The newly designed Inspiron 15R is the latest 15.6-inch desktop-replacement notebook from Dell. Equipped with the Intel Core i3 or i5 processors and Intel GMA HD graphics, this budget-friendly system is aimed at the masses. In this review we take an in-depth look at this new system and see how it performs.
Our Dell Inspiron 15R (N7010) Specifications:
Build and Design
The newly redesigned Inspiron 15R offers a much cleaner and sleeker look and feel compared to past models. Similar to the Adamo-series, the layout has a hinge-forward design with the screen positioned just slightly in front of the back edge of the chassis. This has the added benefit of moving the screen closer to the keyboard and bringing the action to you. The outside appearance of the new 15R is very stylish, with a faux-brushed metal screen cover. The look gives the appearance of metal, although with an easier to clean painted surface. This look it also shared inside the notebook, with the palmrest and keyboard trim.
Build quality is great with a strong chassis and very durable feeling plastic. Even with its large footprint, the thin chassis resist flex and doesn't creak when you lift it up from the corners. The keyboard and palmrest both have more than adequate support, and don't sag under strong pressure. The screen cover has moderate protection for the LCD, with only strong pressure to the back of the panel causing ripples. The screen has no problem staying put with two strong hinges that get the display into position and hold it without any wiggle.
Users looking to upgrade the RAM inside the Dell Inspiron 15R will find the process quite easy. There is only one access panel on the bottom of the notebook. With a few Phillips head screws removed, you can add or repalce to the system memory. Unfortunately, getting access to the hard drive requires a complete disassembly of the notebook chassis.
Ports and Features
For a budget 15-inch desktop-replacement the Inspiron 15R offers plenty of inputs. We counted three USB 2.0 ports, one eSATA/USB connection, HDMI and VGA-out , audio jacks, and Ethernet. It also featured a SDHC-card reader, but an ExpressCard slot was missing.
One feature Dell offers as an option on the Inspiron 15R is Intel Wi-Di (Wireless Display) that transmits 720P resolution video through wireless HDMI over a long distance to a receiver box that attaches to your HDTV. This technology is great for enjoying movies without needing to trip over wires draped across a living room. The downside is this technology requires a 2-3 second buffer, making it impossible to use for a second monitor where you need to actively control items on the screen. Browsing the web is very difficult when your mouse cursor is trailing a couple seconds behind. For watching a movie, its not a problem since you start it up and go hands-off.
The Intel Wi-Di option adds $100 to the price of the Inspiron 15R. In theory this is a great value, although at the time of this writing Dell only offers this on the highest configuration of the 15R. Our $599 model cannot currently be configured with Wi-Di on the Dell website. Instead, the lowest priced model with Wi-Di starts at $949.
Front: Activity lights
Rear: DC-input, one USB 2.0, VGA-out, one USB 2.0
Left: One USB 2.0, audio jacks, HDMI-out
Right: SDHC-card slot , optical drive, eSATA/USB combo port, LAN, Kensington lock slot
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the Inspiron 15R is a cross between a Chilet and standard keyboard. The tops of each key are flat with sharp edges, but instead of an inner-bezel they broaden out to meet the sides of other keys. This design is comfortable to type on, although it lacks some of the cupping that is nice to have to center your fingers over each key as you type. The layout is full-size with a condensed numberpad, which doesn't feel in any way cramped with the large width of this laptop. The only complaint I have with this keyboard are the directional keys, which are micro-sized for a keyboard of this size. They are roughly equal in size to the function keys on the top row. I am guessing it was done this way to maximize the size of the palmrest and get users to use the numberpad for direction keys.
The touchpad is a spacious Synaptics model, which thankfully doesn't incorporate buttons below the touch-sensitive surface. The response times of the touchpad were excellent, exhibiting no lag whatsoever in our testing. The surface texture was a light matte finish that was easy to glide over with a dry or slightly damp fingertip. The touchpad supported multitouch gestures which worked well and with the external buttons, didn't interfere with normal operation of the cursor. The touchpad buttons offered shallow feedback, but they did have slightly more travel than other short-throw buttons. When pressed they emitted a very soft click that didn't make your presence known in a medium to large-sized room.
Screen and Speakers
The 15R as the name implies offers a 15.6-inch display. The panel comes in 1366x768 resolution only, with a glossy or glare-type surface. We didn't find the reflections or glare to be as bad as all-glass style panels, but it was still greater than matte finishes. For a budget system the screen rates slightly above average with a strong backlight, measuring a peak of 218nit with our Gossen Mavo-Monitor light meter. The brightness was a bit low for outdoor viewing, but worked quite well under bright office lighting. Screen contrast was also measured as being 136:1 with an average darkness of 1.45nit and minimal backlight bleed around the edges. Color quality was good, although maybe not as vivid as more recent multimedia-oriented systems. Vertical viewing angles were good to about 15-20 degrees before colors started to sharply invert. Horizontal viewing angles were better, staying true to about 60 degrees off-center before reflections started to overpower the panel.
The speakers on the Inspiron 15R are located along the leading edge of the palmrest facing downward. In their optimal position with the notebook placed on a flat desk the speakers filled a small room with music. Audio quality was about average for a consumer notebook of this size. Because the speakers were located on the bottom part of the notebook, if you had the notebook in your lap, it was pretty easy to accidentally block one or both of the grills with your pants and partially block the sound coming out.
Performance and Benchmarks
System performance on the Dell Inspiron 15R was great thanks to the Intel Core i3 and i5 processor selection, as well as Intel GMA HD graphics. While our configuration was more budget oriented, Dell does offer a dedicated graphics option with the ATI Radeon HD550v with 1GB of VRAM. On compatible systems this option adds $100 to the purchase price.
The 15R handled itself pretty well in our tests, even though it was a base configuration. The newer Intel Core i3 370M processor and Intel HD graphics can handle anything the average user would want to do, outside of 3D intensive gaming. For watching 720P and 1080P movies, the system rendered them flawlessly without breaking a sweat. This worked very well when using the supplied Intel Wi-Di adapter, to wirelessly stream HD videos to an HDTV. Office productivity applications were no problem for the 15R, so for the average college user this notebook would be an excellent choice.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures gaming performance (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
The Inspiron 15R handled its heat output pretty well, but it did get warmer in some areas compared to the larger 17R. Under the stress of constant benchmarks, the only hot spot that formed was an area on the bottom of the chassis that measured 93 degrees Fahrenheit. The highest temperature on the top was only 89 degrees Fahrenheit. Under normal conditions the notebook was fairly tame in its heat output, cycling the fan on occasionally, but at a very slow speed. Noise output even under the worst conditions was still at whisper levels though.
The Dell Inspiron 15R comes standard with a 48Wh 6-cell battery, which worked surprisingly well in our tests. An optional 9-cell 90WH battery is also offered with some configurations if you needed extended runtime. In our tests with the screen brightness reduced to 70%, wireless active and refreshing a webpage ever 60 seconds, and Windows set to the Balanced profile, the Inspiron 15R stayed on for 3 hours and 43 minutes. While the number was fairly decent for a budget notebook, we were surprised the time was identical to what we saw on the larger Inspiron 17R.
The Inspiron 15R is a budget-friendly 15.6-inch notebook based around the latest Intel platform. With a base configuration including the Intel Core i3 370M processor, 4GB of RAM, and Intel GMA HD graphics, the 15R easily outperforms budget and midrange notebooks of yesteryear. For the average user, this machine is more than capable for pretty much all activities except gaming. Even when it came to decoding HD movies, the 15R handled it with ease. With a starting price of $549, the 15R deserves a spot on your shopping list if you are looking for a new notebook.