Dell Inspiron 17R

Dell’s Inspiron 17R desktop replacement laptop is a study in clean, simple design. It’s also highly configurable and supports many of the latest technologies such as USB 3.0 and Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi). And as you might guess from the 17R designation, a large (17.3-inch), 1600-by-900-pixel display is part of the package.

The design aesthetic for the 17R is elegantly minimalist–little in the way of bling breaks up the smooth lines. Our test unit was black with subtle horizontal streaks of dark gray that breathe life into an ordinary hue. If you want color, swappable shells are available. The unit weighs just over 7 pounds–not light, but average for a desktop replacement.

The 17R’s chiclet-style keyboard is recessed into the deck, with the cursor arrows and the numeric keypad both nicely delineated from the main keys. The feel is a tad soft, but the keyboard is full-size, with no undersized keys or annoying misplacements. The touchpad is nicely adjusted, and the buttons are firm, but not too stiff.

Our test unit came with a Core i5-2410M CPU; 6GB of memory; a 5400-rpm, 500GB Seagate hard drive; and an Nvidia GeForce GT 525M GPU. This configuration costs around $950 (as of 6/20/2011), but versions of the 17R–with less memory and an i3 CPU — can be had for as little as US$549, and are still very competent if you don’t intend to play higher-end games or edit high-def video.

Using the above components, our test unit scored 114 on our WorldBench 6 test suite–competitive with other midpriced desktop replacements, but not outstanding. Gaming frame rates were quite playable, depending on the level of detail. High-bit-rate 1080p video played smoothly and the unit’s audio was clear, with good stereo separation, if still not quite good enough for audiophiles. Battery life for our test unit was about 3.5 hours–decent for a large display and this kind of hardware.

The Inspiron 17R is one of the first laptops to cross our doorstep with two USB 3.0 ports. It also has a single USB 2.0 port, as well as a combination USB 2.0/eSATA port. Both HDMI and VGA video outputs are on board, and the WiDi support allows you to send a video signal wirelessly to a TV or other external display with an appropriate adapter. Dell sells Netgear’s Push2TV WiDi adapter for $80.

Connectivity is top-notch with 802.11n (single-band) Wi-Fi, gigabit ethernet, and Bluetooth on board. The included My WiFi software from Intel can turn the 17R into a mobile hotspot. Other features include an internal DVD burner (a Blu-ray player is available), and an SD card slot.

Our 17R came with the usual smorgasbord of software, but Dell is a bit more laid back these days about the junk it piles on top of the operating system, which in this case is Windows 7 Home Premium. On hand are McAfee Security Center, the Dell Stage launch bar, Roxio Creator Starter for burning discs, Dell DataSafe Local Backup, and Microsoft Office 2010 Starter.

The 17R is a nice piece of work. It’s very affordable and looks good anywhere you take it. At the time of this writing, some hefty discounts were available on Dell’s site, making a 17R configured similarly to ours only US$800. Even sans discount, the 17R stands high on our list of desktop replacements.

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