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Dell Inspiron iM501R-1655MRB Reviews

High Technology Product Reviews | Dell Inspiron iM501R-1655MRB Reviews
A 2.2GHz processor and 500GB hard drive, for a rock bottom price? Seems like good bait material, coming from a laptop like the Dell Inspiron iM501R-1655MRB ($649.99 list, at Best Buy). By itself, it's a competent, budget laptop that can handle several tasks at once without crashing to a halt. Compared with other similarly priced laptops, though, the M501R is no Easter egg. You'll find nicer parts and better prices with the Acer Aspire AS5745-7247 ($600 list, 4.5 stars) or Sony VAIO VPC-EB33FM/BJ ($629.99 list, 4.5 stars).

Design
Plastic is used more frequently than any other material in laptop designs, almost all the time if it's inexpensive. How the plastic is decorated separates the attractive from the, well, not so attractive ones. Upon closer inspection, the iM501R-1655MRB's shiny plastic chassis is painted to look like brushed aluminum—a great-looking design, but susceptible to some smudging. The design looks like it took more brainstorming than drawing a few line patterns underneath a black glossy coat, like what Acer did with the AS5745-7247 and Gateway with the NV55C03u ($479.99 list, 3 stars). The Sony EB33FM/BJ took a tidier approach, using a semi-matted finish to ward-off any unsightly marks. Besides decorating its plastic, the iM501R-1655MRB uses a hinge-forward design and thickened its derriere to conceal the 6-cell battery. At 5.6 pounds, it's not the lightest 15.6-inch laptop; the Sony EB33FM/BJ (5.3 lbs) and Acer AS5745-7247 (5.2 lbs) are more forgiving on your back.

Whether it's a $1,000 or a $600 Inspiron, there's no variation in the 15.6-inch widescreen. Brightness levels are similar to those of the Sony EB33FM/BJ and Acer AS5745, and they all carry a maximum 1,366-by-768 resolution. A budget laptop, like the Toshiba Satellite L675D-S7046 ($649.98 list, 2.5 stars), uses a bigger 17.3-inch widescreen, which defaults to a higher 1,600 by 900 resolution. I'm a big fan of Dell's full-size, traditional keyboard, which the M501R-1655MRB left intact from its predecessors. It squeezed in a numeric keypad, albeit with half-sized keys. The iM501R-1655MRB includes a wide touchpad and one of the best clicking experiences from the soft mouse buttons.

Specifications
Type
General Purpose, Media, Value, Desktop Replacement
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
Processor Speed
2.2 GHz
Processor Name
Mobile AMD Phenom II N850 Triple-Core
RAM
4 GB
Weight
5.6 lb
Screen Size
15.6 inches
Screen Size Type
widescreen
Graphics Card
ATI Mobility Radeon 4250
Storage Capacity (as Tested)
500 GB
Networking Options
802.11n
Primary Optical Drive
Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW
Features
The VGA port and two of the 4 USB ports are now in the back of the system, for those who don't want cables hanging from the sides. A USB port on the right side is an eSATA combo, which means you can expand your hard drive's storage and take advantage of SATA's blazing speeds. Not that you'll need to expand, since the included 500GB hard drive is more than enough to store your video and photo collection. The dual-layer DVD burner is the norm on a budget laptop; the Samsung R580-JBB2 ($729.99 list, 4 stars) ships with a Blu-ray drive, for a slight premium. Systems like the Asus K52F-A1 ($680 list, 3.5 stars) integrate cutting-edge wireless features like Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi), a technology that wirelessly connects your laptop to your HDTV, and WiMax, a Wi-Fi-like technology that covers an entire city. Though it has neither WiDi nor WiMax, the M501R-1655MRB can be connected to an HDTV with the included HDMI port (an HDMI cable is not included, though).

Performance
The M501R-1655MRB's 2.2GHz AMD Phenom II 850 CPU sounds impressive, based on its number of cores (triple-core), but all the cores in the world don't mean much if it can't outperform a low-end Intel dual-core processor. Against the Acer AS5745 and Sony EB33FM/BJ, both of which run dual-core 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-370M processors, the M501R-1655MRB trailed miserably behind in Handbrake (3:20), Cinebench R11.5 (1.87), and Photoshop CS5 (7:42) tests. Can the iM501R-1655MRB surf the Web, run a huge spreadsheet, and edit photos and videos? Easily, but it can't do it as fast as laptops that run on Intel Core processors. PCMark Vantage, a comprehensive performance benchmark test, is the best indicator, as the M501R-1655MRB (4,654) finished last behind its Intel counterparts.

Integrated graphics is commonly used in budget laptops, and the M501R-1655MRB is no exception. It uses an integrated chip from AMD, called the ATI Mobility Radeon 4250. Suffice it to say, it isn't ideal for hardcore 3D games like Crysis and Lost Planet 2. You would think that laptops that lack speed would be redeemed in battery tests, but that wasn't the case with the iM501R. The 47WH battery yielded a paltry 3 hours 26 minutes in MobileMark 2007 tests, at least an hour shy of the Acer AS5745 (4:49) and Sony EB33FM/BJ (4:33).

While the Dell Inspiron iM501R-1655MRB is a fine budget laptop for many tasks, including Web surfing, Microsoft Office related, and even some photo and video editing, its price didn't match its means. It can't be the most sluggish and battery inefficient laptop among its peers, yet cost more. For this reason, you're much better off buying the Acer Aspire AS5745-7247 or Sony VAIO EB33FM/BJ, both Editors' Choice laptops.

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