With the plethora of netbooks on the market today sporting 9, 10 and 11” screens, is easy to forget notebooks weren’t always so small. Meet the Dell Vostro 3700, a huge 17.3” desktop replacement powered by Intel’s new Core i3, i5 and i7 range of processors. The 3700 is part of Dell’s Vostro refresh which includes the 3300 (13”), 3400 (14”) and the 3500 (15”).
Out of the box there is no getting around the fact this is a very large laptop. While it is not overly thick, it makes its presence known with that big screen. It feels heavier than it’s advertised 2.7kg weight would suggest too.
The Vostro 3700 provided for this review was configured as follows:
- Intel Core i5-520M – 2.4Ghz, up to 2.93Ghz
- 4GB DDR3 1066Mhz RAM
- 320GB 7200 RPM HDD
- nVidia GeForce GT 330M 1GB
- 17.3″ 1600×900 Wide LED-backlight display
- 8x DVD+/-RW Drive
- 802.11n WiFi
The lid and sides of my 3700 review unit had the Brisbane Bronze colour kit which I rather like, though I can’t help feeling the standard Aberdeen Silver would last the test of time a bit better. By that I mean I think you’d get over having a brown laptop. If you’re feeling a bit “out there” you can get it in Lucerne Red. It has a solid feel thanks to its aluminum chassis, though if you pick it up with one hand you may hear a creak or too.
The design is surprisingly simple, with a few subtle curves to taper the edges off. I was particularly pleased with the bottom of the 3700, which is quite smooth and flat, something Dell don’t always do. It makes using the 3700 on your lap a much more pleasant experience.
Along the edges port selection is plentiful, with 5 USB ports, VGA, HDMI, 4-pin Firewire, Gigabit Ethernet and an ExpressCard34 slot. One of the USB ports also does double duty as an eSATA port.
There are quite a lot of pluses to a notebook this size, most obviously the increased screen real estate on offer. The 17.3” display has a 16:9 aspect ratio (which seems to be replacing 16:10) and a resolution of 1600×900, just below that of Full HD (1920×1080). On smaller notebooks with lower resolutions the drop to 16:9 can be a bit of a nuisance, but it doesn’t pose the same issue here.
The display has a glossy coating, which can make it a little difficult to see in direct sunlight, but since this model is unlikely to see a lot of sun I don’t see this being too much of a problem. What is a problem are the viewing angles. They are rather poor, and along size my bottom-rung 13” MacBook Pro the screen just doesn’t look nearly as vivid. The colours are slightly washed out which makes it less than ideal for editing photos or watching movies, and moving off centre everything starts to invert.
Where the 3700 does pickup its game is with a very spacious keyboard, complete with dedicated number pad. Having such a big, wide screen means it can have a big, wide keyboard, and here the 3700 doesn’t disappoint. Since this machine will be mostly used at a desk in place of a desktop, it’s great to have a built-in keyboard like that of a desktop. The keys felt nice to type on, with good feedback and little bounce.
The touchpad is similarly generous, with a nice texture and smooth motion. It is offset to the left, sitting in the middle of the alphabetic section of the keyboard, ignoring the number pad. This took a bit of getting used to, but it’s hardly an issue.
Next to the touch pad is a fingerprint reader, placed very discretely below the number pad. The setup on the Dell was much better than ones I’d used previously, able to log the system in very quickly. The software allows you to use it for logging into websites as well which can be quite handy, certainly more secure than just letting Firefox/IE fill out the box automatically regardless of who is using your computer..
My particular unit was fitted with the Intel Core i5-520M 2.4Ghz processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and the nVidia GeForce GT 330M 1GB graphics chip, a combination which ensured a very smooth Windows 7 experience. Dell’s additional applications weren’t overly intrusive, and the machine felt fast when starting and running multiple applications or playing high-res video.
One quirk with my unit was the inclusion of Windows 7 32-bit and the 4GB of RAM. 32-bit versions of Windows do not support 4GB of RAM, which it politely confirmed by recognising 4GB of RAM, but only making 3GB of it usable.
While its size will likely see it desk bound for the majority of its life, the battery will make sure it is never far from an outlet. Lacking is probably the best way to describe it, with the 3700 lasting around 2hrs with 7’s power management on “Balanced”. It’s no surprise considering the large screen and rather pathetic battery, and isn’t likely to worry most people looking at one of these machines for desk duties.
The Vostro 3700 is a great value desktop replacement, with a big high-res display, excellent keyboard, and solid performance. While higher performance processors are available (namely the Core i7), the mid range model offers great value for money as an all-rounder that would be all the computer most people would need.
The Dell Vostro 3700 can be purchased directly from Dell.
MSRP: Starting from US$679 with the Core i3 at time of writing. Dell’s pricing is constantly revised.
What I Like: Pricing, keyboard, performance, 1600×900 screen resolution.
What Needs Improvement: 64-bit OS when 4GB RAM is specified, display is good but not great.