Dell Inspiron 1501 Review

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$844

Pros: Strong wireless performance; Solid battery life; Nicely designed touchpad

Cons: Lacks multimedia controls; Substandard dual-core multitasking power

Verdict: Dell's first AMD machine dives into the budget pool with a starting price of $549.

When we last reviewed the Dell Inspiron E1505, the notebook's rich multimedia features, wireless performance, and strong battery life garnered it an Editors' Choice award. Now, Dell follows up the E1505 with the 1501 ($844, as tested here), a low-priced alternative and the first Dell machine to house an AMD processor. It's also Vista capable and Premium ready--something you're not going to find with run-of-the-mill value notebooks. The 1501 gives you solid performance at a decent price, but what you gain in savings you lose in functionality.
In terms of design, the 1501 is identical to the E1505. Both measure 14 x 10.4 x 1.4 inches and have speakers integrated into the front bezel, air vents flanking the left and right sides of the chassis, large touchpads with built-in scroll areas (that make for easy Web page navigation), 80GB hard drives, and non-offensive, silver-and-white color schemes. Although the 1501 weighs slightlyless (6.4 pounds vs. 6.2 pounds), the lack of dedicated CD/DVD controls is a glaring omission, even in a budget mainstream machine. When we wanted to raise or lower the volume of a DVD or skip chapters, we had to use the software's far less intuitive controls.
The 15.4-inch widescreen produced strong colors when playing a DVD, but the viewing angles were tight on our TrueLife anti-glare display. Staying centered in front of the screen is the only way to truly enjoy the visuals, so watching a movie with a friend may be out of the question.
With the 1.79-GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 Dual-Core TL-56 processor powering the machine, the 1501 churned out a MobileMark 2005 score of 196-only four points lower than the E1505's ho-hum results. We tested the machine's multitasking mettle by simultaneously running a virus scan and playing a DVD, and the E501 experienced occasional stuttering, which we attribute to the low-end AMD processor. The ATI Radeon Xpress 1150 chipset with 256MB of shared memory produced a meager 3DMark03 score of 1465, which makes the 1501 less than ideal if you wish to engage in graphics-intensive activities.
The 1501 came configured with a six-cell battery, which enabled us to go unplugged for a solid 3 hours and 16 minutes of life with Wi-Fi on, and an additional two minutes with the wireless connection off. Wireless throughput measured a robust 12.6 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point, and 13.2 Mbps from 50. This is a slight improvement over the E1505's measurements of 12 Mbps and 9.9 Mbps from the same distances.
Despite the missing multimedia controls, the 1501 offers plenty of other ports and jacks: four USB, VGA, headphone and microphone jacks, and a 3-in-1 memory card reader. This is a step down from the E1505, which featured all of those connections plus S-Video, FireWire, a 5-in-1 card reader, and optional Bluetooth. You'll also find an ExpressCard slot, but nothing for a PC Card.
The 1501 comes preinstalled with XP Media Center 2005 for convenient organization and access to photos, music, and video. It comes with Dell's Entertainment Pack for digital music, photos, and games, as well as Adobe Acrobat, Sonic, Cyberlink, Microsoft Works 8, and a six-month trial version of America Online. Unlike the Dell E1505, the 1501 cannot connect to a TV tuner, and it lacks Dell Media Direct, which means that you have to boot into Windows to access media.
Although the Dell Inspiron 1501 demonstrated stronger wireless performance than the Dell Inspiron E1505 and has a lower price point, we can't recommend the notebook over its far more functional predecessor. If you're looking for a decent machine that won't break the bank, it's worth a look. Just remember, you get exactly what you pay for.
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.79-GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 Dual-Core TL-56
Operating System MS Windows XP Media Center
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 2GB
Hard Drive Size 80GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Display Size 15.4
Native Resolution 1280x800
Optical Drive CD Burner/DVD Combo Drive
Optical Drive Speed 24X
Graphics Card ATI Radeon Xpress 1150
Video Memory 256MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
USB Ports 4
Card Slots ExpressCard
Card Slots 3-1 card reader
Warranty/Support One-year/mail-in service, hardware warranty support, lifetime 24/7 toll-free
Size 14 x 10.4 x 1.4 inches
Weight 6.4 pounds
Company Website www.dell.com