Dell Inspiron I7559-763BLK Gaming Laptop Review

Dell Inspiron i7559 763BLKWith my ASUS gaming laptop on its last legs, I was considering building a desktop gaming rig until I ran across the Amazon page for the Dell i7559-763BLK gaming laptop. This is an amazing value given its $799.99 price. After spending a couple weeks with the laptop, I am impressed at what a good job Dell has done with this laptop (something I didn’t think I’d ever say about that company again).

For that $800, Dell throws in an i5-6300HQ, GTX 960M 4gb, 8gb RAM, 256gb M2 SSD, and a 15.6″ matte screen.

One of the nice things about the Dell is that both the RAM and the storage are expandable. The back of the laptop is removable with a single screw, which reveals an empty RAM slot and a 2.5″ drive caddy. I ordered an extra 8gb RAM stick and a Crucial 256gb SSD with the laptop, and so ended up with a 16gb RAM and 512gb of SSD storage for less than $1,000.

Something I was also very pleased with was that once it is removed, that bottom cover reveals pretty much every component in the laptop. With my ASUS, there were significant portions of the interior of the laptop that were covered completely by plastic. That made it extremely difficult to thoroughly remove dust. That will not be a problem at all in the Dell, which is a small but significant plus in my book.

The laptop ships with Windows 10. I’d have preferred Windows 7/8 due to Windows 10’s spyware-like behavior, but after deactivating most of the more egregious “send all your data back to Microsoft?” options, I really didn’t notice much difference from Windows 8 to Windows 10.

Since I bought this for gaming, the first thing I did was install Steam and then install 120+ games. Obviously the 960M is not the fastest mobile graphics card around, but it achieved acceptable (40-60+) framerates in pretty much every game I threw at it. Yes, with more recent games I had to adjust graphics settings down to get that sort of performance, but for an $800 laptop that’s a tradeoff I’m more than happy to make. Needless to say, if you’re looking to run The Witcher 3 on Ultra at 60FPS, this is not the laptop you’re looking for.

The Dell does a very good job of managing heat. Even after extended multi-hour play sessions, the highest I’ve seen the GPU temp get is 65-67 degrees Celsius. I never felt significant heat from the machine, though I almost always have my laptop set on a desk rather than in my lap.

As far as ports, the Inspiron i7559-763BLK comes with three USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader. My Lenovo ultrabook only includes two USB 3.0 port which is usually one too few, so I appreciated Dell throwing in an extra one. Similarly, I regularly need to transfer video files from SD cards, so that was a plus.

The tradeoff is that for video out, the Inspiron features a single HDMI port. I can’t remember the last laptop I saw — gaming or otherwise — that didn’t have at least an HDMI and mini-Display Port out. The inability to drive two external monitors is probably the single biggest drawback to this laptop. If this were going to be the only laptop I was going to use, I’d pass on it for that reason alone. If you don’t mind a single monitor for productivity applications or have a second laptop for actual work, this is an acceptable compromise.

A bigger problem is the screen bleed that some Amazon reviews note and that I definitely see as well. This doesn’t really bother me at all. I barely even notice it, except when booting where my desktop background is very dark. However, if I were the sort of person who noticed screen bleed, that would drive me up the wall. Be aware that if this is a deal breaker, you may have to do a return or two before getting one of these that doesn’t have some level of screen bleed.

The keyboard is functional, but nothing special. There is a dedicated number pad on the keyboard, and in order to have everything fit properly, the keys are a bit smaller than I am used to. That also means the trackpad is offset to the left which just looks goofy. Dell should have ditched the number pad and used the extra space to increase the size of the keys.

Dell made the keyboard extremely annoying, however, by setting the function keys to act as multimedia keys by default. So at first when I’d hit F5 to reload a web page, instead Spotify would pause or unpause. The only way to fix this is to boot into the BIOS and switch the keyboard default back to normal function key mode. I should not have had to mess around with the BIOS just to be able to use F5 to reload a web page. Stupid, stupid decision there.

The build quality of the laptop seems fairly solid. The exterior is entirely plastic, with the cover and keyboard area being covered in a soft plastic while the bottom is hard plastic. As several reviewers on Amazon noted, the Inspiron doesn’t look like a gaming laptop, and that’s meant entirely as a compliment. No radical garish colors or stupid looking gaming logos. I would have no qualms about taking this along to a business meeting, confident that no one would be wondering “WTF is that?”

The Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK is certainly not the best gaming laptop you can buy, but I doubt there’s a better $800 laptop out there that is as feature-rich as this.

Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire on YouTube

Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire is a 13-episode documentary series that starts at the very end of the Roman Republic, and then follows the ups and downs of the empire through the 5th century and the overthrow of the boy emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476 AD.

This is an extremely well-done series that originally aired on the History Channel (remember when it was about more than nonsensical ancient aliens shows?). The series is heavy on re-enactments interrspered with commentary from academic experts who do an excellent job of describing and contextualizing the events of the ancient Rome.

Someone has posted the entire series to YouTube:

Episode 1 – The Rise and Fall of an Empire

Episode 2 – Spartacus

Episode 3 – Julius Caesar

Episode 4 – The Forest of Death

Episode 5 – The Invasion of Britain

Episode 6 – Dacian Wars

Episode 7 – Rebellion and Betrayal

Episode 8 – Wrath of the Gods

Episode 9: The Soldier’s Emperor

Episode 10: Constantine the Great

Episode 11: The Barbarian General

Episode 12: The Puppet Master

Episode 13: The Last Emperor

WordPress Plugin: RPS Chessboard

A few years ago I recommended the Chess by Blog plugin for WordPress, which added a number of chess-related functions to WordPress blogs. So, of course, that particular plugin was abandoned a couple years later.

It looks like RPS Chessboard is now the most versatile, actively developed WordPress plugin that will take chess games in PGN notation and create interactive chessboards in a WordPress post or page.

Spartacus Was a Bad Ass

I’ve seen Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus a few times and read accounts of The Third Servile War in a few different histories of Rome. Somehow I missed this anecdote about an event that occurred just prior to Spartacus’ defeat at the  Battle of Siler River,

After a failed truce, Spartacus gathered his army together for battle. He ordered his horse to be brought to him, drew his sword, and slew the animal. He proclaimed to his troops that if he should win the day, he would have many horses to choose from, but if he should lose the upcoming battle and the Romans should win the day, he would not need one.