Buying a Dell Inspiron laptop has always been a bit like moving to the suburbs. You do it if you don’t need to live in the bustling downtown of the high-end gaming PC world, but you’re also not an empty nester who needs an ultra-light notebook to travel the world. The Inspiron 15 7000 series is one in a row of identical townhouses – you might have a big screen TV in yours, but your neighbor has a pool, and neither of you are particularly excited by either of those features.
The Inspiron isn’t cut out for a high-stress lifestyle.
While the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 offers a buffet of customization options, our review unit is equipped with some of the highest-end choices. The processor is an Intel Core i7-5500U, which has two cores and a base clock of 2.4GHz, a 3GHz Turbo Boost, and 16GB of RAM. For storage, the 15 7000 features a lone 256GB SSD, although you can add mechanical storage options, as well as hybrid drives. Finally, an AMD Radeon R7 M270 with 4GB of VRAM powers the 15.6” 4K display.
The Inspiron looks good on paper, but its upgrades come at a price. Our review unit rang up at $1,500, which puts it will into premium laptop territory. Can this blue-collar notebook really compete with the best?
At least it’s a unique color
Dell wins some points for presenting a clean face with this Inspiron. Its dark slate color is professional without looking like every other laptop out there, and there isn’t a lot of extra detailing on the front. The colors and materials dissuade fingerprints from lingering, but smudges and streaks easily mar the touch panel.
With a 15.6-inch display, it’s tough to make a laptop that’s easy to carry around, but the Dell Inspiron tries its best by cutting its waistline. It’s still not the lightest nor thinnest around, but it makes up for it with sturdy build quality, and a tough outer shell. The hinge is strong too, holds the large screen in place without any wobbling, and pushes far enough back to use the screen while standing over a desk.
Just a few ports
For a 15-inch laptop, the physical ports on the device are limited. The left side of the machine sports a power port, HDMI, and a single USB 3.0 with power share, plus a 3.5mm audio in/out jack. The right side has two USB ports, a 2.0 and a 3.0, an SD card slot, and a notch for a lock.
For wireless connectivity, the Inspiron 15 7000 has built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. That’s the standard for laptops nowadays, as is the lack of an optical drive.
Don’t like the touchpad? You’re stuck with it
The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 has an issue with touching. Despite the brand’s claims of a high-resolution touchpad built for larger 4K displays, the sensitivity isn’t high enough out of the box. On top of that, there’s no driver or control panel access to change those settings, and trying to install a new driver to do so raises some compatibility issues. That means there’s also no way to turn off tap-to-click, which gets in the way when you have to lift your finger a number of times to get the cursor across the screen.
The keyboard on the other hand has a nice firm click to it that’s satisfying and responsive. The 15-inch screen means the keys have some more room to breathe, and the space between them helps prevent accidental presses. There’s backlighting across the whole keyboard, which is bright enough to highlight the edges of the keys, and shine dimly through the letters if the brightness is turned up.
4K isn’t everything
The 4K display on the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 might offer plenty of pixels, but that doesn’t make it a good screen. In fact, there isn’t much to compliment it. The panel’s maximum brightness is a dull 231 lux, lower than almost every display we’ve tested recently that isn’t a special form factor, such as a 2-in-1.
Reds and greens look flat and subdued, and color definition is lacking.
Covering only 94 percent of the sRGB scale, and a measly 71 percent of the AdobeRGB scale, this Dell is on par with the lowest end of our recently tested displays. On top of that, the color difference is an average of 6.7, which is again one of the highest we’ve tested lately. The result is a muted experience. Vivid colors like reds and greens look flat and subdued, and the definition between colors isn’t as distinct as it should be.
The good news about the Inspiron’s dual front-facing speakers is they’re loud – loud enough to fill a small to medium sized room without hitting full volume. The bad news is that sound starts to distort as volume exceeds 80 percent of maximum. The tinny sound you would expect from a pair of laptop speakers becomes obvious at full blast.
Slow, slower, slowest
When it comes to performance, the Inspiron 15 7000 isn’t going to win anyone over. The processor is an Intel Core i7-5500U, a dual-core chip with a base clock speed of 2.4GHz, and a Turbo Boost speed of 3.0GHz. That’s not bad, but it falls behind given our review unit’s price point.
Its single core performance is slightly behind other laptops, but the multi-core performance falls behind other 15-inch systems. That’s to be expected, especially considering the below-average price of the Inspiron. The upside of that is that it may not need it, since only demanding games and applications make use of the full four cores, and the Inspiron isn’t cut out for that sort of high-stress lifestyle anyway.
Storage options are limited on the Inspiron 15 7000, with Dell offering either a single SSD up to 256GB or a mechanical drive up to 1TB. Our review unit includes the former, and the speed falls about in the middle of the road of SSDs in other devices. With a read speed of 501.9 MB/s, the SSD in the Inspiron beats out a number of other budget laptops. Within its own price range though, the drive’s performance is about average.
While the discrete graphics chip, an AMD Radeon R9 M270, is a small step up from the Intel integrated graphics found in the smaller Inspiron and Lenovo machines, it’s still nowhere near the dedicated graphics chips we see in many laptops.
So far we haven’t found any reason to get excited about the Dell Inspiron 15 7000, and the gaming performance doesn’t do anything to change that.
Diablo 3 is a popular game, and our baseline test for gaming on most systems. In this case, it’s the only game in our test suite that’s able to run reliably at 1080p. With the graphical settings turned to low, the average frame rate hangs out around 27 frames per second, and turning the settings up to very high brings that average down to just under 19.
Going nowhere slowly
The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 has slimmed down for the summer, shedding a little over a pound in weight and about a tenth of an inch from last year’s model. That puts it closer to other comparable systems in its weight class, like the Asus ROG G501. The HP Zbook 15u G2 is almost exactly the same size, as both are about .78 inches thick. The HP shaves about a quarter pound off the starting weight of the Inspiron.
When it comes to power draw and noise, the Dell Inspiron is actually a bit more conscious of its surroundings than its competitors. At 16.8 watts while idling, it’s under the HP ZBook’s 17.6 Watts, and another offering from Dell, the Precision M3800Dell Precision M3800 review and its 22 Watt idle. As the system approaches full load that advantage starts to narrow, but it still uses less power than other systems in its spec range, and a full 15 watts less than the Precision. If you don’t use the dedicated graphics chip, you can shave another eight watts or so off that number.
Although the Inspiron’s power draw is lower, and the battery is larger, the actual use time of the system was shorter on a single charge. On the Peacekeeper benchmarking test, the Inspiron ran for just short of four hours, putting it under the HP ZBook by almost 40 minutes, and closer to entry-level gaming rigs like the Asus ROG. Running a simulated web-browsing test, the Inspiron fared a little better, running for 4 hours and 30 minutes before shutting down.
The difference between the system at idle and full load in terms of noise is not very large, for better or worse. Even without anything running, the system emits about 39.8 decibels, which is noticeable if there isn’t a lot of ambient noise. Kicked into load with the 3DMark test, it only hits 41dB, which is still less than almost any system with a dedicated graphics chip.
Who installed all this stuff?
The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 comes out of the box weighed down by bloatware. Normally, adding a few extra software features makes it easier for end users to jump right into business as usual. In our experience, the software actually slowed down the system noticeably, requiring us to go in and manually identify and close programs.
The AMD M270 isn’t much of an upgrade from integrated graphics.
After using the task manager to track down the offending processes, it was clear that McAffee Live Security was one of the most egregious system resource hogs. The real time tracking and checking of files and network traffic not only took up more than its share of processing power, it also caused issues with benchmarking utilities we use to gauge a computer’s performance.
Normally it’s a good idea for advanced users to push a clean install onto a new system. It takes a few minutes to update the drivers after, but you’ll lose all the extra junk installed in the factory. In this case it’s a necessity.
They’ll send someone out
Dell offers a standard one-year warranty on most of the brand’s consumer systems, and the Inspiron 15 7000 is no exception. If you have an issue, Dell will send a technician out to you after diagnosing the problem remotely. You can pay to extend the warranty for up to five years when you purchase the machine.
There are better optionsYou know when the best thing a reviewer has to say about your computer is that it’s a nice color, you’re doing something wrong. The Inspiron’s processor is too slow, the hard drive is too small, the GPU is so weak it might as well be integrated, and it’s loaded with bloatware right out of the box. The only component that warrants a price tag this high is the 4K display, but even it’s unremarkable aside from the resolution.
Our review unit is the top of the series, priced at $1500, but that price point it isn’t competitive. For just $50 more, you could buy an Acer Aspire V Nitro. You’d get a quad-core processor, a 1TB mechanical drive in addition to the SSD, and a huge upgrade to a 960M with 4GB of VRAM.
For less than a thousand dollars, you can even have the same Dell Inspiron with a 4K display, and all it takes is dropping to only 8GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD instead of the SSD. That’s a better deal, and the cuts you make to get there shouldn’t drag down performance in a major way. Dell might’ve scored better had it shipped us that model, though issues like battery life and display quality would remain.
At the end of the day, if it you’re shopping in this price range, even Dell has better options. The base XPS 15 is only $100 more, and while it’s technically less impressive in some respects, the actual user experience is far superior. The XPS system is more attractive, more portable, and ships with relatively little bloat. Acer’s Aspire V15 Nitro Edition deserves consideration, should you need more horsepower, as it ships with a quad-core chip and GTX 960M graphics for nearly the same price.
- Enjoyable keyboard
- Clean aesthetic
- 4K display isn’t up to snuff
- Lackluster power and graphics
- Weak touchpad with no support