Review Dell Inspiron 17R-SE-7720 Notebook
Special Edition! Apart from the name, our test device no longer has much in common with the older generation models that we have reviewed. The newest hardware technology is packed in a new outfit. The add-on SE standing for “Special Edition” refers to the extra performance reserves as well as the high quality components in contrast to the standard Inspiron 17R.
Our review sample is Dell's Inspiron 17R SE 7720 - a 17-inch behemoth. Like in the Inspiron 15R SE, you have to be wary when ordering on Dell's homepage because the old and the new Inspiron models are sold under the same name. You should make sure to look at the case and installed hardware rather than the name to determine if it is the current Inspiron model.
Featuring Intel's powerful Core i7-3610QM quad-core processor with a default clock of 2.3 GHz, Nvidia's GeForce GT 650 and a total of 6 GB DDR3 RAM, the Inspiron 17R lines in among high-performance laptops - at least theoretically. As typical for Dell, the computer can be customized according to the needed power. However, the available options right now on the website are very limited.
With a weight of 3.3 kilograms (7.27 lb.), the Inspiron 17R SE must be classified as a desktop replacement. We will find out whether our test system's available performance will match the installed hardware in practical use.
It is evident looking at the case design that Dell has put effort into the Inspiron 17R Special Edition. No smooth surfaces in glossy paint are found like in the case of the Inspiron 17R (N7110). The interchangeable display covers (Switch covers) that we know are also available for the Special Edition and are there to provide some semblance of individuality. The display lid and the wrist rest are made of anodized aluminum featuring a precision-embossed honeycomb pattern that is palpable, but also a bit sensitive to fingerprints. Dell's logo is placed visibly on the lid.
Thanks to the anodized aluminum, the device not only looks good but also scores in terms of stability. The Inspiron 17R SE proves to be solidly built and doesn’t yield even in the keyboard area. However, this makes it a little too bulky with all the build material incorporated into the design for stiffness. Both the display's anodized aluminum back as well as the wrist rest are trimmed with silver strips that lend the Inspiron 17R SE a better appearance. Unfortunately, fingerprints easily stick to the anodized aluminum surface and more care is needed to keep the notebook looking good.
The 17-inch screen is kept in place firmly by two medium sized hinges on both sides. But vibrations or adjusting the opening angle makes the display wobble a bit. Despite the size, the Inspiron does not have a closing mechanism to keep the screen closed tightly. Opening and closing the screen is a bit difficult but does not produce creaking noises that might taint the good impression. A HD webcam and the digital microphone are built into the top of the display.
The Inspiron 17R SE sports a good assortment of ports for a desktop replacement. They are located on both sides and in the front. The rear does not harbor any ports because the inserted battery uses the entire width. Although we deem the distribution to be subpar, right-handers should be able to cope well with the ports.
Dell installs an 8 in 1 card reader that supports the following standards: Digital (SD) Memory Card, Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC), Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC), Multi Media Card (MMC), MultiMedia Card plus (MMC+), Memory Stick (MS), Memory Stick PRO (MS Pro), xD Picture Card (xD).
The power adapter and video out is followed by the vent on the left. The HDMI port and two USB 3.0 ports (one features active power for charging during sleep/inactivity) and the microphone and headphone jacks are directly beside them. The right is not as crammed. The optical drive (PLDS DVD+-RW DS-8A8SH) is found between two USB 3.0 ports, followed by an RJ45 Ethernet (10/100) port and the Kensington lock slot.
The RJ45 Ethernet port (Realtek PCIe FE Family Controller) is mandatory as well as a standard in virtually every laptop. This also applies to the WLAN adapter, which no reasonable mobile device lacks nowadays. Dell's Inspiron 17R SE sports an Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 adapter that supports most common Wi-Fi standards for wireless Internet connections or linking up to a network. Bluetooth 4.0 is also is also included in the laptop.
Video conferences via Skype or similar programs are no problem for our test device having a 1MP webcam and an accompanying microphone in the display bezel.
Microsoft Office Starter, McAfee Security Center (15 months, registration required) and Nero Control Center are among the preinstalled programs (mostly bloatware) found on the hard disk. Microsoft's Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit operating system is installed along with Adobe Premiere Elements 9 and Adobe Photoshop 9, which are slimmed-down versions of Adobe Premiere and Adobe Photoshop respectively. Another very useful preinstalled program is Dell Audio. It is basically a sound manager for controlling Skullcandy's built-in sound system including an integrated subwoofer.
A driver CD and installation media for Adobe Premiere Elements 9 and Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 is found in the box. A 130 watt PSU is found in addition to the Inspiron 17R SE and its battery.
Accessing the Inspiron 17R SE's hard disk and RAM are simple. Only two small screws have to be removed from the base. Then, the L-shaped cover can be removed easily but with a bit of care. The Wi-Fi module, HDD and the RAM, an mSATA slot and a secondary HDD slot are accessible. Unfortunately, normal users cannot reach the fan or the heat sink for cleaning purposes. The keyboard and the palm rest would have to be removed and the remaining case disassembled even more to access these components. However, this could result in the loss of the warranty.
A 12 month "Hardware Service: Next Business Day Limited Onsite Service" is included in the purchase price. It can be extended to three years for a steep surcharge of 180 Euro (~$230), which includes "Premium Phone Support" for software issues for the entire warranty period. Accidental damages are covered within the scope of the warranty for an additional 40 Euro (~$50) for 1 year.
Like its 15-inch sibling, the Inspiron 17R SE features a chiclet-style keyboard. In contrast to the Inspiron 15R SE, our test device sports a full-scale number pad as in external keyboards. Dell also uses a standard keyboard layout and that means long familiarization periods are reduced to a minimum. The optional backlit keyboard, as present in the Vostro V131 and Inspiron 15R SE, could lead to a bit of confusion when ordering online. Apparently, only devices without the "48 hour delivery" feature can be configured with a backlit keyboard. It costs an additional 40 Euro (~$50), as was in the case of the Inspiron 15R SE.
Typing on the installed keyboard is pleasant. We cannot complain much about the quality. The pressure point is distinct and clearly palpable. Three hot keys for Windows Mobility Center are located above the keyboard and below the right hinge. Two buttons enable selecting the audio profile and one key can be assigned with a frequently used application.
The Inspiron 17R SE's touchpad is just as convincing. The pointer can be navigated very accurately. The touchpad surface is pleasant and the size is also adequate. The touchpad can be disabled quickly and conveniently via a key combination. An orange-colored LED above the touchpad indicates its deactivation when it begins to glow. Multi-gestures, like the ones on smartphones, are also supported and detected without problems.
Both mouse keys below the touchpad work flawlessly and provide good and clear feedback.
Dell also has selected good quality components that give substance to the moniker ‘SE”. The Inspiron 17R SE sports a Full-HD screen (maximum resolution of 1920x1080 pixels) as appropriate for a multimedia device. However, Dell is a bit tightfisted with the optical drive and only installs a "standard" 8x DVD+/-RW drive into our configuration. A Blu-Ray drive would have been more befitting for the built-in Full HD screen Blu-Ray movies are best viewed on these resolutions. If a Blu-Ray drive is a must, it is available in the most expensive configuration priced at 1199 Euro (~$1500).
The screen's illumination looks homogeneous, which is confirmed by our measurements. Our test device is well-positioned with a maximum brightness of 266 cd/m2 in the lower center. The illumination of 87% is also good.
A comparison with the Inspiron 15R SE shows the smaller device having slightly better brightness. However, the Inspiron 17R SE's screen compensates for this deficiency with a lower black value of 0.35 cd/m2 and better contrast ratio of 726:1 and this makes the pictures look more intense and vivid.
The built-in screen almost covers the sRGB space completely. However, it is not much of a comparison with the Adobe RGB space. The screen might not be meant for the graphic professional, but it would be an excellent display for the purpose of home entertainment. It is ultimately a consumer laptop that is not intended to meet professional claims.
Disregarding the size and weight, restricted outdoor use is quite possible when the device is used in shady places. Unfortunately the built-in screen cannot be viewed under direct sunlight due to an average brightness of 253.2 cd/m2. However, the matte screen prevents annoying reflections successfully.
The screen also scores quite well in viewing angle stability. The picture can still be recognized even when the display is almost closed. But there are slight losses in color. The lateral viewing angles are also fairly generous and pictures don’t distort even with tight viewing angles. This results in color deviations leading to a darker picture.
Modern notebook hardware copes easily with routine applications such as rendering multimedia files, office applications and internet surfing. Dell's Inspiron 17R SE is no exception. The Inspiron is qualified for more complex tasks such as video editing and gaming due to the strong quad-core CPU and GeForce graphics card.
Dell's Inspiron 17R SE is at the very front in terms of performance due to Intel's Core i7-3610QM processor based on the latest Ivy Bridge architecture. The CPU is the cheapest model of Intel’s quad-core processors but has slightly better performance than Sandy Bridge's Core i7-2920XM CPU, which was the strongest CPU from the last generation. Compared with the higher clocked Core i7-3720QM with a default clock of 2.6 GHz, the installed Core i7-3610QM lags behind by approximately 10%. As already mentioned, routine applications are no problem for the CPU. HD video editing and gaming are not much of a challenge.
This is also reflected in the benchmark results: A score of 6.16 in Cinebench R11.5 is quite close to the 6.2 points by the CPU in other notebooks. A similar picture is seen in the 3DMark 06 CPU and Cinebench R10 benchmarks.
This hardware configuration does not give us much reason for complaint regarding the system's performance. Subjectively, the system works smooth and fast, shows acceptable waiting times in transfer-intensive applications that occur due to the installed HDD. We believe it slows the system to an extent. Upgrading to an SSD would certainly be a worthy investment and also benefit the operating noise as well as the battery life in addition to faster boot times.
With a PCMark Vantage score of 9702 points, Dell's Inspiron 17R SE is neck and neck with MSI's GE60-i789W7H (9761 points) - a 15-inch laptop, and the 17-inch Samsung's Series 7 Gamer 700G7C (9795 points), which also sports Intel's Core i7-3610QM. The scores are as expected and our test device as well as the competition.
A PCMark 7 score of 2538 points compares to other laptops in the same way. The Asus N76VZ-V2G-T1011V (2610 points) is about 3% better and the Asus N56VZ-S4044V (2505 points) is on a par with Dell's Inspiron for comparison. There are equally equipped notebooks, such as Samsung's Series 5 550P7C-S02 or MSI's GE70-i789W7H, which scored 2750 and 2745 points respectively in PCMark 7 and show an 8% higher result. However, the superior performance is not due to the GPU and the CPU. It is due to faster HDDs that spin at 7200 rpm rather than 5400 rpm disk in our test device. The biggest performance boost is achieved by upgrading to an SSD, as can easily be seen in Deviltech's Fire DTX (MSI's MS-16GA). 18697 in PCMark Vantage and 4193 points in PCMark 7 are achieved with the same CPU and GPU configuration, but with an SSD. That corresponds to an improvement of 93% and 65% respectively.
|PCMark Vantage Result||9702 points|
|PCMark 7 Score||2538 points|
The Inspiron 17R SE (unfortunately) relies on a conventional hard disk. In our case, it is Western Digital's WDC Scorpio Blue WD10JPVT-75A1YT0 that was installed in the smaller Inspiron 15R SE too. Consequently, it is not surprising that the installed HDD's performance of both devices is pretty close. Our test device also sports a one terabyte hard disk at 5400rpm and an average transfer rate of 84.48 MB/s. Consequently, it places itself ahead of Samsung's SpinPoint M8 which was installed in Medion's Akoya P7815 notebook. The hard disk is comparable in performance to a 7200 rpm HDD when it comes to access time of a mere 17.2 ms. Unfortunately, Dell no longer offers an SSD option for its Inspiron R SE models during the ordering process. The buyer has the option to go in for the best SSD their budget would allow. But that is not much of a problem with a cross-tip screwdriver and a bit of care.
Nvidia's GeForce GT 650M is an excellent card when it comes to performance to price ratio. It belongs to class 1 of our extensive graphics cards comparison. It is a DirectX 11.1 graphics card that is based on the Kepler GK107 chip and is manufactured using the 28nm process. Dell improves on Nvidia's reference design by 10 MHz by using a default clock of 745 MHz. And with Turbo, goes up to 835 MHz, provided the temperatures are favorable. However, the GPU failed to stay at the boosted clock for long in our stress test and clocked down to the default clock of 745 MHz after a certain period. Moreover, the GeForce GT 650M installed in the Inspiron 17R SE features 2 GB GDDR5 memory that has a 128 bit bus.
The GeForce GT 650M's performance is significantly higher than that of the GT 640M due to the higher clocks. However, the narrow bandwidth can occasionally be a bottleneck. Compared with the last generation, the GT 650M is on a par with the older GTX 560M and, depending on the benchmark, sometimes even in the lead. It is quite apt for playing the latest games smoothly in high details. Nevertheless, the GeForce GT 650M quickly finds its limits particularly at high resolutions. The available performance is usually insufficient for the native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, depending on the game and its detail level. We refer to Gaming Performance for practical data in games. When the GT 650M's power is not required, the CPU-integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 takes over rendering pictures thanks to Optimus technology.
|3DMark 06 Standard||14418 points|
|3DMark Vantage P Result||10068 points|
|3DMark 11 Performance||2312 points|
The Inspiron 17R SE's configuration is very tempting in regard to games, especially since there seems to be enough power to ensure smooth gameplay in high details. The GT 650M is good company for the Core i7-3610QM and should provide an excellent experience for people looking at seeking some decent level of gaming for this price.
Consequently, we could close in on the devil himself with 49 fps using the native resolution of 1920x1080 in Diablo III. The dwarfs in Blizzard's real-time strategy StarCraft 2 could also be chased away successfully at 41 fps in the maximum resolution and ultra settings. The old World of Warcraft engine is not a problem for the Inspiron 17R SE either. It unfortunately looks different with the role-playing game Skyrim. Here, the treasure hunt and search for better weapons was "only" possible in high settings (1366x768, 8x AA, 8x AF) and resulted in a smooth 41 fps. Higher settings put a lot of strain on Nvidia's GeForce GT 650M in Dirt Showdown (19 fps). It was smoothly playable after reducing the resolution and detail level to high (47 fps).
Nvidia's GeForce GT 650M quickly finds its limits at native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels in games like Skyrim and Dirt Showdown. The lack of raw power and the GDDR5 memory that only has a 128 bit bus, which can quickly turn into a bottleneck at such resolutions with enabled AA and AF, prevent better performance. The GTX 660M, GTX 680M or AMD's Radeon HD 7970M, which also guarantees smooth gameplay at resolutions of 1920x1080 and with maximum details and effects even in the latest games and are intended for dedicated gaming devices.
The Inspiron 17R SE will hardly be noticed in a quiet room when idling with an average of 31.6 dB (A). Even the built-in HDD is louder than the fan at idle measuring 32.5 dB (A) when accessing data. The fan's speed increases in several levels during load and as a result, its noise. However, we did not find the fan's frequency range penetrating or disturbing. According to the Voltcraft SL 320 meter, the average loudness is 43.7 dB (A) during load - a rate that is quite acceptable considering the high-performance hardware installed in our test device.
31.6 / 31.6 / 31.6 dB(A)
||43.7 / 44.2 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: Voltcraft sl-320 (15 cm distance)
The combination of Intel's Core i7-3610QM and Nvidia's GeForce GT 650M provides a lot of power, but also generates waste heat that has to be discharged. The surface temperatures are within an acceptable range when idling. The maximum temperature of 34.1 °C measured on the top are hardly noticed and do not need to be criticized. The maximum idle temperature of 36.8 °C on the bottom could prove to be uncomfortable on the lap. However, that is generally not to be recommended for a 17-inch notebook because of its size and weight anyway and will unlikely happen very often in practice.
The surface temperatures climbed to just over 50 °C during the stress test. It was ascertained on the center of the notebook. Although it gets noticeably warmer here, we did not find it uncomfortable. The maximum temperature of 53.8 °C in the vent area on the bottom is a bit high, but considering the potent hardware, it is still within an acceptable range. Although Turbo Boost cannot be maintained for long during load and the CPU is forced to clock down to default due to heat development, we fortunately did not ascertain throttling during the test.
(-) The maximum temperature on the upper side is 50.4 °C / 123 F, compared to the average of 39.5 °C / 103 F, ranging from 21.6 to 68.8 °C for the class Gaming.
(-) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 53.8 °C / 129 F, compared to the average of 42 °C / 108 F
(±) In idle usage, the average temperature for the upper side is 32.5 °C / 91 F, compared to the device average of 33.1 °C / 92 F.
(-) The palmrests and touchpad can get very hot to the touch with a maximum of 42 °C / 107.6 F.
(-) The average temperature of the palmrest area of similar devices was 28.8 °C / 83.8 F (-13.2 °C / -23.8 F).
Another highlight of the Inspiron 17R SE is definitely the installed sound system from Skullcandy (2 speakers, and a subwoofer with Waves MaxxAudio 4.0). Dell includes the matching sound manager simply called Dell Audio. Apart from volume control, it enables adjusting the settings in the equalizer. However, you should not overdo it because the motto here is: less is often more. When the bass control is moved to high along with the maximum volume, the speakers tend to overdo the effect, particularly in trendy, bass-heavy music. Apart from this minor issue, Skullcandy's 2.1 sound system is convincing.
In high-performance devices such as Dell's Inspiron 17R SE, not only is the available performance important but the energy needed to ensure this level of computing power is a consideration. We measure an average consumption of 15.4 W at idle. Our test device is within a good range when compared with the similarly configured Asus N76VZ-V2G-T1011V's 21.5 watts.
In contrast to earlier models, the Inspiron 17R Special Edition consumes one watt more, but it is also quite a bit more powerful.
The similarities with the predecessor in idle power consumption stop during load. The DTR’s maximum consumption is 91.3 W in contrast to the 80.4 W of Dell's Inspiron 17R (N7110). This is due to the installed GeForce GT 650M that is enabled during load and consequently consumes more power. Nevertheless, Dell has done a good job in optimization when compared with the Asus N76VZ-V2G-T1011V that has much higher load consumption at 114.4 W.
|Off / Standby||0.1 / 0.6 Watt|
|Idle|| 8.8 / 15.4 / 15.9 Watt|
82.8 / 91.3 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max: Voltcraft VC 940
Although mobility is rather secondary in this weight class, a certain degree of freedom can be quite useful. We again use BatteryEater's Reader's test and recorded a maximum runtime of 5 hours and 4 minutes (304 minutes). Optimus technology detects the situation correctly and switches to Intel's HD Graphics 4000. The minimum mobile runtime nosedives to mere 59 minutes (BatteryEater's Classic, max. brightness, Wi-Fi + Bluetooth). The included 48 Wh lithium ion battery (11.1 volts, 4200 mAh) unfortunately cannot supply any more juice.
The notebook lasts an average of 151 minutes (2 hours and 31 minutes) when used to run a DVD. Watching movies shouldn’t be a problem.
The Inspiron 17R SE convinces in Wi-Fi use with 228 minutes (3 hours and 48 minutes) - a runtime with which you can work decently.
Dell's Inspiron 17R Special Edition convinces us with its stability and workmanship. The anodized aluminum featuring a honeycomb pattern is also pleasing. However, we deem it too sensitive to fingerprints which are inevitable when working or playing on the device. Regular care and maintenance are the unavoidable consequence. Although there is a lever on the rear for switching the cover Dell probably will not offer any alternatively colored covers for its Special Edition.
A backlit keyboard is available for this laptop for an additional 40 Euro (~$50). However, this option is hidden a bit because it is only appears for the device that is not ready for fast delivery.
We are extremely pleased with the hardware included. A Core i7-3610QM processor and a GeForce GT 650M are installed, which is a potent combination that ensures smooth frame rates at high resolutions (1920x1080) even for the latest games. 6 GB of DDR3 working memory (dual-channel DDR3 SDRAM with 1600 MHz) complete the system. With this performance, the Inspiron 17R SE can be used as a multimedia center or as a desktop replacement (DTR).
We find it too bad that Dell does not offer an SSD upgrade on its homepage. It would make a lot of sense for such a device as it would increase its performance even more. Disregarding its size and performance, a mobile Wi-Fi runtime of up to 4 hours is possible - a time with which you can reasonably productive away from the mains.
Our test configuration of the Inspiron 17R SE is sold for 899 Euro (~$1150) and is a very good choice for anyone looking at sub-1000 Euro laptops with good gaming performance.