One up from the £530 Core i3 base spec, our £579 Inspiron 14z sample sports a dual-core Intel Core i5-2430M CPU, which runs at 2.4GHz by default and a maximum frequency of 3GHz on a single core. It’s backed by the usual 4GB of RAM and a speedy, 7,200rpm hard drive, in this case at a fairly capacious 500GB. With this kind of combination, the laptop will handle most daily tasks with ease.
Only on the graphics front is even the most expensive model of this machine somewhat crippled. Mind you, Intel’s integrated effort does now manage the odd undemanding game, as evidenced by a smooth 49fps average in TrackMania Nations Forever – but that was at 1,280 x 720 on Medium Detail, and TrackMania is not exactly a graphically intensive title to begin with. An unplayable 17.4fps in Stalker: Call of Pripyat is more indicative of its performance in modern games.
While on the topic of intensive software loads like gaming, this Inspiron gets a tad noisy considering its chassis isn’t exactly slim and that it doesn’t need to cool dedicated graphics. Under load its fans spin up to an audible level, though it never gets as annoying as the Sony VAIO Z.
In terms of battery life the Inspiron 14z’s 65Wh unit fell just a few minutes short of five hours in our low intensity test (general productivity with screen brightness at 40 percent and wireless radios disabled). That’s better than the Dell XPS 14z managed, putting this Inspiron into the middle of the 14/15in pack - and as the battery is removable you can swap it for a spare at any time. Sadly, it doesn't fit flush with the base of the machine, though, so instead of being a maximum 25mm thick you'll actually need 37mm of space in your bag to squeeze this laptop in.
Finally we come to value, and here this Dell does okay, as 14in laptops don’t tend to go for the same bargain prices as their more common 13in and 15in brethren. Throw in the Inspiron 14z’s premium metal-clad chassis and we would have had a decent deal on our hands, were this laptop not let down so badly by its screen. Its limited specs also mean you can get thinner and lighter laptops that perform similarly to our £580 configuration for just a little more – even an Ultrabook like the Acer Aspire S3 can be had for less than £700 - though of course you miss out on the extra connectivity and disc drive.
We were hoping the Inspiron 14z was at worst the cheaper and chunkier sibling of Dell’s premium XPS 14z, but it wasn’t to be. Its partially metal finish is a cut above, its keyboard and touchpad are nice, and it offers reasonable battery life and value. However its screen is several rungs below average, its connections are awkward to access, it lacks dedicated graphics, and all told it simply offers little over its competition.