After last year's successful launch of the new Vostro line of computers targeted at small businesses, Dell made a serious effort to listen to customer feedback criticizing Dell's thick and heavy laptops. The result was a bold revision of the Vostro line with thinner and lighter chassis designs for 2008. The new Dell Vostro 1510 is a 15.4" screen notebook designed for businesses that need a budget desktop replacement. Is this the best choice for businesses or consumers looking for a value-priced notebook? Let's see.
The Dell Vostro 1510 is available with a range of Intel processors (from the 1.86GHz Celeron M M540 up to the T9500 2.6GHz Core 2 Duo). There are four 15.4" screen offerings, a WXGA or WXGA+ display with matte anti-glare coating and WXGA or WXGA+ "TrueLife" glossy display. The notebook can take up to 4GB of RAM and Dell offers 32-bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista Business or Windows XP Professional. The system is priced starting at $599 with integrated Intel X3100 graphics at the time of this writing, but is also available with nVidia 8400M GS dedicated graphics.
Build and Design
Dell received some much needed attention in 2007 with the introduction of the sleek, high performance XPS M1330 and XPS M1530 notebooks. While these more expensive notebooks in the Dell lineup were praised for their looks and low weight, the Dell Insipron and Vostro notebooks were criticized for being bulky and unattractive laptops. Dell listened closely to this criticism when they designed the refresh for the Vostro line. The Vostro 1510 is thinner and lighter than last year's Vostro 1500.
Unfortunately, the lighter weight and thinner profile come at some cost. Namely, the plastics used in the chassis feel thin and in some areas, such as above the keyboard and on the palmrests, there is a significant degree of flex. The edges of the chassis are also sharper than what we've seen on earlier Dell notebooks and these sharp edges and thin plastics make the design of the Dell Vostro 1510 feel slightly unfinished or unrefined.
Like all Vostro releases, the 1510 doesn't come in multiple colors or display lid patterns. Black is your only option. However, this year Dell decided to get rid of the matte black finish in favor of a glossy black finish with just a hint of metal flake. The black paint with the fine metal flakes is inlaid with the molds so there's no risk of the glossy finish coming off.
Although I wasn't a huge fan of the glossy black plastic lid with metal flake paint on our Vostro 1510, it does look and feel nice. Still, the new glossy lid design is a magnet for fingerprints and might not resist light scratches as well as the matte black finish on the previous generation Vostro notebooks.
Another of the new innovations for the Vostro line is the "Hyperband Multi-Antenna" housed inside the LCD lid which Dell claims "can provide excellent reception and help reduce dropped signals" for both Wi-Fi and bluetooth. I've never had serious problems with dropped signals while using older Dell notebooks so I can't speak to whether the new internal multi-antenna actually improved wireless reception ... but I can say that I never experienced dropped Wi-Fi connections during the testing period.
Display options for the Vostro 1510 include a matte finish 15.4" Widescreen XGA (1280 x 800) and a 15.4" Widescreen XGA (1280 x 800) with TrueLife (glossy finish). Dell also offers higher resolution WXGA+ (1440 x 900) displays in both matte and glossy configurations.
The screen on our review unit looks flawless from straight on and the horizontal viewing angles are great. Upper vertical viewing angles are good with just a slightly washed out look, but colors did begin to invert at lower viewing angles when the screen is tilted back.
Dell Vostro 1510 Keyboard, Touchpad and Media Controls
The keyboard on the Vostro 1510 suffers from severe flex near the center of the keyboard. The keys almost "bounce" as you press them. The keys have a nice matte texture with proper spacing and each of the keys have excellent travel and cushion. There are dedicated page up and page down keys but the home and end keys require the use of the function key, so this might be a little frustrating for users who do a lot of coding.
The touchpad surface utilizes the same matte texture with just a hint of metal flake that is used on the palm rest surface. The touchpad is nice and responsive but feels a little smaller than it should be. The touchpad buttons have excellent travel and cushion. Unfortunately, because of the way in which the touchpad buttons are slightly recessed the touchpad buttons are not very comfortable to use.
A series of touch-sensitive media buttons with blue LED backlights are located above the keyboard similar to the buttons on the XPS notebooks. One nice feature about the media buttons is that the blue LEDs only stay lit for a fraction of a second after being pressed, so they won't distract you by staying lit all the time. The power button also features a blue LED backlight, but this light says on whenever the notebook is on.
Ports and Features
The port selection of the 1510 is reasonably good for a notebook of this size. Here's a quick rundown of what you get:
Perhaps the most interesting omission from the ports selection is the lack of either S-video out or HDMI. Some older video projectors still use the S-video port and most newer external monitors and high-resolution projectors use the HDMI port. The absence of both the S-video port and the HDMI port means that this notebook won't be 100 percent friendly with all external displays used for presentations. This might indeed be a serious problem for traveling business professionals who never know exactly what type of video-out port they'll need for their next business presentation.
Another curious omission is the lack of a docking station port on the bottom of the notebook. Most businesses prefer the Dell Latitude and Lenovo ThinkPad line because of the ability to easily dock those laptops with desktop hardware in an office environment. Since the Vostro is targeted at businesses, it would have been nice to have a dedicated docking station port.
That said, with the addition of FireWire, four USB ports, a media card reader, a headphone jack, microphone jack, ExpressCard slot and Ethernet port you're well equipped in terms of ports.
Although most users will find four USB ports to be more than enough to meet everyday needs, I perfer to have more USB ports on 15-inch and larger notebooks. The fact that the smaller Vostro 1310 packs four USB ports into a reasonably thin and light 13.3" notebook is a perfect indication that the Vostro 1510 needs more USB ports.
The speaker quality was on par with notebooks of this size and price range. The stereo speakers on the 1510 are located on either side ofthe keyboard and produces relatively shallow sound with limited range and no bass. You can get the volume loud without much distortion, but the audio coming out of these tiny speakers is less than impressive.
This is unfortunate because many 12" and smaller notebooks (such as the HP tx2000z or HP 2133 Mini-Note) have stereo speakers that produce high quality sound with excellent range of highs, middles, and lows. The Vostro 1510 is a budget business notebook, but I'm certain that Dell can do better than this.
On the bright side, both speakers are positioned perfectly for directing sound up and towards the user. Also, the headphone out port delivered crystal clear audio to my headphones during the test period.
Performance and Benchmarks
This budget 15.4" notebook is available with either integrated graphics or a dedicated graphics card option. While most business professionals only need integrated graphics, the optional Nvidia 8400M GS is great for mobile video editing and Photoshop as well as budget gaming.
Our configuration of the Vostro 1510 with the 1.8GHz T5670 Intel Core 2 Duo processor and Intel X3100 integrated graphics performed adequately during testing. This configuration will meet or exceed the performance needs of small business users.
wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi. Lower scores indicate better performance.
Heat and Noise
The Vostro 1510 does an impressive job keeping heat under control. The system fan and heatsinks in the 1510 do a great job managing heat when the system is under load ... as we discovered when we ran multiple benchmarks back to back. What we found most impressive was the fact that the bottom of the notebook (usually the hottest side) ended up being slightly cooler than the surface of the keyboard and palm rests. This is quite nice and makes for a more enjoyable "laptop" experience. Below are images with temperature readings listed in degrees Fahrenheit:
Fortunately, noise was likewise a non-issue with the fan on the 1510. The fan moved a significant amount of hot air and the noise was exceptionally quiet. The fan was so quiet, even when running at full speed, that the air rushing past the heatsink actually made more noise than the fan itself.
Dell Vostro 1510 Battery Life
The 6-cell 58WHr Li-Ion battery provides reasonable battery life for the 1510. With screen brightness set to maximum and wireless on, the 6-cell battery delivered 3 hours and 26 minutes of battery life
There is also an available 9-cell 87WHr Li-Ion battery for those users needing extended battery life. Unfortunately, our configuration did not ship with the 9-cell battery, so we cannot provide any information on battery life with these batteries.
Overall, the Dell Vostro 1510 is a solid budget notebook with clean looks and acceptable performance. Whether you need a simple business notebook or a budget portable laptop with modest gaming capabilities, the Vostro 1510 makes a fine choice.
That said, the chassis isn't as nice as we hoped ... the edges are sharp and could be smoother or more rounded, the case feels hollow and flimsy compared to the earlier Vostros, the touchpad button placement is bad, keyboard suffers from significant flex.
So why buy a Vostro 1510? One huge advantage to the Vostro line is the support, lack of bloatware, and excellent return policy. Dell will let you purchase a Vostro, use it for 30 days, and if you don't like it you can send it back for a full refund without any restocking or shipping fees. That's just amazing.
In short, the Vostro 1510 is a good addition to the Vostro family and gives business professionals and consumers on a budget another alternative to the Dell Inspiron 1525. Unfortunately, the price as configured ($684) places it neck-and-neck with the Inspiron 1525. Although the Vostro has a lot to offer, the Inspiron 1525 has a better chassis design, and for roughly the same amount of money businesses can purchase a 15.4" Dell Latitude notebook or Lenovo ThinkPad R61.