High-end Alienware rigs are nice, but they're not where the Round Rock computer giant makes all of its money. The value-centric Inspiron desktop line has always been a consistently strong seller, offering consumers a basic desktop that handles the majority of what users need without breaking the bank. Read on for our review of the Dell Inspiron 580s.
Build and Design
The Inspiron line, as mentioned earlier, is Dell's basic, no-frills entry line targeted at consumers who either don't need the extra performance and features offered by higher-end brands or who are otherwise unwilling to pay the increased costs. It's marked by basic, minitower desktop builds with lower power processors and more lower price to performance ratios. Until very recently, that meant that buyers of the Inspiron line had to make do with boring–and sorry Dell, but fairly ugly–machines that looked out of place regardless of the room in which you hid them. Last year, Dell started to change that with personalized computers covered in brightly-colored swappable faceplates. As computers go, they looked pretty good. As Inspirons go, they looked incredible.
The Inspiron 580 and 580s continue in this vein with elegant case designs and surprisingly attractive finishes. The 580s is Dell's slim version of the 580, which puts the same components into a much narrower frame. The size is a bit odd, however, since the Inspiron 580s is definitely thin, but it's also large at close to a foot and a half deep.
Once on a desk, it's fine, but customers might have a bit of trouble hauling it around. In fact, Dell realized that the narrow-but-still-a-bit-big Inspiron could be easily toppled with a careless hip bumping the desk and took measures to correct it. At the rear bottom of the 580s are two swiveling feet with rubber pads that help maintain the desktop's vertical orientation (mind you, you can always set it horizontally, as well). They also give it an amusingly animalistic look from certain angles.
The sides of the machine are pretty traditional and sparse. INSPIRON is stamped into the metal on each side, and the left-hand view of the machine also has four rubber bumpers. That way you can set the machine on its side, if it can't fit or otherwise poses a problem sitting upright.
Inputs and Expansion
Slim form factor desktops aren't exactly known for offering up massive expandability options, but the 580s manages to hold its own pretty well. The front of the desktop shows off the standard two USB (2.0, unfortunately) ports and audio jacks. Two flappy panels at the top hide the 16X DVD+/-RW DVD burner and 16-in-1 memory card reader. Accessing either is done via a plastic button at the very top; the left one cleverly pushes in the eject button on the optical drive while the right one pops up the card reader door. Given all of the wasted space inside of the card reader section, it would have been nice to see Dell shove some more functionality inside.
Going around to the back gives up four more USB2.0 ports, 7.1 analog audio, line in and Gigabit Ethernet. Video options on this model are limited to the integrated graphics' VGA and HDMI ports. There is no DVI, but that's very easily rectified by adding a cheap HDMI->DVI adapter. Getting inside of the machine is a little annoying since you have to unscrew two screws on the right-hand side to pop the door off. I don't think it would have killed Dell to put in thumbscrews instead. I know that few people ever have to open up their computers, and probably fewer still of those who buy Inspirons, but it would be nice to to make it easier when the need arises.
Once inside, you'll find that there is a surprising amount of space to add and modify components. There are a couple of free SATA ports, and the four DIMM slots (currently populated with four 1GB DDR3 sticks of memory) mean that you can affordably upgrade RAM at different times. Swap out two 1GB sticks now and sell them on the internet for a few bucks, replacing them with two 2GB sticks instead. Given the dual-channel memory implementation, you'll always want to upgrade the two connected slots (see the colors) at the same time, with the same amount of RAM.
Swapping out the hard drive or 250W power supply could be something of a pain, since you have to unscrew a large metal bar that stretches across the significant depth of the machine. It's hard to actually criticize Dell for this decision, however, since adding a bar like this significantly increases the strength of the case across that bar. Hiding beneath the bar are a whopping four free expansion slots: one PCI, two PCI-E x1 and a PCI-E x16. Given the narrow width, you'll be limited to half-height cards, but still, four open slots on an affordable small form factor desktop is pretty impressive. Users can add a video card, sound card, or several other kinds of expansion options.
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