Top positive review
298 of 308 people found this helpful
Good Laptop for the tight budget
on February 19, 2014
My First Week Review:
This laptop is The Dell Inspiron 15 3521 (Entry Level Non-Touch Version) with MS Windows 8.1
For what I paid for this laptop, I am very impressed. So far it functions very well. Everything seems to work very well. Even HD videos, and graphics designing apps work smoothly.
Few things they left out in the specs that this laptop, which is Inspiron 15 3521, has is:
* Microsoft Windows 8.1 64bit basic
* Webcam with mic: 0.92 megapixel, 720 HD at 30 fps max
* Two built-in speakers at 2 watts each
* Ethernet LAN on motherboard (LOM) at 10/100 Mbps.
* Wireless Mini-card at Wifi 2.4 Ghz, 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 (on the same card)
* RAM can be expanded to 16 GB (8 Gb RAM each slot) Dual channel DDR3 SoDIMM up to 1600 MHz (1.6GHz) PC3-12800. Two RAM slots.
* Linux distros friendly laptop
* Battery is Dell 40 WHr 4-Cell Lithium-Ion Battery: Manufacturer Part# : V8VNT | Dell Part# : 312-1387
* There is an AC Adapter (Charger) w/ cord with this laptop
* Weight is about 5.10 pounds w/ power adapter
* There is a Dock Station for this laptop. The Dock doesn't come with the purchase of the laptop. You have to purchase the dock separately. The Dock is "Dell Computer SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Docking Station (YWDN0)".
* This laptop doesn't come with Windows 7 pre-installed. You can't purchase this laptop on Amazon with Windows 7 pre-installed. You can't get a free "downgrade" to Windows 7 with the purchase of this laptop. This laptop is sold with Windows 8.x only. No matter what you do you can't change that.
* CD/DVD Burner/Player drive within this laptop. 8X CD/DVD Burner/Player Drive (Dual Layer DVD+/-RW Drive)
* This is Not a serious gaming system nor a professional video production system. A system like that starts around $1250.00 no matter what the OS (Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac or Linux). You have been Forewarned!
* Please read the Questions & Answers * There are lots of answers to common questions in the Question & Answer section.
* Please read the Product Information (Detail) * There are product information there that will answer some of your questions.
The negativity that I see is the plastic parts, especially with the CD/DVD drive drawer can break very easily. I would not want to bump something to the CD/DVD drawer or drop this laptop. So ruggedness doesn't come in my mind when I look at this laptop. They had to cut cost somewhere.
What Applications comes with the laptop?
1. NO Microsoft Office: Microsoft Office: The Microsoft Office is not actually pre-installed in this laptop. There is just an icon link (an installer) to download and install Microsoft Office 2013 as a 30 day trial or as a paid subscription. You can still buy Microsoft Office 2013 that will work on only one computer (one license copy) and install it in your laptop. You can also install and use LibreOffice suite for free. There is Google Drive has word processor (Google Docs) and spreadsheet (Google Sheets) web apps that you can use for free as well. You can install and use AbiWord as a word processor for free. Microsoft has the online version of Microsoft Office 365 with online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote with 7 GB of online storage for free.
I went with the Microsoft Office 365 Home (formerly Office 365 Home Premium) $99.99 per year subscription with all the online office suite, 20 GB of online storage per user, offline Microsoft Office 2013 professional (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, and Access) that I can install on 5 computers and 5 mobile devices, and can save documents on offline (on computer).
If you are a student then you can go for the Microsoft Office 365 University which is much the same as Office 365 Home but with a few differences. The differences are that Office 365 University allows to install Microsoft Office 2013 professional only on two devices (computers/mobile devices), only one user gets 20 GB online storage, the other user only gets 7 GB of online storage and the good news is that you only pay $79.99 for a 4 year subscription.
2. There is a trial version of McAfee Security security suite. I recommend to uninstall this system resource hog. This maybe a reason that some experience freeze ups. Windows 8 already has Windows Defender (anti-virus program) and Firewall built-in.
3. There is also PowerDirector Suite aka Media Suite Essentials (the basic level package, but still good) with Power DVD 12 , Power2Go 8 (for burning CD/DVDs), Power Director 10, Desktop Burning Gadget, CyberLink LabelPrint 2.5, ISO Viewer, and Virtual Drive (for mounting to ISOs). This is a keeper.
1. I would say that this laptop is NOT for serious gaming, professional video production, creating motion animations, 3D graphics and animations, 3D CAD and CAM work, system resource hungry games, resource hog virtual reality, resource hog simulations, haevy duty VM, or anything else that is a system resource hog. For those kinds of activities you need to spend some seriously more capital. No way around that no matter which angle you try.
2. I would say that this laptop would be GOOD for IT professionals, Office work, Office management, remote managing, business level usage, class room learning, on the job learning, taking online courses, taking online classes, doing your homework both locally on the laptop and online, many (but not all) games for preschool and up (depending on the demand on the system resources), games like Minecraft, social media, hacking, exploiting, Linux lovers, graphics work and editing, surfing the Internet, Emailing, word processing, spreadsheets, Microsoft Office work (purchase separately), 2D CAD, Database management, project management, accounting, network management, remote managing servers and networks, music listening, video watching, editing photos and graphics, printing productions, VPN to work, etc. (need to upgrade to Pro version of Windows), remote managing systems, work at home and on the go, connecting to your corp network to do work with (need to upgrade to Pro Version of Windows), running a couple OSes on VM (this depends on what you are doing on the OS that you are VM into. Your system doesn't have the resources for resource hog applications. More RAM will give you better results), etc. Note: Few things here, like IT work, VPN, Corp domain logging in, etc. would need you to upgrade to Windows 8.1 64bit Professional version at $99.99 one time cost. And some things may run better if you add some RAM too.
3. At this time I would recommend this laptop to someone that is on a tight budget. And despite the shipping issues, I am glad that I got this laptop.
Please read my comments here in this thread. There are some good information there.
Note 1: A few problems users expressed maybe due to spinning drives being what they are. On average 30% of spinning drives will fail within the first 30 days of usage.
Note 2: I have ran into an issue that is most likely what users are running into that is not hardware issue. That issue is unwanted software that is really add/spyware that behaves as Trojans and Worms is being unwilling and unknowingly installed with poplar software.
I ran into this two times within two weeks and had to waste time fixing it. If I was not a professional then my system would be in a huge mess right now.
First time is an Open Source software that was downloaded from Forge Source depository. Source Forge is one of the oldest and most respected and trusted Open Source depository in the world for variety of OSes including Microsoft Windows OSes. I always install software in Custom mode so I can say NO to any and all unwanted software. But when I chose Custom mode installation the software didn't give me any options, but instead just installed. That got me worried. So I checked and indeed it installed unwanted software. You can't even update your Windows or Anti-Virus software. I thought "Ohhh Blank!!!!!" as I started to troubleshoot and work on fixing this problem by reformatting and re-installing Windows.
The Second time:
I looked at my WinZip app that I bought ten years ago. You install by Custom mode and no Unwanted Software. But I could use a newer version. So I downloaded the new version of WinZip. I chose Custom Install. But it did't give me any options. Instead it just installed. That worried me very much, since this is commercial software and shouldn't happened like that with commercial software. So I investigated and troubleshooted the issue. Find out that it installed addware/spyware that took control of my browsers and wouldn't allow my Windows or Anti-Virus to update. Major fixing and much hours later I fixed it.
But if it wasn't for my professional experience that triggered my instinct I would not know what happened. If I was the average user then I would just blame the problems that would come up to the laptop instead of the Unwanted Software that was installed without my knowledge.
There are good practices to follow. But even if you do follow them you can still step into a mine without knowing it. So be so very careful. Software like Yahoo Messenger and WinZip are just a couple of many software that will bring Unwanted Add/Spyware that will make sure that you will never find out (by preventing your Anti-Virus and such from updating and finding them). This will cause your computer to slow down, freeze up, and reboot itself or you will need to reboot the computer to get out of freeze up.
I just wanted to add this here since several have ran into slowdowns, freezes up, re-boots, popups, redirects and other malware like behaviors.
How can you stop "popups" and "redirects" from happening?
Adware (form of Malware)
The term adware is frequently used to describe a form of malware (malicious software), usually that which presents unwanted advertisements to the user of a computer. The advertisements produced by adware are sometimes in the form of a pop-up.
When the term is used in this way, the severity of its implication varies. While some sources rate adware only as an "irritant", others classify it as an "online threat" or even rate it as seriously as computer viruses and trojans. The precise definition of the term in this context also varies. Adware that observes the computer user's activities without their consent and reports it to the software's author is called spyware.
Programs have been developed to detect, quarantine, and remove advertisement-displaying malware, including Ad-Aware, Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware, ADWCleaner, Spyware Doctor and Spybot - Search & Destroy.
But these software don't guarantee that they got everything. I don't care what they claim, that still doesn't guarantee that you are now clean of any and all malware. That is because these malware bring other bad software with it without your knowledge and hide them for a point of time from these Anti-Malware and Anti-Virus type programs that are design to find them.
And even if these programs did clean out your system of all malware and such from your computer your system will still not work correctly. The reason is that these malware change your system files and the Anti-Malware and Anti-Virus type programs try to clean up and reverse the damage of the system files, but never seem to completely reverse the damage to the system files. So your system will still act slow, freeze ups, reboots, etc...
The only way to clean that up is to reformat and reinstall Microsoft Windows.
* First thing to do is backup your personal data files into an external drive or USB thumb drive.
After backing up your personal data, you can start reformatting and reinstalling your operating system.
* The way to do that is first make a Dell's "Bootable Backup Rescue Disk" with Dell's "Dell Backup and Recovery" app and with either a 128Gb USB thumb drive or an USB external drive (I used an USB external drive).
* Connect your 128Gb USB thumb drive or an USB external drive to one of the USB 3.0 ports on the left hand side of laptop.
* Within "Dell Backup and Recovery" app chose "Bootable Backup".
* Wait for the program recognize The USB media.
* Then chose "Reinstall Disk" option within "Bootable Backup" page (not from Dell's "Dell Backup and Recovery" home page). "Reinstall Disk" option will give you what you need to restore the laptop the way it came to you.
* Make sure that "System Backup" is unchecked if available to you. (No need to do "System Backup" option until after you restored the system. If you restore your laptop with "System Backup" option right now then you may be bringing the problem with you.)
* Then click on "Create Rescue Disk" and follow instructions.
* After created the "Bootable Backup Rescue Disk" then you can restart the laptop having the USB media with the "Bootable Backup Rescue Disk" still connected to one of the USB 3.0 ports.
* While the laptop starts to boot press the F12 key several times until you get to the "Boot Menu".
* Within "Boot Menu" chose USB or the media with "Bootable Backup Rescue Disk" to boot into and press Enter key.
* After the "Bootable Backup Rescue Disk" starts then follow instructions.
* You already backed up your personal data, so chose not to backup before starting the recovery (restoring) the system.
* Complete the restoring you laptop.
Basically "Bootable Backup Rescue Disk" reformats, re-partition the drive, adds all the stuff on each partition that was there when you first got the laptop, including the UEFI partition, and installs Windows 8 with drivers and all software that was included in the laptop.
How to make Windows 8.1 to be 100% complete desktop experience!
The "Start" (Metro) GUI is not the greatest. But within Windows 8.1 you don't have to live in the "Start" (Metro) environment. You can actually live on the desktop in Windows 8.1. Here is how:
If you are not in Windows 8.1, then please update to Windows 8.1. And please don't fear the upgrading. This upgrade is a good thing.
How to upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1:
Click on the green "Store" icon. You should be asked to upgrade to Windows 8.1. Choose that and follow instructions. If you don't see that, then do a search in the "Store" for Windows 8.1 and choose Windows 8.1 and follow instructions.
Upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 8.1 Update "1" (April 2014 version):
Then go to your "Windows Update" to update Windows. Keep upgrading until you see the Shut Down Icon by your User Name on the Start "Metro" environment or the "Store" icon on your desktop Taskbar. When you see that then you are in Windows 8.1 Update "1" (April 2014 version).
If you are in the Windows 8.1 Update "1" (April 2014 version) with a laptop that is non-touchscreen, like this laptop, then you will be automatically be in the Desktop GUI interface. There are few more things that you can do to completely change Windows 8.1 into desktop experience OS.
Here are some tips and setup to change the Windows 8.1 back to desktop experience:
Change to complete Desktop GUI environment within Windows 8.1:
Click on the Desktop tile to get to Desktop. Right click on bottom Taskbar. Left click on Properties. Click on Navigation tab. Go down to "Start screen". Put a check in the box by "When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start". Put a check in the box by "Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start. Put a check in the box by "List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it's sorted by category". Put a check in the box by "Show my desktop background on Start. Take check out of the box by "Search everywhere instead of apps when I search from the Apps view". Click on "Apply". And click on "OK".
How to turn off activating Charms on the upper-right corner:
If not already on Desktop then click on the Desktop tile to get to Desktop. Right click on bottom Taskbar. Left click on Properties. Click on Navigation tab. Go to "Corner navigation". Take out the check by "When I click the upper-right corner, show the charms. Click on "Apply". And click on "OK".
To fix touchy Touchpad from activating the Charms:
Go to your Control Panel > Mouse > Dell Touchpad > "Click to change Dell Touchpad Settings" > Gestures > One Finger Gestures > take out check by "Right Edge Swipe". That should stop the Touchpad from activating the Charms. Yes I agree that Dell's Touchpad is touchy, but don't believe it is not functioning properly.
How to shutdown with Windows 8.1 desktop GUI:
To shut down: Right click the Navigation button (The four window icon button at the bottom left hand corner). Move mouse to "Shut down or sign out". Then Click "Shut down".
Once you setup the way I described above, How to get to your Apps and back to desktop:
Left click on the Navigation button (The four window icon button at the bottom left hand corner) to get to your applications. Hover over the bottom left hand corner to get the Navigation button back. Then click Navigation button to get back to Desktop
My long-term ownership review.
I was going to recreate a review. But instead I tried to help people by answering their questions. Please look through the Questions section. There is lots of info I gave there. (My First Week Review is above)
I took this laptop through lots of stuff to see what it can do and what problems I would run into. Here are the paces that I put this laptop through:
1. I triple booted with Windows 8.1 Pro 64bit (upgraded to Pro in order to log into corp domain type networks), Kali Linux 64bit and Kubuntu Linux 64 bit.
2. I ran both Kali Linux 64bit and Kubuntu Linux 64bit at the same time thru VMWare and Oracle VM VirtualBox on top of Windows 8.1 Pro 64bit. And ran large processes on all three OSes at the same time.
3. I used QuarkExpress Passport, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and Autodesk AutoCAD all at the same time while doing my graphics work.
4. I ran HD video as high as 1080p both on the drive and streaming on this 720p system.
5. I ran in cold and hot environments.
The only time I noticed a problem is when I VM both Kali Linux 64 bit and Kubuntu Linux 64 bit at the same time on top of Windows 8.1 Pro 64 bit while running processes on all three operating systems at the same time. Running all three 64bit OSes (two of them on VM) all running processes was too much for 4Gb of RAM. Once I added 8Gb of RAM all OSes running at the same time (two running thru VM) all running processes at the same time ran with ease.
Outside of that this system handle very well. So well that I am questioning about the problems that others are running into. It is not like the programs I ran are light. I wouldn't call Adobe Creative Cloud Suite or the other software light. And it is not like I am not pushing this machine. Heavy duty graphics work, 1080p video watching on the hard drive & streaming on a 720p system, downloading gigabytes of data like HD videos, full Linux images, etc., running two Linux 64 bit versions in VM on top of Windows 8.1 Pro 64 bit , triple booting, and much more. If that is not pushing this laptop then what is? If I can do that then the problems others are running into are fixable. Rather it be bad drive, bad RAM, user needing to learn what to download, what not to download, how to install without unwanted and malicious software being installed as well, user, having unrealistic expectations with this lower end budget laptop, needs to have more realistic expectations, or something else. After all I am doing all of this with this same laptop. They should be able to do the same. That is why I question.
Like I said before: For what I pay for this laptop I am completely amazed of what it can do. Completely amazed. I know that this is not a miracle machine that can do all. In fact I sometimes recommend higher end laptops to people that would serve them better than this laptop.
But sometimes it is more like my dad said to me "It is not what the professional has that makes a professional, but it is what the professional does with what they have at the moment that makes them a professional". Which may explain the whys.
But I still believe that this laptop is a very good value to the budget minded user. Just don't expect this laptop to do what a mid to high end laptop can do. Because that is not being fair to this very low end budget laptop.
And yes, by the nature of lower end technology there may be a problem that you might run into (There are technical reasons for this. If you want to know, then ask me).
So this review is more just a few thoughts of mine rather than a review. If you want more information than check out my comments in the Questions section.