Dell’s latest budget offering, the Dell Inspiron 530 Tower, is a competent system for everyday home use (e-mailing, DVD burning, office productivity), and it even handles more-processor-intensive tasks, like editing photos in Photoshop, with ease. Unfortunately, its very satisfactory performance doesn’t make up for its shortcomings, and it’s priced at least $50 more than many of its peers. This decent-performing system will likely leave you looking elsewhere to get better bang for your buck.
Visually, the silver-and-white Inspiron 530 is easy on the eyes. Its sleek curves and two-toned chassis save it from the “budget” appearance of the Compaq Presario SR5610F or the eMachines T5274. The system ships with an all-black keyboard and optical mouse, however, an obvious style mismatch. Another mismatch, if you will, is the inclusion of Windows Vista Home Basic, which lacks Media Center functionality. Vista Home Premium Edition can be found on peer systems from eMachines, HP Compaq, and Lenovo, and although that would have raised the price by about $50, including it would have been smart.
If you plan on upgrading, the Inspiron 530 has plenty of space inside for extras like a secondary hard drive. (The case uses a standard side panel with screws, so it isn’t as easy to get into as systems like the Lenovo IdeaCentre K210.) There’s also an available 5.25-inch bay for a second optical drive, and two open SATA ports for expansion. An available PCIe (x16) slot can host a graphics card to increase the system’s 3D ability, while two 512MB DIMMs can occupy the pair of available memory slots to give the system a nice performance boost when you’re ready for it. The two PCI slots are occupied, one with a 56K modem, the other with rear FireWire ports. (You can always ditch the modem and replace it with a Wi-Fi card or an additional USB card.)
Like the Lenovo IdeaCentre K210, the Inspiron 530 is virtually bloatware-free. No Napster trials or NetZero offerings here; the clean configuration is a joy, saving you the headache of uninstalling unwanted programs. For security, a measly 30-day trial of McAfee is optional, but that’s all you get. (The other systems offer at least 60 days of Internet security.)
A 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4600 gives the system enough power to multitask at home while you’re surfing the net, burning CDs, and downloading media files; it can also handle processor-taxing apps like Adobe Photoshop. The Inspiron 530’s 2GB of system RAM are a necessity for Windows Vista (even with Vista Basic—especially while multitasking), while its integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics are suitable for casual game play. The system’s 250GB SATA hard drive isn’t small by any means, but comparable systems from eMachines, HP, and Lenovo, all offer 320GB drives to store more data.
On the upside, the Inspiron 530 does have a front-facing multicard reader that accepts a number of cards—CompactFlash, Secure Digital (SD), xD, Memory Stick, and more—accommodating nearly any digital camera, plus front and rear FireWire ports (highly unusual for a value desktop), and a total of eight (four front, four rear) USB 2.0 ports. A dual-layer DVD burner rounds out the system’s features and is good for saving home movies and backing up important files.
Thanks to the Intel Core 2 Duo processor with updated chipset, the Inspiron beat the competition on every benchmark test, though the performance gains were marginal at best. The system capably handled Vista Aero effects, but its low score of 299 on 3DMark06 means it’s best suited for casual gaming. (Solitaire and Minesweeper addicts are covered.) It can handle multimedia tasks, as seen on the Windows Media Encoder (WME) test, which it completed in 1 minute 11 seconds, and the Adobe Photoshop CS3 test, which it finished in a brisk 34 seconds.
The Dell Inspiron 530 is certainly a capable value system, with the benchmark scores to back it up, but its lower storage capacity and lack of Media Center functionality hurt its overall rating. You can find both on other systems that perform nearly as well and are available for less. In the end, the Inspiron 530 just doesn’t offer enough to make it more enticing than the competition.