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Dell Vostro 1510

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The Dell Vostro range, which comes in both notebook and desktop form factors, is designed for the small business market. We found the Vostro 1510 to have good performance for a mid-range notebook — but performance comes at the expense of battery life.

Of late there has been a mad scramble by notebook manufacturers to provide inexpensive laptops that effectively compete with desktop machines. While the cost of living may be skyrocketing, notebook prices are apparently in freefall with sub AU$1,000 notebooks now being commonplace.

The Dell Vostro 1510 starts at AU$800, but with a range of extras being available it can be configured to be an expensive notebook. The Vostro 1510 reviewed by ZDNet.com.au includes about $1,000 worth of extras — but what does more than doubling your initial outlay get you?

Test procedure
Aside from the performance benchmarks — PCMark Vantage, BatteryEater and Sandra Pro — we also considered a number of physical design issues.

PCMark assesses the machine's capabilities under a range of usage models. Meanwhile, BatteryEater assesses the machine's battery life — during this test the machine was set to the recommended balance between energy efficiency and processor performance.

When running in -reading mode", BatteryEater calculates a battery life very similar to that of BAPCo MobileMark 2005. We used Sandra Pro to see specific figures on processor, memory and drive performance. Also looking at usability issues which include location (and type) of ports and buttons as well as image quality and additional software utilities. Construction elements of interest are screen support and hinging as well as case material quality. Image and sound quality are also considered along with the software included with the machine.

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Design and features
The Vostro is presented in a stylish black casing with power, status lights and multimedia keys set into the panel between the keyboard and the screen. In accordance with the current fashion, the status lights are all bright blue.

Very little of any other colour is present — there is an occasional glimpse of silver on the power switch or port, and labels are marked in white and blue. The notebook is wide enough to allow the stereo-speakers to be placed on either side of the keyboard. If the speakers were placed elsewhere, it would've been possible for a numeric keypad, typical of desktop keyboards, to have been included.

The optical drive is an integrated model like those typically seen on an Apple — disk ejection is via the aforementioned multimedia controls. The fingerprint reader is a little crooked in its mounting — but we hope this is not an indicator of general construction standards for these machines.

The Vostro comes with a 1440x900-pixel, 15.4-inch screen and has an Intel T8300 Core 2 Duo processor with 2GB of RAM. Multimedia support includes GeForce 8400M GS graphics with 256MB of memory and integrated Sound Blaster Audigy HD sound. The optical drive is capable of writing to dual-layer DVDs; the hard drive is a 5400rpm SATA with a 160GB capacity.

A number of features distinguished the test machine from the base model, but the vast majority of the price difference is due to the operating system and CPU.

Upgrading from a 1.8GHz with 2MB cache to 2.4GHz with 6MB cache adds about $435 and choosing Windows Vista Ultimate over the Home Basic edition adds another $339. The base model only has 1GB of RAM, 1280x800 screen resolution, integrated X3100 graphics and no webcam nor HD audio.

A good range of connectivity options are available with the range of ports provided. Obviously we found the usual network and VGA ports as well as PCMCIA Express slot. There are four USB ports (two on each side) and audio in/out jacks at the front. At the front there is a memory card slot supporting SD, MMC and MemoryStickPro. Unfortunately, there is no docking port.

Roxio software is supplied to support the DVD drive; this includes tools for both burning data and viewing videos on DVDs, it also has Audio DVD creation, data back-up, as well as offering the option for printing disc labels.

Dell's -Support Centre" application provides easy access to a range of support options including driver downloads, automated troubleshooting and alerts, and even an online data back-up service (for a small additional fee).

Windows Vista serves up a -Windows Experience Index" of 3.5 — a value limited by standard graphics performance, though gaming graphics scored a handy 4.5. The processor, memory and HDD scored 5.3, 5.1 and 5.2 respectively.

Overall, this notebook displays great performance for a medium-priced notebook — particularly in terms of CPU and drives. (Obviously the base model would show lower results than those recorded here in most tests.) The battery life isn't bad for a big notebook like this. With the balanced power consumption settings, we found that battery life for a gentle workload to be over four and a half hours and when working the notebook hard it lasted just over two and a half hours.

Consider your own current and future needs carefully before purchasing a notebook. The latest processor will certainly give better performance, but you have to ask yourself whether a 30 or 40 percent speed increase is justified by spending another three or four hundred dollars. Likewise with the operating system; Windows Vista comes in a range of flavours and an extraordinary range of price-tags.

Ensure you know the benefits of more advanced versions and decide if they apply to your situation. Recall that these two factors alone double the price of the basic Vostro 1510!

We would recommend saving the cash and settling for a modest processor and Vista Business edition. The other options applied to this machine seem to be much better value. In particular, the extra RAM and improved graphics handling alone can greatly enhance overall system performance.

The Vostro has only a one-year warranty, but it is a next-business-day onsite arrangement and a range of more advanced warranty options are available. Warranties can be extended up to five years. The machine also comes with the option of -Dell Connect", which allows Dell staff to remotely service the software side of things via network.

Support is readily accessible from the Support Centre icon on your desktop. The machine can be configured to suit your specific needs or budget. Dell products must be ordered as they are not stocked in stores; this is great for pricing, but bad if you like to see the product prior to purchase.