Dell Inspiron 9200 review

Price when reviewed

There’s something exciting about opening up the lid of a notebook like this – all that power in one tidy, self-contained box. True, it’s far from the ‘pure’ concept of ultra-portable computing, but top specifications, improved sound, widescreen DVD movies and the potential for gaming are the key points here. And our anticipation was greater than for the average Dell notebook, because this one has cast aside the usual Inspiron dull-grey colouring in favour of a shiny new white-and-silver finish. The lines are only broken by media buttons along the front edge, which you can use to control Windows Media Player even with the lid closed.

Dell Inspiron 9200 review

You’d expect such a big machine (3.67kg) to have a measly battery life to match, but not so. With light use and moderate screen brightness, the 9200 lasted an incredible five hours, 14 minutes, and an equally impressive two hours, 16 minutes for intensive activity. So if you’re planning on a touch of sofa surfing or emailing from the garden, there’s plenty of power on offer. We also appreciate the nine-cell pack having a useful charge indicator on the outside.

Well over two million pixels are packed into the 1,920 x 1,200 WUXGA display, but this makes text and icons too small for many people. The solution, routinely employed by Dell in its high-resolution notebooks, is to alter the font DPI in the graphics card’s advanced settings from normal (96dpi) to large size (120dpi). This scales up text and icons by 25 per cent, but leaves application content (such as a digital image or a spreadsheet) at the correct size. The high resolution gives superb detail and sharpness plus the option of showing two document pages side-by-side, but the screen’s surface is grainy – almost like a touch-screen. The limited vertical viewing angles don’t help either, creating a variation in apparent brightness top-to-bottom if you’re off-centre, and the bottom corners of our screen were slightly darkened. It’s better for personal viewing than, say, presentation work or sharing a DVD.

Where the screen excels, though, is protection. Even though our review unit was a pre-production sample, the strength of the assembly behind the panel was exceptional. This is a notebook you can pop into a drawer or squeeze in a full bag with confidence, and build quality elsewhere is just as high.

Driving the display is a 128MB ATi Mobility Radeon 9700. This effortlessly handles most games, returning 50 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 2004 at 1,280 x 1,024, although it will struggle with tougher challenges, as 20fps in Halo and 14fps in Doom 3 at the same resolution demonstrates. External output is handled not only by D-SUB and S-Video ports, but also by a DVI-D port.

Delving further into the specifications we get some insight into the impressive battery life. This notebook runs a mobile chip, the 2GHz Pentium M 755, which is far more power-efficient than the power-hungry desktop chips commonly encountered in big chassis like these. It also solves the problem of fan noise by generating less heat, making this a very quiet machine. The 2MB of Level 2 cache helps whisk things along to a cracking 2.31 overall 2D score, but that’s not the only component at work here. There’s also a 7,200rpm 60GB hard disk and 1GB of PC2700 DDR SDRAM contributing to the result. Combined with the widescreen display, this is an ideal powerhouse for tackling complex spreadsheets and databases.

But life isn’t entirely about work, and when you want to relax with some music the integrated subwoofer helps lift speaker performance. Although the hard disk isn’t massive at 60GB, you can offload files or make backups with the dual-format DVD burner. USB devices can be plugged into two ports on the left side and another two at the back. SD cards and Type I/II PC Cards go in appropriate slots on the right, near the mini-FireWire socket. That leaves the V.92 modem and 10/100 Ethernet ports to complete the physical connections. You’re also covered for all three popular WLAN standards with Dell’s 1450 mini-PCI 802.11a/b/g card, and Bluetooth is included as well.

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