by Daniel Olsen
The Dell Inspiron 8600 is best considered as a desktop replacement style notebook but with decent mobility. The Inspiron 8600 measures in at 1.5” thick by 14.2” wide and 10.9” deep. It weighs a modest 7.2 pounds, which is not bad for a desktop replacement style system with a 15.4” screen, considering Dell’s largest, the Inspiron 9100, weighs a back breaking 9.1 pounds. The system that I purchased and will be reviewing has a Pentium M 1.8 GHz Dothan processor with 2MB L2 Cache, 512MB 333MHz DDR RAM, ATI’s Mobility Radeon 9600 PROTURBO with 128MB of RAM, 8x CD/DVD burner (DVD+R/+RW), and a 60 GB Hard Drive at 7200 RPM. I also opted for the Dell Wireless 1450 Internal a/b/g and internal Bluetooth card.
Reasons for Purchasing Inspiron 8600
I will be going to college at the University of Florida in August and needed a laptop for, not only portable uses, but also to replace my current desktop, so system performance was an important factor in my decision process. I opted for the Inspiron 8600 because it seemed like the best choice for what I wanted, it has all the performance I need, but is light enough to carry around without much problem. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not a thin and light computer, but it is one of the lighter desktop replacements I have seen. Also, the 15.4” screen negates the need for an external monitor; the screen is plenty large, especially with its WUXGA resolution, 1920x1200, allowing for two full sized windows to be open side by which is very handy for multitaskers like my self.
I purchased this computer through Dell.com for $2611, before tax, shipping (which happened to be promotional free shipping at the time of order) and a $150 mail in rebate. It was not the cheapest choice, but given the quality of the product I received, it was well worth it.
Design and Build
Top view of the Inspiron 8600 (view larger image)
As far as design goes, Dell has hit a home run with this one. The top cover is silver plastic with a metal Dell insignia, very clean and professional. If you don’t like that look however, it can be easily changed with a Quicksnap cover that cost $39 each. I like this clean look, and it is much better than the other Dell laptops with the excessive blue plastic. There are four LEDs that can be seen when the notebook is open or closed. The LEDs indicate power, hard drive activity, battery status, and the Bluetooth antenna. On the inside, there are three additional lights for Caps Lock, Num Lock and Scroll Lock. These are next to the volume controls right on top of the keyboard. I was not disappointed with the keyboard at all, I have always been skeptical of laptop keyboards; this is one of the best I have seen. It is full sized and has a nice feel to it. I typed this entire review on the keyboard with no problems whatsoever. As far as size aspect of design goes, the Inspiron 8600 is no bigger than I would expect from a laptop with this large a screen. Meaning to say, it is not small, but it is not very heavy and I have had no problems transporting it around.
Right-side view of the Inspiron 8600 (view larger image)
Left-side while open view of the Inspiron 8600
The WUXGA screen is a work of art, pure and simple. I could not have dreamt of anything better. I, having read the reviews saying that the WUXGA produced text that was too small to read, reluctantly opted to go with the highest resolution anyway I have had no such problems; the text is small, but nothing that 18 year old eyes can’t handle. An important thing to note is that the icons and toolbars can easily be resized using Dell’s Quickset function.
Screen and full system view of the Inspiron 8600 (view larger image)
The speakers work well, producing sound that is good for a laptop. If you will be doing anything other than listening to Windows XP beep at you however, I would recommend some other audio production device, be it external speakers or headphones. The sound produced by the Inspiron 8600 speakers is fairly crisp and clear, but, as is to be expected in anything other than the Inspiron 9100 (which has a subwoofer in the battery), there is little to no bass produced.
Processor and System Performance
The Pentium M chip performs well; I have the 1.8 GHz version Dothan based processor, this chip is dubbed the Pentium M 745 by Intel. Windows boots up and shuts down quickly and all applications run very well. I use the computer mainly for office related tasks; usually running multiple instances of Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word, Outlook, and other such applictions. To benchmark the processor alone, I used a program called “Super-pi” which calculates pi out to 2 million digits. I used this as a benchmark because it measured processor power only, the time it takes to calculate pi is affected very little by hard drive speed or memory. I was able to calculate pi to 2 million digits in exactly 2:00 minutes. This is a respectable score; I have to say I was impressed. To see scores by other notebooks view the following NotebookReview.com forum thread: http://www.notebookreview.com/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=2657. I ran the same test on a P4 2.0 GHz Dell desktop and P4 3.0 Dell Desktop. The 2.0 took 3:16 and the 3.0 took 2:16. I do not do any serious gaming, but downloaded the free version of Aquamark3 as a graphic Benchmark. Running the standard test as maximum detail (the only test available in the free version) the results were, CPU: 8,787, GFX: 2,460, Total Score: 21,586, Triangles per second: 6,498,192, and FPS: 21.59.
Battery Usage and Life
Because I am never far from an outlet, I usually stay plugged in as this provides better performance (the Pentium M chip is designed to use less power when a notebook is in battery power mode and runs faster when the notebook is plugged into a wall outlet). Besides, using a battery less will save it for when I do need it when away from a power outlet. With that all being said, with the screen mostly on full brightness (only turned down in dark lighting where it was too bright), I am able to consistently get about 3 to 4 hours of battery life when I do unplug. For $99 you can get a second primary battery or one for the modular bay, allowing for extended battery life (using both batteries at the same time). I purchased an extra primary battery, because, in order to use the modular bay battery you must remove what ever is in the modular bay, be it the CD drive or floppy drive.
For the modular bay optical drive option, I went for the CD/DVD burner and although there is an optional floppy drive for $49, I decided to buy an external USB floppy later, this way I am not forced to remove the CD drive when ever I want to use the floppy, I can simply plug it in and remove it much more easily. I would recommend this solution to anyone needing a floppy. I bought a Sony USB floppy and was able to simply plug it in, and with in 15 seconds it automatically set itself up and was ready to use.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Dell Inspiron 8600 keyboard (view larger image)
I am impressed with the keyboard. As I said earlier, I have always been skeptical of laptop keyboards, thinking it impossible to type for very long on one after being accustomed to a full sized version. The Inspiron 8600 keyboard, however, is full sized, and almost as comfortable to type on as my desktop keyboard is. And, as I type more and more of this review and get used to the keyboard, it becomes increasingly more comfortable, especially since I can sit in my bed and work! I have never been a fan of touchpads, or any pointing device other than a mouse for that matter, and I find I’m still of the same opinion with the Inspiron 8600. I bought an external Kensington PocketMouse Pro Wireless a week before the computer came, and am glad I did. You are able to program the four corners of the touchpad to do different tasks; I have set up the top left to open internet explorer and the right to Auto Scroll. Also, by running your finger along the rightmost edge you can scroll up and down in internet windows and documents, much like the scroll wheel on a mouse. Much to my surprise, I have yet to inadvertently open an internet explorer window; these gestures seem to work only when you want them to, always a good thing.
Input and Output Ports
Until now I have done nothing but praise this laptop, but it has come time to discuss my one gripe. This Inspiron 8600 comes with a FireWire port, Ethernet and modem port, S-video out, microphone and audio out, monitor out port, and only two USB 2.0 ports. There are no serial or parallel ports, which would not be a problem, but for the fact that there are only two USB ports. I have a lot of peripherals to connect and am forced to constantly unplug and replug them in. I always have a mouse plugged in, reducing me to one useable USB port to be used for my two printers, scanner, floppy drive, and memory key. Because this is only a problem when I am at my desk, it is one that will be easily (expensively) solved with the purchase of a docking station or USB hub. I plan on buying the $199 docking station very soon.
Back-side view of Inspiron 8600 with a few of the ports visible (view larger image)
The 8600 comes with the many wireless options; I opted for the Dell brand a/b/g internal antenna, and am pleased with its performance. I also went for the internal Bluetooth card, which I have yet to use. I am able to consistently get a connection at 54 Mbps throughout my house so speed is not an issue. Even when the connection speed drops, it is always faster than my internet connection, which averages around 1.1 Mbps (according to cnet.com’s bandwidth meter). I average the same speed with the wireless connection in the 8600 as I do on my desktop connected directly to the router. The only time that I find wireless connection speed to be an issue is when transferring files through my home network. Because I get 100Mbps with the Ethernet connections I definitely notice a difference when transferring large files from computer to computer, but still, at 54Mbps things happen pretty quickly.
Overall the 8600 is a good desktop replacement that is not too thick! (view larger image)
The Dell Inspiron 8600 is definitely a top of the line laptop, with a price to match. It has unmatched performance and is designed very well with many useful features. I would definitely recommend this computer to anyone looking for a top of the line desktop replacement that has some mobility as well. While the 8600 is easy to carry, and fairly light weight for its size, if you are looking for something thin and light, this may not be for you. I am able to easily fit it into a backpack and transport with not problem, but you will feel the weight after a while.
Pricing and Availability
The Inspiron 8600 comes in various configurations and prices and is only available through Dell.com. It's a challenge to keep track of the ever changing deals, specials and coupon codes that Dell is running on this notebook, check back to NotebookReview.com to get the latest coupon codes that are available though!
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