- Rock-solid build
- Best-in-class keyboard
- Decent overall performance
- High maintenance glossy finish to casing
- Poor viewing angles, some visible dithering
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Dell Inspiron 17R
Between 15 and 16 inches might be the most common laptop size, but if you're looking for a desktop replacement you probably want a bigger screen. This is where the 17.3in Dell Inspiron 17R comes in. Available in a wide range of configurations, with processors from the old mobile Pentium to the latest Core i5, it caters to a variety of price points and is available in Mars Black, Peacock Blue and Tomato Red (yummy).
Our black NOON7018 model resides at the high end of the scale, coming with a dual-core Intel Core i5-450M processor that runs at 2.4GHz (or up to 2.66GHz maximum Turbo clocked) and supports hyper threading for four virtual cores. It's backed by 4GB of DDR3 RAM, optimally utilized by a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium. For storage you can go with either a 320 or 500GB hard drive depending on your needs (the latter costs £30 extra).
The 1,600 x 900 display is driven by a discrete ATI Mobility Radeon 5470 graphics card. This brings DirectX 11 compatibility and, though its gaming prowess is negligible, at least it will do a great job of video decoding and acceleration for supported applications.
In terms of connectivity and expansion the 17R is very generous. Video is catered for by HDMI and VGA outputs, while headphone/digital and microphone jacks take care of audio. There are no less than four well-spaced USB 2.0 ports (two at the back, two at the sides), one of which doubles as eSATA. USB 3.0 is regrettably absent, but it can at least be added using the 34mm ExpressCard slot. Blu-ray is not an option, though of course you do get a DVD-Rewriter, and wireless communications are handled by Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi. Overall it offers pretty much what the average consumer needs.
When it comes to looks, the 17R retains the fresh design language successfully applied to the Inspiron M101z, and it loses none of its appeal here. Though as fingerprint-loving as ever, the lid's finish offers an appealing brushed metal effect under a glossy transparent layer. It's certainly attractive, though we really wish the company had just left the glossy part off altogether - we far prefer a low-maintenance finish as found on the Sony VAIO F12, or of course a real brushed metal lid like on the HP Pavilion DM4.
Another unusual touch is that the thin lid isn't as deep as the chunky base, which thus extends to show off some of its silver finish when the machine is closed. Similarly to that of the lid, this is a brushed metal effect covered by a glossy transparent veneer. It's very eye-catching, especially when combined with the Inspiron line's new minimalist aesthetic, which presents a unified keyboard surround broken only by the curved, white-backlit power button. Unfortunately, it also means this laptop commits the capital sin of having glossy palm-rests, an annoyance we had hoped was reserved for older Toshiba Satellite machines.
Thankfully all the plastics feel very solid indeed, and there's nary a hint of creaking or unwanted flex. Overall then, the 17R is very attractive and well-built, albeit somewhat high-maintenance.
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