A thorough designWhile Dell has used matte and glossy plastics rather than aluminium for the shell, the 15R's finish doesn't suffer as a result. There's little or no give in the chassis, hood or keyboard and no play between the various elements - except of course with the DVD rewriter. Overall, it's a well made machine.
The keyboard and the number pad use the chiclet (separated keys) design. They're well proportioned and well positioned. This makes for instinctive, accurate keying but there is a rather dull keying sound, which can be disturbing.
We were however delighted to find the 15R equipped with a large multitouch touchpad. Thanks to its size, you can move the cursor right across the screen in one sweep. The glide is nice and the cursor movement precise. Once again though, the click buttons are a little loose and the the click not all that crisp.
The webcam (720p) offers good restitution of movements and decent detail both in the light and dark areas. It isn't however a model of perfection and tends to darken light zones and slightly pixelise when in full screen mode.
Connectivity covers all the bases. It's shared across the sides and the back of the machine and there's an SD card reader, four USB ports, one of which is a USB 2.0/eSata combo, and two USB 3.0 ports, VGA and HDMI 1.4 outs, the DVD rewriter, Ethernet port (RJ45) and headphones and mic sockets. You also get wi-fi b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0.
Although the Dell 15R is quiet, the system for expelling heat could have been better thought out. With all the hot air coming out the sides and underneath, having the laptop on your knees quickly becomes uncomfortable when it's doing heavy processing (air up to 39°C). Expelling the air between the chassis and the screen would have avoided this drawback.
The N5110's temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
RJ45, USB 3.0, VGA and power supply
USB 2.0 port, HDMI out, USB (2.0) + eSATA combo, card reader
DVD rewriter, headphones and mic sockets, USB 3.0 port
Processor power: good performanceThe Intel Core i3-2310M is relatively efficient (processor index: 85). It gives fluid everyday use (office documents, Internet browsing etc.). You'll also be able to do photo retouching, HD video encoding or any other activity that requires heavy processing reasonably quickly. It can share processing load across four logical cores thanks to hyperthreading, when the application allows (3D modelling for example).
You can play HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent) no problem on this machine. We advise the use of the video playback capabilities of the integrated graphics solution (Intel HD 3000). This hardware acceleration allows you to decode Full HD 1080p videos without occupying the processor, which is then freed up for other tasks.
Windows 7 Family Premium edition (64-bit) takes 44 seconds to boot. You then have to wait another 10 to 20 seconds for the various pieces of software and connection to a wi-fi network to launch. It takes under 13 seconds to turn off.
Gaming: limited capacityIn the absence of a dedicated graphics card, the 15R has to make do with the Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset. It doesn't handle 3D very well but does allow you to play recent titles such as Starcraft 2 or Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 with graphics options at a minimum; nothing that'll set an avid gamer's pulse racing but ok for retro gaming.
Audio: long live the IDT chipsetDell has gone for an IDT solution for its audio here. IDT have a good catalogue of impressive, high performance chipsets. Our tests confirm this with 90 dB dynamics from the headphones out and 100 dB crosstalk, which are excellent scores for a laptop! The headphones out isn't extraordinarily powerful but loud enough to damage your ears! The mic in is a notch down but still very good.
The speakers give balanced, homogenous and powerful sound. We don't think much of the SRS processing software - you can spend a long time playing with the settings before you hear much variation in sound but at least it doesn't seem to have a negative effect!
Battery life: excellentWe were nicely surprised by the battery life. We expected it to give two or three hours, but in fact its 6-cell battery (48Wh) lasts for 4h50 video playback (wi-fi deactivated, headphones plugged in and brightness at 100 cd/m²). This is an excellent score that even much less powerful models, such as the Acer 5253 or the MSI CR650, don't manage.
In spite of its battery life and size (38 x 26 x 3,5 cm), it's too heavy (2.6 Kg) for truly convenient mobile use.