Saturday, September 25, 2021
LaptopsWindows laptops

Dell Inspiron 15 5515 review (2021 model, w/ AMD Ryzen 7)


While shopping for a new laptop for my wife, I came across a good deal for a Dell Inspiron 15 5515.  Since she broke her current laptop, I’m opting for something more on a budget in case it happens again.

I actually was pretty impressed with the last Dell Inspiron I reviewed back in 2017.  That thing is actually still running strong for my mother-in-law, believe it or not – all I’ve had to do was replace the SSD once.  So that made this 2021 Inspiron a little more appealing of an option, especially with the bumped specs.

Having used it for the last days, while this laptop isn’t well suited for my wife’s needs, it’s still a decent choice for a budget laptop.  I don’t think this is for everybody, but if you’re looking for an inexpensive laptop to do light tasks but don’t want to turn to a Chromebook, perhaps this is something you’d be interested in.

Full disclosure, I don’t review laptops like this very often.  I’ll probably come off as critical in some places, but I promise to sum it all up at the end and rate it according to the overall value of the machine.  Also note, that I literally only spent a couple of days with this machine.  I put it through my standard tests and typed the review on it – that’s about it.

Specs as reviewed – Dell Inspiron 15

Dell Inspiron 15, 5515
Screen 15.4 inch, 1920×1080, IPS equivalent, 60 Hz, touch, matte finish
Processor AMD Ryzen 7 5700U, 8C/16T, 1.8 Ghz base, up to 4.3 GHz Boost
Video AMD Radeon Graphics
Memory 16 GB DR4-3200Mhz
Storage 512GB M.2 PCIe
Connectivity Intel AX200 Wifi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2
Ports 2x USB-A 3.2 gen1, 1x USB-C 3.2 gen1 with DP and PD, 1 HDMI 1.4b
Battery 54 Wh, 65W charger
Size 356 mm or 14.02” (w) x 229 mm or 9.01” (d) x 18 mm or .71” (h)
Weight 1.64 kg (3.62 lbs)
Extras SD card reader, power adapter, headphone/mic combo, fingerprint reader, HD webcam, stereo speakers

Design and build

As far as the overall design goes, this is pretty much your typical thin notebook.  Nothing fancy, but surprisingly good considering the price.  It’s thin, light, and has pretty decent build quality, with only a couple of quirks that are easy enough to get over.

The lid and palmrest are both made of anodized aluminum.  The color is a charcoal black, so fingerprints are going to show over time.  The bottom of the unit is made of plastic, which rests inside of the stamped aluminum chassis.

As far as the lid goes, it’s pretty plain.  Just a simple embossed Dell logo centered on it.  Lifting the lid is sometimes a one-finger operation.  The laptop is light so it’s more reliable to hold the bottom when opening.

The hinge is reasonably sturdy as far as laptops go in general.  But there is a little but of wobble, which you’ll notice mostly if you plan to use the touchscreen a lot.  I don’t think it’s that bad to be honest, but don’t expect it to be as stiff as your high end 2-in-1 laptops.

One thing to note about the lid is there are footpads built into the hinge.  When rotated, it actually lifts the laptop a couple of millimeters, probably to improve the airflow. As small as the footpads are underneath the laptop, this is probably very necessary.

With the lid open, there’s a full-sized keyboard and a trackpad, which will be covered in more detail shortly.  Above it is a 15.4-inch touchscreen which is surrounded by plastic bezels.  The bezels on the right and left are very small, while the top and bottom are about twice the width.  It’s a good look for a budget laptop.

Being a touchscreen model, I was pretty surprised by the plastic bezels.  Mainly because you expect to see seamless edges on touchscreen models.  It makes right and left swipes a little awkward – but they still work fine nonetheless.

For IO, there’s a decent selection of ports on this model.  On the right-hand side, there’s a single USB-A slot with a full-sized SD card reader and a headphone/microphone combo jack.  That SD slot is half-sized by the way, so your SD card will stick out if you use it.

On the left is a power jack, an HDMI 1.4 port, another USB-A port, and a USB-C.  This USB-C does not support Thunderbolt, however, it does support DisplayPort and PD charging.

The underside is pretty plain.  There’s what looks to be a very long vent, but in reality, over half of it is closed off.  It’s probably a shared design with other laptop models that may use a second fan.  As stated, the feet are pretty small.  Using this laptop in the closed position laying on the table may not provide enough airflow.

Also on the bottom are two small cutouts for the speakers.  They’re pretty far in and close to the surface of what the laptop is laying on, so not the most ideal position if you ask me.  I’ll get more into the sound quality in a later section though.

All this said, I think this is a pretty good design for this laptop.  It’s good enough build quality for the price Dell is asking for and I think it’s tough enough to last more than a few years, if taken proper care of.  The features and IO are also pretty good considering what this laptop is intended to be used for.

Keyboard and trackpad

This model of the Dell Inspiron has a pretty decent keyboard.  It’s backlit, with the keys being properly spaced apart, and has good feedback.  The travel is about average for a laptop of this thickness.

I honestly had no trouble typing it at all.  I usually save this section for last when typing my review, and I can say without a doubt I had little to no issues adapting to it.

The key lighting is only white, and there are three levels of brightness, which can be controlled with Fn-F5.  It’s a subtle backlighting, which I appreciate.  In the daytime, you’ll hardly notice it, but in a dark room, it works as it should.

The keyboard layout is pretty normal for the most part.  There’s a full array of multimedia keys along the top, offering pretty much any of the controls you would need.  In fact, Dell couldn’t think of anything to go with f9, they just left it blank…

It’s a full keyboard layout so the Numpad is included on this one.  Windows calculator users should rejoice, because this is the keyboard for them!  I’ve never seen this before but there are actually dedicated buttons to launch the calculator, clear and ±.  Not my thing, but perfect if you use the 10-key all day.

The last interesting tidbit lies in the power button, which is unlabeled in the upper right-hand corner.  It doubles as a fingerprint reader, which is probably why it’s blank.  It works perfectly, so no complaints from me.

The only real complaint I have with the keyboard is there is a fair amount of flex in the center of it.  I was constantly noticing the chassis bouncing while I typed.  It didn’t affect my accuracy though, so it’s a small complaint.

The trackpad is also pretty good.  It’s a glass trackpad with a smooth finish.  It tracks pretty well and worked fine for all my usage.  Multi-touch gestures all worked fine for me, so I had no trouble adapting to tit.

I won’t say it’s the best trackpad I’ve ever used, because I do prefer they be flush with the chassis.  But it’s still above average and much better than the plastic trackpads that I still see in use on competitor laptops.

It’s a clickpad type of trackpad too, so right and left click are integrated into pressing the bottom corners.  The click is both the appropriate resistance and satisfying.

Screen

The screen will most likely be the dealbreaker for many potential buyers.  Fact is, it’s kind of bland.  It’s a FHD panel, 60Hz and slightly below average in brightness.  The only saving grace to it is the fact it’s touch-enabled AND has a matte finish.

The worst part about the screen are the colors though.  The colors are very dull and it shows in the calibration.

Here are the measurements I got on my X-rite i1 Display Pro sensor:

  • Panel HardwareID: LG Phillips 156WFD (Model LGD0684)
  • Coverage: 55.7% sRGB, 38.4% AdobeRGB, 39.5% DCI-P3;
  • Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 289 cd/m2 on power;
  • Gamma: 2.2
  • Contrast at max brightness:1179:1
  • Native white point: 6400 K;
  • Black on max brightness: 0.4 cd/m2.

I did detect some backlight bleed on my unit.  It didn’t affect my normal use of the laptop but it was very noticeable on a black screen.  It’s certainly not the worst I’ve seen, but was definitely worth noticing.  Note that this varies from unit to unit, so your experience will differ.

The touch functionality works nice at least.  It’s a pretty cool feature to have built into a matte panel.  Honestly, the main reason I stay away from touch screens on laptops is because of the glare.  But this panel resists the glare pretty good – it’s just too bad it’s not a little brighter.

If you’re worried about viewing angles, there’s nothing to worry about on this one.  There is a slight light shift when you move 30 degrees in any direction, but it’s not distracting and the images are still sharp.

In the end, the colors kill it for me and is the main reason we aren’t going to keep it.  My wife occasionally does color-sensitive work with Photoshop, so she can’t effort to be without half the colors she’s used to having.

Your needs may differ though, and if you’re looking for a laptop simply for internet and word processing use, this panel will probably not bother you as badly.

Hardware and performance

This model comes equipped with a Ryzen 7 5700U processor, which has 8 cores and 16 threads, topping out at 4.3Ghz.  It’s paired with 16GB of RAM, which is more than enough anyone would probably need for this type of laptop.

In general, this is a great CPU.  I didn’t do any heavy tasks, so I can’t really comment on the performance there.  But for internet-based applications and day-to-day tasks, the laptop performs very well.

There’s no dedicated GPU on this model, so you’re limited to AMD Radeon graphics.  Gaming is possible, but you’re going to be severely limited to lower graphics settings on any modern games.  More on that in a minute.

The SSD is a 512GB PCIe, made by Hynix.  It has some pretty decent benchmarks, but note that these significantly increase when the laptop is under power.  Not to say it’s slow on battery though, because even those results are just fine.  See my benchmarks for the exact numbers.

If you want to upgrade the SSD, all you have to do is remove a bunch of Phillips screws and pop open the back cover.  Once done, you’ll have access to the M.2, RAM, and Wifi module.  Note that the M2 module is a 2230 variant, but there is a screw hole for the typical 2280 drive is present.

I took some synthetic benchmarks to get an idea of how well the CPU performs.  Here’s what I got:

  • 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 3087 (Graphics – 3378, Physics – 15992);
  • 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 1275 (Graphics – 1122, CPU – 5736);
  • 3DMark 13 – CPU Profile: Max-4383, 16T-4323, 8T-3809, 4T-2415, 2T-1406, 1T-720
  • GeekBench 5: Single-Core: 1149, Multi-core: 5914;
  • CineBench R15: OpenGL 66.70 fps, CPU 1441 cb, CPU Single Core 188 cb;
  • CineBench R23: CPU 7926 pts, CPU Single Core 1245 pts;

These results aren’t all that bad.  But I did notice that there were some diminished results after running Cinebench for 15 runs in a row. In fact, the TDP continues to drift downward over extended periods.  Most likely due to the single fan not being able to keep up.

Here’s how this 15W Ryzen 7 5700U implementation compares to other AMD and Intel models with similar hardware.

— to be updated

But it did get me curious so I also retook the same benchmarks but this time with a GaN charger.  Take a look:

  • 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 2985 (Graphics – 3334, Physics – 15943);
  • 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 1303 (Graphics – 1147, CPU – 5777);
  • 3DMark 13 – CPU Profile: Max-4678, 16T-4669, 8T-4171, 4T-2581, 2T-1384, 1T-725
  • GeekBench 5: Single-Core: 1182, Multi-core: 5994;
  • CineBench R15: OpenGL 67.62 fps, CPU 1447 cb, CPU Single Core 188 cb;
  • CineBench R23: CPU 8641 pts, CPU Single Core 1255 pts;

To my surprise, the GaN charger actually made the laptop perform a little bit better.  But even after retaking the Cinebench r15 test, the results still drifted downward over time.  But not as bad as before.

I honestly have no idea what to make of this.  It was a shot in the dark and it actually made a difference but I have no idea why.  The GaN charger I used was a loaner from Razer, so the power port was able to supply 100W.  But according to my USB power meter, it was only supplying 61W at its peak.

But perhaps the supplied 65W adapter is just poor quality and it’s supplying a watt or two less than that – it might very well be the difference I’m seeing here.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s anything to fret over.  The difference was small enough that it probably wouldn’t be noticeable for any real-life application.  If you’re that concerned about the CPU performance on power, this perhaps isn’t the best laptop to get in the first place.

So I wouldn’t go out and buy a GaN charger the second you get this laptop.  Also, just for awareness, using a GaN charger on the UBC-C port puts a slight charge on the chassis due to the lack of ground.  This is normal and harmless but you’ll feel a slight vibration from the metal components on the chassis, while plugged in.  Just an observation.

Back to the performance, it should also be noted that there’s no way to set the TDP of the CPU.  Dell doesn’t include any software to limit the settings in any way.  So you’re getting a 25W TDP when on Maximum performance.

You can also do some light gaming on this laptop, but since it lacks a dedicated GPU, the results are not so great.  Seriously though, you should be shopping elsewhere if you want a laptop that place games.

I did take some benchmarks with a few games, varying in age.  See below for my results:

HD
Doom Eternal
(Medium settings)
29 fps avg, 25 fps low
Skyrim
(Ultra)
49 fps avg, 31 fps low
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(FHD, low Preset, Hairworks Off)
23 fps avg, 21 fps low
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
(720p, low Preset, Hairworks Off)
40 fps avg, 36 fps low
Portal Reloaded 60 fps

As you can see, not the greatest results.  But it’s about what you can expect from integrated graphics.  Still, though, you can play some older titles pretty reliably, especially on low to medium settings.

To summarize, the performance of this unit is pretty much on par with what I was expecting.  It’s good enough for most people.  And for the price, a Ryzen 7 5700U is a good deal, especially bundled with 16GB of RAM.  The single fan probably limits performance a little, but that’s just the way it is.

Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others

As stated, this laptop only has a single cooling fan with a couple of heatpipes that cool the CPU.  The fan takes cool air from the underside of the laptop and exhausts all of the air onto the bottom corner of the screen.  Not my favorite cooling solution by any means, but it’s what we have here.

The CPU stays pretty cool for the most part.  Dell must have some pretty low thresholds for CPU temp, which might be why I was seeing such heavy throttling during my extended CPU tests.  Even in my Cinebench loop, CPU temps averaged only 70C, which is just fine.

As far as the chassis temperature goes, it stays very cool under normal usage.  Because the CPU barely has a chance to get hot, the chassis stays cool as well.

This changes a lot during gaming or with heavier loads, as the temperatures really ramp up on the underside.  Notice the 52C hotspot after running Witcher 3 for a half-hour.

Granted, this is a pretty intensive game to run on this laptop.  But it does point out a weakness in the cooling system as that hotspot is in an area that has almost no airflow.

And if you compare it to the teardown picture, you’ll actually notice that the hotspot is right where the ram modules are.  Perhaps this is the reason we’re seeing throttling over time even though the CPU temps look decent?  Unfortunately, there’s no test for RAM temps, but it’s a good theory.

The Intel AX200 is what is used for a Wifi module on this unit.  I reached 420Mbps from a 30 ft distance from my router.  I didn’t have any drops in connection during my usage.  It has Bluetooth built-in, but unfortunately, I didn’t have time to test it.

The speakers decent but are facing downward, which puts them at a disadvantage.  The space gap between the opening and your desk is small so the sound is a little muffled.  The maximum volume I measure is 72dB, which could be better but is still decent.

The good news is the speakers have decent mids, so they sound pretty good in general, albeit in the wrong direction.  I was able to hear bass as low as 60Hz, which isn’t bad for such tiny speakers.

The webcam is lousy on this laptop.  The low-light shots are super grainy and lack color.  But even under normal lighting, it’s still not a clear picture.  It’s good enough to get by with but certainly not anything you’d want to use for serious web conversations.  The ONLY good thing about it is there’s a physical webcam shutter built into the lid.

Battery life

The Dell Inspiron 15 5515 has a 54 Whr battery.  Kind of a small battery, but it’s a small chassis.

I took a series of battery life tests with the brightness at 30%, which is about 87 nits.  Here were my results:

  • 3.6 W (~14 h 53 min of use) – idle, Best Battery Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi ON, backlighting off;
  • 6.9 W (~7 h 32 min of use) – text editing in Word with light internet use, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 5.8 W (~9 h 11 min of use) – 1080p 60Hz Youtube fullscreen in Chrome, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 6.1 W (~8 h 57 min of use) – 1080p Netflix fullscreen video in Chrome, Better Battery Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 11.4 W (~4 h 32 min of use) – heavy browsing in Chrome, Better Performance Mode, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 33.1 W (~1 h 21 min of use) – Gaming – Doom Eternal, Maximum Performance Mode, 60fps cap, screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON.

Not too bad of results for just a 54 Whr battery.  The AMD processor certainly helps.  The only way to further improve the battery life would simply be to put a bigger battery in the unit.

The power brick is 65W and is pretty portable.  Like I mentioned earlier, it’s probably not putting out 65W, as the 61W coming from the GaN charger I was using yielded better results on my benchmarks.

Price and availability

The model I reviewed is available at Amazon for $899.  There’s also a cheaper model for $699, which has a 256GB SSD and only 8GB of RAM.  That model may be more appropriate for those only looking to use the internet and some light tasks in this sort of laptop.

Follow this link for updated prices and configurations at the time you’re reading the article.

If you’re on a budget, keep an eye out on Dell’s website as well. Sometimes they run sales that are too good to pass up.  For example, I was able to get this model on Dell’s site for just under $700.

Final thoughts

So besides the screen, I think this is a fine laptop for normal day-to-day users.  It should easily last a few years, and maybe even longer depending on how well you take care of your machines.

The build quality and design are very good for the price you pay for it.  The keyboard and trackpad are also pretty good.  I also think the amount of IO is appropriate for the target audience for this laptop.

But the screen is just the one thing you’ll have to get over in order to tolerate this purchase.  The color volume just isn’t there and it makes the display just look plain boring and dull.  The only saving grace to it is that it’s a touchscreen that has a matte finish, so that’s a unique feature worth mentioning.

The only other thing to worry about is the crummy webcam.  It’s not Windows Hello enabled, but the fingerprint reader makes up for that.  But nothing makes up for the pixelated image.  So if web conferences are frequent for you, you may want to look for something else.

But if the screen and webcam aren’t that important to you, I think most people would enjoy using this laptop as their daily driver.  To me the value is there and bundled with Dell’s support for units under warranty, I think it’s a very low-risk purchase.

But like I said at the beginning, I only got to spend a few days with this unit.  So take some of my praise and criticism with a grain of salt.  I usually use a laptop at least a week or two before writing a full review, but am a little rushed with this one since I’m looking for a laptop for my wife.

That said, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.  Please leave a comment in the section below.

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In addition to being a tech enthusiast, Derek has a career as a biomedical engineer. He enjoys taking things apart, figuring out how they work and finding ways to make them better. His other hobbies include spending time with his family, “Do it yourself” projects such as home automation and running.



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