For performance testing the Inspiron was put through our usual selection of notebooks tests, including PC Mark 05, our in-house Photoshop and Virtual Dub tests as well as a subjective battery test.
Overall the Inspiron put in a creditable performance, though it lagged behind the slightly higher specified (and cheaper) Acer Aspire 5920 in most of the PC Mark 05 tests. A similar tale can be told from our in-house tests, where the Acer was significantly faster in Photoshop tests, but roles were reversed in the Virtual Dub test where the Dell was slightly quicker, though not by as great a margin.
As both share the same graphics processing gaming performance was very comparable, and the Dell will happily play most recent games at playable frame rates with some effects. An added bonus of the 8600M-GT is DX10 compatibility; though don't go expecting sterling performance when DX10 games begin to roll into view.
One aspect of the performance that was particularly impressive though was the battery life. To test this aspect the notebook was used for basic word processing and Internet browsing, using the recommended balanced performance profile with Wi-Fi enabled and display brightness set to full. Under these conditions the Inspiron's 9-cell battery managed a very impressive three hours and 40 minutes, which is well beyond normal expectations. You do have to bear in mind thought that this is with the extended battery, which tips the overall weight of the machine to an arm aching 3.2kg. With a standard battery this is likely to be closer to 3kg, though battery life will obviously be less impressive.
This positive end note does, however, belie an otherwise mixed experience with the new Inspiron. Dell's claims of fashionable design are fanciful, and though the choice of colours and simple design is attractive enough, it's not nearly as revolutionary as Dell might like you to believe. Ultimately, the appeal of the Inspiron and of Dell is still entrenched in solid build quality and the safety of an established brand, with the customisation adding a conservatively creative twist to an otherwise 'safe' product. Putting aside arguments on value, there are other more fundamental problems, such as the slightly disappointing connectivity, which make any configuration of the Inspiron a less attractive option than what else is on offer.
An Inspiron remains a safe choice for many, and though there's nothing inherently bad about the new version Dell hasn't done enough to make it stand out in an increasingly competitive market.