The retail-only Dell Inspiron i560-4000NBK offers little to get excited about. You’ll get decent performance from this $599 dual-core midtower, but a less expensive system from Gateway is faster. Dell offers an 802.11n wireless networking adapter and a little extra RAM in exchange, but we can’t say we find those features worth paying extra for given the performance gap with the cheaper Gateway. The Dell’s combination of acceptable speed and built-in Wi-Fi might appeal to some of you with specific needs, but we expect most people shopping for a midtower would live with an extra wire if it meant better performance and saving a few bucks.
The Inspiron i560-4000NBK comes in Dell’s familiar all-black midtower case. You can customize the color of the front panel in the online version, although interestingly, the configurable Inspiron 560 available from Dell’s Web site features slower processors, smaller hard drives, and lower prices than this retail-only model. We expect few people will find Dell’s simple midtower design offensive in its monochrome incarnation. Our only question is whether a commodity desktop vendor like Dell, Gateway, or HP will ever find a way to seriously compete with Apple in terms of system aesthetics.
As mentioned, the Dell’s obvious feature advantages over the less expensive Gateway consist of a wireless networking adapter and 8GB of 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM compared with the Gateway’s 6GB of faster 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM. As you can see from our performance charts below, we found the Dell’s extra memory provided little discernible benefit in our consumer-oriented test workloads. The Dell’s wireless card becomes its only true advantage, then. Considering you can add Wi-Fi to the Gateway for $20 or so via 802.11n USB key, the Dell’s bundled Wi-Fi is really only a differentiator for those who can’t be troubled to add wireless to the Gateway post-purchase.
The performance picture for the Dell isn’t particularly terrible, but it doesn’t show enough speed to set itself apart from its competition. Thanks to a fast 2.93GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, the Dell fares well enough on our Photoshop and iTunes tests, which favor fast single-core performance. As it’s only a dual-core system, the Dell falters on our multitasking and multicore Cinebench tests when you compare it with the quad-core or pseudo-quad core systems (in the case of the Gateway and its Core i3 CPU) in its price range. If you wanted a wireless-equipped midtower with a large hard drive dedicated to ripping and converting media files, the Dell would be a respectable budget choice. Outside of that specific recommendation, you’re better off with one of the Dell’s competitors.
Unlike Dell’s lamentable $500 midtower, the Inspiron i545-1125NBK, the i560-4000NBK provides evidence that Dell selected its hardware sometime in the last year. Where the i545 had only analog outputs for both video and audio, the i560 boasts an HDMI output. It lacks separate digital audio, FireWire, eSATA, or other more modern connections offered by Gateway, Asus, and other budget retail contenders, but we’re glad for some acknowledgement from Dell that there’s more to life than VGA video output, even among budget PCs. Granted, aside from the HDMI port, this system still only has Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0, and 7.1 analog audio jacks on its rear panel, leaving plenty of room for improvement. Baby steps.
Inside the Dell you’ll find a standard budget upgrade path. Expansion card upgrades include a 16x PCI Express graphics card slot and a single standard PCI slot. The Wi-Fi adapter takes up a 1X PCI Express slot. You get four RAM slots, although all come occupied. There’s also room to add a second hard drive. Since we don’t recommend this system in the first place for most shoppers, it’s also hard for us to justify using this as an upgrade foundation.
Excellent power efficiency might not be a selling point for most consumers, but between this system and the Inspiron i545-1125NBK mentioned earlier, Dell has demonstrated an apparent commitment to keeping its desktops’ power consumption in check. Each of Dell’s budget retail systems leads its price category among Windows 7-based desktops, and for that Dell should be commended. That power efficiency won’t get you anything more tangible than an extra dollar or so in your pocket every month, and you can likely make more meaningful investments in your own green conscious efforts. Still, for those who keep such things top of mind, perhaps you may sleep easier knowing the Dell is among the greener desktops we’ve tested.
We also have a fair opinion of Dell’s service and support policies and offerings. You get a year of warranty coverage out of the box, as well as 24-7 toll-free phone support. The system itself comes with a few programs for monitoring system health, and Dell’s Web site provides a handful of useful support features, from driver and manual downloads to online support chat.