Watching the evolution of Dell's 15-inch Inspiron line is interesting, especially when you look at how the chassis designs have changed over the past couple of years. Gone are the bulky gray-and-white monstrosities in favor of a measure of customizable colors and sleeker, more spartan designs. Crossing paths with this smart design evolution has been the continually rising popularity of Apple's MacBook line and the slimmer form factors of notebooks based on Intel's CULV platform and AMD's Athlon Neo processors. Sony's been able to balance powerful internal hardware with light, stylish builds for a while now, but they've largely been the only game in town. Dell's affordable new Inspiron line seeks to change that, and today we have the Inspiron 1564.

Dell Inspiron 1564 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5 520M
(2x2.4GHz, 32nm, 3MB L3, Turbo to 2.83GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 512MB GDDR3
(80 SPs, 450/1.2GHz Core/RAM clocks)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) 320GB 5400RPM HDD
Optical Drive 8x DVDR SuperMulti
Networking 10/100 Ethernet
Dell Wireless 1397 802.11g
Dell Wireless 365 Bluetooth
Audio HD Audio (2 stereo speakers with mic and headphone jacks)
Battery 6-Cell, 12V, 48Wh battery
"Up to 4 Hours"
Front Side None
Left Side Kensington Lock
AC Power Connection
Cooling exhaust
VGA
Ethernet
HDMI
1 x USB 2.0
Right Side Optical Drive (DVDRW)
2 x USB 2.0
Memory Card Reader (SD/MMC)
Mic Jack
Headphone Jack
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15" x 9.8" x 0.8" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.44 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
103-Key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MSPro/SD)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing Starting at $579 ($979 as configured)

In the process of reviewing the Inspiron 15, we came across an unfortunate change of heart from Dell: their notebooks just aren't as configurable as they used to be. This may simply be for the initial i3/i5 launch, but at present Inspiron 15 options are very limited. Unlike previous models, you can't individually select memory, hard disk, processor, and graphics—they're all bundled now. Finding the Inspiron 15 with Core i3/i5 on Dell's site is a bit trickier than usual as well—you're more likely to find the older Core 2 based Inspiron 15 models. With a bit of searching we can get to the appropriate models, and at present the Inspiron 1564 has four available models. The configuration we received for review is the highest priced model with a Core i5 CPU and discrete ATI graphics. Add in the Ice Blue chassis and the current price is $979.

Packed into our review unit is Intel's latest and greatest in the form of the Core i5-520M CPU, built on a 32nm process with two physical cores and Hyper-Threading adding two more logical cores. It comes with 3MB of L3 cache and a stock clock of 2.4GHz that ramps up to 2.83GHz using Intel's Turbo Boost technology. Running graphics duty alongside the Core i5 is an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 with 512MB of GDDR3 video memory. The 4330 is ATI's slowest dedicated graphics part, commanding 80 shaders (stream processors) at a low 450MHz core clock speed—25% slower than its desktop cousin the Radeon HD 4350. Dell makes up for this by opting for 512MB of GDDR3 running at an effective 1.2GHz, helping mitigate the anemic 64-bit memory bus. The Radeon HD 4330 comes with all the hardware video-acceleration trimmings.

While the low clocks will reduce heat output and improve battery life for the Inspiron 15, it bears mentioning that there's no way to switch to using the integrated graphics built into the Core i5 CPU and thus improve battery life further. This is similar to what we saw with NVIDIA's switchable graphics, which have only been in a few products over the years. As we covered in our Optimus Technology Overview, switchable graphics requires more validation and testing, more motherboard layers, and several multiplexer chips (typically two per video output). Given all of the added work, it's perhaps not too surprising—though it is disappointing—that Dell chose to keep costs down on the Inspiron 15. Less expensive models are available with Intel HD Graphics, for those that don't need a faster GPU.

Rounding out the package is 4GB of DDR3-1066 memory (expandable to 8GB if you're willing to lose the 2GB SO-DIMMs that the system comes with), a 320GB hard drive running at 5400 RPM (a Western Digital Scorpio Blue in our test unit, though we suspect actual hard drives will vary based on Dell's current inventory), and a DVD+/-RW drive. Networking comes courtesy of Dell's Wireless 1397 802.11g network adapter, 10/100 Ethernet, Bluetooth, and an integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam. While the memory is bog standard for this market segment, the rest of the components are curiously underpowered for such a monstrous processor. The lack of gigabit Ethernet is disappointing, and the modified configuration utility is a mess.

We were able to find a package with 802.11n networking by starting with the $794 package (on sale for $709) and selecting one of the upgraded configurations. The base package has a 500GB HDD compared to the 320GB package we received, but it uses the i3-330M CPU. The $1009 package ($120 on sale) adds a Core i5-430M CPU and BD-ROM along with 802.11n, and the $1039 ($909 on sale) adds a 9-cell battery as well. While none of these upgrades are essential, they're all reasonable choices, but we really do miss the ability to specify our own components. Hopefully Dell will bring that ability back to the 2010 Inspiron line—customization options remain plentiful on other laptops.

Finally, in order to fit everything into what is admittedly a very handsome chassis, Dell seems to have made a few unfortunate cuts to connectivity. There's the bare minimum three USB ports, HDMI and VGA ports for connecting a second monitor or a television, an Ethernet jack, microphone and headphone jacks, and the traditional memory card reader. The omission of FireWire and eSATA ports wouldn't be so painful if Dell hadn't also elected not to include an ExpressCard port. As a result, the Inspiron 15 isn't going to be suitable for even hobbyist level video work since there's no way to connect a video camera to it. With the Inspiron 15, what you see is what you get; end of discussion.

Dell Inspiron 15 Overview
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  • Hrel - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    Haven't even gotten past the first page yet, but a 768p screen paired with a 5400rpm hdd just makes me lose ALL interest! Especially for almost $1000, wtf! Reply
  • wolrah - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    The 100mbit Ethernet connection is where I lose interest. Gigabit is cheap as dirt. There is no reason at all for any computer shipping today to not have gigabit, period. 802.11n not being there I can sort of see at the low end, since good 802.11n APs are still hard to find, but gigabit is an unacceptable omission. Reply
  • donjuancarlos - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    It's the Core i5--new technology that's jacking the price (not even available at dell.com right now). If you get a core i3, you can get one for under $600. I've seen them under $500 on sale. That's just fine price-wise.

    And I agree with Anandtech- the i5 in this laptop is overkill. For better performance you're much better off to get the $500 version of this laptop and throw an SSD in it.
    Reply
  • T2k - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    I disagree: it's a DTR, remember?
    And if you do video/fx/cg/3D/graphics/etc jobs faster CPU and more memory always help a lot.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    a 15" relatively thin laptop isn't necessarily a DTR. Reply
  • dagamer34 - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    Because people who worry about stuff like that, Dell would rather you purchase a Studio XPS than from the Inspiron line of laptops. Reply
  • Hrel - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    Only problem with that is that they START at like a thousand bucks. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    So skip the Studio XPS and look at the regular http://www.dell.com/us/en/home/notebooks/laptop_st...">Dell Studio line. I find those to be a lot better in overall features, customization options, etc.

    1: Please don't respond to spam posts, or you risk having your comments deleted. The following two comments were from other readers.

    jecs:
    Its ugly, but when a big fight involving big capitals has been beautiful???. Do you expect poetry? And then what is the point in a patent if it can't "protect" you or your products. And yes, I don't like it. But is better to have order and laws than not having them at all, or a system that can be fooled everywhere.

    Apple is a corporation and is no better in that sense than the rest. Don be fooled because there are no angels here and there, and don't be naive, this is the world we live in. But again, ¿Why does a corporation exist on a legal basis? It does not includes just this silly method Apple is fighting for. What's involved here is the main reason why we need a legal system, clear rules and what should be protected and from who.

    T2k:
    Screw Dell and its price gouging - http://www.jr.com/acer-computer/pe/ACE_AS5740G6979..." target="_blank">take a look at here!

    Yes, that's the SAME CPU there, bigger HDD, better screen, everything included and graphics is the LATEST DX11 Mobility Radeon 5650 1GB instead of Dell's outdated chip - all this for $750 SHIPPED.

    Last year Acer became the #2 PC maker and it's not an accident: it's killing Dell with its faster model refresh rate, better quality-control and lower prices.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    Technically, T2k, that's the same size screen, same resolution screen, and a cheaper CPU (the i5-520M has a lot price of $225; Intel doesn't list volume pricing on the i3 or i5-430M, but I'd expect it's at least $75 less). But otherwise, yes, the Acer you linked looks like a much better buy. Reply
  • lyeoh - Friday, March 05, 2010 - link

    Acers tend to be crappier than Dells though.

    http://www.engadget.com/2009/11/17/laptop-reliabil...">http://www.engadget.com/2009/11/17/lapt...-survey-...

    (feel free to ignore the projections)

    Dell's aren't that great but they aren't that crap either. They're smack right in the middle which I think is where they are aiming for anyway.
    Reply

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