The Dell Inspiron 1501 is a 15.4" widescreen notebook now available with the AMD Sempron, Turion or Turion X2 processor. The Inspiron 1501 has a subset of the Intel based Inspiron e1505 features and carries the same basic design and build as that popular laptop. Unfortunately, Dell cut features on the Inspiron 1501 but didn't cut its price a whole lot relative to the e1505. Unless you really want an AMD processor, it's hard to recommend this machine over the only slightly more expensive and better e1505.
The Inspiron 1501 reviewed here is configured as follows:
- AMD Sempron 3500+ (1.8GHz/512Kb)
- 15.4" Ultrasharp WXGA display
- 512GB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz (1 DIMM)
- ATI Xpress 1150 256MB HyperMemory (Integrated graphics)
- 60GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
- 24x CD Burner/DVD Combo Drive
- 6-cell 53 WHr lithium-ion battery
- Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition
- Dell 1390 802.11g Mini Wireless Card
Build and Design
The Inspiron 1501 matches much of the Dell lineup clad in painted silver with white trim on top and a black underside. The color scheme is simple and there's nothing to rave or rant about honestly, I'm not a huge fan of the white trim "bumpers" though. Also, as time goes by the current Inspiron design is becoming stale, Dell needs to update their consumer laptop look, and soon. The Inspiron 1501 is in fact precisely the same look and build as the Inspiron e1505 -- except several media buttons are missing from the 1501, more on that later.
The notebook is sturdy enough to feel comfortable lifting it by one corner. It's not rugged or as well built as many business laptops, such as a ThinkPad or Dell's own Latitude line -- the screen latch is plastic as opposed to metal on a Latitude for instance. But the Inspiron 1501 is not flimsy by any means, the only real flex I could find on the casing was at the top just above the keyboard.
The back of the screen is plastic, but very sturdy and a hard push won't make ripples appear. The hinges are sturdy and well damped. As mentioned before, the screen latch is plastic, but I'd rather have a plastic latch than the magnetic opening mechanism that some manufacturers are using -- they're so invariably hard to open.
One knock against the build is that Dell uses a plastic dummy to fill in the slot for the ExpressCard opening when it's not in use. It looks cheap, feels cheap and awkward not to mention the plastic piece is begging to be lost if you remove it. Unfortunately, many manufacturers use this approach instead of integrated flaps to protect the notebook from dust when the slot isn't in use.
The screen on this Inspiron 1501 is the WXGA (1280x800) matte screen. Overall the screen is fairly sharp with nice saturated colors and high contrast. Brightness is good, next to my everyday ThinkPad T43 it certainly stands out as being much better. The lamp for backlighting is at the bottom of the screen, you can feel the bottom of the screen being slightly warm as an indicator of this, but light leakage is minimal so by looking you couldn't really tell where the light is coming from -- in other words the screen is evenly lit.
One very positive thing I find with this screen is that there's no "sparkle" or graininess sometimes complained about with other Dell screens. When you're viewing a white screen it is indeed all white, you can't detect any unwanted artifacts. This is the first matte screen from Dell I've had in some time, usually I go for glossy, which is better for things like DVD viewing but annoying for working long hours with in office environments due to screen reflection.
As forementioned, brightness is good. When on battery you could bump the brightness down (using Fn + Arrow Down) to level three or four out of seven and still have very comfortable viewing.
The vertical viewing angles are quite poor, meaning that if you look at this screen at an angle other than perpendicular (head on) then colors will look odd, usually darker than intended and contrast will be whacky. So long as you're viewing head on this isn't a problem.
The speaker performance of the 1501 is fine. In the world of notebooks, they are quite good even. Of course there is no bass but they seem to play low enough to make voices sound natural. They also play loud, for a notebook, without distortion. They point forward, and project the sound into a room so several people could easily watch a movie.
AMD Sempron Processor and Performance / Benchmarks
I've been spoiled of late reviewing a bunch of Intel Core 2 Duo laptops. Boy is the AMD Sempron ever a reality check as I merge into the information technology equivalent of the slow lane.
So why did I choose the Sempron knowing it would be slow? Basically, I wanted to buy this AMD based laptop for cheap, the price I got before taxes was $559. I think the whole selling point for the Inspiron 1501 is that it's kind of on par with the Inspiron e1505 but cheaper -- at least you would think. We'll investigate whether that holds later.
Anyway, I digress.
From a perceived performance standpoint, the Sempron 3500+ laptop with 512MB of RAM "feels" slow. MS Word doesn't open immediately, it takes a couple of seconds. Web page rendering feels sluggish at times. If you get hyperactive moving the cursor around Start menu programs then you'll notice icon graphics taking a while to render. If you go to the Add or Remove Programs Control Panel feature in Windows it takes a long time to populate the program list (you look at "please wait while the list is populated" for at least 15 seconds upon entering that for the first time). And multi-tasking can be a bit of a slog, while ripping a CD and opening thePCMark05 benchmark program I clicked on the "show desktop" icon and nothing registered for quite some time as the system tried to keep up with all the tasks being demanded of it.
However, in all fairness, if you're more a "one thing at a time" person and don't juggle between programs or try and do 10 things at once, the Sempron will get you through what you need. Of course any Office application works fine and surfing the web is quite seamless, although web page rendering can sometimes be noticeably slower on this laptop.
Let's look at some benchmarks to get a feel for how the 1501 configured with a Sempron stacks up.
PCMark05 gives a good rating for overall system performance, as you can see below, the 1501 with a Sempron is quite a bit slower than Core Duo and faster AMD machines.
The Dell 1501 is commendably quiet. Even while watching a DVD, the fan remained off. The hard drive makes a subdued, but noticeable hum. Only under heavier tasks does the fan come on. It has three speeds and generates more of a low pitched hum than any type of annoying whine that some fans produce.
The keyboard and area under the screen generated more heat. The underside of the notebook was also slightly warm at the front and warmer, but not hot at the rear. As with all notebooks, heat is more of an issue when used on an insulating/air-restricting lap. Overall the 1501 can be commended for keeping its cool.
Dell Inspiron 1501 Battery:
With the 6-cell battery I was able to get 3 hours 25 minutes of battery life. This was with screen brightness at half and wi-fi off. During the 3.5 hours I let it idle for about half of the time and then the other half of the time I did things like rip a CD, run some benchmarks and tested various programs. Overall I was pretty impressed to get such battery life. Being a 15.4" screen laptop you probably won't be carting it around a ton and won't want 4+ hours of battery life. However, there is an option to upgrade to a 9-cell battery that should achieve 4+ hours of battery life if you so choose, it's a $49 upgrade. The 9-cell battery is flushed with the back of the notebook and does not stick out.
Dell Inspiron 1501 Keyboard and Touchpad:
The keyboard has good tactile feel and is firm -- there's no mushiness to it. The touch is light which allows for fast typing -- but contrarily provides easy chance to mistype if you're not accurate. There is almost no flex, except at the very rear where the whole notebook casing flexes in when pushed hard.
The touchpad is slightly recessed so it's hard to accidentally touch. There is a vertical and horizontal scroll area. The two mouse buttons respond well. I miss having a pointing stick like I do on a ThinkPad, but such an input device is the realm of business notebooks and not consumer.
Most notably on the 1501 we find that the Media Direct button is missing from the top that the Inspiron e1505 has. This is quite obviously because the 1501 does not have the quick boot to Media Direct feature that allows you to access multimedia files without booting to Windows. A shame.
In addition, the media shortcut buttons we get on the front of the e1505 are missing on the 1501. I really miss having dedicated volume control buttons, holding down on Fn + PgUp to increase volume is pretty lame.
The Inspiron 1501 has four USB 2.0 ports that are split between the rear and right side of the notebook, which is much better than all in one place. There is no old parallel printer port or serial ports. Sadly, the 1501 lacks the DVI port of the bigger Inspiron e1705, although the external VGA connection is capable of driving a big 24" LCD with 1920x1200 resolution. Even more dissapointing is that we're missing S-Video and FireWire on the 1501 that you get on the Inspiron e1505. To further add to the woe of watering down the 1501 from the e1505, we get just a 3-in-1 media card reader instead of the 5-in-1 reader you get with the e1505. The Sony Memory Stick flash card is not supported by the 1501. Maybe Dell is annoyed with the whole Sony exploding battery situation still and striking back at them by not supporting their flash cards now? It makes you wonder.
The Dell 1501 under review came with an 802.11b/g Dell 1390 wireless card. The card works well in conjunction with my 802.11g Belkin router, all I really ask of wireless on a notebook is that it works without me thinking or worrying about it, and mission accomplished there. Unfortunately, no 802.11n option is available on the 1501 like it is on the Inspiron e series notebooks.
Operating System and Software:
Dell does not include the "Media Direct" software that can be accessed without booting into Windows. This is a feature of its "e" series laptops. That's too bad for Inspiron 1501 owners.
In terms of operating system, I got the Windows XP Media Center Edition configured with the 1501 -- your choice of operating system is between Windows XP Pro or Windows XP Media Center Edition.
On the desktop and system tray there is a fair amount of bloatware -- junk that many people won't use. You will be harassed to purchase several programs. I particularly dislike the fact all image files are associated to open in some Corel trial program that will remind you in 60-days your trial will expire unless you purchase the software. Some trial games from Wild Tangent are unappreciated. McAfee Virus and Spam Control will drive you buggy, the best part is that it reports when the bloatware already installed is trying to do stuff behind your back:
The Inspiron 1501 is a fine basic mainstream notebook: the build is good, the screen is nice, and the price is pretty decent. But it's hardly an exciting notebook, looks or feature wise. It's a shame Dell took the e1505 offering, watered it down feature wise, and then offered the AMD processor selection for it. Without dedicated graphics, a lack of media buttons, no FireWire and no S-Video Dell has done it's job to seperate this from the "e" (for entertainment) series. It's clearly not their premium offering. But strangely, the price of the 1501 isn't much cheaper than the e1505 Intel powered notebook. I can only say anyone considering the Inspiron 1501 should make sure to check out the Inspiron e1505 as well, it's probably going to give you more bang for the buck and be only slightly more expensive.