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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Review - Dell Inspiron 1520

Finally, the review of my new Dell Inspiron 1520 notebook. The review template is the one from and some sections are still to be complete. It should be done by the weekend.

1.Overview and Introduction: The Inspiron 1520 from Dell which is a 15” supposedly budget laptop depending on how you configure the specs. The main specs of what I got are –

Intel(R) Core(TM) 2 Duo CPU T7300 @ 2.00GHz (L1 32KB, L2 4MB)
NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT 256MB DDR2
1x2GB + 1x1GB 667 MHz RAM
Motherboard - Dell 0UW306 (PCI, AGP, PCI Express)
Battery - 6 Cell 53Whr LI DELL TM9787
Windows Vista (TM) Home Premium
160BG HDD 7200 rpm Seagate
Intel(R) Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN
15.4” widescreen WXGA+ 1440x900 TrueLife
3 year Complete Cover

2.Reasons for Buying: Foremost I needed a laptop. A 15” or a 14” one, since 17” would have been too huge to carry around and anything less than 14” is hardly suitable for gaming. Since I needed the laptop for gaming primarily, wanted the best available GPU & Dx 10 too; settled for the nVidia 8600M GT. CPU, just wanted one of the new Santa Rosa ones, and the T7300 over the T7100 since it had the 4MB cache. Since no 14” comes with 8600M GT my choices were limited to 15” models.

The other notebook models I looked at were the Asus G1S & the Acer 5920 Gemstone. The Aussie G1S model was 30% costlier than the US version and even after that huge markup sticker came with a 4200 rpm drive. It was almost AUD 500 costlier than the Dell 1520. The Acer one was AUD 300 cheaper but with a less impressive config and I tried a 4920 on display at (maybe) the OfficeWorks store, the keyboard had quite a bit of flex and the build quality wasn’t really up to the mark. Since 5920 has the exact same design as the 4920 and general opinion in forums about Acer’s quality & support was not good, I was not very eager to even seriously consider the 5920.

If the Aussie G1S had been better priced and came with atleast a 5400 rpm drive I would have settled for that since it comes with a DDR3 GPU whereas the Dell & Acer only have DDR2 GPU.

3.Where and How Purchased: Purchased directly online from Dell Australia for AUD 2495. Had been watching the Dell site for 2 weeks and hit dirt when the offers I wanted came up. Otherwise stuffing in an extra GB RAM & 7200rpm drive would have been difficult on a budget of $2500, considering that comparable G1S & 5920 come with only 2GB RAM & at the most the 5400rpm drive on overseas models.

4.Build & Design: In next installment

5.Screen & Graphics: 15.4” widescreen WXGA+ 1440x900 TrueLife. The screen is quite bright on 100%. The different power plans allow you to adjust the brightness levels while running on Mains or Battery. I found the display rather dull on less than 90% brightness and am just running in on 100%. No dead pixels yet. There are no light leaks & no uneven backlighting.

The viewing angle on the sides goes up to 60-70 degrees before the colours start fading. While viewing the screen from an elevation of 50 degrees or more the display starts fading.

The only 2 latest games that I have played on this notebook till now are “CodeMaster’s DTM Race Driver 3” & “SiN Episode 1: Emergence”. While playing on 1440x900 Race Driver is just ok enough, but SiN looks marvelous. Both of them, on the highest settings play out between 40-50 fps usually, just dropping once in a while to 25 something fps when under some real stress.

I tried the Dx 10 demo for Lost Planet and there is a performance test mode in the game and the notebook scored an average of 25 fps. But the game was so terrible and with no visible options to play with a keyboard, I didn’t even bother playing.

Am looking forward to getting GRAW2/RainbowSix:Vegas/Crysis to really push the system to its limits. More on the graphics later.

6.Speakers: The speakers are located on both sides in the front. They are quite loud and the sounds are still crisp on high volume. I don’t think a pair of external speakers is required unless you are an audiophile. And headphones are really required only if you don’t want to disturb anybody nearby.

You can really enjoy a movie or a game on this display & speakers.

7.Processor and performance. The Santa Rosa processor helps to enhance the battery life. Performance wise the system is very responsive & with the 3 GB RAM, all programs load up quite fast and time taken for level loading in games is hugely reduced compared to by last desktop (a 2.4 GHz P4 with 768 MB RAM).

Other than NFS MW’s extensive countryside (on the highest settings) causing the framerates to fall below 20 fps while going at top speed, no other performance problems so far. Even in idle state with Word `07, Firefox 2, IE 7, Media Player 11 open, Avast scanning in the background and wifi on, the memory consumption is at 35% or a little more than 1GB. So atleast a 2GB system is necessary to run Vista on Aero smoothly. Resource Monitor at idle state as above -

8. Benchmarks:

Super Pi - calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy; make sure there are minimal processes running in the background. 2M completed in 1min 1.8secs

PCMark05 - In next installment

3DMark05 - In next installment

3DMark06 - In next installment

HD Tune - Run the test pattern for temp and high and low throughput speeds.

9. Heat and Noise: In next installment

10. Keyboard and Touchpad – Both are quite easy to use, but I never did like notebook keyboards and so got a Logitech Ultra Flat Keyboard & a Razer Diamondback Gaming Mouse. I hardly use the notebook keyboard unless am not at my desk and it’s not possible to connect the Logitech keyboard.

For this review I decided to use the laptop keyboard and this is the first time I used a laptop keyboard for such a long time. It’s comfortable and there is no flex. The keyboard and palm rests don’t get hot at all, not even lukewarm.

The media buttons on the front can control any media player. While a media player is in focus, the volume control buttons control the volume in the player. If no media player is in focus, the volume control buttons control the system volume. Even when Windows Media Player is not in focus, the Play/Pause, FWD/RWD & Stop buttons control it; else if another media player is in focus, it gets the control. The media controls works with the lid closed. The Mute button unfortunately doesn’t work on Windows Media Player when it is in focus; it mutes the system volume as a whole. It works well on other media players.

11. Input and output ports: In next installment

12. Wireless and Networking:

Intel(R) Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN – Well the N portion hasn’t been tested yet since there aren’t any Wireless N routers around. But the Dell WiFi Catcher is fabulous at catching weak signals and I am able to enjoy free WiFi courtesy Azure and maybe the Gloria Beans coffeehouse located in the ground floor of my apartment building. I receive quite a number of open WiFi networks at different times of the day and most of them don’t show up on my flatmate’s Toshiba notebook, so the WiFi Catcher is a nice addition.

Additionally there is a “Dell Truemobile 355 Bluetooth + EDR” module & for wired LAN a “Broadcom 440x 10/100 Integrated Controller”. There is an IR port just below the media keys, in the front of the notebook. I also got the Dell IR Travel Remote, which fits into the ExpressCard slot.

13. Battery: The battery is a 6-cell one and with the processor & display at highest settings, I was able to watch 2 episodes of Kill Point (1.5 hrs) then a couple of music videos (10-15min), keep the system idle for some time (10 min) , start a photo slideshow for another 15 min before even reaching 85% battery level. Then I just got bored and stopped. Still, the battery lasted more than 2hrs.

Next I will be trying games on the battery and also usage on reduced performance settings.

14. Operating System and Software: In next installment

15. Customer Support: In next installment

16. Conclusion: In next installment


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