Dell Inspiron 537 line is also its smallest. The new 537s ($658 direct, $858 with 20-inch widescreen monitor) is one compact desktop. It’s also one of the less expensive models out there to feature a discrete graphics card with built-in HDMI-out, which is useful for connecting to HDTVs or large-screen monitors with HDMI ports. Like most Dell PCs, you can customize the heck out of it. To keep the 537s under $700 for the base unit, the folks at Dell made some tradeoffs, some good and some that made me scratch my head. The Inspiron 537s as configured here will be a decent primary (or secondary) system in your home, but there are better choices in the budget space.
The “s” in 537s stands for Small Form Factor. This means that the PC is 42 percent smaller than the full tower version of the Inspiron 537. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s hobbled by any means. The 537s still has the option of eight colored faceplates, chosen when you order the system (including the “Plum Purple” of our review unit.) It can be equipped with a Core 2 Quad processor (ours came with a Pentium Dual Core) and a 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4350 graphics card (like our test system). The system is about 15 inches by 4 inches by 17 inches (HWD), so it will fit on most work surfaces, even a space-constrained dorm desk. That said, something must suffer for the smaller case size: Namely graphics cards, which need to be half-height to fit, limiting your options there. Also, the 537s only comes with a 250W compact power supply unit; you’ll need a higher capacity power supply for aftermarket upgrades like a faster graphics card.
Of course internal expansion is limited, as well. There are two free PCI slots and one free PCIE x1 slot, but there isn’t any space for additional optical drives, hard drives, or RAM. The 537s is limited to 4GB of memory: not terrible, but not great either. The system has six USB 2.0 ports (a good number), but could use a FireWire or eSATA port for external hard drive expansion if you fill up the internal 500GB hard drive.
One plus with the Radeon graphics card is that it boasts a built-in HDMI port, so you can hook it straight to an HDMI-equipped monitor or HDTV. Web videos look fine played back on the 537s, even “HD” videos on YouTube and 1080p QuickTime clips. Dell sent us a S2009W 20-inch widsescreen monitor ($200 direct) to go along with the 537s and, while it doesn’t have an HDMI port, videos look fine played through the DVI port. The S2009W has a resolution of 1,600-by-900, so true 1080p (1,920-by-1,080) videos are scaled down a bit.
Dell has done a great job keeping bloatware off their systems. You know, those trialware and extra software you didn’t ask for, yet get stuck with when you buy a PC from many big box stores (and some system builders)? The only “bloaty” stuff on the 537s is a shortcut on the desktop to eBay, and you can drop that in the recycle bin easily. Other systems (like the HP Pavilion 6127c-b) come with a glut of bloatware like Internet security programs that expire too soon and “special offers” for Microsoft Office trialware, and dial-up Internet services. The 537s in contrast comes configured simply with Microsoft Works and a 15-month subscription to McAfee SecurityCenter (Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, firewall, etc.). On the bloatware front, Dell is winning.