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Laptop review: Dell Vostro 3500

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5th Jul 2010
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Dell's Vostro range is billed as a no-frills PC family tailored for small businesses. How odd, then, to take one of the latest Vostro 3500 laptop models out of its box and discover a sleek, 15.6in widescreen machine encased in cherry red aluminium.

PC manufacturers like Dell have been responding to Apple with laptops that incorporate more and more of the sorts of features you see in PCs designed for the home laptop market. Yet many small business owner-managers probably only want one machine - and the Vostro 3500 appears to be tailored specifically for them.

The test laptop was powered by an i3 processor running at 2.13GHz and equipped with 3GB of RAM and a 300GB hard disk.

The Vostro handled Windows 7 Home Premium without breaking a sweat, taking 36secs to be up and running from pressing the on switch (remember, this was a virgin machine; once you've added some applications and accumulated the usual system detritus, PCs always take longer to boot up).

Dell Vostro 3500 Gadget GalleryFor most of the test tasks we threw at it – picture manipulation, text editing, music playing and webcam recording (with all windows open simultaneously), the CPU barely registered more than 30% on the visual gauge that comes as part of the PC's Gadget Gallery (right). And on the graphics side, it typically coped with the Windows 7 interface at 29-32% of capacity.

The most strenuous activity the Vostro 3500 faced was when it ran the tests to calculate its Windows Experience Index (WEI) ratings, during which the CPU peaked at 60% capacity. The results were impressive, scoring 5.9 out of 7 for the CPU power and memory speed and a healthy 5.1 for gaming graphics handled by the integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator. The overall WEI rating of 4.2 was determined by the lowest-performing component, which was the graphics processor's capability to handle the Windows Aero interface. But as already noted, this handicap was imperceptible during the test drive.

Dell Vostro 3500 keyboard and multimedia controlsThe Vostro 3500 creates a good first impression with its classy casing and neat consumer-like touches such as headphone and mic sockets and the wireless on/off switch on the front panel, and touch-sensitive playback controls arranged along a thin glass display just above the keyboard (right).

The built-in Dell webcam was easy and fun to use, and comes with a package of effects and options to email the results or post them online. This may not be a primary requirement for business users, but could be very handy if you rely on Skype or other video conferencing facilities.

But on closer inspection, some of the details disappoint: fingerprint smudges appeared within seconds to spoil the Vostro's silky surface and the keyboard is surprisingly cramped for the size of machine, with low, flat keys that are somewhat fiddly to type with.

Another minor concern is battery life. The test machine's 6-cell battery advised that it would work for two hours on Dell's default "balanced power" setting with a 61% charge. After running as many simultaneous apps as I could and recording numerous short video sequences with the web cam, this proved somewhat short of the mark on the train back home.

Power-saving options give users the ability to customise sleep, display and brightness settings, but the on-the-train tests I put it through suggest the Vostro 3500 is more of a desktop replacement than a machine for long-distance travellers (or pay a bit more for a bigger/heavier but longer-lasting 9-cell battery pack).

Verdict

In spite of these minor qualms, the Dell Vostro 3500 delivers a lot of laptop for a very competitive price. Based on the Dell UK price list on 5 July, a machine like the one tested cost just £399. For the money, the Vostro 3500 packs a lot more raw hardware power for just over half the price of a comparable MacBook. The Mac's classier image and user experience is based mainly on software differences and is only really relevant if you want to edit videos or record music with Garageband.

Dependability is usually the top priority for cash-strapped small businesses. But if you want a few frills thrown in, Dell's Vostro 3500 is a strong candidate at an exceedingly attractive price.

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Replies (10)

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By DMGbus
07th Jul 2010 13:48

No numeric keypad

The picture showing the keypad shows the lack of a numeric keypad - unlike a £460 Medion machine from Aldi stores.  I would have thought to most users of this website the provision of a numeric keypad would be most useful.

The £61 extra paid for the Medion P6613 machine at Aldi gets the numeric keypad and three years parts & labour warranty.

As usual with Aldi, problem is stock availability and can only pay by debit card or cash (not credit card).

So, if local Aldi stores have sold out try Argos who had the same machine on offer for £400 earlier this year, extension of warranty to 3 years at an extra £150.

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By Helen Stevens
08th Jul 2010 17:16

Why not buy a plug-in numeric keypad?

Numeric keypads are available as USB plugins for laptops. These are very cheap (less than £10) and very light, about the same size as a standard desktop calculator. With the added benefit they are small and the lead is flexible and you can drop it on top of the papers you are working from. I had one when I was in practice, and it was a lifeline. Within a week of me getting one, the manager could see how much time it was saving for data input, and ordered them for everybody in the accounts and audit teams!

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By DMGbus
08th Jul 2010 19:15

Better built in, less clutter

I own one or two USB plug in numeric keypads, little used as too much trouble to carry round and they clutter up a workspace.

Much better to have a built in numeric keypad like the Medion machine has, but  which the Dell lacks.

Modern laptop computers with wider aspect screens give more space allowing for the inclusion of a numeric keypad, a pity that Dell didn't pick up on this.

 

 

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By chatman
09th Jul 2010 00:40

Clarification of Numeric Keypad

On my old Vostro 1500 there is a numeric keypad of sorts, but it uses the existing keys and you just press the Fn button to use it. Are you all saying that some laptops have an absolutely separate numeric keypad to the side, like desktop keyboards have?  I would love one like that, but cannot see how it would fit onto a laptop keyboard.

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By DMGbus
09th Jul 2010 08:54

Separate numeric keypad, yes

Yes, the Medion machine, like several other wide aspect screen laptops, does have a dedicated  numbers keypad section.

I have one or two old lap tops that have the "dual purpose" extra keys to use as a keypad by using a function (fn) button, but to the layout is poor.   The Medion solution of a proper dedicated section of the keyboard is what I'd been waiting for to become available.

 

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By chatman
09th Jul 2010 15:09

Accidentally touching the trackpad on the Vostro

Whilst I am very happy with my Vostro 1500, I do find that I constantly inadvertently touch the trackpad, moving the cursor to a completely different part of the screen to that which I am working on. Would I be likely to have the same problem on the Vostro 3500, and if so is there any solution?

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By chatman
09th Jul 2010 15:12

Medion P6613

Interesting point about the numeric keypad.  How does the Medion P6613 compare to the Vostro 3500 in the other respects that John has mentioned?

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By DMGbus
11th Jul 2010 19:56

Medion P6613 specifications

WEI rating 4.4 ( defined by lowest being Graphics by Nvidia)  Other components got WEI scores of the range 5.2 to 5.6 ).

Hard Disk Drive : 320gb

RAM (working memory) : 4GB (in reality only 3GB can be accessed used by a standard 32 bit Windows system)

Processor: Intel Pentium dual core 2.00GHz T4200

 

 

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By chatman
12th Jul 2010 01:08

Thanks DMGBus

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By ryanjsprice
15th Jul 2010 14:15

Numeric key pad and problems with accidentally touching the Touc

I recently purchased a Vostro 3700 which has an inbuilt numeric keypad.  The screen is 17.3" widscreen so it is a bulky laptop (but not too heavy), but if you are looking for a built in keypad, you probably work with spreadsheets a fair bit and the wider screen is very helpful in this regard.

There is also a setting in the Touchpad driver properties (Version 15.0.2) on my machine which disables the touchpad when an external mouse is plugged in.  I find an external mouse to be more controllable anyway and it's ability to automatically turn off the touchpad is an added bonus.

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