Dell Inspiron 15R - The Perfect Budget Laptop

12/13/2012 3:10:06 PM

Dell’s Inspiron 15R partners good looks with a capable all-round specification and, best of all, the price is eminently reasonable.

·         Price: $636

·         Supplier:

There’s no such thing as the perfect budget laptop. When it comes to building a great all-round machine for a reasonable amount of money, compromise is an inevitable part of the process. However, Dell is no stranger to the challenge of making tight budgets work in its favour, and now the computing giant has taken its Inspiron 15R right back to the drawing board.

Dell Inspiration 15R

Dell Inspiration 15R

Dell’s Inspiron 15R Special Edition clinched victory in our Ivy Bridge laptop Labs back in issue 216, and the one major complaint we had concerned its looks. It was finished in a dull, textured matte black, and the Special Edition model both looked and felt entirely plasticky.

Funnily enough, this bog standard version of the Inspiron 15R is considerably more attractive. It’s still plastic, but the glossy, faux metal finish makes for a laptop that looks far smarter than its $763.5 inc VAT asking price might suggest. It’s heavy, though at 2.79kg, this laptop is considerably burlier than slimline models such as the HP Envy 6.


Whereas some of its rivals have squeezed in Ivy Bridge processors, Dell’s 15.6in laptop balances a nippy Sandy Bridge Core i3 CPU with an AMD Radeon HD 7670M GPU. Neither of these are top-end parts, but the Core i3 CPU, 6GB of RAM and huge 1TB hard disk provide enough power to keep Windows 8’s interface feeling fluid and responsive. An overall result of 0.61 in our Real World Benchmarks is competitive enough to place the Dell in fifth position overall.

Gaming is where this laptop’s real strength lies, and with Crysis cranked up to a resolution of 1,600 x 900 pixels and using Medium quality settings, the Inspiron 15R achieved a smooth average of 39fps. That’s only a few frames slower than the more expensive Toshiba Satellite L855, and dead level with Samsung’s AMD powered Series 3 NP355V5C.

If there’s a downside to such fine all-round performance, it’s that battery life suffers. Even with the Core i3’s integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 core taking the reins, the Inspiron 15R managed to last only 5hrs 27mins in our light-use battery test.


Unlike many of its 15.6in laptop peers, the Inspiron 15R doesn’t attempt to squeeze in a numeric keypad alongside its keyboard. That’s no bad thing, however, since the very slightly concave shape of the keyboard’s Scrabble tile keys hold the tips of your fingers nicely while typing. The wide channels between each key keep wrong key presses to a minimum.

The touchpad is good, with the ample touch area and dedicated buttons proving more usable than the button less touchpads on rival models. Another potential boon is that the touchpad is almost flush with the laptop’s wrist rest the current drivers don’t support Windows 8 gestures, but if updated drivers appear, swipe in gestures should work well.

With large, dedicated buttons, and an LED that glows amber when the pad is disabled, the Dell’s touchpad is a reliable, fuss-free affair

With large, dedicated buttons, and an LED that glows amber when the pad is disabled, the Dell’s touchpad is a reliable, fuss free affair

The only issue we have is the glossy display, and even that isn’t a major complaint. The 1,366 x 768 resolution is exactly what we’d expect at the price, and it provides a bright picture with a maximum luminance of 259cd/m2.

Colour reproduction is reasonably natural looking and accurate, too at least by budget laptop standards. However, a rather low contrast ratio of 217:1 drags the Dell down into the middle of the pack, and results in darker scenes lacking in detail and looking washed out.

Fire up the Dell’s speakers and you’re likely to feel a little more forgiving towards the display. Yet again, Dell has harnessed Waves MaxxAudio sound-enhancing software and it works wonders.

With the audio enhancement turned off, the Dell’s tiny speakers deliver a performance that’s reasonably loud, but sounds dull and lifeless. Switch on the audio enhancement, however, and the audio that emerges is transformed, becoming crisper, more lively and more listenable than any of the other laptops on test.

With several different presets, and the ability to tailor the individual settings to obtain the best results across a wide range of music and movie soundtracks, the Waves technology proves to be an absolute godsend.

Elsewhere on the laptop, there are four USB 3 ports, D-SUB and HDMI video outputs, and an SD card reader.

Disappointingly, though, networking isn’t quite so generous. There’s only 10/100 Ethernet, and the wireless adapter isn’t dual band, but you do get Bluetooth 4.

Dell Inspiron 15R

It isn’t the perfect combination, then, but no budget laptop ever is. What the Dell Inspiron 15R does manage to do is strike a good balance between affordability, performance and all round quality that no other laptop in this Labs can match. Non-gamers may appreciate the Lenovo ideaPad Z580’s superior application performance, and mobile users may lean towards one of the slimline models in this month’s line up, but if you want a do it all system that will turn its hand to anything from Adobe Photoshop to FIFA 2013, Dell’s Inspiron 15R is the one to buy.


·         Overall: 10/10

·         Performance: 10/10

·         Battery life: 8/10

·         Features & Design: 10/10

·         Value for money: 10/10


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