The Dell Inspiron 17-3721 is a great choice for many budget-minded users, especially those who want a much bigger screen than they can find on any standalone tablet. It has an attractive $450 price tag, and you don’t have to give up any performance for that relatively small purchase price. It doesn’t scrimp on features despite its slim profile and modest price, and that makes it our new Editors’ Choice for budget laptops.
Design and Features
The Inspiron 17 is definitely a large desktop replacement laptop. It measures about 1.2 by 16 by 11 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.9 pounds. It’s certainly lighter than the 7-pound behemoths we used to see in the desktop replacement category. Its size consequently means that you have the space for a huge 17.3-inch display. Cementing its budget status, the screen has a resolution of 1,600 by 900 rather than the 1,920-by-1,080 resolution we expect in pricier laptops. This means that images and text will be a little larger than they would be on a 1,920 by 1,080 screen. This is a good thing if need glasses or think you will need them soon. The extra laptop real estate also means that there’s room for a full set of keys, including a full numeric keypad to the right side. The non-backlit, chiclet-style keys are comfortable to use and feel better than the sometimes spongy ones on other budget systems like the HP Pavilion Sleekbook 15z-b000 ($554.99).
The screen itself is large, making it easy to view online videos, on screen text, and the occasional photo on your Facebook feed. The textured lid and palm rest give the Inspiron 17 a bit more character than the smooth-surfaced budget laptops we’ve seen in the past. The diamond-cut style texture also makes the system easy to grip when you’re toting it around the house.
Speaking of around the house, the Inspiron 17 has a lot of connectors, including two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet, and a DVD burner. HDMI and Ethernet are useful for wired connections to a HDTV and your wired broadband router, respectively. This is a better situation for the wired PC user than in the former budget Editors’ Choice Acer Aspire V5-571-6891($499.99), which needs a dongle for Ethernet. We do have a nit to pick with the USB 3.0 ports: they are black colored like the USB 2.0 ports, so they are easy to confuse unless you look for the miniscule USB SS logos next to the faster USB 3.0 ports. The Inspiron 17 comes with a removable battery, which is important for the home user that doesn’t upgrade too often. Like all rechargeable batteries, the battery in the Inspiron 17 will eventually stop holding a charge, and since the battery is removable it should be easy to replace at that point. Sealed systems like the Asus VivoBook X202E-DH31T ($549.99) will have to be taken to a service depot or replaced altogether when the battery stops holding a charge.
Though not a deal breaker for such an inexpensive system, the Inspiron 17 lacks a touch screen, something that the pricier VivoBook X202E includes. Thankfully, the Insprion 17 has a very responsive multi-touch trackpad embedded into the keyboard deck. This makes it easy to bring up the Charms bar and other UI elements with a touch or swipe. You can also use an external mouse with Windows 8, but the trackpad works well enough on its own. A touch screen would make Windows 8 easier to use, but alas even if it were available as an option, it would definitely boost the price of the system over $500.
Thankfully, the Inspiron 17 comes free of most bloatware. There are a few extra programs pre-installed like eBay, Amazon, Kindle, McAfee Security Center, Microsoft Office trial, and Skype, but these are a far cry from other systems like the Asus and Acer listed above. The Inspiron 17 comes with a 500GB hard drive, par for the course, but it’s nice to see that there aren’t too many programs you’ll have to uninstall. The system comes with a one-year standard warranty.
The Inspiron 17 has an Intel Core i3-3227U processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB of memory, and a 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive. The i3-3227U is clocked just 100MHz faster than the i3-3217U found in systems like the Acer V5-571-6891 and Asus X202E-DH31T. It’s therefore no surprise that all three systems are very close to one another on multimedia tests like Handbrake, CineBench, and Photoshop CS6. The Acer V5-571-6891 and Inspiron 17 also scored very close on the PCMark 7 test, which measures performance at day-to-day tasks. All three are even within a half-hour on the battery rundown test, so all three are equally up to the task of unplugged computing, at least around the house, where we suspect these systems will see the most use. All three won’t be great at 3D gaming, but someone serious about gaming will be prepared to spend more than $500 on any PC in any case.
The Inspiron 17-3721 is great budget computing for the general PC user. It’s a true home and student workhorse PC for about the same price as a tablet, which makes it attractive to users who need Windows program compatibility plus a real keyboard. Sure, the Inspiron 17 doesn’t have a touch screen, but for less than $450, you won’ miss it. The larger screen and full-size Ethernet port make it more usable in a household with older equipment (and users) than the former EC Acer Aspire V5-571-6891. Thus, the Dell Inspiron 17-3721 is our new Editors’ Choice for budget laptops.
BENCHMARK TEST RESULTS
Check out the test scores for the Dell Inspiron 17-3721
Compare the Dell Inspiron 17-3721 with several other laptops side by side.
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|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Type||General Purpose, Value, Desktop Replacement|
|Processor Speed||1.9 GHz|
|Primary Optical Drive||Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW|
|Screen Size||17.3 inches|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||500 GB|
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