Dell Inspiron 9300 review

Price when reviewed

Last month, we saw that if you wanted a truly ultimate PC you’d need to spend over £1,500. Who’d have thought that top-end laptop power would be available for even less? This latest incarnation of the 17in widescreen Inspiron 9000 series might not be quite as dripping in features as some of the other competitors this month, but it delivers where it counts.

Dell Inspiron 9300 review

Before you even turn it on, the great ergonomics hit you. Build quality is superb and the Arctic Silver metallic styling with white trim makes it a real head-turner. The lid affords decent protection to the screen, which only flexes a little even when forcibly twisted. It’s not even that heavy; at 3.6kg, it’s more than 2kg lighter than other similarly powered machines this month. Even the power supply is refreshingly small, which makes it easier to hide away when in use, and easier to fit in your bag when you’re on the move.

Dell’s Media Experience offers an instant-on option that allows you to show photos and videos or DVDs without ever seeing the Windows Desktop – all in a similar interface to Media Center 2005. The front-panel buttons also let you play music without opening the 9300, and the speakers are fantastic too. While the tweeters and ‘subwoofer’ aren’t quite as crisp and clear as the Harman Kardon offerings in the HP and Toshiba machines, they’re loud, offer a generous frequency range and don’t distort. The only item missing is a remote control, which Toshiba and Watford both offer. This is a minor gripe though.

When we eventually got around to booting into Windows, we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of noise. While some of this month’s laptops sound like vacuum cleaners, even when the Dell’s processor is under load, the Inspiron is whisper-quiet. When the fan got going, it only averaged 31.9dBA – one of the quietest on test.

Even the Windows Desktop screen looked impressive. Only Sony’s VAIO could equal Dell’s 17in 1,920 x 1,200 display. Viewing angles are excellent and the level of fine detail sublime. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a comparable standalone monitor for under £1,000. The glossy coating makes colours of films and graphics appear noticeably more vivid. Of course, there’s the downside that dark areas on the screen are more reflective – as with all other glossy screens on test – but most of the Labs team preferred the shiny examples for entertainment applications. For general office work in Word or Excel, reflections could cause eye-strain after long periods if you can’t orientate the screen away from bright light sources.

Rounding off the ergonomics are the keyboard and mouse. The trackpad is as good as any, and we were happy that the buttons had a quality feel to them. The keyboard is decent, if not great. There isn’t much key travel, making them a bit stiff, but not so much as to exhaust fingers. A full complement of keys is offered with a sensible layout, although there’s no separate number pad as seen elsewhere.

The 9300 doesn’t have as much connectivity as other notebooks, but it still offers a great deal. There are six USB 2 ports – two more than any other machine. There’s also a mini-FireWire port and VGA and DVI interfaces, which are useful if you want to extend your Desktop onto a digital flat panel or a projector. Usefully, an S-Video output allows you to view photos or videos on a TV.

A proprietary connector is for an optional S/PDIF output cable. Beyond this, there’s a single Type II PC Card slot, an SD/MMC card reader, headphone and speaker jacks. Our only real criticism is the optical drive: while it’s great to have a DVD writer, the single-layer and 4x speed limitations do seem a trifle old when compared to faster dual-layer drives seen elsewhere.

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