The Dell Inspiron M501R is a 15in laptop that's packed with useful features and lots of processing power for multitasking. It runs a 2.2GHz AMD Phenom II N850 triple-core CPU, has 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive as well as AMD Mobility Radeon 550v graphics.

It can be used for pretty much everything except hardcore gaming, and it's suitable for students, home users and even small business users who want something a little fancier than a boring old corporate machine.

Design and features

The design of the Inspiron M501R is plain and all of its ports are well spaced around the edges of the chassis. You get HDMI, VGA, USB 2.0 (four), 100Mbps Ethernet and eSATA ports. There is also an SD card reader and a built-in DVD burner.

The palm rest and the touchpad both have plenty of space afforded to them and the keyboard has full-sized keys that are easy to hit. You won't find any shortcut buttons above the keyboard, but the F keys have their functions reversed. This means you won't have to first press the Fn key to change the screen brightness or to use the media and volume controls.

Its finish is quite glossy and its screen is reflective, and both of these traits can make the Inspiron M501R a little uncomfortable to use. The palm rest sometimes feels a little sticky (especially on hot days) and if you use the notebook outdoors, you'll soon get sick of staring at your reflection in the screen. We made the same observations when reviewing the quad-core Inspiron M501R notebook.

That said, the triple-core M501R feels well made and you can pick it up from either corner without it making any creaking noises. It does get a little warm when it's under a full processing load, which will make it uncomfortable to use on your lap. In saying that, you probably won't be using it on your lap while it's undertaking rendering tasks or any other tasks that maximise CPU usage.

Performance

The triple-core Inspiron M501R actually performed better than the quad-core M501R in almost all of our tests thanks to the triple-core CPU's faster clock speed of 2.2GHz compared to 1.6GHz for the quad-core. It recorded a time of 1min 7sec in the Blender 3D rendering test, which is 1 second faster than the quad-core M501R, and it recorded a time of 1min 32sec in the iTunes MP3 encoding test, which is 24 seconds better than the quad-core M501R.

The quad-core M501R proved to have faster hard disk performance than the triple-core M501R though, notching up 40 megabytes per second (MBps) compared to 30.28MBps. The triple-core M501R was better in 3DMark06, scoring 5896 compared to 5874. The triple-core system also outdid the quad-core system in our DVD transcoding test, converting our DVD to a 1.5GB Xvid video in 1hr 26min, which is 7min quicker than the quad-core system.

Dell Inspiron M501R

Basically, all these numbers mean that the triple-core Dell Inspiron M501R is a useful all-round computer. It can be used not only for office work, but also for tough multimedia tasks such as transcoding video for your iPhone or editing video to upload to YouTube. If you plug in a USB-based digital TV tuner, you could even use it as a Media Centre and PVR (personal video recorder).

Battery life

The battery life of the triple-core Inspiron M501R isn't great, it lasted only 1hr 31min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, maximise the screen brightness, enable Wi-Fi and loop an Xvid-encoded video. This is one minute less than the quad-core Inspiron M501R.

If you enable a power management scheme and use low screen brightness, you should get around two hours out of it, but if you use the laptop outdoors while on battery power then you'll need to have the screen at full brightness anyway if you want to minimise the annoyance of reflections.

OUR VERDICT

Overall, the triple-core Dell Inspiron M501R is a great laptop worthy of consideration if you want a system that can do just about everything. It even outshone the quad-core version of this laptop in the majority of our tests thanks to its slightly faster clock speed of 2.2GHz compared to the 1.6GHz speed of the quad-core, although the quad-core version would come into its own under heavier multitasking loads.