It’s time to shed some light onto some of the budget models from Dell and we’ve prepared a relatively new notebook launched just within a month. We are referring to the Inspiron 5551 that aims to be sold mainly to business customers without wanting to spend too much on the device. The price is modest, just like the hardware it offers, yet the design feels way better than expected.
You can easily see the resemblance to the Latitude E5550 as the Inspiron 5551 carries the same design signature, but the build quality, of course, isn’t the same. To be honest, you can’t be too picky in this price range of around €350, but at least we will test the battery life, screen, performance and overall user experience and usability. No matter how cheap a certain notebook is, we are keen to see how it performs with the given hardware especially when low-end and mid-range devices are becoming more and more popular. Thus, prices drop as well as the hardware inside becomes capable enough for running even more demanding applications.
The notebook ships with the usual AC charger, cable and user manuals. Nothing special inside.
Design and construction
We already stressed on how much the notebook looks (not feels), like the Latitude E5550. It’s light, relatively thin and feels somehow solid in hand. We found no irregularities around the chassis – no holes, gaps and etc.
Starting off with the top cover made of plastic with small ornaments on the surface making the lid rough and provides better grip. In the center is located the usual Dell logo, but this time with a glossy finish. The other side of the lid accommodates the 15.6-inch screen and webcam. Bezels around the screen aren’t too big either – not too common in this price range. Moving around the bottom materials are the same. You are provided with an easy detachable service cover for upgrading the HDD/SSD and RAM.
The sides are more align with the design signature of previous notebooks from the company. The flat profile with round edges gives a more minimalistic approach to the overall appearance which is more than welcome. Nonetheless, this is somehow subjective opinion on the matter. On the left, you will find the USB 3.0 port, HDMI, SD card reader, DC charging port and the main grill for dispersing the heat. The other way around is the optical drive along with two USB 2.0 ports and 3.5 mm jack for headphones.
Opening the lid will reveal roughly the same design as we saw outside. There’s the rough hard plastic around the keyboard. Speaking of which, we are presented with a full keyboard, evenly spaced buttons (with the enter key being oddly small). Buttons feel a bit stiff, but offer enough key travel and to be honest we can’t be too critical minding the price and all. We’ve seen way worse keyboard designs on higher-tier notebooks. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the touchpad. It’s made of matte plastic, it lacks the irritating wobbling effect but fails to register some touches and especially mouse clicks. For some reason we experienced inconsistent touchpad performance and even our basic expectations were not met.
All and all the notebook is great for the price it ships leaving little room for improvement. Our main complaints are the poor touchpad quality and the lid bends fairly easy under pressure so be careful where you put it when traveling around. Despite that, we are happy with the relatively thin and light design, narrow bezels around the screen and comfortable keyboard.
Display and sound
Dell Inspiron 5551’s display uses TN HD (1366×768) panel with glossy finish and 6HTP8-156AT model number. The diagonal is 15.6″ (39.62 cm) leading to a pixel density of 100 PPI (pixels per inch) and pixel pitch of 0.253 x 0.253 mm. The screen can be considered retina when viewed from a distance equal or greater than 86 cm.
Viewing angles are poor due to the use of TN panel. Quite understandable for this type of devices.
We were able to record a 230 cd/m2 maximum brightness with a deviation of 14%. The average color temperature on the surface of the screen is 7185K – a bit colder than the optimal one of 6500K (D65). There’s no significant deviation.
Color reproduction (CIE)
To put things into perspective, we would like to give you a little introduction of the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. Starting with the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy. Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that has been used by millions of people in HDTV and the Web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used by professional cameras, monitors and etc. used for printing. Basically, colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is the essential part of the color quality and color accuracy.
In our case, the notebook’s display covers only 53% of the sRGB and 40% of the Adobe RGB color gamuts. This, again, is one of the main downsides of the TN panel.
The image below is practically the same but with the recorded results – the one on the left before calibration and the one on the right after. Color circles represent the reference colors and white circles being the result. You can see mainly additional colors with 100% and 50% saturation inside the sRGB gamut. Blue and red colors with 100% saturation are inaccurate due to the absence of a significant number of colors.
We tuned the display at 140 cd/m2 and color temperature of 6500K.
With X-Rite i1Display Pro, we calibrated the display for a better results in our test, but yet again even the calibrator can’t fix the lack of certain colors. Red will appear pale as it will be replaced to the closest color and 100% saturation is impossible.
After calibration you can see that the display has relatively well distributed white levels.
With the help of 24 commonly used colors we checked the color accuracy of the panel. Colors that we used represent skin tone, grass, blue sky, orange and etc. The average DeltaE 2000=2.33. Lower score is desirable.
Pulse-width modulation (PWM, Screen flickering)
Dell’s Inspiron 5551 uses a panel that controls the brightness with the help of PWM, but aggressive screen flickering occurs only below 25% brightness. Above the aforementioned brightness level, the screen will be suitable for long hours of usage.
Gaming capabilities (Response time)
We recorded the refresh time of the pixels from black to white and white to black for 10 to 90%. So we were able to measure Fall Time + Rise Time = 14.4 ms.
Overall, the panel used for the Inspiron 5551 met our expectations – relatively high maximum brightness, accurate colors after calibration, which is crucial for watching movies, and it’s energy-efficient (it’s a TN panel after all). Moreover, the display is suitable for working long hours because there’s no aggressive screen flickering after 25% brightness. Although, the display has low sRGB color gamut coverage, poor viewing angles and not enough contrast.
Sound quality is good with clarity missing on some frequencies. Our subjective opinion on the matter is rather positive.
The technical specifications listed below are for the current model we’ve tested and may vary depending on your region
|CPU||Intel Pentium N3540 (4-core, 2.16 – 2.66 GHz, 2MB cache)|
|RAM||4GB (1x 4096MB) – DDR3, 1600MHz|
|GPU||Intel HD Graphics (Bay Trail)|
|HDD/SSD||500GB HDD (5400rpm)|
|Display||15.6-inch (39.62 cm) – 1366×768, glossy|
|Optical drive||DVD burner|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Battery||40Wh, 4-cell, Li-pol|
|Thickness||23.35 mm (0.92”)|
|Weight (with the battery)||1.22kg (4.89 lb)|
Dell Inspiron 5551 configurations
The notebook comes with pre-installed Ubuntu, but you can perform a clean install of Windows 8.1 (64-bit) and if you are looking for drivers, you can download them from Dell’s official page: http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/19/product-support/product/inspiron-15-5551-laptop/drivers
Dell has been using this battery on several models – manufactured by the company rated at 40Wh. It has small capacity, but we can expect good performance due to the energy-efficient hardware. Firstly, we’ve got Intel Pentium N3540 CPU with 7.5W TDP and integrated GPU on our hands as well as TN panel that doesn’t drain too much juice. The notebook can easily beat some of the high-end machines in terms of battery performance and the results are here to prove it. All tests are performed under the same conditions – power saver on, Wi-Fi turned on, Bluetooth off, and screen brightness set to 120 cd/m2.
In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script for automatic web browsing through over 70 websites.
A result way above average and yet somehow not surprising due to the energy-efficient hardware – 396 minutes (6 hours and 31 minutes).
For every test like this, we use the same video in HD.
Again similar result – 400 minutes (6 hours and 40 minutes).
For accurate simulation, we used the Metro Last Light benchmark running on a loop with graphic settings set to minimum.
We highly doubt that you will go for a gaming session without the AC charger near by, but for evaluation reasons we run this test – 230 minutes (3 hours and 50 minutes)
Intel Pentium N3540 is low-voltage, four core processor, announced near the end of Q4, 2013. It is an integrated (soldered onto the motherboard) package, which is part of Intel’s budget line of processors. The chip is based on the “Bay Trail” architecture and operates at a base frequency of 2.16GHz. A typical representative of the Pentium family, N3540 does not support TurboBoost or HyperThreading functionality. Unlike other Pentiums, however, it is outfitted with a technology very similar to TurboBoost, which can increase the clock speed of all four cores to 2.66GHz.
The chip is equipped with 224KB of first level cache and 2MB of third level cache. The Intel Pentium N3540 has been developed using a 22nm process, allowing for the integration of the Intel HD Graphics (Bay Trail) controller. It operates at a base frequency of 313MHz and has a maximum dynamic frequency of 896MHz. Power consumption of the whole system on a chip is 7.5 watts, and its maximum operating temperature is 100C.
You can browse through our top CPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-cpu-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this processor: http://laptopmedia.com/processor/intel-pentium-N3540/
Results are from the Cinebench 20 CPU test (the higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Fritz chess benchmark (the higher the score, the better)
Fritz is a chess benchmark which tests the computing capabilities of the CPU with various chess moves. The Intel Pentium N3540 managed to get 4.355 million moves per second. For comparison, one of the most powerful PCs, Deep(er) Blue, was able to squeeze out 200 million moves per second. In 1997 Deep(er) Blue even beat the famous Garry Kasparov with 3.5 to 2.5.
Intel HD Graphics (Bay Trail) is a graphics controller, integrated into some Atom chips (e.g. Atom Z3740) but is mostly targeted at tablets. It is based on the Ivy Bridge architecture but only has four execution blocks.
When compared to mobile graphics solutions, HD Graphics (Bay Trail) performs much like the Adreno 320 or the Tegra 4. Compared to laptop graphics, Bay Trail would be placed just below the HD Graphics (Sandy Bridge).
The performance of the Bay Trail graphics is sufficient for a 2560×1600 resolution, allowing for gameplay of some older titles or just less graphically intense titles like FIFA 13.
You can browse through our top GPUs ranking: http://laptopmedia.com/top-laptop-graphics-ranking/
Here you will find other useful information and every notebook we’ve tested with this GPU:
Results are from the 3DMark: Fire Strike (Graphics) benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Heaven 3.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Heaven 4.0 benchmark (higher the score, the better)
Results are from the Unigine Superposition benchmark (higher the score, the better)
|Tomb Raider (768p, Low)||Tomb Raider (768p, Medium)||Tomb Raider (768p, Max)|
|Lenovo Flex 3 1120||9 fps||5 fps||2 fps|
|F1 2014 (768p, Low)||F1 2014 (768p, Medium)||F1 2014 (768p, Max)|
|Lenovo Flex 3 1120||15 fps||12 fps||10 fps|
Before we begin with this section we would like to note that the following tests do not represent real-life benchmarking. It is virtually impossible to reach 100% CPU and GPU load under normal usage, but we run the stress tests to see how the machine handles higher temperatures and check the overall stability of the system in the long run. Firstly, we go along with the CPU stress test for about an hour. Under normal usage, the CPU maintained 46 °C and reached as high as 74-77 °C during the stress test which is still far away from the maximum operating temperature of 100 °C. Also, no throttling occurred as the CPU was ticking at 2.66 GHz with that being the maximum operating frequency. That’s a great result whatsoever. You can see the results on the graph below – the green line stands for CPU load as the red one is the temperature.
After the first hour we ran, alongside the CPU test, the GPU stress test as well. Temperatures rose for a few seconds up to 84 °C, but the fan cooled the CPU down to 77 °C. However, that wasn’t the most surprising thing. The CPU maintained 2.66 GHz clock speed and didn’t throttle for a second. This is really rarely seen even in the high-end notebooks, but the €350 Inspiron 5551 passed the tests with flying colors. You can see the results on the image below.
Usually after the stress tests we measure the temperatures on the surface of the machine and see if the cooling system has done a good job. So the Inspiron 5551’s outer case remained surprisingly cool throughout the whole test and we didn’t feel any heat at all. Furthermore, the fan was really quiet and no frustrating buzzing sound was at hand.
Dell has really done it this time. The Inspiron 5551 will be suitable to satisfy all your basic needs and even brings a lot more to the table. For the price tag of around €350 you get a decent working machine with a good overall design, not so sturdy construction, though, but with a relatively thin design and lightweight. The screen isn’t anything special as Dell used TN panel, which is quite understandable given the price range, but do not bee fooled. This screen actually surpassed our expectations – high enough maximum brightness and not PWM (screen flickering) above 25% brightness level. We’ve come across a lot of notebooks this far and quite a few had good readings on our oscilloscope and comes as a big surprise when a laptop that cheap is harmless to your eyes.
So we are left with 3 other very important aspects for a business worthy notebook – comfortable keyboard and touchpad, good battery life and connectivity. Well, the Inspiron 5551 covers all of that, or at least the most part of it. The keyboard is more than good, but the touchpad is awful. Sometimes it failed to register a right or left mouse click as well as simple gestures or touches – quite frustrating. However, battery life is just amazing – you will get more than 6 hours straight when browsing or watching a movie. As far as connectivity is concerned, our only complaint here is the lack of LAN port. This, in our opinion, is a necessity for most notebooks and since this is not an ultrabook or convertible, an RJ-45 port would be more than appreciated. So is it worth your money? Definitely! This is one of the best notebooks in the lower-end segment.
- Overall appealing design and it’s relatively thin and light
- Good keyboard
- Harmless (without screen flickering above 25% brigthness) energy-efficient TN panel
- Great battery life
- The system handles high CPU and GPU load with ease without throttling or excessive heat
- Better CPU would have done wonders
- Poor touchpad performance
- LAN port missing