Budget desktops are made to be simple and affordable, and the Dell Inspiron Small Desktop (starts at $379.99; $499.99 as tested) checks both boxes. As its name implies, it’s also notably more compact than its contemporaries, making it a great fit (literally) for space-strapped shoppers. Its performance is only middling for the category, though we do appreciate its including both a solid-state drive and a larger 1TB hard drive. This tower has its benefits, but the Acer Aspire TC-885-UA92 is a better value, and remains our Editors’ Choice for budget desktops.
A Simple Space-Saver
The Inspiron 3471’s design is about as simple as you can get—this compact black rectangle is exactly that, with no flourishes to speak of. The front panel is slightly convex, has some silver trim, and is made from glossy black plastic rather than the black metal of the rest of the tower. Otherwise, there’s little to speak of, as you can see in the photos.
Because budget desktops have no need to fit the powerful components found in gaming and professional rigs, they’re generally on the smaller side. The Inspiron 3471 makes even some compact towers look big in comparison, as it stands at just 11.5 by 3.75 by 12.25 inches (HWD). This makes the Dell a real space-saver. Combined with its basic looks, it can really blend into the background of your setup.
For comparison, two recent budget towers we reviewed—the abovementioned Acer Aspire and the HP Envy Desktop—measure 13.4 by 6.4 by 13. 8 inches and 13.3 by 6.1 by 11.9 inches, respectively. That’s on the small side by any reasonable measure, but still a couple of inches taller than the Inspiron 3471 and almost twice as wide. In short, those systems are closer to standard tower size, while the Inspiron is a true small-form-factor build.
You can access the interior by removing two rear screws, but the inside isn’t much to look at. In a plug-and-go build like this, the interior is not made to be seen, and since it’s so small, it’s not the most DIY-friendly either. That’s not to say you can’t do work in there such as upgrading storage or memory; it’s just cramped.
Components and Ports
Inside our particular model you’ll find an Intel Core i3-9100 processor (a four-core chip), 8GB of memory, a 256GB SSD, and a 1TB hard drive. The current price on Dell’s site for this unit is $499.99, reduced from a stated value of $604.98. Dell’s ever-changing prices tend to reflect such discounts, so we doubt the real price for shoppers would exceed $500.
While we’d discourage you from buying at around $600 rather than $500, it’s a solid configuration at the lower price, though others come with varying storage and RAM capacities. Still, the additional 1TB hard drive is a big inclusion that many competitors don’t offer.
Next, we come to connectivity and ports. The front panel most obviously includes a DVD drive, a rare but still potentially useful inclusion these days. Next to it are two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, an SD card slot, and a headset jack. Around the back, you’ll find four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI and VGA video outputs, and an Ethernet jack. For wireless connectivity, the tower includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Inspiron 3471 also comes with a keyboard and mouse. These are very basic, but still appreciated as pack-in inclusions. They’re on the cheap side, but may be enough for many users. If not, they’re at least there to get you started and can just be placeholders until you buy a nicer set.
Performance Testing: Budget Pricing, Budget Speeds
To get a sense of the Inspiron 3471’s performance, I gathered some comparable desktops and their benchmark results. Below is a table with their names and basic specifications so you can get a sense of what we’re working with.
Going by the as-tested prices of each unit, the Acer Aspire TC-885-UA92 ($548.57), the HP Pavilion Desktop (TP01-0014) ($499), and the Lenovo IdeaCentre 510A ($499) are all comparable to the Inspiron 3471. The HP Envy Desktop (TE01-014) is the only one notably more expensive at $749, so judge accordingly. (See how we test desktop PCs.)
Note that the Core i3-9100 processor in the Dell is a four-core chip that does not support Hyper-Threading, so four processing threads is all that it can tackle in multi-threaded software. That will be evident below in CPU-intensive tests such as Cinebench and Handbrake. (The Core i5 CPUs in the Acer Aspire and HP Envy entries are six-core chips; the older Core i3 and the Ryzen 3 in the HP Pavilion and Lenovo models are four-core, four-thread CPUs like the Core i3-9100.)
Productivity and Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and videoconferencing. PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s boot drive. Both tests yield a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
All things are about equal on PCMark 10, an important test for this type of computer. The Inspiron and its competitors won’t be handling demanding multimedia jobs or doing much gaming, so measuring their performance on these everyday types of tasks shows their worth. The Dell is toward the top of the curve here, not the fastest of the batch but it doesn’t lag behind.
In my experience, the Inspiron was quick enough while navigating around the desktop, but like all of these systems, does start to slow a bit when you pile on multiple tasks. Boot and program load times were quick thanks to the SSD, but you’ll note its PCMark 8 score is missing from the chart—the test repeatedly crashed, so I had to abandon it for this desktop. This is likely to be a software or driver issue—I don’t think anything was wrong with the SSD itself.
Media Processing and Content Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open-source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. Lower (faster) times are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image, timing each operation and adding up the total. The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
Though all of these PCs fall within the same performance tier, there is a little more variation than there was on PCMark 10. Through the variance, one throughline across all three of these tests was that the Inspiron 3471 was roughly the middle or third-best performer in each test (it barely snuck into second place in Photoshop). It’s no surprise that the Acer and the HP Envy, with their superior Core i5 processors, are better performers.
The Inspiron wasn’t too far behind for the most part, but really none of these PCs is meant for these media-centric tasks. In a pinch they can work for photo or video editing, but they will generally leave you waiting a lot longer than a more powerful desktop.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
UL’s 3DMark suite measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. Note that the 720p Low preset of Superposition failed to run on this Inspiron, which also occurred with the Acer Aspire.
Simply put, these desktops’ integrated graphics are not up to snuff for 3D or gaming tasks. The Lenovo’s AMD Radeon Vega 8 is a slight exception, but it’s only marginally better than the others in the grand scheme of things. You can play the simplest 3D titles or casual games, but anything demanding (and likewise, any graphics-based media load) is a bridge too far for this whole tier of desktops.
A Good Budget Tower for Space-Strapped Shoppers
The Dell Inspiron Small Desktop is a good system for the price, though it’s not the fastest in this tier. However, it has the advantage of size, being easily the smallest tower in the group. If you need to save space, or have a tight workspace generally, this is your best budget option. It also gives you more digital space, with a large hard drive that the others in its price range are lacking. Ultimately, we still recommend the Acer Aspire as the best bang for your buck, but the Inspiron is a good alternative with its own advantages.
Dell Inspiron Small Desktop (3471) Specs
|Desktop Class||Mainstream, Small Form Factor (SFF)|
|Processor||Intel Core i3-9100|
|Processor Speed||3.6 GHz|
|RAM (as Tested)||8 GB|
|Boot Drive Type||SSD|
|Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)||256 GB|
|Secondary Drive Type||Hard Drive|
|Secondary Drive Capacity (as Tested)||1 TB|
|Graphics Card||Intel UHD Graphics 630|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home|