GCN LAB REVIEWS
Dell's Vostro 330 has the right touch
All-in-one system combines a sensitive touch screen with fairly robust performance
The funny thing about computers is that they rarely look like computers anymore. They hide in things like washing machines, cars and watches. In a few years, you might be hard pressed to find the so-called normal desktop tower-and-monitor setup. This isn’t a bad thing really. Unlike dinosaurs, computers have adapted to their environments, so that a perfect computer can fill almost any need.
One area in which a computer can fill a need is at the front end of a government organization, where a moderately powerful but simple machine can be used to distribute information to the public. For such a computer to survive in that environment, it would need to have a large screen and be very simple to use, which probably means a touch-screen display. It would also need to be relatively cheap, because things the public can touch probably won’t last as long as something secured away in a back office and used by only a few authorized users.
Such as computer would probably look something like the Dell Vostro 330.
Dell Vostro 330
Pros: Large display; responsive touch screen.
Cons: A touch slower than optimal; no wall-mounting options; integrated graphics.
Ease of use: A
The Vostro 330 is the latest all-in-one system from Dell. It features a large, 23-inch touch screen with anti-smudge coating. There is a wireless keyboard and mouse included as part of the inexpensive $599 package, though with the touch-screen capability, these are not completely necessary.
If the Vostro 330 were being used as an information terminal for the public, the keyboard and mouse could be locked away somewhere nearby and used for maintenance or some other task that requires more than just fingers clicking on the screen. There are also six USB ports, with two in the front and four in the back, so a USB keyboard and mouse could be used instead.
The screen itself looks really good. Its native resolution is a widescreen 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. Perhaps the most impressive feature of this model is the responsiveness of the touch screen. We’ve been dealing with touch screens in the lab for a long time now, both in all-in-one configurations and the more portable and popular tablet PCs. There are two main types of touch screens, ones that can work with just your fingers and ones that require a special pen and will ignore finger input or, more accurately, can’t sense fingers on the screen.
Screens that require special electronic pointing devices are generally more accurate than finger-based ones, but that isn’t the case here. The Vostro’s screen is very precise, to the point that we could easily manipulate even very fine controls for some programs and also very tiny Windows commands, such as the button to enlarge or minimize a window. Even using something like a paint program was a breeze and, in some cases, a heck of a lot easier than trying to trace an object using a mouse.
The Vostro 330 comes in two main configurations, but only the lower-end model, which is the one we tested, is currently available in the United States for government customers. It features an Intel Core i3 processor (the higher end model sports an i5) and integrated Intel graphics. The higher-end model apparently has an ATI Radeon HD 5470 chip for graphics. Our unit came with 6G of RAM, though the Vostro can go as high as 8G, depending on your configuration. The system we tested ran the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional.
For an i3 processor, we were a little disappointed that the Vostro 330 didn’t score higher on the PassMark Performance Benchmarks from PassMark Software (www.passmark.com), which the lab uses to compare systems to one another and against baselines. It scored 913, which is good, but on the low side for desktop PCs. That puts the Vostro 330 somewhere between a high-performing laptop and a middle-of-the-road tower desktop in terms of performance. We didn’t have any trouble with most of the programs we tested, but remember that the unit isn’t really designed to handle high-end software. Everything up to and including —barely — Adobe Photoshop should run with little problem.
The model we tested, like all Vostro 330s as far as we could tell, had a 320G hard drive. There is also an 8X CD/DVD burner, which is hidden in the side of the large monitor.
Extra features include a seven-in-one media card reader, a pair of fairly powerful 4-watt speakers hidden inside the sleek case, and a 2 megapixel Web camera with an integrated microphone.
The Vostro 330 was incredibly easy to setup. There is a plastic stand that folds out of the base of the monitor that acts like the third leg of a tripod. You simply pull the Vostro out of the box and set it where you want. If you are using a wireless mouse, you will need to plug in a dongle to one of the USB ports, but beyond that, there is almost nothing to do. It weighs 19 pounds, so it’s not too difficult to lift either.
The one disappointment is that there are no mounting options for putting the 330 on a wall, a role in which it would be perfect. Apparently other Vostro models had this, but for whatever reason, the 330 is completely smooth in the back. A standard cable lock chassis hole will protect it from theft, since it’s probably going to need to be sitting on a table or desk.
Besides a front-end, public-facing environment, the Vostro would be a good system for employees who work on the phone a lot or who do other tasks that require their hands to be free. It would be a great computer to store databases in which entries could be brought up and displayed on the large screen at the same time a person is working on other tasks.
The Vostro is a good computer that can fill a few specific needs, even if that need is just a craving for more desk space. And the $599 price really can’t be beat, especially because that is the list price and feds might be able to get a discount. For all those reasons, the Vostro 330 earns a Reviewer’s Choice designation.