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Buying A Dell Inspiron 1520 Notebook? Read This First

The Dell Inspiron 1520 is one of the most popular laptops around. When shopping online at Dell, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The first thing to note is that the “Deals of the Week” change offers and sometimes it is better to wait until the following week. Some weeks it might be an extra 1GB of free RAM or an upgraded hard drive, other times it might be a $100 discount or a mouse Free Bluetooth or Targus bag. Depending on the special, it might be better to wait for a better deal. For example, a $100 cut on a separate monitor might not be as useful as more RAM on the laptop, unfortunately that’s a bit of a gamble because you don’t know what’s coming next. Dell provides the end date of the offer, so you may need to act before that date.

Don’t buy RAM or hard drives from Dell…unless they’re on sale. They are more expensive than buying from outside. For the same price for the hard drive upgrade, you keep the hard drive on the standard version of Inspiron and you bought a new third-party 160 GB 7200 rpm hard drive and you still have some spares . Btw Vista is eating up RAM like never before so it’s worth having at least 2GB, especially if you’re going to enable Aero.

Sometimes they offer a Creative SoundBlaster Audigy. It is NOT hardware and just an application CD which gives additional functionality to the chipset. Really useful stuff like the Reverb bathroom or something. The chipset still appears as a SIGMATEL STAC 92XX C-Major HD Audio and NOT as a SoundBlaster Audigy.

Oh something else. The DELLay. It’s all over the Interweb. There have been massive delays in the process of ordering the colored Inspirons. They seem to be arriving now, but a few times the order specifically mentions a 6-8 week lead time for some colors. Unless you order white or black (sometimes without the webcam), you may have to wait. Apparently this is because the process of spraying is similar to that of a car and is a very slow procedure. Whites that seem more available than blue or green actually have more layers of paint because it’s a brilliant sheen. Unfortunately, no other color has this glossy coating. Also, the color only applies to the lid of the laptop, everything else, including the keyboard, is silver, and the underside is black. These delays obviously don’t deter Dell from continuing to advertise the Inspiron, creating more customer backlogs.

Choose the Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo processor? If you can afford it, go for the Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0Ghz and higher processor. Obviously they have a faster clock speed with an 800 MHz front side bus (FSB) as opposed to the 667 MHz of the 1.66 Ghz T5450. They also have 4MB of cache instead of 2MB which makes a difference.

The 15.4″ WXGA+ 1440×900 widescreen with Truelife is worth it. The resolution is crisp and not too small. The 1680×1050 option may be overkill as the monitor is too small for that resolution (many 20.1″ monitors are this resolution). Also, LCDs are best at their native resolution, so playing games and having to lower the resolution won’t be pretty. The LCD screen is the glossy type that seems to be easier to wipe off fingerprints than matte screens, but is more prone to glare. Think twice before buying a 17″ version. They are heavy and you can sometimes get a 15.4″ monitor and a separate 17″ Dell monitor for about the same price.

The Dell Inspiron 1520 as a gaming laptop.

We’ll it’s actually pretty good (for a laptop). The Nvidia 8600m GT performs quite well with 256MB of GDDR2. You also cannot use shared RAM to increase graphics RAM. There are debates online saying some come with GDDR3 but to be sure the Asus G1 and G2 have GDDR3 but are much more expensive. If you have the cash to burn, there’s also the Toshiba X205 with the 8700M GT. Strangely, the so-called Dell Gaming Notebook of the XPS series does not currently have the Geforce 8 series and only goes up to the Geforce Go 7950 GTX, which is really baffling. There is, however, less wait time on an XPS. The 7950 GTX is actually more powerful than the 8600 GT but only has the DX9 code path compared to the 8-series DX10. As mentioned earlier, the 8600M GT would struggle with newer games at 1680×1050 resolution and DX10 games would choke. The Inspiron gets reasonably warm when playing hard games, you can feel warm air being pushed out of the side vent. Good in winter as a fan heater.

Replace Vista with XP

It is a real world of suffering. Until Vista SP1 comes I want to get all the performance of the Inspiron and Vista just doesn’t cut the mustard. At the time I bought mine they didn’t offer XP, but they recently started. It was either Vista Home Basic or Home Premium. Forceware Nvidia drivers for 8 series from Nvidia website DOES NOT work. There are only now 8-series drivers for XP on Dell’s website before that there was a nice hacked version here: http://www.tweakforce.com

The Creative/SigmaTel audio driver is worse. Really hard to find and SigmaTel doesn’t support public so it’s up to Dell to decide. So after trying a few that were supposed to work I finally found one on the Dell website http://support.us.dell.com/support/downloads/download.aspx?c=us&l= en&s=gen&releaseid=R153908&formatcnt=1&libid=0&fileid=205136 on the Dell Community site. It’s not listed under XP drivers on Dell Inspiron driver downloads.

When booting from an XP CD, it immediately crashed with a PCI.SYS error. I then had to slip an XP version with SP2. After that I had to add Dell SATA drivers to the image. Then download just about every other driver from the Dell site. Maybe they’ve rectified that now with the inclusion of XP.

Good

A really cheap laptop for the components you get and one of the best gaming laptops available.

The build quality is pretty good.

Nice appearance.

You get what you ordered online pretty much delivered with Dell. For me, nothing was missing or the wrong material.

Delivery tracking is reasonably accurate and I manage to receive it a day before the expected arrival date.

Dell Service Tag is a good feature and allows you to enter your laptop’s service tag on their website which will show your hardware details.

There is quite a bit of documentation, driver CDs and DVDs.

You get the actual DVD for the operating system.

The BIOS isn’t too bad (for Dell), there are quite a few options. But you can’t seem to modify the CPU or RAM anyway. So no OCing.

The WiFi seems pretty good, it has three built-in antennas. There’s also a slider that disables WiFi if it’s not needed. You also get Bluetooth.

There are a few speaker and playback buttons on the front panel which are quite handy. The sound of the Notebook itself is quite good.

The keyboard is quite good although a bit cramped considering the size of the laptop. Not too squishy and they seem to clip in pretty well compared to some of the Lenovo ThinkPads which have little clips if the keys accidentally fall out.

The Targus bag on the cheap.

The bad

The DELLay on certain colors.

The expectation of delivery when ordering online on a normal day.

The initial version of the Inspiron 1520, which was Vista Home Basic, is full of bloatware. Like Google Desktop Search and Norton’s Anti-Virus with a limited subscription.

Dell’s XP driver support is everywhere. Maybe they fixed that now by selling it with XP, I don’t know.

Your 120 GB or 160 GB hard disk is divided into three partitions at the factory. A hidden recovery and a C: and D:. The D: has some drivers and recovery for Windows to reinstall to factory settings. yuck.

If you want a Track Point, you’ll have to go to the Lattitude series (under the Business option) or shell out the cash for a ThinkPad. With the Inspirons, you’re stuck with a thermal pad. Personally, I don’t like them, but some do.

The Dell Inspiron is quite heavy and coupled with the large power supply it’s borderline for lugging around in a backpack all day as a student.

The ugly one

Black looks too simple. When you buy an Inspiron, you have to buy a colored one (if you can bear the wait)!

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