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As a budget laptop shopper, you’ve got to be willing to make some sacrifices in pursuit of the best value, especially when searching in the $300 to $500 range. Dell’s Inspiron 3000 series, however, has proven itself to be an exception to the rule, offering quality budget notebooks at value prices. Like the 15-inch Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (3505) we reviewed earlier this year, the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (3511) checks many of the boxes we look for in a good budget laptop—including a large 15.6-inch display, an easy-to-swallow $323 asking price, and Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 11. Aspects of the display betray the laptop’s budget roots, but it’s a decent deal for the money if you decidedly want a Windows machine over a Chromebook.
Well-Equipped and Well-Built
The Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (3511) comes equipped with 4GB of RAM, 128GB of solid-state drive storage, an integrated Intel UHD graphics chip, and an Intel Core i3-1115G4 processor. It wades in the shallow end of the graphics pool and comes with half the memory we’d expect of a decent laptop, but the processor is still a step up from the basement-dwelling Celeron CPU used in even cheaper laptops. Our entry-level test configuration is available at $323, but there are configurations available that include up to 12GB of RAM, an Iris Xe graphics solution, and up to 512GB of storage if you’re willing to spend some extra coin. (Here’s how to choose the best laptop CPU).
The 3511 model doesn’t look much different from the 3505, but that’s not a bad thing. The laptop chassis is well-built and solid, and the carbon-black color gives the machine a sophisticated, clean facade. At 3.8 pounds, it’s on the lighter side of the 15-inch laptop scale, though there are even lighter alternatives, like the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 4. The 3511 measures in at 0.7 by 14.1 by 9.2 inches (HWD), so it’s about average for its weight class. It may be wide, but it’s hardly unwieldy.
It’s worth noting Dell’s sustainability efforts have made their way to laptops as well. The company says it incorporates the use of post-consumer recycled plastics into its laptops, though it’s unclear how much has gone into the laptop itself, and where. The packaging tray and packing materials, meanwhile, are made almost entirely of recycled paper.
The capable chassis and design impress for a budget laptop, but the wins don’t stop there. The keyboard is quite comfortable, with just the slightest bit of feedback while typing. You also get a dedicated number pad, and the entire board is even spill-resistant, a welcome addition that I did not put to the test. The buttonless touch pad is wide, and there’s plenty of space on either side to rest your hands comfortably without any accidental contact.
More Pixels, But Not Brighter Ones
One major difference between this model and the previous 3505 model is the 1,920-by-1,080-pixel display. The full-HD, 15.6-inch anti-glare screen is an upgrade from the 1,280-by-720-pixel resolution of its predecessor and another feather in the cap of this capable budget machine. There is no touch-screen option, but it’s not something you’d expect in this price range anyway. Unfortunately, the screen brightness isn’t that bright, registering a maximum of 261 nits in our testing. That means that despite the higher resolution compared with its predecessor, the laptop still makes images and video look dim.
The speakers, located underneath the machine, are loud and clear for a laptop of this caliber, though hitting maximum volume actually makes the chassis vibrate. As for the quality, it’s fair; tinny, but not unbearably so.
The Inspiron 15 3000 does come packed with ports, though the omission of a USB-C port is disappointing. On the right side, you’ll find an SD card slot, a USB 2.0 port, and an audio jack (a combo-style headphone/mic).
The left side includes two USB 3.2 ports (Type-A), an HDMI 1.4 port, and the power-adapter connector.
On the software side, the main attraction is Windows 11, Microsoft’s newest operating system. The Inspiron 15 3000 comes with Windows 11 S, a version of Windows that locks users to the Microsoft Store for app downloads. This can, thankfully, be easily reversed with a few clicks within the Microsoft Store app, bringing you to full Windows 11. There’s not much bloatware to be found on the computer, aside from a McAfee antivirus app.
Testing the Inspiron 15 3000: Bit of a Budget Brawler?
The Inspiron 15 3000 has handled well thus far, but how does it stack up to its competition in our benchmark tests? To see, we compared the laptop’s results with those of four other budget-priced systems reviewed in 2021: the VivoBook 15 and Laptop L410 from Asus, the HP Laptop 14-dq2020nr, and the MSI Modern 14. Despite some differences in memory, all of these laptops hover in the $300-to-$600 range and share similar CPU and GPU setups. (See how we test laptops).
Typically, one of the first benchmark tests we run is UL’s PCMark 10. The wide-ranging benchmark suite simulates a variety of Windows programs to give an overall performance score for office workflows and the like. Unfortunately, budget laptops normally don’t have enough memory to run the tests properly, so we couldn’t quantify performance for a comparison as we normally would.
However, the Inspiron 15 3000 did manage to place some numbers on the board, scoring 3,818 on the PCMark 10 overall test. A number between 4,000 and 5,000 is what we look for here in a solid mainstream machine. It doesn’t quite stick the landing, but it doesn’t land too far off either. The PCMark 10 Storage Test, on the other hand, was a no-go and would not run. We also left out our usual PugetBench for Photoshop benchmark, which doesn’t run properly on systems with less than 8GB of memory.
Our comparison starts in earnest with our HandBrake 1.4 benchmark test. HandBrake 1.4 is an open-source video transcoder for converting multimedia files to different resolutions and formats. Because it’s such a CPU-hungry task, we don’t expect high numbers from budget laptops, which typically use weaker processors with fewer cores.
The Inspiron 15 3000 didn’t do that well here, coming second to last, with only the MSI Modern 14 doing worse. Of course, the chances of doing any serious multimedia work on a budget laptop are unlikely.
The next test on our list is Cinebench R23, the multi-core benchmark meant to exercise all of a processor’s cores and threads. The Inspiron’s Intel Core i3-1115G4 chip does well enough but is bested by the HP Laptop 14’s Intel Core i3-1125G4. The Asus VivoBook 15 sat on the bench for this test, as Cinebench would not run on the hardware.
Rounding out the productivity tests is the Geekbench benchmark, another CPU stress test meant to simulate real-world applications. The HP Laptop 14’s processor helps it nab the top spot here, but the Dell still manages to best most of the competition.
Integrated graphics chips have come a long way, but graphics tests are still difficult to run on budget laptops due to weak GPUs and a lack of memory. Still, we were able to run one 3DMark benchmark to completion.
The Inspiron 15 3000 did fairly well here, coming out on top of its budget competition, while the Asus VivoBook 15 didn’t even make the grade. Night Raid is the more modest of the two test workloads, suitable for laptops with integrated graphics. Time Spy, the more demanding of the two, would not run on any laptop in our comparison group.
The Inspiron 15 3000 also was the only laptop of the bunch that successfully ran GFXBench 5.0, another graphics stress test that runs low-level routines like texturing, and high-level tasks like game-like image rendering to gauge GPU performance. While the other budget laptops came up short, the Dell managed 15 frames per second (fps) during the 1440p Aztec Ruins test but more than doubled its frame rate during the 1080p Car Chase test. While not a gaming laptop by any means, the Dell might manage some undemanding games at 1080p at 30fps, as long as they’re not too graphics-intensive.
Adequate Battery Life
For our battery test, we play a locally stored copy of the open-source Blender movie Tears of Steel on a loop at 50% brightness and at 100% volume, along with a few other battery-testing tweaks. If the laptop doesn’t have enough space to store a copy, we’ll play the movie off of a drive. We also disconnect the Wi-Fi entirely, putting the laptop on Airplane mode.
The Inspiron 15 3000’s battery came up short against the competition, but not too badly, keeping pace with most of the other laptop picks—with the exception of the HP Laptop 14-dq2020nr.
Finally, we turn our attention to the screen and use Datacolor’s SpyderX Elite calibrator tools to measure display performance. We test screen-brightness output levels at 50% and 100% brightness, as well as measure gamut settings for the three most relevant color spaces for laptop users: the sRGB, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3 standards.
In this final test, the Inspiron shined the brightest, even if just slightly. Results were neck-and-neck across the board, but none reached the 500-nit level that the brightest premium laptops are capable of.
The Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (3511) is a solid, if unremarkable, 15-inch budget laptop. It improves on many of the issues we had with the previous 3505 model, and with the inclusion of Windows 11, the 3511 is already a step above its competition. The lack of a USB-C port, the subpar speakers, and the dim display are drawbacks to factor in, but it’s still one of the better 15-inch budget laptops on the market, especially when you consider it’s under $400.