I bought this crappy laptop for college and it was the best decision I ever made

Black dell laptop surrounded by four red hearts
(Image credit: Future)

Picture this: it’s 2008 and I’m in my first year of college, badly needing my own laptop but not having a ton of spare income (read: barely any at all). At this point Dell, which had firmly established itself as a brand thanks to the desktops it provided to mine and other high schools, was my number one choice due to being a solid maker of low and mid-range laptops with affordable pricing.

After careful saving I settled on a Dell Inspiron 1525, which was its mid-range option. Of course back then none of that mattered to me. I just needed something that could let me take notes, watch movies, play games, and also let me customize it with a yellow back plate, I didn't need to have the best gaming laptop or a MacBook or anything like that, just something that worked.

That laptop lasted me almost a decade and I loved it to pieces. It really was one of the best student laptops that might have ever existed. My note-taking game became flawless, I could stream movies and play them on DVD, type out research papers without needing the computer lab (and for a commuting student this was vital), and so much more. 

This yellow Dell Inspiron 1525, which I even named Madeline, was my baby and to this day I treasure the time we had together. And looking back, it was an absolute piece of crap that I had to repair countless times. But despite that, it taught me so many valuable lessons about how to properly choose a laptop that best suits your needs, and with everyone getting ready to go back to school in a month's time, I hope more people make a similar choice to the one I made.

Size and weight are very important 

Let me start by saying that the Dell Inspiron 1525 weighs exactly six pounds. And I carried that laptop with me seven days a week between school and work at school. To be fair this weight came from the built-in DVD drive, which I wouldn’t have traded for the world. But as you can imagine, this was quite the burden for a young adult to be lugging around every day along with all her books.

What made it even bulkier was the 15.4-inch screen, which increased the size quite a bit and most likely contributed to the weight along with the optic drive. And considering that most of my use for this laptop was mundane, it was completely unnecessary to be carrying around a six-pound paper writing machine.

Instead, my focus should have been on finding a more portable laptop or, even better, a home PC. With the latter, I wouldn’t be able to notetake but it would make for a more stable machine with a much longer shelf life. Unfortunately, Chromebooks didn’t exist until after I left college so that wasn’t an option. But regardless, I should have spent more time researching my purchase, and I could have saved my self a lot of backache.

Lesson one: make sure that the screen size and weight suit your needs.

Build quality is really important 

Ol' Madeline gave me about ten years of useful life before conking out, something I don't even think the best laptop in the world could really do nowadays, so she was a tough old girl. Considering the average life cycle for a laptop nowadays is about three to five years, Madeline literally ran circles around lesser laptops. However, this came with its own issues, something I hadn't anticipated or planned for.

About two years into my ownership, I realized that the hinges were a bit…off. They stopped opening properly to the point that it would lift part of the back plate off the rest of the laptop whenever I opened it. Luckily this issue was mostly fixed through the university techs replacing the whole piece.

I also realized very quickly that this laptop got very hot, very rapidly. As in do not have this laptop on your lap unless you like it to be very toasty. Apparently, this was because the 1525 used a single heatsink, which wasn’t abnormal but this model was the most common one with that issue. But past Allisa never looked into this because she didn’t understand how important this sort of build issue was. So I learned it the hard way.

At one point the battery also failed on me, and I had to purchase and then have installed a brand new one. The positive is that this greatly increased the wattage and therefore the battery life, but the downside was that now I had a battery that jutted out of the back.

Lesson two: due diligence goes a long way

I miss built-in optical drives 

Remember when I mentioned that one of the main causes of the 1525’s weight was the optical drive? I wish that was a common issue with modern-day laptops. Sure, it’s great to have ultra-thin laptops that are easy to carry around, since more variety addresses more needs. But there’s no way to find a laptop with a drive at all.

We can argue the many reasons why this particular feature was phased out, but the fact is this design choice severely limits what a laptop is capable of and restricts it to digital-only products and downloads. Also, they no longer double as DVD players, which is a travesty.

Thinking back to my Dell Inspiron 1525, the fact that I could pop in a movie whenever I wanted to or install games or programs or burn CDs gave me so much more flexibility. That laptop did more for me in a few years than any other laptop has done for me since then.

Lesson three: you don't know what you got til it's gone.

Take care of your computer, and it will take care of you (usually)

Over the years, me and my Dell Inspiron 1525 – my Madeline – have gone through many, many ups and downs. And while that busted-up old beast gave me more than a fair share of headaches, I still love it with all my heart, and the lessons I learned from it I wouldn’t trade for the world. 

Allisa James
Computing Staff Writer

Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.