Dell Inspiron Small Desktop 3881 review: Keep it simple

This stripped-back PC offers everything people need whilst packing in a couple of surprises

A photograph of the Dell Inspiron Small Desktop 3881

IT Pro Verdict


  • +

    Good value

  • +

    Generous port allocation

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    Subtle design


  • -

    Limited expansion potential

If we could pick one system to explain the difference between the PCs sold by multinationals and British PC makers, this would be it. Everything here is pared down to the bone to ensure that not a penny is wasted, right down to connectors on the motherboard, which makes a lot of sense when you’re selling millions of them. You can almost hear Dell’s accountants hug themselves with joy.

Let’s start with the motherboard. Despite having room for four DIMM sockets, and spaces for four of them being marked out, Dell only includes two – one of which is filled with a stick of 8GB Samsung memory. Storage expansion is equally limited, with the sole M.2 slot filled and one SATA connector available – but you will have to buy your own caddy or it will hang loose in the case. Hopefully storage shouldn’t be an issue though, as the 256GB SSD is supplemented by a 1TB WD Blue hard disk.

Dell is gracious enough to include two PCI Express expansion slots, with one x1 and one x16. That’s because this PC relies on the Core i5-10400’s integrated graphics, and in Dell’s defence, it does go to the trouble of adding a riser board for a VGA output to accompany the HDMI and DisplayPort on the back of the board. Lovers of surround sound should note the solitary optical output for audio, with two USB-A 2 and two USB-A 3.1 ports completing the connections.

Well, almost. Dell also provides a Gigabit Ethernet port, which accompanies the built-in Wi-Fi 5 connectivity. It’s only 1x1, but it worked perfectly well during our tests. And there’s the added benefit of Bluetooth support, albeit the older 4.1 standard.

By now, you probably aren’t expecting the last word in speed. If so, you are correct to an extent. The Core i5-10400 is tenth-generation silicon, but with six cores and 12 threads it chews through everyday tasks with ease. An overall score of 140 in our benchmarks is far from spectacular for a desktop machine, but that’s a fine score for general purpose computing and most people will find this a nippy system in use. Not only that, but the respectable core count means there’s number-crunching power if you need it, as indicated by a score of 8,050 in Cinebench R23’s multicore test, although anyone after a rendering workhorse would be wise to look elsewhere or dig out their own graphics card.

A photograph of the rear of the Dell Inspiron Small Desktop 3881

Still, this lack of graphical muscle is reflected in the amount of power the system requires. In idle, it sipped 10W, and even at its peak its demands stopped at 100W. Dell doesn’t make any promises about the 260W power supply’s efficiency, but even if it’s 75% that gives you around 100W to play with in your choice of graphics card.

There’s plenty of room inside the chassis for such a card, too, and we were a little surprised to see that this “Small Desktop” is actually quite big. It’s not as large as other tower PCs like the Xenta MT Ryzen 5 Pro Desktop PC, but you’ll still need to find space for its 154 x 293mm footprint, and other towers are smaller still.

We’d be tempted to tuck it away under a desk, in part because it makes an audible hum even at idle, but we’d draw your attention to two unusual features on the front. The first is a DVD writer and the second a full-size SD card slot. And whilst those both hark back to the past, the USB-C 3.2 connector is far more forward-looking. Nor shall we complain about the front-mounted 3.5mm jack, USB-A 3.1 input or twin USB-A ports.

What’s more, Dell wraps it up in a solid chassis. It’s not flashy, but the black honeycomb finish on the front looks attractive. It could sit in a boardroom, which isn’t something we can say about every desktop system.

So, despite its occasional stumbles, we find ourselves liking the Dell Inspiron Small Desktop. Factor in Dell’s speedy delivery options and a competitive price, and this is an attractive budget choice.

Dell Inspiron Small Desktop 3881 specifications

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ProcessorIntel Core i5-10400
RAM8GB Samsung generic 2,666MHz DDR4
Graphics adapterIntel UHD Graphics 630
Storage256GB Kioxia KBG40ZNS256G M.2 NVMe SSD, 1TB WD Blue WD10EZEX HDD
Storage expansion1x SATA
Graphics outputsDisplayPort, HDMI
Other ports3.5mm, SD card reader, USB-C 3.2, USB-A 3.1, 2 x USB 2
Wi-FiWi-Fi 5 (1x1)
BluetoothBluetooth 4.1
Dimensions, mm (WDH)154 x 293 x 324mm
Operating systemWindows 10 Home
Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro, the UK's biggest selling IT monthly magazine. He specialises in reviews of laptops, desktop PCs and monitors, and is also author of a book called The Computers That Made Britain.

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