As middle-of-the-road as a laptop gets, Dell's Inspiron 1525 is an excellent choice for basic computing, especially if you take the time to configure a system to your needs via Dell's online configurator. The version we tested, which is not available in the UK, has a low-end 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T2390 CPU. The closest version available here has the 1.73 GHz T2370 and will set you back £389 direct from Dell.
The system may strain under a heavy uni workload of writing essays and encoding MP3s, but its battery life is actually better than more powerful configurations available -- on a par with the 14-inch Dell Inspiron 1420. When you add the 1525's touch-sensitive media control buttons and an HDMI output, you get a not wholly unreasonable package at the lower end of the price scale.
If your planned course of study will not include running demanding graphics or scientific applications, the Inspiron 1525 should get you from fresher's week to graduation.
Dell has managed to shave a little bulk off its previous 15-inch Inspiron model, and this version is even thinner than the 14-inch Inspiron 1420, although its bigger footprint is not as well suited for lugging around campus all day.
The keyboard is the same full-size model found on Dell's other Inspiron laptops, and it feels solid and responsive. Above the keyboard sits a row of media control buttons, which you won't find on some , a brand more commonly associated with multimedia endeavours than a jack-of-all-trades Inspiron. The media controls are of the touch-sensitive variety we're partial to, and the Inspiron 1525 has helped make these the industry default, even for budget-minded laptops. This version lacks the 2.0-megapixel webcam, but it can be added in the online configurator for £30.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1,280x800-pixel , which is standard for budget-minded mainstream systems, but on a screen this big, text and icons can look rather big and unwieldy -- we generally prefer 1,440x900-pixel resolutions on screens of this size -- that's an option on the configurable version available on the Dell Web site.
There are plenty of USB jacks for all your accessories and even FireWire, which we're seeing less frequently, but no Bluetooth. Adding an HDMI jack is a welcome high-end touch, even if you never use it.
The 1525 we tested uses a 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T2390, which sits at the low end of Intel's current CPU lineup. The system is no speed demon, and we ran into occasional sluggishness while multitasking -- Web surfing, working on office documents and playing media files -- but it's still adequate for basic academic work.
The Inspiron 1525 ran for 3 hours and 10 minutes on our video playback battery drain test using the included six-cell battery, which is an improvement over more expensive 1525s, which lasted only 2 hours and 15 minutes on the same test -- perhaps because of more powerful CPUs. There's a pretty obvious trade-off to consider -- slower performance and longer battery life versus faster performance and shorter battery life.