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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  • autoboy - Friday, March 05, 2010 - link

    I received my 1464 the day you reviewed the 1564. It's the same laptop but with a 14" screen.

    Mine has the Core i5 430.

    I use an external monitor 95% of the time so the poor quality screen isn't a problem. It's actually better then my old HP. I don't mind the lack of expresscard since I've never used it. I use a usb hub for my peripherals so only 3 ports is fine. I actually didn't notice the 100mbit ethernet, but oh well. I'll eventually upgrade to N wireless but my router is G so the G doesn't bother me for now. I'm happy with the quality and features. All I wanted was a cheap 14" laptop with HDMI and the Core i5 without a graphics card. That's what I got.

    BUT, the fan on my laptop is constantly turning on and off. It is SO annoying in a quiet room and it is driving me nuts. I'm sitting here in my office not working, and thinking of a way to build a stand for the laptop with a quiet 80mm fan that blows directly into the air inlet so the fan will never ramp up. I've studied the CPU and the fan turns on at 27C (why can't it go to 50 before turning on?) and turns off at 20C a minute later. Then it climbs to 27, the fan turns on, and then it turns off at 20C.

    I can't find a fan control program that is able to control the fans. I can't find a program that is able to undervolt the processor. I just spent $30 on a laptop cooler with movable fans. If that doesn't work I'm building my own with some wood, a 5V wall wort, and some foam. Dell, it is UNACCEPTABLE to build a computer that changes the way it sounds just sitting there doing nothing. Learn how to program a fan control system. This is my last Dell. Every notebook from now on, I'll have to touch and wait around for the fan to stabilize before I buy it.
    Reply
  • mikecel79 - Friday, March 05, 2010 - link

    I'm looking at the new Studio 14 with the Core i3/i5 CPUs but haven't found a good review of it yet. It's got the same CPUs but can be had with a Radeon 4530 and 7200 RPM drives. Reply
  • Pirks - Friday, March 05, 2010 - link

    "Dell's designers seem to understand the importance of user experience extending beyond simple metrics like system performance"

    So Dell's designers are much MUCH smarter than most of the DT readers :P
    Reply
  • jabber - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    I've been using the similar equiped (ports wise) Inspiron 13Z for the past 5 months and to be honest I've havent missed having a PCMCIA/Express port or a fourth USB port at all.

    I think Dell have done some research on what parts most users need/use and found that (especially Express port) they just arent needed.

    This range of Inspirons are really great.
    Reply
  • Iketh - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    this article was hard to read... far too wordy... detailed, but not enjoyable Reply
  • ezinner - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    No 7,200 RPM HD
    No Gigabit Ethernet
    4 Hour Battery
    Sub $1,000 cost
    If the ending price was $579, it would be a good deal.
    Reply
  • Wadzii22 - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    I have had 2 of the older 1545's, one with the 768 screen and one with the 1600x900 screen... spring for the better screen, its well worth the price, and these things can be had for much cheaper through the outlet. Reply
  • T2k - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    ...did Dell actually ask you to "review" this unit? Because if they did, they are not happy, I think. :D

    Joking aside please, take a look at this gem: http://www.jr.com/acer-computer/pe/ACE_AS5740G6979...">http://www.jr.com/acer-computer/pe/ACE_AS5740G6979...

    Good brand, killer i5-based (2.26GHz) config including latest DX11 Mobility Radeon 5650 1GB, for $750 (faster 2.4GHz adds $100 more) - I'm pretty sure anyone interested in a decent laptop would love to see the results...
    Reply
  • Crucial - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    Did Acer ask you to pimp this system? It's the second time you've linked to it in this post. Reply
  • T2k - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    Or perhaps simply because I THINK IT IS A GREAT DEAL and I want people to know about it?

    Stupid moron.
    Reply

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