Pros: Good looking, fine performance, excellent value, HDMI & card reader included.
Cons: Dell shortened its unconditional satisfaction guarantee from 30 to 21 days. No eSATA or Firewire.
I recently had an opportunity to test drive a new Dell Inspiron 580 desktop PC, and was impressed with the performance of this reasonably priced machine. The Inspiron 580 starts at a budget price of $450, but if you went crazy adding upgrades while "building" this box online at the Dell website, the price could go much higher. Costco sells this model with a monitor, speakers, and several upgrades for $1000.00 plus shipping & sales tax. The basic box includes the following:
Intel Pentium G6950 CPU (3MB Cache, 2.80GHz)
Windows 7 Home Premium operating system
4GB DDR3 SDRAM memory
500 GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache hard drive
1 year basic service plan
The basic system includes a USB keyboard and a USB optical mouse. The computer itself is a handsome basic black box.
Are any Upgrades Worthwhile?
Dell offers a $110 upgrade package to upgrade the CPU from the G6950 to an Intel i3-550 CPU with 4MB Cache, 3.2Ghz. Both CPUs are dual core, but the i3 incorporates hyperthreading, which makes it act like it has 4 cores. From benchmark comparison tests posted on the Internet the i3 appears to be about 10 - 40% faster, depending on the application. But you're comparing very fast to very very fast, so you might hardly notice the difference.
The $110 upgrade also increase the RAM from 4 GB to 6 GB. Windows 7 will happily eat up all the RAM available. More RAM should improve speeds in surfing the Internet, multitasking and graphics editing, since the sytem will be hitting the hard drive less. The $110 upgrade also increases the hard drive from 500 GB to 1000 GB. That seems like overkill today, but I remember when 10 GB seemed like all of the space you could ever possibly use. Now 10 GB won't even began to load the operating system. The 1000 GB hard drive should be slightly faster, since data is packed more tightly (areal density) and drive heads have to move less to read and write data.
If you want to please your inner Geek and build a "super computer" on a budget, you might consider the upgrade package, but none of the upgrades are vital.
The Operating System
The Windows 7 Home Premium operating system is finally a worthy successor to XP. I have used Windows' prior offering, Vista, and except for the eye candy I did not think was an improvement on XP. Windows 7 incorporates some excellent functionality in addition to being visually stunning. I have experimented with win7 Pro and Ultimate, and don't think they have anything meaningful to offer the home user to justify the additional cost. Users new to Win7 will have a bit of a learning curve, but the enhancements are well worth it. There are some excellent instructional videos on youtube, and written instructions all over the Internet.
4 Gigabytes of RAM is adequate for most users. 4 GB is already more RAM than could be accessed by any XP operating system. If you are going to be doing some intensive graphics work or state of the art gaming that requires more RAM, you should be looking at much pricier PC - or a MAC. With this dual core CPU and 4GB of RAM a user can easily run 2 programs at once, i.e. surfing the Internet while running a full virus scan in the background, with no loss of speed in either program. 4 GB of RAM is plenty for viewing DVDs movies or editing photos, the most memory intensive applications most people use. I was happy to see that Dell did not skimp on the RAM, like I've seen on other systems in this price range. I believe the this nice compliment of RAM will be of benefit to most users.
The standard 500 GB hard drive is massive for most users. That's 500 billion bytes (or characters). Well over 100,000 songs or pictures. This is a nice fast 7200 RPM SATA (vs. the older slower PATA drives that were in common use until about 6 years ago).
The computer case (and furnished power connectors and extra SATA header) will accommodate a second hard drive. Windows 7 includes a new feature that allows you to make automatic backups of your entire C: drive. That way if, God forbid, your C; drive ever crashes or becomes hopelessly corrupt, you can simply insert the rescue DVD and in a few minutes be up and running as if nothing ever happened. The new backup feature can also be configured to back up your personal folder, containing documents, pictures, music, and the like.
You can buy a decent hard drive for $50 or so, and if you have (or have a nice friend who has) the skill required to add a second hard drive, this would be a valuable modification. Don't confuse the new Windows backup feature with Windows Backup and Restore points, that has been a feature since XP. That Backup and Restore feature still exists in Windows 7, but is fortified with the new auto backup to a second hard drive. I was disappointed that there was no eSATA connection, so if you backup to an external hard drive, you will have to use relatively slow USB 2.0.
The 580 includes the typical optical drive that is standard on all computers today. There were no issues reading or writing DVDs or CDs.
The model I tested, which was the basic $450 model included, under a front panel with 2 USB ports and microphone/headset connections, a 19-in-1 card reader.
The 580 uses integrated Intel GMA X4500 HD graphics that is adequate for most uses. The integrated graphics won't run 3D games and the 300 Watt power supply can't power much in the way of more powerful graphic cards. There is a PCIe slot available if you want to upgrade the graphics, but make sure the graphics card does not require its own power connector. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the graphics connections on the back included the latest and best audio/video connector - HDMI. If your monitor supports HDMI, this would be the way to go.
I did not order a monitor or speakers with my system, since I already had these from my older computer. The D-Sub and DVI monitor connections have not changed in the past 10 years. Dell often offers decent monitors as part of a package if you need a monitor. Compare what Dell is asking for their monitor with what is available from other online sources. If you need a monitor or speakers you can get excellent values from such online sources as newegg.com or Tigerdirect.com. It's a good idea to get as big a monitor as you can afford - they have gotten so inexpensive. A nice monitor should outlive 2 or more systems. Most people replace monitors not because they go bad, but because they want a bigger picture. If you enjoy listening to music at all a very respectable 2.1 speaker system (a subwoofer and 2 satellite speakers) can be had from a good manufacturer such as Logitech for around $50.
Would You Like an Extended Warranty With That?
I did not pay extra for any warranty coverage beyond the basic 1 year coverage. If a computer makes it for a year, it should probably be good for its expected useful life, which is about 5 years. Dell does provide a 21 day satisfaction guarantee. If you are unhappy for any reason just pack your system up (don't throw away the box and packing right away), ship it back to Dell (you pay for shipping) and your purchase price less shipping will be refunded. So play hard on your system for the first couple of weeks. If you are unhappy about anything, back it goes. If anything is wrong with your machine it should show up right away, easily within two weeks.
Out of the Box
The first thing you'll want to do after you unpack your system is create a system repair disk. Put a blank DVD in your drive, open Backup and Restore by clicking the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking Backup and Restore. In the left pane, click Create a system repair disc, and then follow the steps.
You will also be prompted to create 2 system repair DVDs, which will return your system to the way it was when it came from the factory, if anything really bad happens.
If you don't own any productivity software, such as Microsoft Office, I recommend you try the excellent free product downloadable from OpenOffice.org. I also suggest you download and install a free security suite such as AVG, Avast, or Microsoft Security Essentials2. In additional to being free, these security suites are as good or better than most others available today, free or subscription.
To remove the pesky "Trial ware" that is included with all new computers first see if that program includes an uninstall utility. Right click on the icon for that program to see where its folder is located than go to that folder and see if there is an uninstall folder or program. This is the best way to do an uninstall, since it is often more through than using the next suggested method. This method is especially effective for security suites, i.e. Symantec products, since many tend to put files all over your system.
No uninstall utility for that program? Then click on the Start Button, click on Control Panel, then click on Programs and Features. Double click on trial programs such as Microsoft Office 2010 and Norton Symantec Security to remove these programs. They will stop functioning after 30 or 90 days anyway unless you send them some money.
I have not used Dell technical support lately, but have found it to be just average in the past. You might be on hold for up to a half hour and of course will be talking to a nice man or woman in India. Most of them are knowledgeable.
The Bottom Line
If you are anything like me and my friends who have experienced the Dell Inspiron 580 you will be amazed at what $500 buys you in a computer these days. My boot up time from the start beep to logon screen was a blazing 45 seconds. The Ethernet chipset on the 580 is strong enough to handle anything your broadband connection can throw at it. The onboard video and sound are very pleasing. You can hardly tell the computer is on it is so quiet. For a budget "Supercomputer" see the $600 configuration suggested above.
I am giving it 5 stars because of its value. At $500 delivered, including shipping and sales tax, is a great price for what you get.