As a college student on a budget, I really needed a computer that would do many tasks on the road without hurting the wallet. I have a prehistoric 7-8 year old Dell Dimension E510 desktop that is super slow. So, I made the decision to buy a laptop under $400 yet still faster than my desktop.
I set my eyes on this laptop from a local electronics store. I compared specs, from the size and weight, to the nitty features like the number of USBs. And so, here I have it.
Let's start off with the design.
The design of this notebook is, well, plastic. However, it isn't cheap plastic. The materials used are actually pretty good for its price point. The notebook is nice and rounded around the corners and the thickness of this notebook is about one inch. Now, most notebooks for this price point would be much thicker...Around 1.3in-1.4in, but Dell managed to squeeze everything in 1 inch. This is pretty darn good considering the tools this notebook provides. On the left side of the computer you have a headphone/microphone jack, 3 USB (2 USB 3.0) (1 USB 2.0), Ethernet, HDMI cable, and a power outlet. On the left side you have the optical drive and one more USB port (2.0). So the total amount of USBs this notebook has is 4. 4 USB ports, 2 of which are 3.0. USB 3.0 is relatively new for the market, and this allows much quicker transfer speeds compared to the 2.0s. However, most computers at this price point do not have USB 3.0s, or if they do, it would only be one or two. But keep in mind that this notebook has 4 USB ports. And at this price point, most if not all computers only have about 2 or 3. The optical drive is also a neat feature. For a 1 inch laptop that has an optical drive is pretty impressive considering the price. Most notebooks that are 1 inch or less usually skip the optical drive. Now, the bad thing about the thinness of this notebook is that it does not have a VGA port. You might need a HDMI to VGA port adapter for that. However, considering VGA's thickness and the thinness of notebooks that are coming out each year, VGA is bound to be obsolete due to the benefits of HDMI.
On the interior, the notebook has a LARGE track pad. And this is good especially when it is running on windows 8 (I'll get to that later).
Below the track pad, there are two left and right buttons. These buttons feel and sound cheap but that is not to be unexpected. When running, the track pad get quite warm. You really can't fault the computer for this because this is a one inch notebook. Since the ram sticks are essentially below the track pad, prepare yourself to have warm fingers. The keyboard is an island style keyboard that are evenly spaced. The key travel is okay. After writing a 5-6 page essay. It's also got a 10 key number pad. However, I do wish that number lock had a tiny light located on the button like the caps lock does. As I'm typing, I sometimes reach over to the number lock while attempting to backspace. One minor complaint is keyboard flex towards the F8-F10 keys, not a big deal since these keys aren't often used. Also, like other reviewer have mentioned before. This computer has a sharp lip. As you are typing, the sharp lip is somewhat irritating. Doesn't hurt to take out a fine grit sand paper is smooth out that lip.
Lastly, the spacing between the keys have a glossy finish. I notice that this attracts dust and requires occasional cleaning.
As for the hardware,
You get 500gb of storage but only 456gb of that storage is usable (the non-usable storage has to be used for the operating system. It runs on 4gb of ram and although it is sufficient, you may want to upgrade to 6 or 8 gigs of ram as you load more programs. But if you're an average web browser, 4 gigs is good enough. To just give you a idea at idle, it is using about 46% of the computers ram. The computer has one extra slot. Downside is that this computer only supports up to 8 gigs of ram DDR3 PC-12800 (you can't fault Dell for the 8GB of max ram since the processor can only handle 8GB). Upside is that when you throw in that extra ram slot, it will give you extra performance due to the dual channel configuration. After removing all the bloatware and Windows finally settled in after dozens of updates this notebook starts up well under a minute. Considering a startup to be when the computer starts to idle.
-by the way, uninstall the additional trial anti-virus. Windows 8 already has Defender and so that antivirus will just eat up your resources, I think it comes with Kaspersky or McAfee-
The operating system,
Now, I'm coming from Windows XP and 7, to be honest...Windows 8 is actually pretty cool. However, if you're an old geezer who likes the traditional interface, Win 8 probably wouldn't be a great option. Anyway, the big benefit of this laptop that allows you to enjoy Windows 8 without the use of a touch screen is the large track pad. This Dell has a 4 and 1/2 inch track pad and using multi gestures features makes it extremely easy.
Of course, you can always disable the Windows 8 start up and have it behave like Windows 7. (Look up Windows 8 RetroUI) Other than that, the OS would definitely benefit with a touch screen but without it the system is still enjoyable.
On a full charge, I get around three to four hours of regular internet browsing.
Now for the thinness of this laptop, this computer has a 4 cell battery vs the 6 cell that are in most laptops. Under intense radio loading such as streaming, it will drop to 2 hours...Maybe 3. Keep in mind; you do not want to torture your batteries. The lithium ion batteries used in modern laptops do not like to be charged and discharged abruptly as this will diminish battery life. But, I'm willing to sacrifice 2 cells for a thinner and lighter laptop than have a big and heavy 6 cell.
15.6 inches, 1366x768 glossy.
Screen resolution isn't an issue here since most laptops--especially at this price point, have this type of resolution. The problem I commonly have is the viewing angles. This Dell uses a TNF panel, which is offers a distortion of colors when it isn't at the right angle.
As for the glossy finish, well, it sucks. It still amazes me why computer corporations still use a glossy finish. The glossy finish and the bad viewing angles makes it somewhat of an unpleasant experience.
The WLED screen is bright but the colors could use more saturation.
It is equipped with a 1 megapixel camera.
After using Skype, the picture quality is pretty good.
If I compared it with my other Lenovo G560 which has a 0.3 megapixel camera, the difference is like light and day.
Okay, so it doesn't have TurboBoost or 4-way processing.
I have using an Intel Pentium Processor on a Lenovo notebook on Windows 7 and it's pretty good. It gets through most tasks however you must know your limitations.
Considering the computers size, weight, and battery configuration, the processor is clocked at 1.8ghz on dual core. I have previously used a Pentium 4 @ 3GHz (a single core processor) and this laptop is significantly faster considering the dual core. Out of box, it scored a 4.7 on the Windows Experience Index. After everything got settled in with the way I liked it, it dropped to a 4.6. Using my way of testing the processor speed, I calculated Pi (Using SuperPi) to one million digits and it did it in 21 seconds. Not bad considering my Dell Desktop does it in 43 seconds... It handles HD streaming off YouTube without problems however when you stream in 720p you CPU usage hovers around 35-60%. Yet, doesn't give you a lot of room of other tasks.
Gaming? Well, not much. Don't expect to play WoW or Crisis. It should handle basic games.
This processor is equipped with Intel HD Ivy Bridge graphics. Very similar to Intel HD 2000.
I was able to play RuneScape on the highest screen settings (other than full screen) with the use of their client rather than the browser. The CPU usage hovers around 80-90%. Game play was still smooth considering it is a 3D game. However, with 80-90% usage, again, does not leave much room for other tasks.
The only upgrades you can do to this laptop is RAM and hard drive. The stock hard drive runs at 5400rpm and although it is pretty quick, a solid state would be pointless because you'd be most likely dissatisfied with SSD's price and storage (until they get cheaper). If 500gb is too little, a 7200 rpm hard drive won't hurt.
The computer comes with 4gb of ram. Although this is sufficient for basic tasks, it isn't configured as dual channel. Filling that extra DIMM slot will give you better memory storage as well as graphics performance. So why not do it?
The CPU/Processor--unfortunately, cannot be upgraded. This is because it is a Ultra Low Voltage Processor (ULV) that is soldered onto the motherboard. This is a big down side since later down the road, you can't upgrade to a used processor at a significantly low price.
It's portable, offers a large track pad, good keys, and is loaded with 4 USBs and an optical drive @ just one inch. Overall, this is a great laptop but I wouldn't consider this to be a everyday user. (I use it as a primary since I'm coming from a prehistoric computers, in fact this computer is twice as fast than my old desktop) The processor is the caveat. If you have the option, go for their higher end "i Series" of Intel Core Processors.
I reran the Windows Experience Index (WEI) and it jumped from a 4.6 to a 5.1. I guess Windows obtained a better score after removing bloatware and installing the latest drivers. Additionally, a dual channel RAM configuration will allow a slight bump in graphics performance.
So here are the subscores that the WEI came up with:
Memory (RAM): 7.7 <-- I upgraded to 8gb
Graphics: 4.6 to 5.1 <-- Graphics performance increases due to a 8gb dual channel configuration, Base score determined by lowest subscore.
Gaming graphics: 6.2
Primary hard disk: 5.9
The WEI scores are based on a scale of 1.0-9.9
This would probably fall under build quality. Earlier today I found a missing screw lying on my desk when plugging the notebook for charging. It turns out that this screw was one of the missing screws that was attached to the bottom of the notebook. I was thinking, "lucky me, good thing I didn't lose it". So I screwed it back and, and while I was at it I went ahead and checked the rest of the screws. It turns out that all of the screws were not secured tightly (about 2-3 rotations loose). Although they had blue loctite on them, it was not firmly screwed on. Keep in mind, I did not touch any of these screws other than the RAM slot panels which were already secured. I don't know if it just my computer or an entire batch, but a simple production step like secured screws worries me.
I would drop a star off my rating (3 stars), but I'm relatively satisfied with my purchase.
Running Windows 8.1! The transition was almost flawless except that there was a program I had to uninstall (w/ a little difficulty).
Windows 8.1 makes the non-touch situation seem more enjoyable.
Couple of complaints is that the two finger tap stopped functioning even after installing the latest drivers designed specifically for 8.1. Sleep functions seems to be a hit and miss as well. Windows 8 slept fine, but 8.1 won't sleep when the computer idles. While searching around the internet, this seems to be a fault by Microsoft and not Dell.
If you can live through those gripes, upgrade to 8.1.
Now running Windows 8.1 Update 1 (8.1.1). Microsoft added several features that makes Win8 more barable with a keyboard and mouse. Highly reccomended if you already updated to 8.1, get the Update 1.