Review Dell Vostro A860

Already some time ago Dell introduced two series of entry-level notebooks intended for the emerging markets. Initially, we thought that the Vostro A860 won’t be available in developed countries, but the Texas-based vendor surprised us. We were promised a test sample just after it had been announced, but there was an unexpected delay. Finally we got hold of a test sample, which we'll describe in detail this test report.

Case

With the Vostro A860 Dell tries to penetrate the low-end notebook market once again. However, this  marketing concept was already developed before the launch of the two Inspiron Minis. During the test one of our testers even wondered, whether the design of this notebook won't backfire, because it could tarnish Dell's reputation. At least this is an absolute low-end notebook.

Although the Vostro A860 does not look dull in any way, the materials used are in accordance with the price below 500.- euro. This is especially true for the synthetic material used for the palm rest areas, which does not feel nice to the touch. Furthermore, we felt nearly uncomfortable with a keyboard sagging that much.

The cheap plastic is a big contrast to the glossy lid, the frame around the screen, and the cover above the keyboard. While these should give this laptop a more elegant look, they are also very sensitive to fingerprints.

The hinges work properly, nevertheless they can not completely prevent a seesaw after adjusting the opening angle. The lid cannot be opened by more than about 160 degrees, but this does not really limit the usability.

The latch works moderately. In the closed notebook there is still a considerable gap between the top case and the lid. However, this problem is quite common among notebooks of this price category.  
 
The plastics of the bottom side is resistant, but not really nice to the touch. If you lift this laptop and carry it around you'll realize that the DVD drive on the right is not mounted tightly.
 
One of the disadvantages of the Vostro A860 is that it has only two USB ports which are both on the left side close to the front. This makes working with an external mouse difficult for right-handers.

Front Side: Headphones, Microphone
Front Side: Headphones, Microphone
Left Side: Vent Holes, Kensington Lock, VGA, LAN, 2x USB, PCMCIA, CardReader, FireWire
Left Side: Vent Holes, Kensington Lock, VGA, LAN, 2x USB, PCMCIA, CardReader, FireWire
Right Side: Optical drive, Modem, Power Socket
Right Side: Optical drive, Modem, Power Socket
Back Side: -
Back Side: -

Input devices

The keyboard nearly discourages the user from using this laptop intensively. It does not compare to the qualities of other Dell notebooks, not even to their mainstream notebooks. Although one would like to praise the Dell's keyboard layout and the rather large keys, these unfortunately only look good. Once you start using the keyboard, you'll notice that it seriously flexes and that the tapping of the keys is rather loud and unpleasant. Furthermore, the sharp edges of the key heads, make typing feel rather uncomfortable.

The touchpad looks coarse and somewhat inept, as if it lies in a little gentle incline. Measuring 69x37mm is is a little long. Therefore moving the cursor is a bit difficult, because of too little space for comfortably moving it in vertical direction. Furthermore, the default settings are inappropriate – the pointer moves slowly and with very little precision. On the contrary the mouse buttons are quite good, especially if you consider the price of the notebook. Their travel is not too long and they are not too loud.

Keyboard
Keyboard
Touchpad
Touchpad

Display

Dell Vostro A860

The WXGA screen with a resolution of 1366x768 pixels is the most interesting item of the Vostro A860 - not only because of the (still) untypical aspect ratio of 16:9, but also because of its matte surface.
 
To make a long story short – this screen made by AU Optronics is the biggest advantage of this Dell notebook. One could value this as a clear commitment of Dell to quality panels, if even the cheapest models are equipped with such.

If you are used to a 16:10 aspect ratio you might find the 16:9 one a little strange at first, because the vertical axes contains less pixels than usual. Nevertheless, web pages and movies look rather good on this screen and meet our expectations.

203,8
cd/m²
228,1
cd/m²
205,4
cd/m²
179,7
cd/m²
215,6
cd/m²
181,4
cd/m²
193
cd/m²
206,8
cd/m²
185,3
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
Information
Maximum: 228,1 cd/m²
Average: 199.4 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 79 %
Black: 1.1 cd/m²
Contrast: 195:1
Dell Vostro A860 Outdoor
Dell Vostro A860

First and foremost one has to note the high brightness of this screen. In fact the Vostro 860 trounces any competition in its category, even if you consider all low-priced laptops and not only those with matte screen. An average brightness of 200cd/m² is impressive and the illumination of 78.8% is also rather good.  
 
In regards of colour representation the A860 could also convince. The colours are saturated, bright, and rich in contrast. So, this cheap Dell laptop is better than the more professional HP Compaq 6730b in this aspect.

Considering the price the viewing angles are fairly good too.

Dell Vostro A860 Viewing Angles
Dell Vostro A860 Viewing Angles
Dell Vostro A860 Viewing Angles
Dell Vostro A860 Viewing Angles
Dell Vostro A860 Viewing Angles
Dell Vostro A860 Viewing Angles
Dell Vostro A860 Viewing Angles
Dell Vostro A860 Viewing Angles
Dell Vostro A860 Viewing Angles

Performance

The Vostro A860 is equipped with an Intel Pentium Dual-Core CPU, which is often used in budget notebooks. The Pentium DC T2390 has a clock rate of 1.86GHz, 1MB L2 Cache, and a 533MHz frontside bus. This is not one of the fastest processors, because Intel's contemporary mobile CPUs have a frontside bus twice as quick (1066MHz), and the latest Pentium DC (T4200) has even a 800MHz one. Nevertheless the performance is sufficient for usual office tasks and browsing the Internet.

An Intel GMA X3100, an integrated solution without dedicated graphics memory, is responsible for graphics processing. So, this notebook is clearly outperformed by newer notebooks which are equipped with superior integrated graphics processors made by Nvidia or ATI (e.g., GeForce 8200M, Radeon HD 3200). While the later are sufficient for occasional gaming, the X3100 only suffices older, non-demanding games.

3D Mark
3DMark 2001SE2836 points
3DMark 031482 points
3DMark 05824 points
3DMark 06
 1280x768
506 points
Help
3DMark 06 in comparison
Dell Inspiron duo (min)
 N550, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 3150
150
   ...
Asus U2E-1P017E
 U7500, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) X3100
426
Dell Vostro A860
 T2390, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) X3100
506
Dell Inspiron 11z
 SU4100, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 4500MHD
551
Acer Aspire 4810T
 SU3500, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 4500MHD
615
   ...
HP Envy 15 (max)
 720QM, Mobility Radeon HD 4830
8380
PC Mark
PCMark 053596 points
Help
PCMark 05 in comparison
Acer Aspire One 751 (min)
 Z520, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 500
692
   ...
Sony Vaio VGN-FE31B
 T5500, GeForce Go 7400
3516
Sony Vaio VGN-FE21M
 T2300, GeForce Go 7600
3577
Dell Vostro A860
 T2390, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) X3100
3596
Dell Vostro 1710
 T8100, GeForce 8600M GS
3596
Dell Inspiron 1525
 T5500, Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) X3100
3600
   ...
Fujitsu Celsius H710 WXP11DE (max)
 2820QM, Quadro 1000M
13842
Cinebench R10
 SettingsValue
 Rendering Single 32Bit1771 Points
 Rendering Multiple CPUs 32Bit3331 Points
 Shading 32Bit734 Points
Quake 3 Arena - Timedemo
 ResolutionSettingsValue
 1024x768highest, 0xAA, 0xAF67.1 fps
160 GB - 5400 rpm
Transfer Rate Minimum: 26 MB/s
Transfer Rate Maximum: 59.4 MB/s
Transfer Rate Average: 44.7 MB/s
Access Time: 18 ms
Burst Rate: 92.2 MB/s
CPU Usage: 4.1 %

Emissions

System Noise

Unfortunately, the Vostro A860 is somewhat noisy, and in our opinion this is one of its major disadvantage. Even during regular use the noise of the cooling system is very annoying. With profile "Balanced" selected, the situation got really bad when the battery was recharged, while having five Internet browsers open at the same time. In such circumstances the fan permanently blows warm air from the inside of the case to its outside.

Even if the CPU is not stressed, the fan is sometimes audible. Typically, the fan is rather loud at the beginning, but thereafter the noise level falls step by step. The same is true under load. The fan occasionally speeds up and slows down just after that. This behaviour is especially bothersome, because you might even in times of low load and relative silence face a suddenly audible fan.

In contrast the hard drive is really quiet. But, the optical drive is noisy while spinning the disc.

Temperature

Although the Vostro A860 is not equipped with very powerful hardware and its cooling system works intensely during load, its chassis can heat up quite a bit. Precisely speaking, this occurs on a limited area, in the left front part. In moderate ambient temperature we measured almost 45°C on the bottom part of it, while on the top the temperature reached 36°C after a long period of time.

If standard applications are run and you work with your laptop on your lap, you might feel uncomfortable within minutes. If the computer was used in a hot environment without air-conditioning, it can get seriously inconvenient.

Loudspeakers

The speakers are not impressive. With high tones the distortions are overwhelming, so that one might get a headache. The basses, on the other hand, sound like stamping, so one might worry, whether the speakers will collapse in a spectacular fashion.

Battery life

Although Dell chose a modest battery (48 Wh) for this budget laptop, the battery life of the Vostro A860 does not disappoint compared to similar notebooks. 2.5 hours on one charge with the WLAN module turned on and transmitting data is a satisfactory time span. Nevertheless, it has to be mentioned that some of the cheaper HP notebooks have a longer battery life.

Verdict

The Vostro A860,  a direct import from China, looks better than most budget laptops from other manufacturers. The styling reminds on the luxurious Asus W2 series, however, only from the distance. If you look closer, you'll realize that the used materials are of the same quality than of other notebooks of the same price category.

The connectivity is not impressive. Only two USB ports and inconveniently located – one adjacent to the other in the front part of the left side.

The input devices are also not really good. The keyboard flexes clearly, so that the tapping is rather loud. The sharp edges should  give the keys a nice look, however, they are not nice to the touch.

Another of numerous weaknesses is that the cooling system is rather loud. Furthermore, we did not like its noise characteristics.   
 
The important  advantage of Vostro A860 is its matte screen. If you are looking for a budget laptop with a good non-reflecting screen, you have found one. Considering the price tag of this Dell laptop, the quality of the screen is simply outstanding. The only disadvantage is the 16:9 aspect ratio and the unusual resolution of 1366x768 pixels.

Dell Vostro A860
Dell Vostro A860
In Review: Dell Vostro A860
Dell Vostro A860

Specifications

Dell Vostro A860

:: Processor
:: Mainboard
Intel GM965
:: Memory
2048 MB, Hynix DDR2-800, 2x 1GB
:: Graphics adapter
Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) X3100, Core: 400 MHz, Memory: 300 MHz, 7.15.10.1472
:: Display
15,6 inch 16:9, 1366x768 pixel, AU Optronics AUO11EC, glossy: no
:: Harddisk
160 GB - 5400 rpm, 160 GB 5400 rpm WDC WD1600BEVT-75ZCT1
:: Soundcard
Conexant Cx20561
:: Connections
2 USB 2.0, 1 Firewire, 1 VGA, 56k v.92 Modem, 1 Kensington Lock, Audio Connections: Audio-in, Audio-out, Card Reader: 3-in-1 (SD/SDIO/MMC),
:: Networking
Realtek RTL8102E Family PCI-E Fast Ethernet (10/100MBit), Atheros AR5007EG (b g ), Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR Bluetooth
:: Optical drive
TSSTcorp CDDVDW TS-L633A
:: Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 36,8 x 376 x 255
:: Weight
2.55 kg Power Supply: 0.428 kg
:: Battery
47 Wh Lithium-Ion, 6 cells
:: Price
730 Euro
:: Operating System
Microsoft Windows Vista Business 32 Bit
:: Additional features
Works 9, 36 Months Warranty

 

The Vostro A860 is one of the Dell's budget notebooks.
The Vostro A860 is one of the Dell's budget notebooks.
The chassis gets rather warm on the bottom side.
The chassis gets rather warm on the bottom side.
Vostro A860 is a considerably noisy notebook.
Vostro A860 is a considerably noisy notebook.
Two USB ports next to each other are not ideal.
Two USB ports next to each other are not ideal.
The important advantage of the Vostro A860 is its matte screen.
The important advantage of the Vostro A860 is its matte screen.
The sharp edges of the keys are not convenient.
The sharp edges of the keys are not convenient.
But the worst is the keyboard, which flexes very much.
But the worst is the keyboard, which flexes very much.
The glossy lead needs a lot of cleaning.
The glossy lead needs a lot of cleaning.
But this is an illusion: the plastics looks cheap.
But this is an illusion: the plastics looks cheap.
Glossy elements give it the flair of a high-end notebook.
Glossy elements give it the flair of a high-end notebook.
It looks impressive.
It looks impressive.
Compared to other notebooks of the same price category the battery runtime is sufficiently long.
Compared to other notebooks of the same price category the battery runtime is sufficiently long.

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Pro

+Matte screen with outstanding parameters
+Good battery life
+Quiet HDD
 

Cons

-Poor chassis quality
-Awful flex in the keyboard
-Glossy lid
-Rather noisy
-Only two USB ports (both on the left side)
-Very poor speakers

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Review Dell Vostro A860
Author: Sylwester Cyba, 2008-01-15 (Update: 2012-05-26)