Review Dell Vostro 3500 Notebook
The Vostro 3500 has Intel's latest hardware and Nvidia's GeForce G310M graphic card in a new aluminum case, as well as a few improvements in the configuration to offer in this review. As usual, Dell also offers numerous options besides that.
Dell addresses in particular small businesses with the Vostro family. If you are looking for an inexpensive business device with contemporary hardware, you can select either a 15.6 inch Vostro 3500 or the 17.3 inch Vostro 3700.
The 15 inch model with a Core i5 430M processor, dedicated Nvidia GeForce 310M graphic card and a fast 320 GB hard disk with 7200 rpm is put to the test. As typical for Dell, the Vostro 3500 can be configured comprehensively, though. The available options will be dealt with in detail below. Sections that are strongly dependent on the utilized hardware, such as performance, emissions and battery life, aren't necessarily true for other, differently equipped models.
There are three different colors available for the display lid and lateral edges: Silver (Aberdeen Silver) as our prototype, or for a surcharge of 30.00 euro copper (Brisbane Bronze) or red (Lucerne Red). The case itself is made of aluminum and plastic and has been manufactured precisely.
There's nothing to complain about as to the aluminum lid's stability. It only twists marginally when picked up at a corner with one hand and it managed our pressure test without problems. In any event, there aren't any image deviations. You can be just as satisfied with the base unit's pressure and torsional stiffness. The case merely yields slightly in the area of the optical drive under stronger pressure. The wrist-rest is made in a matt black plastic that has a pleasant feel.
The angled hinges mounted on the screen restrict the opening angle to about 130 degrees. They keep the display securely in position and only teeter a bit after adjusting the opening angle.
The dimensions of 275 millimeter (width) x 250 millimeters (depth) and a height that increases from 22.9 (front) to 31.9 mm (rear) aren't unusual for a 15 incher. The laptop weighs 2.45 kilograms with the battery. There are an additional 0.42 kilograms for the adapter, keeping the carrying weight overall within a limit.
Talking about carrying it around: A transportation lock has been omitted. Therefore, you should take precautions that foreign objects can't penetrate between keyboard and display during transportation.
Although both the front and back edge don't accommodate any ports, Dell has managed placing a really feasible selection of ports. A HDMI port for digital linking of external monitors or TV sets also joins in, aside from an analog VGA-out. The user can connect peripheral devices, such as a printer or external mouse, to a total of four USB 2.0 ports. One of these has been made as a USB/eSATA combination so that it's possible to achieve a better transfer rate with external drives than via USB.
If this Vostro 3500 functionality isn't enough, you can upgrade further functions with the ExpressCard/34. However, a separate docking port, as common in most business devices, is missing. Instead, USB docking solutions, like the Kensington SD100 USB port replicator for around 50 euro in Germany, are available. This simplifies connecting the device into an existing work environment and extends the connectivity. The Kensington SD 100 however only has five USB ports, an Ethernet connection and audio sockets. It would have been more practical for lefties if the video ports were also available on the docking solution: Depending on the occupation, obstructive cables could especially restrict the notebook's left work area majorly.
A wired LAN connection can be set up with the Realtek RTL8168D/8111D Family PCI-E GBE NIC (10/100/1000MBit). Access to WLAN networks can be made via Dell's Wireless 1520 Wireless-N Half mini card. It also supports standard 802.11n. Dell's Wireless HSPA 2.0 mini card is also allegedly available as an option in a few countries. The correlating SIM card slot is found in the battery compartment. This option is currently not available in Germany, though. Video conferences via internet aren't a problem either with the built-in 2.0 MP webcam. Finally, you can exchange data with small mobile devices with Dell's Wireless 365 card via Bluetooth.
Windows 7 Professional 32 bit has been pre-installed on our test device. Optionally, you can also get the Vostro 3500 with the 64 bit version without extra expenses. Dell charges 10 euro for a downgrade to a pre-installed Windows XP Professional (32 bit). A 32 bit operating system is sufficient for the 3 gigabyte RAM built-in ex-factory. But if you want to extend the main memory, a 64 bit version is recommended.
Aside from a Kensington security slot that can be used to prevent theft, the Vostro 3500 also has a fingerprint reader available. Thus, password input can be replaced by scanning your fingerprint.
In the test device's carton, you'll also find operating system, as well as driver and tools DVDs. Additionally you can create these easily with a Dell tool.
A standard layout without special key grouping and good mechanical traits, a distinct pressure point and a rather long stroke length make it easy to touch type without typos right from the start. However, the subconstruction coils a bit when typing energetically. The soundscape stays within limits, though. In order to prevent damages caused by spilled liquids, the keyboard has been splash water protected. Optionally a LED light is supposed to be available.
The 15 incher has touch-sensitive fields for multimedia functions above the keyboard. A white LED indicates activation. White LEDs have also been used as status LED on the left of it. They aren't as striking as colorful LEDs, but almost invisible in intense light incidence. If you often have to write numbers, you'd likely have hoped for a separate number pad. But there wasn't any place for it so that the user has to fall back on the integrated, makeshift number pad via FN key.
The touchpad supports multi-touch gestures. However these first have to be enabled. You can also use an optically marked vertical scroll bar for scrolling. The touchpad surface's gliding traits are excellent so that the mouse cursor can be controlled precisely. If the touchpad isn't required it can simply be disabled with the FN+F6 key combination. The touchpad keys with a medium-long stroke length, which respond over the entire surface evenly, don't give any reason for complaint, either.
The Vostro 3500 should also have been available with touchscreen since April 2010. However, such models aren't offered on Dell's German homepage yet.
Dell has opted for a 15.6 inch sized display with LED backlight for the Vostro 3500. The surface has been AR-coated, typical for business devices. The screen supports a maximum resolution of 1366x768 pixel, so a cinematic-friendly 16:9 format. You would, however, expect a higher and less wide aspect ratio for vertically aligned applications, like office or internet, so that you don't have to scroll as much. That is unless the screen's width would be large enough to accommodate two applications beside one another without problems. A width of 1366 pixel is definitely not enough for that, though.
The maximum brightness of 224 cd/m2 and the average brightness of 201.6 cd/m2 are beyond the 200 mark. The brightness falls minimally a bit under 190 cd/m2. Overall, the screen achieves a good luminosity rate of 84%. The contrast turns out a bit low with 181:1 due to the high black value of 1.24 cd/m2. If the brightness is reduced to 100 cd/m2 or less, the black value improves to 0:55, but the contrast ratio practically remains unchanged with these rates. The color representation is subjectively alright.
Up and out? This isn't a problem with a good brightness and matt surface, at least not in shadows. A brighter display would have been desirable in direct sunlight, though.
The viewing angles turn out notebook-typical: As usual, narrow on the vertical plane. Even slight changes lead to a dimming, respectively to an over illumination. As a result you can also see color deviations. The viewing angles prove to be considerably more generous on the horizontal plane. Looking at the screen with several persons at the same time isn't a problem as long as all participants are about equally tall.
The Vostro 3500 is available in a range of various configuration alternatives. Common to all is that they are based on Intel's HM57 (Ibex Peak) chip set. Models with a Core i3, i5 or i7 can be chosen from in regards to processors. The inexpensive Vostro 3500 is, for example, offered with a Core i3 330M.
Our prototype has been equipped with a Core i5 430M. This is a dual-core processor that can be clocked to up to 2.53 GHz due to turbo boost. The processor can manage up to four threads at the same time because of hyperthreading. The Intel Graphics Media Acceleration HD graphic chip is integrated in the Core i Arrandale processors. Whilst it's used by most models, it remains disabled in the test device. Instead, a Nvidia GeForce 310M provides the pixel data. The Nvidia GeForce 310M (GT218 core) supports DirectX 10.1. It can unload the processor, for example in video decoding, with CUDA, DirectX Compute and OpenCL support. Modern, 3D intensive games are only smoothly playable with minimum up to, at best, medium details and low resolutions. Thus, the GeForce 310M isn't recommendable for demanding gamers. Details about the gaming performance of single graphic cards can be found in our column: "Computer games on notebook graphic cards?"
The Vostro is offered by Dell with a RAM configuration of 2 gigabytes up to a maximum of 6 gigabytes. The HM57 chip set would basically support up to 8 gigabyte of RAM. Our test device uses a RAM of three gigabyte. If this isn't enough, you can easily upgrade the main memory via a maintenance cover on the laptop's bottom. However, you should then also change to a 64 bit operating system.
|PCMark Vantage Result||5340 points|
We use the PCMark Vantage benchmark test to determine the application performance. The Vostro 3500 receives a total score of 5340 points. Thus, it's on par with similarly equipped systems.
The test device reaches 2767 points in Cinebench R10's single rendering and 6136 points in multi rendering. The Core i5 430M CPU can thus keep up with slightly faster clocked Core 2 Duo CPUs, for example the T9500. As expected, the device lags considerably behind identically equipped laptops with a stronger graphic card (for example, HD 5650 from ATI) with 3123 points in the shading test, whilst it can keep up with them in application performance. About a 37% poorer graphic performance in Cinebench shading can be awaited from Vostro 3500 models that use the integrated GMA HD graphic chip in the processor. For instance, the HP ProBook 6440b with Graphics Media Accelerator HD graphics and the same CPU only achieved 1975 points in comparison.
|3DMark 2001SE Standard||21821 points|
|3DMark 03 Standard||10681 points|
|3DMark 05 Standard||7196 points|
|3DMark 06 Standard||3206 points|
|3DMark Vantage P Result||1156 points|
You even have a choice for the mass memory configuration. A with up to 500 GB SATA hard disk with 7200 rpm, or an encrypted hard disk with 7200 rpm and 250 GB is built in. Other models are available upon request. The Free Fall Sensor and Strike Zone shock absorber system is supposed to protect against data loss caused by shocks. To be precise, a Seagate ST9320423AS with a gross capacity of 320 GB has been built into our prototype. The established performance rates with HDTune are in the same field as comparable hard disks and don't show irregularities. An Optiarc DVD RW AD-7585H burner is available as the optical drive.
There aren't any big leaps to be expected from the built-in Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics card in terms of 3D performance. Our Dell Vostro 3500 is on par with, for example a Lenovo Thinkpad T510 (Core i7 620M, Quadro NVS 3100M), with 3206 points in 3DMark06. HP ProBook 6540b (Core i5 430M, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4550) is just slightly better with 3465 points (+8%).
Aside from the 3DMark benchmark family, we also looked at two games in practice. As expected, both Anno 1404 and Dirt 2 run smoothly in low details and a low resolution. Above that, you even have enough room for the one or other extra detail in Anno 1404.
Models that use the integrated GMA HD graphic chip would leave to expect a considerably lower gaming performance. Whilst the GeForce 310M still reaches 52 fps in low settings in Anno 1404, the GMA HD in our data bank ranges between 22 and 30 fps. We refer to our special article and benchmark list for details on the gaming capabilities of single graphic cards and graphic performance in comparison.
|Anno 1404 (2009)||52||10.6||fps|
|Colin McRae: DIRT 2 (2009)||29||25||fps|
The fan usually blows waste air fairly quiet and evenly out of the case under low load. If the demand on hardware is increased, the noise level increases to a relatively loud 44.6 dB (A). The DVD drive can also get quite loud during data transfer with 47.6 dB (A).
In terms of temperature, the Vostro 3500 only stays cool as long as it's not, or only just, put under load (Office mode). The device heats up to 45.8 degrees Celsius on the bottom and 41.6 degrees Celsius on the upper side when demand is increased. The touchpad and the left keyboard area then also get notably warm.
34.7 / 34.7 / 38 dB(A)
||36.9 / 47.6 dB(A)|
||41.3 / 44.6 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: (15 cm distance)
But as if that's not enough - the device's cooling capacity is obviously not designed for a permanent full load use. We could observe a repeated CPU clock rate throttling during our stress test (Furmark + Prime 95). The CPU is downclocked automatically as soon as the graphic card's temperature reaches 95 degrees until it's sufficiently cool again. After that, the clock rate is increased until the temperature once again reaches the 95 degrees threshold, and so on.
The sound quality of both loudspeakers above the keyboard isn't overwhelming but the emitted sound is fairly balanced, even if bass poor, and stays clear even at a good maximum volume.
A very audible sound improvement can be achieved with external loudspeakers or high-quality headphones. And as if that's not enough, the HDMI port also allows a digital sound transmission.
The battery runtimes move between at least one and a quarter hour and at most almost four and a half hours. Both rates have been established with the BatteryEater tool. However, a practical working isn't possible during the Reader's test set at minimum brightness and disabled WiFi devices. In return, the minimum runtime is determined with maximum brightness, enabled wireless modules and the Classic test.
You can count with runtimes of two to three hours in real life and depending on the demand. These runtimes have been established with the included 6 cell lithium-ion battery with a 56 watt hour capacity. There is supposed to be an optional 9 cell battery available, but which isn't listed on Dell's German homepage (yet).
The slim 90 W power adapter has been sufficiently sized for the measured power consumption of 64.1 watts. The Vostro 3500 is on par with similarly equipped devices with the determined rates. The low rates in a deactivated state, or rather in standby mode are pleasing.
|Off / Standby||0.2 / 0.2 Watt|
|Idle|| 10.1 / 13.8 / 14.9 Watt|
44 / 64.1 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max:
The Vostro 3500 isn't only a delight because of its elegant design. The case, in which aluminum is used generously, is also convincing in terms of workmanship and good stability.
The laptop can also serve with a good communication configuration, a good application performance and a graphic performance that even allows the one or other 3D intensive game in low details or a low resolution.
An outdoor use with the matt display that has a good brightness is at least not a problem in shadows. A shock proof hard disk and splash water resistant keyboard protect against data loss in case of the one or other mishap. The interface distribution isn't optimal for lefties, but Dell has treated the Vostro 3500 to a few extra goodies in comparison to its predecessor: eSATA and HDMI are now part of the lot.
Overall, Dell has achieved creating a starter business package with circumferential features at a low price. The Vostro 3500 can also be largely configured to suit personal performance requirements. In regards to graphics, you won't surpass the lower midrange even with models that have Nvidia's GeForce 310M graphic card, though.