Dell has redesigned its 15R and 17R notebooks with the Series R Special Editions, which unlike the standard R notebooks with their plastic chasses, are equipped with an aluminum lid and wrist rest, adding robustness and improving overall appearance.
The last-gen Inspiron line-up was Dell’s best-selling notebook, and the new Dell 15R SE multimedia machine is configurable with a 2GB AMD Radeon HD 7730M dedicated graphics card and a full HD reflection-free matte display.
Then there are the Switch lids, available in a whole spectrum of colors/designs for day-to-day customizability. But the general design is a total refresh – non-glossy surfaces, hinges shifted back to the edge of the base, textured honeycomb pattern adorning the lid and wrist rest, set off by silver plastic side panels. All feels sturdy, and workmanship is fine.
Port selection is also decent – 6-in-1 card reader, three USB-3 ports plus an always-on USB-3 port for hot-charging peripherals whether the notebook is powered up or not, VGA and HDMI connectors, and audio jacks. And there’s a Blu-Ray drive nestled amongst that lot, too.
The dedicated numberpad has disappeared in the revamp, and a backlighting option is available for a mere 40 euro surcharge on the top-end config. And typing is wonderful; deep key travel allied with reassuring feedback. Three hotkeys at top-right – the leftmost gives one-click access to Windows Mobility Center and all those confusing settings, the middle button lets users choose a sound profile (movie, game, music), and, best of all, the third button can be customized for one-button access to whatever you want. Favorite app, google.com, email client, etc.
The touchpad is fair-sized and works impeccably, although right at the edges it’s a bit less responsive. There are menus for a wide array of customizations too. The mouse buttons offer good feedback, and are forgiving of off-center presses. And the mousepad can be de-activated when typing.
The base model 15R SE ships with a 15.6-inch 1366 x 768 pixel panel, upgradeable to full HD 1080p – matte too. The test model featured the full HD full monty, with a brilliant 280 nits of brightness, which is sustained on battery power, and with a respectable 0.55 candela black level, the contrast ration of 533:1 is excellent – vivid movies, vibrant gaming, legible text. Thanks to the matte surface, let alone bright display, the 15R SE is perfectly suited to outdoor use. And viewing angles are great, even vertically, so huddles of people clamoring around the 15R SE can be expected.
As for performance, the Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition ships with an Intel i5-3210M CPU, a powerful mid-range chip equal to the old Sandy Bridge i7-2620M in output, or there’s a hyper-threaded quadcore i7-3612QM upgrade – a lower voltage CPU but offering outstanding performance nonetheless. Graphical crunch comes courtesy of the Radeon HD7730M, with 2GB of VRAM as standard, though that’s upp-able to 4GB/6GB/8GB depending on your needs.
Those four cores and eight threads, with a 2.1GHz base frequency, can be simultaneously overclocked to 2.8GHz and altogether performance is on a par with entry-level gaming machines; that means the vast majority of current demanding titles are playable at high settings, even if ‘ultra’ settings are beyond the 15R SE. The Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB hard drive is capable of 83MB/s transfer rates, despite its slower (and quieter, less power-hungry) 5400rpm spin speed. A DIY SSD-install will greatly improve system perfromance if necessary, but you’ll need to order a machine with mSATA interface installed.
The Skullcandy speaker system is controlled using Waves MaxxAudio 4, and max volume is fabulously loud and distortion-free. Lack of a subwoofer means thumping bass calls for external speakers, but the default sound system is perfectly adequate for movies or presentations.
The 48W battery delivers an acceptable 3 hours of WiFi-surfing, which is a fair compromise for such a capable laptop. And that’s probably the only weak point for the Dell Inspiron 15R SE – otherwise it offers a fantastic display, first-rate input options, good port selection, impressive audio, and is well-suited for even moderate video-editing suites… priced at about $1000.
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