Product Review–Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop computer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell Vostro 3550 series of 15” business laptop computers, which is infact the first business laptop that I have reviewed from this company. It can be purchased from Dell’s online store as one of a few preconfigured options or you or your IT contractor could order a customised system through the Dell website.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1199
Processor Intel Sandy Bridge
i7-2620M
cheaper options
Intel Sandy Bridge i5-2410M
RAM 4Gb
extra cost 6Gb
shared with integrated graphics
Secondary Storage 500 Gb hard disk
extra-cost 750Gb hard disk
DVD burner, SDHC card reader
Display Subsystem AMD Radeon + Intel HD Graphics 1Gb display RAM (discrete mode)
Screen 16” widescreen (1366×768) LED-backlit LCD
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth 3.0 + HS
Wireless Broadband 3G HSPA
Connectors USB 2 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
(1 shared with eSATA)
eSATA 1 x eSATA shared with USB 2.0
ExpressCard 1 x ExpressCard 34
Video HDMI, VGA
Audio 3.5mm stereo output jack,
Digital output via HDMI,
3.5mm stereo input jack
Operating System on supplied configuration Microsoft Windows 7 Professional
Windows Experience Index
– this configuration
Overall 5.7
Graphics 5.7
Gaming (Advanced) Graphics 6.5

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build quality

The Dell Vostro 3550 laptop is finished in a silver metal housing that shows that it is well built and durable. This can be available to order as a burgundy or bronze finish if you buy it through Dell’s website. Unlike most laptops, the lid is recessed down with the hinges set towards the centre.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop keyboard detail

Keyboard detail emphaising chrome trim

The screen escutcheon and palmrest are finished in a charcoal grey finish with the keyboard and trackpad set off with chrome piping. This styling reminds me o the way the dashboards on various classic cars have been styled.

User interface

The Vostro’s keyboard is an illuminated keyboard but doesn’t have a numeric keypad. This may not affect most users but those of use who need to enter in lots of figures like accountants will miss the feature. Here, they could use a USB numeric keypad for the data entry. On the other hand, you get the proper feedback which is important if you do a lot of touch-typing.

This is supported by a trackpad which, like all of the trackpads on recent Dell notebooks, is distinctively highlighted. It works properly as a trackpad and allows for proper navigation.

The Vostro 3550 does support fingerprint-recognition and Dell supplies a “software keyring” that links Web passwords with your fingerprint. Infact I was offered the option to tie my Facebook password to my fingerprint with this software.

As well, there are hot keys with one for the Mobility Center, one for Dell Support access and one you can define to launch a particular program.

Connectivity and Expansion

The Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop range is well endowed when it comes to connectivity and expandability.

The review unit cam with an integrated 3G wireless-broadband modem as well as Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi wireless. The 3G modem is available as an option on other configurations in this model range. The SIM card for the 3G service is installed in a slot located in the battery compartment and it takes the standard small-form-factor SIM card rather than the “micro” SIM card.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop left hand connectors

Left hand side with SD card reader. USB / eSATA socket, USB socket and HDMI socket

On the other hand, I don’t see why the 3G modem couldn’t, with Bluetooth, support the SIM Card Access profile for authenticating to mobile-data services. Here this setup allows authentication to mobile services via a mobile phone SIM card using a Bluetooth link. The function has been available with integrated car phones that allow authentication and phone service using the driver’s SIM card held in their mobile phone, and could support “one account, one bandwidth quota” operation for both the mobile phone and laptop.

On the other hand, the 3G modem technology used in the Vostro’s integrated modem may be considered too slow in the face of upcoming 4G LTE deployments that are occurring in most countries. Of course this is taken care of with the USB ports and ExpressCard slot being ready to accept LTE modems.

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop right hand side

Right hand side with optical drive, ExpressCard slot, audio jacks and USB 3.0 socket

The Dell Vostro has a promising array of two USB 3.0 ports alongside two USB 2.0 ports with one doubling as an eSATA slot. There is an ExpressCard slot available for use with LTE or WiMAX wireless-broadband cards or whatever comes one’s way.

Of course, the computer offers for removable storage a card reader for use with SDHC and similar memory cards as well as a DVD burner.

Audio and Video

A feature that is worthy of note for the Dell Vostro is the integration of a microphone array. Here this allows for improved audio results with video conferencing or speech-recognition-based dictation by using microphone combinations to focus on the voice and cut out the background noise.

This is like when you use a stereo recorder that is equipped with two microphones to record your voice, then play the same recording through stereo speakers or headphones. Here, it is easier to catch your voice because it is dominant across both channels.

The Dell Vostro 3550 uses a dual-mode graphics setup with AMD Radeon graphics for discrete high-performance graphics and Intel HD graphics for power-saving economy-mode graphics. I have seen the benefit of this setup before when I reviewed the HP Pavillion dv7-6013TX which is similarly equipped. Here, I ran it through a DVD rundown test while the laptop was using the Intel HD graphics and it was able to play longer than previous discrete-only setups.

There is support under the new AMD control software for application-driven switchability. Here one can set a video-editing application or graphics-rich game to go with the high-performance graphics while other applications like Web browsers or word-processing can work with the power-saving graphics mode.

On the other hand, there isn’t a distinct manual switch in the AMD software to switch between discrete or integrated graphics.

The Vostro 3550’s screen doesn’t have any of the glare that is common with a lot of consumer laptops and this nicety may be peculiar to business laptops. At least this means that you can use it in most environments without seeing yourself in the mirror when you use the laptop.

Battery life

The Vostro 3550 has achieved long battery runtimes thanks to the Intel Sandy Bridge technology. I had run it on a DVD rundown test by having it play a feature movie continuously off the DVD. This ran for 6 hours 38 minutes on the integrated graphics while showing good-quality movie images.

I have also run the laptop on regular tasks and it appeared as if it was sipping the battery rather than wolfing through it. It has what appears to be a larger battery pack but this pack is the standard one for the Vostro 3550 series.

Conclusion

Dell Vostro 3550 business laptop rear view

Rear view with VGA, USB 3.0, Ethernet and power sockets

The Dell Vostro 3550 Series is another of the value-for-money durable laptops that I would recommend as a standard-size “work-home” laptop if you just transport it between locations. If you intend to do a lot of numeric data entry such as accounting or statistics work with it, I would recommend that you use the Vostro with a USB numeric keypad.

Here, I would make sure you get as much RAM and hard disk space as you can afford. You could get away with the i5 processor for most tasks and choose the i5 processor for tasks that demand more like graphics for example. If you had to cut your cloth accordingly, you may have to forego the integrated 3G modem and use an external wireless-broadband modem or tether your mobile phone for your wireless-broadband use as a way of focusing money on the performance or capacity aspects.

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