Inspiron e1405 Specs:
Reasons for Buying (if you're buying)
Actually, I didn't buy this laptop; it is a review model. But as noted, I did recently buy an e1705, and will therefore be viewing this e1405 within that context, paying particular attention to portability, an area in which the e1705 is decidedly lacking, and performance, where the e1705 really shines. And although I have no plans to buy an e1405, I often recommend notebooks to friends and family. As I use the e1405 I find myself wondering whether it would be a good option for them. I would definitely recommend this notebook if someone were to say the following:
"I want a notebook that's pretty easy to carry around and can even be used on a plane. I'm on a tight budget and don't want to pay more than eight hundred dollars or so, but I really don't want to sacrifice performance. I have no plans to play the latest games, but I want good multimedia capabilities and a pretty high resolution. I'd also like it to be sturdy."
The key here is the price; which is, admittedly, what often enhances the appeal of Dell notebooks. In the case of the above-stated requirements, I consider the e1405 to be an excellent choice now that I've tested it fairly thoroughly with particular emphasis on word processing, audiovisual performance and the Internet.
Several things struck me when I first looked at the e1405 and picked it up:
To elucidate, I found, and still find, the e1705 to be somewhat bold and garish in appearance, and though this is of no particular concern, the e1405, being so much smaller, simply looks more tasteful to me. Now for the thickness: I was reacting to the difference between the e1405 and an IBM ThinkPad T40 I had previously used as my primary computer. In the end, however, the e1405 is not all that thick, and its weight is comparable to that of the T40. There is something visually appealing about a very thin notebook, but in practical terms, a half inch or so doesn't make that much difference when the overall dimensions and weight are taken into account. On a long plane ride, the real issues are depth and width, not height.
Design and Build
Above view of Inspiron e1405 (view large image)
While my favorite notebook design is solid black, the e1405 seems attractive enough, for what that's worth: it doesn't look or feel cheap and it's not screaming for attention, despite making some effort to be visually appealing. More importantly, at least for me, the e1405 is solid, has good hinges, and the plastic of the palm rests and LCD cover feels quite strong. One very minor complaint is that there's a little play in the latches when the notebook is closed: not much, and not enough to affect my overall view of this notebook, but the latches of the e1705 offer no play and provide a very snug fit, which is certainly preferable. Overall, however, fit and finish are good, particularly given the price.
Dell Inspiron e1405 front side (view large image)
Left side view of Dell e1405 (view large image)
Right side view of Dell e1405 (view large image)
Back side view of Dell e1405 (view large image)
Dell Inspiron e1405 screen (view large image)
The TrueLife glossy screen is well beyond adequate: bright, sharp, and easy to work with at the native resolution of 1440x900. I definitely wouldn't want to go any higher than this resolution on a 14-inch screen, but I'm surprised that I don't find myself wanting to go lower.
e1405 Screen (view large image)
Yes, the screen is a tad shiny, and if you set your Windows desktop to black, you can use the LCD to help you comb your hair, floss, brush your teeth or put on makeup, But more and more notebook sellers are limiting the availability of matte screens in their non-business lines, and whether it's called BrightView, XBRITE, TruBrite or, in this particular case, TrueLife, the glossy option does make for very nice video. Moreover, everything on the screen appears sharp and well defined. I chose the matte display for the e1705, but now see that the TrueLife LCD would have been fine too, had it been available at a lower resolution than 1920x1200. As it stands, watching a movie on the e1405 is a real pleasure, nicer, really, than watching one on the e1705, despite the bigger screen of the latter, provided the lighting doesn't cause excessive glare and reflection.
Small amount of light leakage displayed on the e1405 (view large image)
Because a number of purchasers of the e1405 have complained in this sites forums of excessive light leakage, I thought I should address this issue and therefore devoted some time to unearthing the problem in this particular machine, both with the naked eye and the digital camera. Waiting patiently for nightfall to come, I turned off all the lights, got rid of the Windows Taskbar, and looked as closely as I could at the screen, then took scads of digital pictures. At the risk of appearing to be a sensory dullard, I must say that at first I could really see no problem when using eyesight alone, though the camera did reveal light leakage at the base of the LCD. Subsequently there were occasions when I noticed some leakage, but only when the background was dark or when I used Dead Pixel Buddy to set the screen to black. Having said all that, I should add that during my actual use of this notebook, I never once noticed a problem. Of course, others may well be more sensitive to light leakage than I am, and certain screen configurations might be more affected.
Dell e1405 Screen on the left compared to e1705 on the right (view large image)
The Intel GMA 950 graphics have performed without a hitch and will apparently run the more graphics-intensive features of Windows Vista when it finally becomes available. Having now used GMA 950 for the first time, the only caveat I can think of is this: Don't expect the e1405 to run the latest high-powered games. Which really isn't much of a caveat at all, given the adequacy of the GMA 950 for watching movies, surfing the Internet, general office work, etc.
Despite a somewhat tinny quality and limited bass, which is to be expected from notebook speakers, the audio is decent: loud and clear enough to watch a movie or listen to music without headphones, as long as there isn't a lot of background noise. As I've found to be the case with every notebook I've ever used, even inexpensive headphones improve the sound considerably.
Processor and Performance
For anyone who has ever tried to run several demanding programs at once, the Intel Core Duo is a real treat, and this T2300, which at 1.66 GHz is the slowest of the T2XXX Yonah series, performs exceedingly well and seems to offer very little trade-off when compared to the 2.0 GHz CPU in my e1705. I continue to be amazed by what two cores will get you, though it makes perfect sense that they will handle multiple applications much better than a single-core CPU. As with the T2500, I tested this T2300 by running several programs at once, including a virus scan and Super PI to 32 million digits. With these fairly demanding applications running, I still managed to watch a DVD and open several Internet Explorer windows, together with OpenOffice.org Writer, and everything ran quite smoothly. Because purchasing a Dell computer invariably involves a very careful selection of components, if price is any concern at all, I would now find it easy to suggest the selection of the Yonah T2300, rather than one of the higher priced Core Duo CPUs; it performs exceptionally well and the premium paid to get a T2400 or higher may be better spent elsewhere, on an upgraded warranty, for instance. Or simply save the money.
I have now gotten fantastic Super PI results (running pi out to the standard 2 million digits) from two separate Dells using Yonah CPUs:
Super Pi Results:
Below are the Super Pi result calculations for crunching the numbers on 2-million digits of accuracy for Pi:
|Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300)||1m 22s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500)||1m 12s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 36s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)||1m 46s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
While the 3DMark05 results are indicative of this notebook's gaming limitations, the integrated GMA 950 should be fine for most uses:
|Notebook||3DMark 05 Results|
|Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300, Intel GMA 950)||569 3DMarks|
|Apple MacBook Pro (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB||2866 3D Marks|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500, ATI X1400)||1,791 3D Marks|
|ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz, ATI X300 64MB graphics)||727 3DMarks|
|Asus V6Va (2.13 GHz Pentium M, ATI Radeon Mobility x700 128 MB)||2,530 3D Marks|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273 3DMarks|
|HP dv4000 (1.86GHz Pentium M, ATI X700 128MB)||2,536 3D Marks|
|Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB)||4,157 3DMarks|
PCMark04 yielded 4370 PCMarks overall, with the T2300 performing very well, and not too far off the T2500, in all but the graphics-based tests, where the x1400 of the e1705 was bound to do considerably better than the integrated GMA 950. Compared to a single-core Pentium M running at a comparable speed, the multithreaded results were roughly double, attesting to the efficiency and performance of the Core Duo:
Below is the overall PCMark05 score and comparison to other notebooks:
|Dell Inspiron e1405 (1.66 GHz Intel T2300)||2,879 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Panasonic ToughBook T4 (Intel 1.20GHz LV)||1,390 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite M70 (Pentium M 1.86GHz)||1,877 PCMarks|
Below are detailed results for PCMark05
The HD Tune performance results of this 80 GB Hitachi drive are slightly better than the 100 GB Toshiba drive in the e1705, and overall performance seems to fit well with the e1405 taken as a whole:
(view large image)
Keyboard and Touchpad
Keyboard and touchpad view of e1405 (view large image)
Although I prefer the keyboard of the e1705, which seems almost as good as that of the ThinkPad T40, the e1405's keyboard is fine, if a little noisier than the other two. I can't possibly count the number of different keyboards I've used over the years, but each one takes a little getting used to, and the keyboard of the e1405 is no exception. Nonetheless, the feel is good and the noise really is minimal. If pressed to compare this keyboard to the countless others I've used, I'd say it ranks in the 90th percentile in terms of comfort and usability. The touchpad is also responsive and easy to work with, though I doubt I'll ever prefer a touchpad in place of the pointing stick of the T40. But just like matte screens, pointing sticks are becoming increasingly difficult to find in consumer-oriented notebooks.
I consistently got just over 3 hours out of the 6-cell battery. This rate of discharge seemed a little disappointing, but during these 3-hour periods I was frequently accessing the hard drive and always running the LCD at maximum brightness, with the wireless card enabled as well. With lighter use, the battery lasted for a little more than 4 hours, though the wireless card was still turned on. I find that power savings features are largely a matter of personal preference and tolerance, as well as usage, so some people will undoubtedly be able to squeeze a little more time out of the battery, while others will get less.
Heat and Noise
The e1405 ran quite cool, much cooler than the bigger and bolder e1705. When I did use this notebook on my lap, I could feel the warmth, but only a little, and never to the point of discomfort. The palm rests stayed relatively cool too. This computer is also very quiet. The fan kicked in a number of times, and I noticed it when it did, but it never seemed to stay on for very long, and even when it was running, it was not loud enough to be a bother, though a noisy computer is one of my pet peeves.
The Dell Wireless 1390 WLAN Mini Card performed well, though, interestingly, before letting the built-in Dell utility take over management of wireless from Windows, the wireless connection was dropped several times. This has never happened since switching to the Dell utility and I have no idea why the change of wireless management utilities made such a difference. This seems to be a non-issue, really, but is something to keep in mind. I also don't know why the Dell utility was not set to manage the wireless in the first place.
Service and Support
Fortunately there has been no reason to contact Dell tech support about this notebook. During the build stage of the notebook there was a needed change to the shipping address, this was done via Dell.com online chat support and things went smoothly and quickly with that process.
As with the e1705, the first thing I did upon receiving this notebook was to remove all the unwanted, unnecessary software that ships with Inspiron notebooks. And just as before, I simply used "Add or Remove Programs" in the Windows Control Panel, which in my opinion is generally an adequate cleanup. What really matters to me is good, smooth performance and error-free startup and shutdown, which has been the case since I removed all the undesired software, and might also have been the case prior to its removal, though I didn't wait to find out. Also important is ease of use, and I find that between Windows XP Media Center Edition and a few of the included Dell utilities, the e1405 does everything I want it to do without any particular difficulties. For the purpose of writing this review, I installed OpenOffice.org Writer, which, together with the pre-installed software, allowed for a reasonably full business, Internet and audiovisual experience.
Dell Inspiron e1705 on the left and Dell Inspiron e1405 on the Right (view large image)
As indicated, the e1405 seems like a good choice for those who desire genuine portability without paying a steep premium for that ease of movement. One of the first things that struck me when I received the e1705 was the reality that I would never be able to comfortably use it on a plane, should I someday decide to actually go somewhere when I have vacation. Conversely, as soon as I saw the e1405 under review here, I was struck by the thought that it would do just fine on a plane, in a coffee shop or on smaller desks and tables. While heavier than some notebooks, there is no feeling of heft or awkwardness when moving the e1405 from one place to another, and I know from actual experience that a five-pound notebook travels fairly easily. Going to a smaller screen and a lower weight would improve portability, true, but there would be some real sacrifice in terms of resolution and viewing pleasure, and the cost would either be very high or the components would likely be cheap and outdated.
The main charm of the Inspiron e1405 is that it manages to provide good portability, pleasurable viewing and high performance at a low cost. With this particular model, there were very few flaws, and none of these was sufficient to warn against this notebook. What impressed me most was the display, though I had recently made a decision to go with a lower resolution matte screen when actually purchasing a notebook for myself. I really enjoyed watching a DVD on the e1405 and found the display surprisingly easy to work with during normal usage, too. What strikes me about the e1405 is that it accomplishes so much in a small package and does so at such a low cost. There's no way I would purchase a non-dual-core machine, now that I've used a couple of dual cores, and though some people might think it's worth waiting for 64-bit dual core, for my own purposes I consider two years to be a reasonable life for a computer, and figure 32-bit is good enough for this period, provided multiple applications can be run with speed and efficiency, which the Yonah accomplishes. When looking to purchase a notebook computer, it can be useful to think in two-hundred-dollar increments, I find. While there are notebooks available for five or six hundred dollars, these generally have severe limitations and I wouldn't consider any of them, whereas the e1405, at the next step up on the price ladder, has very few limitations, especially when its portability is factored into the mix.
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