Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Inspiron 1464 Mini Review

Since my laptop, an HP Pavilion DV6000, is on the verge of dying, I
decided to buy a replacement. A Macbook was what I looked at first but
it is too expensive for me. Besides, I work mostly on Windows and
Linux. The next choice was a Thinkpad T400. Mixed reviews of the model
sold in India and the expensive price tag even without the Windows tax
left me searching for alternatives. Then I received a nice deal from
Dell for the new Inspiron model 1464 and I bought it. A fast machine
at a much lower price.

Last week I received my new laptop and here are my initial
impressions. Note that this is by no means a proper review. The focus
is on things that are either essentials or major annoyances on my
previous laptop.

The model is a 14" laptop powered by a Core i5 430M with 3G of RAM and
a 320GB SATA HDD running at 7200 RPM. The build is decent for a
low-end laptop. The design is similar to the newer Vostro models and
also borrws a few things from the Studio line.

The keyboard is decent with fullsize keys and with a rounded bevel on
the keycaps. The travel is just a bit on the shorter side. The tactile
feedback is pretty decent. I think it uses one of those "scissor"
switches. I typed on it for a while and could detect no flex unlike my
previous laptop where there was a lot of flex at the center. While the
keyboard is good, the layout of the keys is where Dell screwed up
badly. Firstly, the right shift key is smaller and not aligned with
the enter key. To hit the right shift key with my right pinky I'll
have to curl my other fingers and this can be painful when done
frequently. The bigger screwup is the arrangement of the function
keys. The function keys are swapped with the hardware control keys!!!
and require an Fn keypress. This is simply ridiculous. The function
keys are also off as there is an additional key to toggle the
touchpad. Sigh.

The touchpad is a nice one with a large surface area and has a matte
texture that adds a nice feel. The touchpad buttons are firm and
provide a good feedback when pressed. The right edge of the touchpad
can be used as a scroll area as well.

The display is 14" across with a native resolution of 1366x768 which
is pretty basic considering other laptops offer much higher
resolutions (eg: the similarly priced Travelmate gives you 1280x800
for a 12" display). The display is bright with upto 15 levels of
brightness adjustments which is quite good. The display is housed on a
bevelled screen with firm hinges that is bridged with the main body
and can tilt upto 120-135 degrees easily. The screen does not wobble
when typing fast.

Performance seems to be quite good but then every laptop that I've
touched since my HP Pavilion seems to run faster :). The machine comes
bundled with 64bit Windows 7 Home Premium. I managed to get rid of
800MB of stuff from "Program Files". Never understood why these
programs are installed in the first place.

Windows 7 - the taskbar is an improvement. However Aero as an
interface theme simply sucks. Nimbus, Nodoka, Clearlooks are all so
much better.  The window manager animations stutter sometimes and it
is not a pretty sight. I guess the cheap GMA 4500 HD video card is the
culprit. But then I won't be needing fancy animations so I'll turn
those things off. Good to see the disk management tool being able to
resize the partition(s) as otherwise it would have taken much longer
to do it with gparted.

Compiling software is a good test for measuring overall performance. A
full debug build of wxWidgets-trunk (make -j4) using GCC was completed
in 11 minutes (approx) with all the cores 100% most of the time and
running on battery. This is pretty good as my quad-core desktop gets
the same thing done in 7 minutes (approx). This will perhaps be the
most resource intensive thing I'll be doing on this machine so I'm
happy with the performance that I got.

The laptop comes with a 6-cell battery which lasted for roughly 2.5
hours under a typical workload with wireless on most of the time and
normal screen brightness. In comparison, the HP Pavilion's 6-cell
battery gave at most 35 minutes. I had replace it with a 10-cell one
last last year and I get about 2-2.5 hours. Something is definitely
wrong with that machine. My experience with HP's support was quite
bad.

There is one area of concern: the fan seems to be on all the time even
when the machine is idle. Need to contact the support people and get
this sorted out. I hope that the experience won't be as bad as it was
the last time I called the customer support.