Dell has updated many of its laptops recently, and it seems that anything with the '7000' suffix now has a slimmer design and a smart new aluminium casing. The Dell Inspiron 17 is the latest model to join the 7000 club, and while it's not exactly an Ultrabook it does provide a very smart and versatile desktop-replacement laptop at a competitive price. (See also: the 15 best laptops: the best laptops you can buy in 2014.)
Dell Inspiron 17 7000 Series: good lucks, competitive price
The Dell Inspiron 17 is certainly one of the more attractive 17in laptops currently available, measuring a relatively svelte 27.7mm thick compared to the 35.6mm of last year's model (which is still available for a very attractive £699). The brushed metal aluminium casing looks very attractive and is also very sturdy. The spacious keyboard is firm and comfortable, and it's nice to have a good size trackpad – 105 x 80mm – to play with for a change.
Although this new model is much slimmer, the Inspiron 17 7000 Series still includes a built-in DVD drive along with four USB 3.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet and HDMI interfaces. The only disappointment here is that it's still pretty heavy, weighing the same 3.3kg as its predecessor. So while it's slimmer and more stylish than most 17in laptops the Inspiron 17 7000 Series still isn't very portable and will spend most of its time at home or in an office. If you do need to travel then switching to the integrated HD4400 graphics will allow the Inspiron to provide a full five hours (300 minutes) of streaming video, which is relatively good for a 17in laptop.
It's well suited for use both at home and at work too. The 17.3in display provides 1920x1080 resolution, and a bright image with very good all-round viewing angles. It will work well for watching streaming video at home or giving a PowerPoint presentation at work. It's also one of the few 17inh laptops we've seen with a touch-sensitive screen, and the touch-controls actually work quite well on a larger screen such as this, making it easy to control a slide presentation or to tap on a link in your web browser. The speakers sound a bit tinny, but they're loud enough to listen to some music or give an impromptu presentation without needing to plug in a set of external speakers. (See also: Dell Inspiron 17R-5720 review.)
Dell Inspiron 17 7000 Series benchmarks and specification
The Inspiron 17 7000 Series also provides desktop levels of performance for both productivity apps and entertainment. Prices start at £749 for a model with an i5 processor, 8GB memory and 500GB hard drive. However, we tested a top-of-the-range model priced at £849 with a dual-core Core i7 CPU running at 1.8GHz (3.0GHz with Turboboost), a full 16GB of memory and 1TB hybrid drive that includes 8GB solid-state cache to boost peformance. And, in addition to the i7's integrated HD 4400 graphics, the Inspiron also includes a discrete GeForce GT 750M graphics card with 2GB of video memory.
The hybrid hard drive isn't entirely successful, as the Inspiron takes a full 45 seconds to boot even when using the fast-start option in Windows 8.1. Fortunately the laptop does feel fast and responsive once it's got itself up and running. It wakes from sleep as soon as you lift the screen up, and the touch-controls respond smoothly and quickly.
The Inspiron 17 7000 Series produced a score of 4260 points when running the general purpose PCMark 7 benchtest – which is about as good as you'll get from a laptop that doesn't have a dedicated solid-state drive. Scores in the Home and Work suites of PCMark 8 were a little more modest, at 2450 and 2900 respectively, but the Inspiron certainly provides strong performance for a wide range of tasks, and its 16GB of memory mean that it will also be able to tackle heavy-duty work such as editing HD video. (See all laptops buying advice.)
Dell Inspiron 17 7000 Series gaming performance
And while it's not a dedicated gaming laptop, the Inspiron's GeForce GT 750M graphics card is perfectly adequate for the casual gamer. It managed 104fps when running Stalker: Call Of Pripyat at 1280x720 resolution, and held steady at 63fps when we increased that to 1920x1080. The more demanding Batman: Arkham City provided a sterner test, dipping to just 20fps when running at 1920x1080 with DX11 and high graphics settings. However, dropping to medium graphics settings and a resolution of 1600x900 allowed the Inspiron to hit a more playable 37fps, which isn't at all bad for a laptop in this price range. (Also read: How to choose a laptop below £500.)