Pros: Big, bright display; good processing power, ample HDD capacity
Cons: Lacking asthetics; flimsy, noisy keyboard; weak graphics; no scroll pad
One correction to the specifications listed by Epinions: this laptop uses a Core i3 processor operating at 2.3 GHz, not Pentium III (but still dual-core and still 2.3 GHz). Many of the laptops in this series have slightly different specifications with regard to RAM, CPU, and Hard Disk Drive (HDD) capacity. Most of the information in this review is applicable to the entire N5050 series.
My wife and I bought this laptop for our son who was starting his first year of high school. I am not partial to Dell computers, but this was a good buy at $400 when we bought it in July of 2012. It had all the specs I was looking for (500 GB hard drive, Core i3, and 4 GB of RAM were my minimum requirements). I took a few days to set it up and play with it to get a feel for it.
The keyboard feels flimsy. When the keys are pressed, there is no solid stop and half the keyboard vibrates and has a rattle, so it's not a silent keyboard like some laptops. That being said, the keyboard should hold up just fine in the long run. Also the keyboard comes out easily with the correct tools, which is handy for cleaning.
The built-in wireless adapter has pretty good range. We live in a two-story home, with the wireless router upstairs. In my office (downstairs) signal is often weak, but this laptop seems to have a strong connection compared to my laptop (a Toshiba).
There is an HDMI port on the left side. The boy uses this to connect his TV and use it as a second, very large monitor. He uses it as an extended desktop display; it could mirror the built-in display or take over as primary. The picture when he does this is pretty sharp and the machine remains responsive, so I’m pleased with the graphics capabilities on this laptop.
The system is quiet; in fact it’s nearly silent. When leaning over the top of the laptop, the CPU fan is just audible. The hard drive is quiet, too. This is definitely a good system for those who need low noise.
One complaint that I have is the lack of a scrolling pad. Every laptop I’ve had for the last 10 years has had at least an up/down scroll pad to the side of the mousepad (often built-in and indistinguishable). This laptop doesn’t. It’s not a feature I was specifically looking for, and the boy will probably never miss it. For those who have become accustomed to them, it is a pain when it’s not there.
I’m not fond of the hardware layout, although some people will probably love it. The RAM and optical drive are both accessed from underneath the keyboard. This has the advantage of never having to turn the laptop upside down to do things like upgrade RAM and replace the optical drive. What Dell missed when they made this decision is that upgrading RAM and replacing the optical drive are extremely rare occurrences. By removing the keyboard, some owners are likely to damage or inadvertently remove the keyboard ribbon cable. Reconnecting these is often a pain. If you opt to upgrade (or need to replace) either the RAM or the optical drive, use a plastic tool for the job; they’re cheap and readily available at many stores.
Even worse than upgrading the RAM is replacing the hard drive. One of the reasons I set 500 GB as my minimum on the hard drive is that usually it’s a breeze to upgrade the hard drive. Not so on this computer! In most laptops, a single cover can be removed to gain access to the hard drive. In this computer, two screws must be removed from beneath the laptop, then the keyboard is removed (and disconnected), then the palm rest is removed (exposing most of the motherboard), and finally the hard drive is accessible. So what is usually a five minute activity just became closer to half an hour with more chances to hurt the computer in the process.
The power cord plugs into the back, just off of the battery (left side of screen). This shouldn’t be a major factor for most users; some may not like the placement as a matter of preference, so I mention it.
The computer comes pre-installed with Windows 7 Home Premium. As I’ll explain below, the laptop boots nicely. I’ve used this computer for playing videos and music, editing pictures, running office applications (currently MS Office 2010, though I’ve tested others with great success). The boy has used it for video chatting, making PowerPoint presentations, and moderate gaming. It handles the typical workload easily and likely will for many years. For those interested, the Windows Experience Index scores are as follows (based on Windows 7 Home Premium w/ 4 GB of RAM): Processor - 6.7, Memory (RAM) - 6.4, Graphics - 4.7, Gaming Graphics - 6.0, Primary Hard Disk - 5.9. By upgrading to 8 GB RAM as I did (maximum supported is 8 GB), the memory score improves to 7.3; overall performance will be relatively unchanged for this upgrade unless some serious memory hogs are installed.
Boot speed is pretty good. After removing the bloatware (which every laptop seems to come loaded to the hilt with these days), the startup time decreased from 45 seconds down to about 30 seconds. After installing anti-virus and firewall protection, it was back up to about 40 seconds. Now that the boy has had it for 6 months it's over 45, but still less than a minute.