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Dell’s Inspiron 17R is big and heavy, and not very mobile at all. But it’s an affordable workhorse machine that provides i7 performance and a large, attractive display for a little over £700.
It’s not, admittedly, the most elegant of laptops. With its 17.3in screen and built-in optical drive the Dell Inspiron 17R measures 35mm thick when folded flat, and weighs in at a hefty 2.9kg. This is definitely a laptop that will spend most of its time at home or in the office.
It’ll earn its keep, though, being powerful enough to handle both home entertainment and serious productivity apps. Our sample’s screen had been upgraded from 1600 x 900 to 1920 x 1080 pixels for this latest version, and provided a very bright, clear image – in fact we were able to watch a film streaming online perfectly well with the brightness set to its nominal 50%.
Turn the brightness right up and you’ll get a viewing angle closer to 150 degree, which will be handy for PowerPoint presentations.
It’s a shame, though, that the glossy screen is so annoyingly reflective. The speakers are also quite poor – particularly with higher frequencies, which sound like a Dalek snorting Helium.
But for the most part, the Inspiron 17R is well put together. The size of the screen means that there’s room for a full-size keyboard and numeric keypad, both with large, comfortable keys that travel well.
The trackpad is rather small in contrast – a relatively modest 100 x 55mm – but is quite usable and we liked its large, chunky buttons.
There are several models in the 2013 Dell Inspiron 17R range but we tested a top-of-the-range model that costs £729 with Windows 8, a dual-core Core i7 running at 2.0GHz (3.1GHz with Turboboost), 8GB memory, 1TB hard drive and both integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics and a discrete AMD Radeon HD8730M with 2GB video memory.
That’s good value for money and compares well with other laptops that we’ve seen recently. Unfortunately, the dual- rather than quad-core processor, and a slow hard disk underminded the Inspiron 17R’s performance. It produced a slightly disappointing score of just 2535 when running the PCMark 7 benchmarks.
Even so, it still provided enough horsepower to handle basic web browsing and MS Office work with ease. And, with 8GB of memory to play with, it’s also quite capable of handling more demanding tasks such as photo- and video-editing too.
It can even handle some decent gaming action when asked. Running Batman: Arkham City at the screen’s native 1920 x 1080 pixels, with DX11 and High graphics detail, it played at just 21fps. When we dropped to Low graphics settings that doubled to 42fps. I
In the end we settled for 1600 x 900 pixel display, which allowed us to enjoy the DX 11 eye-candy and Medium graphics swhile still running at a playable 35fps.
There’s a large cooling vent on the left-hand side of the unit, but we were pleased to see that the Inspiron 17 never became uncomfortably warm or noisy even when gaming with the AMD Radeon graphics.
The graphics processor does take its toll on the battery, though, only letting the Dell last for about 90 minutes. Using AMD’s Catalyst software to switch to integrated graphics on the fly did allow us to get 3.5 hours of streaming video out of the same battery.