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You don't often see a business-grade notebook for under £300 (ex. VAT), but that's what Dell is offering with the Vostro 3555. With prices ranging between £289 and £479 (ex. VAT) before customisation, the 15.6in. Vostro 3555 has considerable allure for businesses on a budget. But is it a competent workhorse?
The 15.6in. Vostro 3555 is both sizeable and heavy — if you need to carry your notebook regularly, its 2.4kg weight could be an issue. The slimline power adapter is relatively small and light, but that will also need to be factored into the travel weight eqaution.
As far as build quality is concerned, Dell cites the wide hinge that holds the lid and base sections together and sturdy aluminium casting as key features.
Although the hinge mechanism is solid enough and the base section sturdily built, the lid on our review sample had an awful lot of give in the outer shell, and also a good deal of flex when the notebook is opened up. Mobile professionals will want to pack this notebook carefully in a travel bag.
The Vostro 3555 isn't the most compact of notebooks: its footprint measures 37.5cm wide by 26cm deep, and it's 3.04cm–3.48cm thick. If you're after extreme thinness and lightness, look elsewhere.
The screen has an anti-glare finish, but is not shiny. This matte finish makes it possible to work with a light source behind you, or off to one side, without too much distracting screen reflection.
Viewing angles are fine on the horizontal plane, but not too good on the vertical and there's a fairly shallow 'sweet spot' for optimum viewing. The lid section hinges inside a lip on the back of the base, so it doesn't tip back much beyond about 140 degrees — but by then the viewing sweet spot is lost anyway.
The screen's native resolution is 1,366 by 768 pixels, which is fair enough for a notebook at this price. A 15.6in. display can handle a considerably higher resolution, though. Above the screen is a 2-megapixel webcam.
Dell has fitted a large touchpad beneath the keyboard, which you can disable with a Fn key combination — an orange LED above the touchpad signals when it's disabled. There are no scroll zones — instead, you need to use the (rather unresponsive) multitouch function for scrolling. We quickly abandoned this and used the arrow keys instead.
By contrast, we like the spill-resistant keyboard, which — as in our review sample — can be optionally backlit for £30 (ex. VAT) extra. The keyboard backlight can be disabled with a Fn key combination if required.
The isolated keys are very slightly concave, which help you hit them accurately. There's an oversized Enter key and a row of half-height function keys.
The cursor keys don't have any secondary functions, which is a shame, but the design is generally clean and the key action responsive. There's quite a bit of flex in the keyboard though, which heavy-handed typists may not appreciate.
There are three buttons above the keyboard, on the right-hand side. One opens up the Windows Mobility Centre. The middle button calls up the Dell Support Centre, which provides access to a range of system status and security features as well as a centralised drivers and downloads area.
The third button is user configurable and can be set to launch any application, as well as to perform a range of other functions such as toggling the screen into presentation mode, hibernate or sleep, eject the optical drive caddy, mute the system — or even go to a specific web site.
The affordable 15.6in. Vostro 3555 is the first business notebook we've seen with three USB 3.0 ports
The Dell Vostro 3555 range uses AMD processors. Choose the entry-level £289 (ex. VAT) model and you get a 1.8-2.4GHz dual-core E2-3000M. Move up through the five preconfigured models available online to the top-end £479 (ex. VAT) model and you arrive at the 1.6-2.4GHz quad core A8-3520M.
Our review unit had a quad-core AMD A6-3400M running at 1.4-2.3GHz. You can fit up to 6GB of RAM in the system's two DIMM slots, and there was 4GB in our review sample. The processor is supported by an AMD A70M chipset with integrated Radeon HD graphics.
All Vostro 3555s bar the £289 (ex. VAT) model run Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, with the entry-level system offering Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. You can upgrade the latter to Windows 7 Professional for £35 (ex. VAT) extra.
Four of the five preconfigured models have a 500GB hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm, while the flagship model boosts the capacity to 750GB. You can upgrade from 500GB to 750GB for £50 (ex. VAT) if you need the extra storage capacity.
The usual connectivity options are available, in the shape of Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth (3.0+HS). There's no option to add mobile broadband in the Vostro 3555 range, but you can always use a USB dongle or a portable Wi-Fi hotspot if need be. From a data security point of view it's good to note that even the least expensive model has a fingerprint sensor in the wrist rest for biometric login.
There's an optical drive in every one of the preconfigured models — a standard 8x DVD ±RW drive that can't be customised in any way. Ports and connectors are also fixed, but thankfully what's on offer is reasonable and includes plentiful USB 3.0 support.
The back of the chassis carries the Ethernet (RJ-45) connector, a VGA port and a single USB 3.0 port, along with the power input. The left edge houses a second USB 3.0 port and a USB 2.0/eSATA combo, as well as an HDMI port and a reader for SD, MMC and compatible cards.
The third USB 3.0 port is on the right-hand side, along with a pair of audio jacks, the optical drive and a 34mm ExpressCard slot. The front is clear except for a bank of status LEDs.
Performance & battery life
The Vostro 3555's Windows Experience Index (WEI) results were unremarkable — but then, you shouldn't be expecting blistering performance from a notebook in this price bracket. In any case, during the review period we found the system perfectly adequate for basic business productivity workloads.
The WEI is determined by the lowest-scoring subsystem, which in the case of the Vostro 3555 is Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero) with 4.5 (out of 7.9). The highest score, 6.5, went to Processor (calculations per second). In between were Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) with 6.1, and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) and RAM (Memory operations per second), both with 5.9.
According to Dell, the Vostro 3555 can run on battery power for up to 11 hours if the standard 6-cell battery is replaced with a 9-cell option. However, this adds a whopping £123.99 (ex. VAT) to the base price. There's no battery life quote for the standard 6-cell unit supplied with our review system.
We tested our Vostro 3555 by selecting the Dell power plan and playing a DVD movie on a continuous loop for as long as possible. It delivered 3 hours 27 minutes of playback under these fairly demanding conditions, which suggests you'll need to apply pretty stringent power management settings to get the rated 11 hours from the 9-cell battery.
The audio subsystem delivers plenty of volume, and quality is very good. Sound quality did degrade at higher volume levels, but we'd be happy to deliver multimedia presentations from this notebook.
Poor screen viewing angles, an unresponsive touchpad, a flimsy lid and mediocre battery performance don't do the Vostro 3555 any favours. Even so, if you're looking for a low-cost business workhorse it could still be a good buy. The Vostro 3555 is also the first business notebook we've seen with three USB 3.0 ports.