The Inspiron 17R Special Edition is like a Toyota decked out with all the bells and whistles. While it's not as sleek as Dell's Lexus-like XPS, this 17-incher does have a lot of power and premium features under the hood. For $1,099, you get a quad-core Ivy Bridge processor, a 2GB Nvidia graphics card for gaming and a matte 1080p display. Plus, the built-in Skullcandy speakers promise to give your favorite tunes and flicks some added oomph.
Made from anodized aluminum, the Inspiron 17R SE's Stealth Black lid panel is awesome to look at and touch. The panel has a slightly raised honeycomb pattern that adds a nice level of depth and texture. However, all that gratuitous groping left a lot of smudges. The trademark chrome Dell logo sits in the middle and the entire panel is surrounded by a thick gray plastic border.
Those who prefer a bit of variety can purchase additional SWITCH lids, which start at $29.99 each. Removing the panel is as easy as sliding the chrome gray switch at the bottom of the lid to the right and popping off the panel. We did experience some trouble snapping the lid back into position, however.
The notebook's interior features the same Stealth Black aluminum honeycombed panel as the lid, complete with plastic gray border. The big chrome power button, next to the left hinge, was easy to locate. The three utility keys (Windows Mobility Center, Waves Maxx Sense control pane, Dell Instant Launch Manager) located in the top right corner of the deck were proved useful. The keyboard resides in a recessed glossy black plastic panel.
At 7.4 pounds, the 16.4 x 10.8 x 1.3-1.5-inch Inspiron 17R SE is definitely a heavyweight. The HP Envy 17 weighs the same 7.4 pounds but is thinner at 16.4 x 10.7 x 1.3 inches. The Samsung Series 7 Chronos, by comparison, is significantly slimmer (15.9 x 10.3 x 0.98 inches) and lighter (6.3 pounds), but it also costs a few hundred dollars more.
Thanks to its matte finish, the Inspiron 17R SE's 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display delivered wide viewing angles, able to accommodate three people comfortably. When we browsed sites such as CNN.com, we saw sharp text with vibrant color.
However, as we watched the 1080p trailer for "The Man With the Iron Fists," the colors seemed muted due to the matte display. For example, Lucy Liu's golden robes looked slightly washed-out, as did many of the pinks and reds throughout the trailer. Still, the display delivered a serious amount of sharpness, as witnessed in the delicate etchings of the golden throne as well as the earthenware vases decorating the room.
In terms of brightness, the Inspiron 17R SE measured a luminous 304 lux, much brighter than the 250 lux desktop replacement average. The Series 7 Chronos and the Envy 17, both of which have 1080p displays, were dimmer at 222 and 188 lux, respectively.
Thanks to Waves Maxx Audio software, the bottom-mounted Skullcandy speakers on the 17R SE delivered loud audio that easily blanketed our small test room. We found that the speakers were easily muffled, however, by placing the notebook in our lap. Dialogue during "The Man With the Iron Fists" was clear and nuanced, balancing a myriad of war cries against the staid voice of the narrator.
Waves Maxx Audio comes with five presets (Voice, Music, Gaming, Movies and MaxxSense) that can be accessed using the Waves Maxx button above the keyboard. Switching through the presets predictably delivered different results, but what was surprising was how much the audio differed from song to song.
As we listened to Mary Mary's "Walking," we heard a lot of low-end distortion on the Music setting, which threatened to overtake the highs. When we played Guns N' Roses "Welcome To The Jungle," the track became rather muted and hollow. We found a more balanced sound when we switched to MaxxSense or Gaming, the latter delivering the best sound in terms of audio quality and volume.
Don't get us wrong. The Inspiron 17R SE gets plenty loud and offers above-average sound quality, but the JBL speakers Dell used last year on its XPS line were better.
Keyboard and Touchpad
We liked typing on the Inspiron 17R SE's island-style keyboard. The black matte keys had generous spacing and were nice and springy, but we noticed a small amount of flex. During the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we scored our usual 50 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate. Our only quibble is that the keyboard backlighting is too dim.
The 3.9 x 2.25-inch Elan touchpad is plenty large, providing us enough space to navigate websites and documents. Multitouch gestures including pinch-zoom, and three-finger flick were relatively easy to activate, but we had to be more deliberate than usual to perform two-finger rotates.
The pair of discrete mouse buttons delivered firm feedback with a swift, accurate response.
After watching 15 minutes of "The Colbert Report" on Hulu at full screen, the touchpad registered a cool 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and the underside measured 87 and 86 degrees, respectively. We noticed a 92-degree pocket of heat along the bottom of the notebook along the left front corner.
When we played "Batman: Arkham City" for 15 minutes, the touchpad and bottom of the notebook measured 83 and 85 degrees. The space between G and H keys registered a hot 99 degrees, surpassing our 95-degree comfort threshold. The bottom right front corner of the notebook also measured 95 degrees.
The 1-megapixel webcam inside on the Inspiron 17R SE captured our skin tone accurately when we recorded a quick video. However, we found that our hair color looked fairly washed-out, particularly the reddish tips. There was also a noticeable amount of visual noise. However, you can make HD video calls on Skype.
A pair of USB 3.0 ports, a tray-loading DVD burner, Ethernet and a Kensington lock slot sit on the Inspiron 17R SE right. The left side houses another pair of USB 3.0 ports, VGA, HDMI and jacks for headphones, microphone and the AC adapter. An 8-in-1 card reader sits on the front lip of the notebook.
The Dell Inspiron 17R SE delivered solid performance on our real-world and benchmark testing. We were able to open eight tabs in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome while running a full system scan and stream "Thor" with minimal hiccups.
The Inspiron 17R SE's 2.3-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-361QM CPU with 8GB of RAM notched 4,007 on PCMark07, beating the 3,524 desktop replacement average. The Apple MacBook Pro, which has the same CPU and GPU, but an SSD, scored 4,779. The Samsung Series 7 Chronos' 2.3-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-3615QM CPU with 8GB of RAM only managed a score of 2,881. The HP Envy 17, which we tested with a second-generation 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-2670QM CPU and 8GB of RAM, scored 2,790.
We booted Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 32 seconds with the Inspiron 17R SE's 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive and 32GB mSATA SSD. That's 22 seconds faster than the average and enough to beat the Envy 17's (750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive) time of 49 seconds, the Series 7 Chronos' 44 seconds (1TB, 7,200-rpm hard drive), and even the MacBook Pro's (256GB SSD) 36-second time in Boot Camp.
When we ran the File Transfer Test, the Inspiron 17R SE duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 3 minutes and 52 seconds, a transfer rate of 21.9 MBps. That's well behind the 51 MBps average, but still enough to top the Series 7 Chronos' 19.7 MBps. The Envy 17 did a little better with 31.6 MBps while the MacBook blew past the competition with a searing 196 MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the Inspiron 17R SE matched 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 4 minutes and 26 seconds. That's 1:43 faster than the 6:11 category average. The Series 7 Chronos was only a couple seconds slower at 4:28.
The Dell Inspiron 17R SE is tricked out with Nvidia's Optimus technology, so it can automatically switch between its Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU with 2GB of VRAM depending on the task(s) at hand.
During 3DMark11, the Inspiron 17R SE scored 2,089, which failed to meet the 2,659 desktop replacement category average. To be fair, this average includes a number of high-powered gaming rigs. The Apple MacBook Pro and the Samsung Series 7 Chronos, which both have an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU, notched 2,275 and 2,170, respectively. The HP Envy 17 and its AMD Radeon HD 7690M XT with 1GB of VRAM scored 1,583.
The Inspiron 17R SE redeemed itself on the "World of Warcraft" test with a frame rate of 156 fps on autodetect at 1920 x 1080 pixels. That's slightly below the 168 fps average, but on a par with the Series 7 Chronos (157 fps). The Envy 17 mustered 90 fps. Cranking the settings to maximum dropped the Inspiron 17R SE's frame rate to 78 fps, matching the Series 7 Chronos, but falling short of the 87.4 fps category average.
When we moved on to the more demanding "Batman: Arkham City," we notched 80 fps from the Inspiron 17R SE at its native full HD resolution and effects set on low. That was enough to beat the 64 fps desktop replacement average and the Series 7 Chronos' 36 fps. On the highest settings, the Inspiron 17R SE dropped to 28 fps, below the 33 fps average. The Samsung only managed 19 fps, though.
Comprised of 14 tiles, Dell Stage sits near the bottom of the display as a large navigation bar. We were able to create additional tiles by dragging icons on the desktop to the bar. Clicking on some tiles simply launch a program or utility while others open a mini-window displaying our recently used content. While we found this software useful, others may not like the amount of desktop space it takes up.
Some tiles such as Organizer, Books and Magazines are simple shortcuts that launch Cozi Family Organizer, Blio and Zinio. The most compelling applications can be found in the MusicStage, VideoStage and PhotoStage tiles that deliver a number of interesting ways to interact with your multimedia content. For example, MusicStage gave us access to our music collection, but we were also able to access RadioTime, a program that let us stream music and podcasts from around the world. There's also Noisey, Vice's music channel dedicated to showcasing emerging artists.
In VideoStage, we shopped for movies and TV shows, watched Hulu and video podcasts in addition to viewing our video library. We could organize our photos, create albums in PhotoStage as well as upload photos to Shutterfly and order prints. Users can also check out their friends' photos with the Facebook utility and the Flickr utility.
Dell Stage Remote enables streaming of music, photos and video from other DNLA-compatible sources such as smartphones and televisions. Setup was relatively easy; After connecting the notebook and our Samsung Galaxy III (Verizon) phone to the same Wi-Fi network, we used the Stage Remote settings panel to scan for compatible devices. From there, a small panel appeared in the lower right corner where we could select videos, music and photos. We simply clicked on the content we wished to stream and chose the device. It then took about 30 seconds for Stage Remote to access content from other devices.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Dell Inspiron 17R SE clocked just 3 hours and 19 minutes. While we don't expect all-day endurance from desktop replacements, that's still about half an hour less than the average (3:50). The Samsung Series 7 Chronos and the HP Envy 17 nearly doubled that with times of 6:06 and 6:12, respectively.
Software and Warranty
Dell packs the Inspiron 17R SE with a number of utilities and other apps. Dell DataSafe Local Backup enables users to create backup discs and initiate system restores. There's also DataSafe Online that gives users 2GB of storage free for a year. Additional storage space can be purchased starting at $29.99 a year for 10GB. Dell Digital Delivery automatically updates any preinstalled software. Other branded utilities include Dell PC Checkup and Support Center.
Dell also included some goodies designed to enhance your multimedia creation experience. On the editing/creating side, it's an Adobe trifecta with Photoshop Elements 9, Premiere Elements 9 and ExtendScript Toolkit CS5.
There's also the Nero-powered Dell SyncUp, which compiles all your photos, video and music in one spot. Users can also upload media to the Web and synchronize content with other devices. Zinio Reader 4 and Blio provide a seemingly endless supply of magazines and books.
Other third-party apps include Skype, Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader X, Windows Live, Cozi Family Calendar, Microsoft Office Starter and a 15-month free trial of McAfee SecurityCenter.
As opposed to its regular (and less expensive) Inspiron line, Dell's Inspiron Special Edition notebooks place more of a focus on high performance and a high-definition multimedia experience. For example, the Inspiron 17R SE has Nvidia discrete graphics, a mSATA SSD cache and a high-res 1920 x 1080p display, whereas the Inspiron 17R has integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU, a 1600 x 900p display and no SSD cache. Regular Inspiron 17R users also miss out on the SE's Skullcandy speakers. However, both regular and SE models feature the Adobe software bundle. Of course, this all comes at a premium: The 17R SE starts at $999, whereas the 17R starts at $599.
Our $1,099 review unit features a 2.3-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-3610M CPU with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. The $999 base model has a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3210M CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. The high-end model costs $1,499 and is equipped with a 2.3-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-3610M CPU, a 2TB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB mSATA SSD cache, a Blu-ray player and a 3D-capable 1080p display.
Dell crams a lot into the Dell Inspiron 17R SE 7720 for a rather affordable price. For $1,099, consumers walk away with a 17-inch notebook that has a bright full HD display, powerful graphics for playing the latest games and a robust suite of software for content creation and consumption. While the sound isn't best in class and the design is on the husky side, overall this multimedia notebook shines.