Dell Inspiron 660 Desktop Computer

Jul 26, 2013 (Updated Aug 26, 2013)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent price/performance.  Great quality and repair record.

Cons:Too much bloatware.  Support is just average.

The Bottom Line: The Dell 660 Desktop computer is a great choice for home, student and small office users.


The Dell 660 is the latest incarnation of Dell’s “entry” level desktop systems.  The Dell 660 is one of the least expensive full featured systems available today.  The 660 is, I believe, probably the best value PC available.  Yes, you can get similiarly configured computers in other brands for a little less money, but you will be giving up the quality and reliability that has made Dell famous.

Hands on Experience

The 660 is a high quality powerful little machine, due in part to its new Windows 8 operating system and the upgraded Intel Ivy Bridge (3rd generation) CPU.  It is all the computer most users will need.  I was stunned at how quickly the 660 with Windows 8 boots (30 seconds) compared to over a minute for older Windows 7 systems.

Everyday productivity tasks such as word processing, spreadsheets, PowerPoint, and TurboTax load and execute instantly.  Having several applications (windows) open at tne same time did not cause a performance deterioriation. Even more graphic intensive taks such as photo processing and light action gaming show little lag time.

For most users the computer is more of communications device than a productivity tool, and they will not be disappointed.  The speed of email and Internet activities will be limited only by the bandwidth you are using.

This is especially a great system to consider if it is intended to replace a system several years old that has just died or become frustratingly slow to use. 

This is not a machine intended to compete with high end gaming rigs.  Heck, the graphics processing units in many of these computers cost as much or more than this entire system.

What Comes in the Box?
 
The Dell 660 comes standard with a black USB keyboard and USB optical mouse.  Thse are not high end input devices, but perform quite well.

As with most new computers, the old round PS2 connected keyboard and mouse have gone the way of the 3 ½” floppy drive.   If you have an older PD2 keyboard/mouse you can’t bear to five up, a PS2 to USB converter is available for a few dollars.

First Impressions

Tthe 660 is simple and elegant, at least compared to the more stylized HP, Lenovo, Gateway, and even Dell's own XPS tower. 

The power switch is about 2/3 down front and centered, making it less convenient than many of its competitors to power on if you place your system on the floor, where many “desktops” spend their lives.

The 660 tower is a flat-black colored metal box with a shiny black front bezel.  The tower measures (H) 14.45 in. x (W) 6.89 in. x (D) 17.32 in.  and weights 17.51 pounds.  If you order directly from Dell you can customize the front Bezel, paying an extra $29 to get it in blue, red, white, or purple.  The overall fit and quality of the build appears to be excellent, as you would expect from a Dell product. 

Dell is headquartered in Round Rock, Texas and assembles desktop computers for the American market in the US of A.   Naturally most of the components are manufactured in Asia.

The DVD/CD reader-writer is at the top front of the case and is opened by pressing a well-disguised button just to the right of the tray front.  Like everything else on this machine the optical drive functions perfectly.
There is a small depression on the top of the case, I guess to make a USB device such as an external hard drive or camera less likely to fall off.

A front panel hides Dell’s 8 in 1 card reader, which will read most popular
memory cards used in cameras. 

The front panel also has 2 USB 2.0 ports, to compliment 2 additional USB 2.0 and 4 USB 3.0 ports on the rear of the case.  USB connectors fit very easily and solidly into the USB ports; on some cheaper brands I've noticed you have to use a lot of force or the fit seems loose.  As you would expect, connectors for a mic and headset are also on the front - built into the hidden front panel.

Wi-Fi Included

Dell includes integrated 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, a handy feature if you’re connecting this computer to a wireless network.  I am not a big fan of integrated Wi-Fi adapters since external antenna are better at picking up signals.  I have only seen built in adapters be a serious problem when the computer is located some distance from the wireless router (over 50 feet) and the tower case sits between the router and the adapter, which is in the rear of the tower.

Video

A Sub-D video port is on the back of the tower, along with the newest audio/video connection, HDMI.  The HDMI connection is a nice feature on a system this inexpensive and is especially useful if you plan on using a monitor that includes speakers, or if you plan to send output to a television.  The picture quality is excellent.

Sound

The 660 includes integrated 5.1 (supports 5 speakers and a subwoofer) sound; a standard feature built into the motherboard on modern desktop computers that provides outstanding audio, depending more on the quality your speakers or headsets.

Under the Hood

The interior of the 660 is easily accessed by removing two Phillips screws on a side panel.  The interior is mostly empty space, which makes for better heat dissapation and easier access for modifications or repairs, if you're into that sort of thing. 

The motherboard appears high quality and  includes exactly the same 1155 chipset that supported the older Sandy Bridge CPU – and this is not a bad thing.  The motherboard has 2 unused SATA headers and Dell’s standard 300 Watt PSU provided an extra SATA power connector. 

There is an empty PCI-e slot just in case you want to add a discreet video card, but you’re going to have to upgrade the PSU if you buy a more powerful card that requires its own 6-pin power supply.

Desisions, Decisions

Depending on the configuration you chose, the 660 come with the Ivy Bridge i3 or i5 CPU, a 500 – 2TB hard drive, and 4, 6, or 8 GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM.

The i3 Ivy Bridge CPU is dual core, but it incorporates hyper threading, which makes it act pretty much like it has 4 cores.  The i5 Ivy Bridge is a true 4 core CPU which should deliver slightly better performance in gaming and video applications, and when multiple windows are open.  Both CPUs include an upgraded internal graphic processing unit, which is an improvement on the Sandy Bridge integrated graphics.

A good basic system would consist of the i3 Ivy Bridge CPU, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, and a 500GB 7200 RPM hard drive.  Anything else for most users is gravy.  The key upgrades would be to the Hard drive (1TB), memory (6 or 8 GB) and the CPU (i5).  Each of these upgrades will slightly improve performance.  Each will generally cost $25 - $50, maybe less if you catch a special promotion.

CPU Integrated Video

Older Sandy Bridge processors included an integrated video system that was limited in some important ways.   Ivy Bridge chips removed one of the main limitations by replacing Sandy Bridge's DirectX 10.1 support with DX11 capabilities, and generally improving their speed and functionality. 

I played a popular 3D game on the Dell 660 with an i3 Ivy Bridge CPU, and could see a slight improvement in performance over playing the game on my Dell 620 with an i3 Sandy Bridge CPU.  Neither Dell would provide an optimal gaming experience for a “serious gamer”.  If you are buying a computer to play action 3D games I would suggest a more powerful computer with a discreet video card.

The Silence of the Dell

The 660 is similar to prior Dell entry level models I have tested in its quietness; I have to see the light in the “On” button to know the system is even running.

Operating Systems

Currently the 660 is available with either a Windows 7 Home Premium operating system (add $30) or the Windows 8 Home Premium operating system.

I am an IT professional and it took me just a couple of weeks to get comfortable with Windows 7, and more like a month to become comfortable with Windows 8.  If you are extremely adverse to learning new things, you might want to avoid Windows 8.  However, I configured a friend’s computer with Windows 8, and she was she was effortlessly using her new system for over a week until she realized something was wrong - there was no Start button!

I hate to wade into the debate on whether or not Microsoft has made a horrible mistake with the Windows 8 operating system, but that is an important decision a new computer buyer must make.  Windows 7 and 8 are both excellent.  Windows 8 is a faster and a much more secure system, but there is a learning curve that will be frustrating for some.  I guarantee once you become accustomed to Windows 8 you’ll never look back. 

Windows 7 systems have regularly been brought into my shop after they were rendered useless by malware, but I have yet to see an infected Windows 8 system.  Yes, we are early in the Windows 8 product cycle, and the bad guys will probably eventually learn to circumvent Window 8 security. 

Windows 8 includes Window Defender as part of its operating system.  On Windows 8 Defender starts protecting the system during the initial boot process – so Windows 8 without any additional security is better protected than Windows 7 with similar strength security, i.e. Microsoft Security Essentials.

Some Really Geeky Stuff

Windows 8 utilizes UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) a standard firmware interface for PCs, designed to replace the ancient computer BIOS (basic input/output system). UEFI was created by a number of major technology companies, including Microsoft. It's designed to improve software performance and address limitations of BIOS, and most significantly for security, it helps protect the pre-startup—or pre-boot—process against bootkit attacks.  This is where the most dangerous malware attacks have been happening.

I Would Go With Windows 8

I suggest you think carefully before you spend your money on a new computer with an obsolete Windows 7 operating system. 

Microsoft Office

Dell offers a 1 year subscription to Microsoft Office software for $100; this can be used on up to 5 devices.  Dell also offers a permanent version of Office for 1 computer for $140.  If you have installation software for older versions of Office it will work just fine on your new Windows 8 system - in spite of what some Big Box store salespeople might tell you.  A nice shareware program, OpenOffice Apache provides home users "no frills" functionality similar to Microsoft products.

Backup Your System!

The 660 will easily accommodate a second (or even third) internal hard drive.  Windows 8 and 7 include a feature that allows you to make automatic image backups of an entire physical hard drive to an internal or external hard drive, or a series (usually 5) DVDs.  That way if your hard 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 backup feature can also be configured to back up just your personal folder, containing documents, pictures, and music.

You can buy a decent internal hard drive, or if you’re not into opening up your tower a USB external hard drive for less than $100 to make system backups.  The new Windows backup feature is totally separate from Windows Backup and Restore points, which is still there and has been a feature since Windows XP. 

Bloatware

Dell, as always, includes a ton of bloat ware that can significantly slow your new computer’s performance. I strongly suggest deleting the included trial McAfee or Norton security suite, often trial versions good for as little as 90 days, and downloading free AVG, free Avira, or free Avast security suites.  They are all superior and the price is right. 

Other unnecessary software, such as any “trial” programs can be deleted using the “Uninstall a Program” feature in the Control Panel.  An online search will let you know which programs are unnecessary.  A free program such as PC Decrapifier or Revo can be used to clean a new system.
 
Many would like to see retail PC makers like Dell stop junking up their new systems, but software distributors pay to have their software installed on new systems, so at least in theory the consumer benefits by paying less for the computer.

Extended Warranty and Tech Support

I did not pay extra for any warranty coverage beyond the basic 1 year coverage.  I figure if a computer makes it for a year, it should probably be good for its expected useful life, which is about 6 years.  Dell does provide an unconditional 30 day satisfaction guarantee, which might be a good reason to buy directly from Dell.com.

Dell provides a 90 day in-home warranty and a year of tech support and factory repair.  If you want to gamble and save $100 or more you can buy a refurbished system which comes with a 90-day rather than a 1 year warranty.  I have seen refurbished systems that were probably returned because the initial buyer did not like the operating system, and some that seemed a little beat up.  I would not take this gamble - what are they telling you when they cut the warranty from 1 year to 3 months?

Tech support for Dell has ranged from painful to excellent in my experience.  If the nice man or lady from India cannot help, they will usually send a tech to your home the next day.  I would say no to the upgrade to 2 or 3 years support they will try to sell you if you call for help.

The Slim 660S

Dell also offers the 660 in a slim version, 660S, at a lower price.  The slim version has been somewhat more repair-prone in older model Dells, possibly because of its weaker power supply and poorer heat dissipation from the working components.  660S models can be priced substantially lower, but often the price advantage is achieved in part by using obsolete CPUs such as the Celeron or duel core Pentium, with noticeably degraded performance.  Unless your space for the computer or budget is limited I would skip the slim version.
 
Conclusions

Except for Apple, which is twice the price and operating on a substantially different platform, Dell makes the highest quality entry level computers.  HP is right behind Dell in quality, and the others such as Lenovo, Acer, and Gateway are a bit farther back in the pack.

I am giving the Dell 660 5 stars because of its value.  For $450 - $700+ this is a lot of computer that should fill the needs of most home, student, or small business users.


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