Watching the evolution of Dell's 15-inch Inspiron line is interesting, especially when you look at how the chassis designs have changed over the past couple of years. Gone are the bulky gray-and-white monstrosities in favor of a measure of customizable colors and sleeker, more spartan designs. Crossing paths with this smart design evolution has been the continually rising popularity of Apple's MacBook line and the slimmer form factors of notebooks based on Intel's CULV platform and AMD's Athlon Neo processors. Sony's been able to balance powerful internal hardware with light, stylish builds for a while now, but they've largely been the only game in town. Dell's affordable new Inspiron line seeks to change that, and today we have the Inspiron 1564.

Dell Inspiron 1564 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5 520M
(2x2.4GHz, 32nm, 3MB L3, Turbo to 2.83GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066 (Max 2x4GB)
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 512MB GDDR3
(80 SPs, 450/1.2GHz Core/RAM clocks)
Display 15.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) 320GB 5400RPM HDD
Optical Drive 8x DVDR SuperMulti
Networking 10/100 Ethernet
Dell Wireless 1397 802.11g
Dell Wireless 365 Bluetooth
Audio HD Audio (2 stereo speakers with mic and headphone jacks)
Battery 6-Cell, 12V, 48Wh battery
"Up to 4 Hours"
Front Side None
Left Side Kensington Lock
AC Power Connection
Cooling exhaust
1 x USB 2.0
Right Side Optical Drive (DVDRW)
2 x USB 2.0
Memory Card Reader (SD/MMC)
Mic Jack
Headphone Jack
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 15" x 9.8" x 0.8" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.44 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
103-Key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC/MS/MSPro/SD)
Warranty 1-year basic warranty
Pricing Starting at $579 ($979 as configured)

In the process of reviewing the Inspiron 15, we came across an unfortunate change of heart from Dell: their notebooks just aren't as configurable as they used to be. This may simply be for the initial i3/i5 launch, but at present Inspiron 15 options are very limited. Unlike previous models, you can't individually select memory, hard disk, processor, and graphics—they're all bundled now. Finding the Inspiron 15 with Core i3/i5 on Dell's site is a bit trickier than usual as well—you're more likely to find the older Core 2 based Inspiron 15 models. With a bit of searching we can get to the appropriate models, and at present the Inspiron 1564 has four available models. The configuration we received for review is the highest priced model with a Core i5 CPU and discrete ATI graphics. Add in the Ice Blue chassis and the current price is $979.

Packed into our review unit is Intel's latest and greatest in the form of the Core i5-520M CPU, built on a 32nm process with two physical cores and Hyper-Threading adding two more logical cores. It comes with 3MB of L3 cache and a stock clock of 2.4GHz that ramps up to 2.83GHz using Intel's Turbo Boost technology. Running graphics duty alongside the Core i5 is an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 with 512MB of GDDR3 video memory. The 4330 is ATI's slowest dedicated graphics part, commanding 80 shaders (stream processors) at a low 450MHz core clock speed—25% slower than its desktop cousin the Radeon HD 4350. Dell makes up for this by opting for 512MB of GDDR3 running at an effective 1.2GHz, helping mitigate the anemic 64-bit memory bus. The Radeon HD 4330 comes with all the hardware video-acceleration trimmings.

While the low clocks will reduce heat output and improve battery life for the Inspiron 15, it bears mentioning that there's no way to switch to using the integrated graphics built into the Core i5 CPU and thus improve battery life further. This is similar to what we saw with NVIDIA's switchable graphics, which have only been in a few products over the years. As we covered in our Optimus Technology Overview, switchable graphics requires more validation and testing, more motherboard layers, and several multiplexer chips (typically two per video output). Given all of the added work, it's perhaps not too surprising—though it is disappointing—that Dell chose to keep costs down on the Inspiron 15. Less expensive models are available with Intel HD Graphics, for those that don't need a faster GPU.

Rounding out the package is 4GB of DDR3-1066 memory (expandable to 8GB if you're willing to lose the 2GB SO-DIMMs that the system comes with), a 320GB hard drive running at 5400 RPM (a Western Digital Scorpio Blue in our test unit, though we suspect actual hard drives will vary based on Dell's current inventory), and a DVD+/-RW drive. Networking comes courtesy of Dell's Wireless 1397 802.11g network adapter, 10/100 Ethernet, Bluetooth, and an integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam. While the memory is bog standard for this market segment, the rest of the components are curiously underpowered for such a monstrous processor. The lack of gigabit Ethernet is disappointing, and the modified configuration utility is a mess.

We were able to find a package with 802.11n networking by starting with the $794 package (on sale for $709) and selecting one of the upgraded configurations. The base package has a 500GB HDD compared to the 320GB package we received, but it uses the i3-330M CPU. The $1009 package ($120 on sale) adds a Core i5-430M CPU and BD-ROM along with 802.11n, and the $1039 ($909 on sale) adds a 9-cell battery as well. While none of these upgrades are essential, they're all reasonable choices, but we really do miss the ability to specify our own components. Hopefully Dell will bring that ability back to the 2010 Inspiron line—customization options remain plentiful on other laptops.

Finally, in order to fit everything into what is admittedly a very handsome chassis, Dell seems to have made a few unfortunate cuts to connectivity. There's the bare minimum three USB ports, HDMI and VGA ports for connecting a second monitor or a television, an Ethernet jack, microphone and headphone jacks, and the traditional memory card reader. The omission of FireWire and eSATA ports wouldn't be so painful if Dell hadn't also elected not to include an ExpressCard port. As a result, the Inspiron 15 isn't going to be suitable for even hobbyist level video work since there's no way to connect a video camera to it. With the Inspiron 15, what you see is what you get; end of discussion.

Dell Inspiron 15 Overview
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  • fett327 - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    I am assuming that since these are the new H55 based chipsets, hopefully the HDMI port will be about to output a 5.1 track? Or possibly also a DTS-HD or TrueHd track that comes off a bluray?

    It would be a shame if the HDMI ould output stereo. Can anyone confirm or deny?
  • warezme - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    I wouldn't buy any of these if I were serious about decent gaming. How sad.
  • PyroHoltz - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    Where are all the Ultra Mobiles built on the arrandale chips?
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    Rumor is that Arrandale ULV has experienced delays and will show up some time in the next ~3 months.
  • cjcoats - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    I recently had that experience buying a 2-socket Nehalem workstation from Dell. We're even having to do hardware installation for ourselves ("We'll sell you a SSD but we won't install it"). It was so bad that if it had been up to me instead of the bean-counters, I'd have said "to H--- with this" and purchased from a different vendor (at least two of which were quite willing to deliver exactly the requested configuration).

  • crydee - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    I've been following laptop progression for awhile now. I'm picking out a new one in summer for Grad school. Every article I read I still want whatever Asus UL will be out around then. These Dell's just don't stack up and for the $ when Asus offers free accidental coverage for a year as well.
  • therealnickdanger - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    I know I've said this before and perhaps others have as well, but it would be nice if AT could add a "classic" gaming suite to its benchmarks. If a 'puter can muster over 60fps in games like FC2, obviously it can run older games just fine, but once you enter this mainstream and lower-end market, gaming performance is suspect.

    We're looking at this laptop that does 20-89fps, depending on the game. IMO, the biggest reason to use a gaming laptop is for LAN parties and mobile multiplayer: WoW, CS:S, UT3, L4D, Halo. If I'm in the minority and my request is unreasonable, so be it, but I believe there is a large gap in AT's gaming benchmarks when it comes to mid-to-low systems. I don't care how well the Core i3 IGP plays Crysis at 1080p, but its performance in the above games at 720p would interest many people.

    We can assume a lot, but concrete numbers are nice to have.
  • LtGoonRush - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    Another laptop that continues the trend of taking a decent platform and pairing it with a dedicated GPU too slow to be useful. Have the major OEMs lost all ability to build a balanced system? For comparison, the Acer Aspire AS5740G-6979 for $799 at Newegg has a slightly lower-clocked CPU, larger HDD, and a Mobility Radeon HD 5650 1GB.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    I hate everyone trying for a "balanced system", it means pretty much everything with a fast CPU has a GPU that I don't need.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 4, 2010 - link

    Or there's the">ASUS N61J for ~$1050 with 5730 and an i7-720QM... though battery life is going to suck on that, I'd wager. The Inspiron 15 is decent as a lower cost model, but the i5-520M is overpowered for what you get.

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