Review: No thrills, no hefty price tag
A few weeks back we tested Dell's Vostro 1310, an low cost 13-inch business notebook, and now it's time to take a look at its 15-inch sibling, the Vostro 1510. Dell's Vostro series is targeted at small businesses and budget minded consumers, and it offers quite good value fot money. The 13-incher tested last week got our Top Value award, as it is currently one of the cheapest 13-inch units on the market, so let's see if the 1510 can follow in its footsteps.
Like the 1310, the Vostro 1510 is available in numerous configurations, and ships with CPUs ranging from the single core Celeron M540, to the 2.6GHz Core 2 Duo T9500 on the top spec'd SKU. We got a mid range model, powered by a T5670, with 2GB of memory and 160GB of storage. Whereas the 1310 faces relatively few competitors in its price range, the same can't be said of the 1510. Cheap 13-inch notebooks are few and far between, but the offer of budget 15.4-inch units is staggering, and basically every significant vendor has a cheap 15.4-incher to offer.
The Vostro 1510 measures 357 x 258 x 25,4-38mm and weighs 2.59kg with a 6-cell battery, which is a bit lighter than most low cost 15.4-inch laptops. It's design is very similar to that of the 1310. Obviously it's a bigger piece of kit, but it's not thicker than the 1310, which makes it look a bit more sleek, as the 1310 ends up looking a bit fatter. Basically, we think the sharp edged design is slightly better suited to the 15.4-inch form factor, as it doesn't make it look chubby, which can't be said of the 1310.
As we said, on the hardware side, the 1510 offers a lot of choice, so we won't bore you and spend too much time talking about all the options, but let's take a look at the basics. Apart from the wide range of CPUs, Dell also offers five screen options. You can get a matte 1280x800, matte or glossy 1440x900, or a glossy 1920x1200 panel on your Vostro, and the upgrades are affordable (€30 for 1440x900). The choice of graphics is limited, you can stick to Intel's IGP, or you can get a 64-bit Nvidia 8400. You can also get bigger 7200rpm hard drives and Blu-ray, and you can choose from five operating systems, two XP and three Vista flavors.
We got a 1280x800 matte panel, and it was ok, but the viewing angle was limited. Like the 1310, this Vostro also packs a bunch of connectors, four USBs, Firewire, LAN, ExpressCard, VGA out, but there's no video out. You might say that the lack of video/HDMI is not that important on a business model, but we beg to differ. A few years back VGA projectors were the norm, but nowadays you need HDMI, or at least S-video to connect your laptop to a widescreen TV, as they are becoming more and more popular among business users for presentation purposes. The card reader and audio connectors are placed on the front edge. We will talk a bit more about connectors and ergonomics a bit later on, so let's skip to design.
Design and Build Quality
The Vostro 1510 looks a tad more elegant than the 1310, as it's quite a bit wider, but retains the same height. It just ends up looking sleeker, and the sharp edged design suits it much better than the 1310.
Although they look very similar, there are quite a few differences when it comes to build quality. The pamlrests on the 1510 feel sturdier than the ones on the 13-incher. However, the keyboard is worse than the one on the 1310. It has more flex, especially near the center, and it just feels flimsy.
The choice of materials is not bad, but some plastic parts of the chassis still feel a bit too thin. Mind you, we've seen much worse in this price range, and at 2.59kg the Vostro 1510 is a couple of hundred grams lighter than most of its competitors.
The matte base of the lid is slightly smaller than on the 1310, and it looks even better, although it won't keep as much dirt off the glossy lid. The hinges are good and we're sure they won't give you any trouble, ever. The battery latches also feel solid, and it seems Dell didn't compromise on these crucial bits, in spite of some thin plastic around them.
The design is unexciting, but there's not much to complain about. There's only one color option, black, and the glossy paint has some metallic flakes in it. Once you open it, you start wishing Dell did a bit more, as the keyboard and palmrests are a sea of dull black plastic. This isn't an issue on the 13-incher, as it's quite a bit smaller, but we feel the 15.4 lacks some detail.
The stereo speakers on the sides of the keyboard don't help either. The mesh is huge, but the actual openings seem tiny, and it just looks a bit awkward.
Input Devices and Ergonomics" />
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard layout is classic, no nonsense, and you'll get used to it in seconds. What you won't get used to is the build quality.
It feels soft, rubbery, and there's a lot of flex in the center. The touch sensitive multimedia keys, on the other hand, are quite good. All in all, Dell could have done a lot better.
Unlike the 1310, the 1510 has a properly sized touchpad, but size alone doesn't make it great. It feels slow and unresponsive, and sometimes it just fails to figure out where your fingertip is to begin with. The touchpad keys feel soft, and the fact that they are recessed doesn't help either.
Ergonomics, everyday use
A no-nonsense connector layout and a note of sensible user-friendliness is something we've grown to expect from Dell, and the Vostro 1510 fares well in the ergonomics department, although there are some minor issues.
On the left side you'll find an ExpressCard slot, two USBs, a cooling grill and a rather flimsy wireless button.
Turning right, we have two more USBs, which would have been a bit more useful had they been placed further towards the back. The slot-in DVD is a nice touch, as it helps keep the design uncluttered.
Power, VGA and LAN connectors are situated at the back. Once again there's no video out of any kind, which could be a drawback for certain users.
Dell decided to place the audio connectors at the front, which isn't the best solution as audio cables will get in the way if you use the Vostro in your lap. Also at the front, the 4-in-1 memory card reader and LED status indicator.
Unlike the 13-inch unit, the 15-inch Vostro doesn't feature a mono speaker in the front of the chassis, as there's plenty of space for its stereo speakers along the sides of the keyboard. The sound quality is average for this price class, meaning it's not sufficient for users who tend to watch video on their notebooks or play some tunes. This is hardly a drawback, as this is a business model and the sound quality and volume are on par with similar models from most vendors.
The tiny fan does a good job keeping the Vostro 1510 cool, and it doesn't make much noise in the process either. Even under load, chassis temperatures rarely exceeded 33-35°C. This is quite good considering it's based on a 90nm chipset and uses a 65nm CPU, albeit on a relatively low clock.
Battery life was average, with just over two and a half hours with max brightness and active wireless. You can also get a 9-cell battery which should easily provide you with upwards of three and a half hours of endurance.
In the Cinebench single CPU test the 1510 scores 1875, and takes 7 minutes 51 seconds to render the frame. With both cores active, it scores 3478 with a rendering time of 4 minutes and 14 seconds. Multiporcessor speedup is 1.85.
Futuremark 3Dmark 06
Thanks to Intel graphics, the Futuremark 3Dmark 06 score is as low as makes no difference, 398 marks to be exact. The CPU score is 1559.
Sandra CPU scores are average, and we experienced some troubles during the memory test. The scores are slightly lower than those of the T5870 based Vostro 1310, which has a 200MHz higher CPU clock.
The HD Tune hard drive benchmark returned some mixed reuslts.
The disk seems faster than the one on the 13-inch model, but has a lower burst rate and higher access time, as well as higher CPU utilization.
While the 13-inch Vostro 1310 got our Top Value award, mainly thanks to the fact it's the cheapest readily available 13-incher on the market, things don't look so rosy for the 1510. Still, the Vostro 1510 is a nice package, it offers a decent hardware configuration at a reasonable price, but it has some drawbacks.
The keyboard suffers from severe flex near the center, and the touchpad isn't all that good. These are the most critical aspects for most users, and being business oriented model, a robust keyboard and reliable touchpad is a must. The design is subtle and quite nice, and we think the sharp edged theme is much more suitable for the 15-inch form factor than the 13-inch one, as it doesn't make the Vostro 1510 look fat. We also have to mention the lack of any type of video out, a fact that will surely put off a number of consumers.
The screen quality is good, and battery life is more than adequate for this product class. Connectivity is also not an issue, nor is heat. Also, bear in mind that at 2.59kg, the Vostro 1510 is one of the lightest 15.4-inch models on the market, as most similar machines weigh a couple of hundred grams more.
However, whereas we praised the 13-inch model for its unbeatable price, the same doesn't apply to the 1510. The base Core 2 Duo SKU sells for €399 in Europe, or $479 in the States. The 13-incher was 100-150 euro cheaper than its closest competitor, while the 1510 costs as much as competing models, even more depending on the market. The sheer size of the low end 15.4-inch market means that the Vostro 1510 faces much tougher competition, unlike its smaller sibling, which is a truly great deal. Dell is well known for giving consumers a lot of choice when it comes to customizing their machines, allowing them to practically build the perfect notebook for their needs, without having to caugh up much cash in the process. However, in the vast 15.4-inch market, this fact doesn't help much, as there's plenty of choice to begin with.
In spite of that, the Vostro 1510 is one of the cheapest Core 2 Duo based 15.4-inchers out there, and most similarly priced models ship with Pentium dual-cores. So, if CPU muscle is the only thing you care about, it is worth considering.
Supplied by Disti Sarajevo