by Andrew Baxter
The Dell Inspiron 1000 gives no excuses for what it really is; a budget notebook. With a starting price of $799 before any of the various Dell promotions or coupons have been applied, we're already talking about a rock-bottom priced notebook. So buyers of the Inspiron 1000 know they're not going to get the most dazzling design or latest performance in the world of laptops, far from it, but for $799 it's quite surprising what you can get.
Dell Inspiron 1000
The Inspiron 1000 is available in 3-flavors from Dell: "Entry-Level", "Mid-Range" and "Higher-End". All Inspiron 1000 notebooks feature a 2.20GHz Mobile Intel Celeron processor, 24X CD-RW/DVD combo drive and Windows XP Home for the OS. The Entry-Level configuration features a 14.1-inch XGA screen, 256MB of RAM, and 30GB hard drive. The Mid-Range configuration has a 15-inch XGA screen, 256MB of RAM and 40GB hard drive. The Higher-End configuration has a 15-inch XGA screen, 40GB hard drive, 512MB of RAM and a longer lasting 8-cell 65Whr Lithium-Ion battery (the two lower configurations feature a rather weak 8-cell 43WHr Nickel metal Hydride battery, much older and cheaper technology than the Lithium-Ion type of battery)
In this review I will be covering the mid-range offering of the Inspiron 1000 (2.20GHz Mobile Intel Celeron, 40GB hard drive, 256MB of RAM, 24X CD-RW/DVD, 15-inch XGA screen, 8-cell 43WHr NiMH battery).
Dell Inspiron 1000 view from above (view larger image)
The Inspiron 1000 deviates from many other notebooks in the Inspiron line in that it is completely black in color. No marquee grey and blue Dell coloring. In fact, the look is a throw back to what we used to see with Inspiron notebooks and reminds me a lot of my old Inspiron 8200. The other thing that should be noted about the casing is that it's not exactly a pretty or highly durable type of plastic. Often, notebooks that are constructed with a plastic casing (and most are) will present a shine or try and give an effect of being metallic. The Inspiron 1000 tries no such feats and makes no excuses for itself, it looks like plastic, feels like plastic and very much so is all plastic on the exterior with the exception of the screen. But for $799 we don't expect a sleek looking Apple PowerBook.
Dimension wise the review model I have is the Mid-Range 15-inch screen type so it has a height of 1.46-inches, width of 13.0-inches and depth of 10.6-inches. The weight without the AC adapter or any accessories is 6.63lbs. So although the Inspiron 1000 isn't a thin and light notebook, it's not a beast in size either and is fairly easy to carry around and be mobile with. The challenge in mobility comes more with the battery life; I'll get to that later.
Input & Output Ports
The Inspiron 1000 only provides for the absolutely essential ports you'll need on a notebook. Pleasantly surprising is the fact there are 3 USB 2.0 ports available, often times in a budget or even mid-range notebook you'll only get 2. However, don't even think about asking for extra ports such as media card readers, FireWire or S-Video out port. That's just not available for such a budget priced notebook.
left-side profile view of Inspiron 1000 (view larger image)
On the left-side of the Inspiron 1000 we have just the bare necessities of what a notebook needs. A headphone and microphone jack and one PCI card slot. If you want wireless in this notebook you'll have to use that PCI slot to put your wireless card in, there is no option of internal wireless. And once you've used that one slot up, it's game over, since there is only one slot available.
back-side profile view of Inspiron 1000 (view larger image)
On the back-side of the Inspiron 1000 is where most of the action is for ports. Our 3 USB 2.0 ports are all lined up next to one another on the back-right side. Next to those we have the modem and Ethernet input ports. In the middle is the fan and on the back-left side are the video connector for connection to external monitors and the AC adapter plug-in port for charging your battery or working on AC power.
right-side view of Inspiron 1000 as seen from above (view larger image)
On the right-side we have the 24X DVD/CD-RW drive. That's it you ask? Yes, that's it.
front-side view of Inspiron 1000 (view larger image)
Looking from the front we can see the keyboard and touch pad with two mouse buttons, two device status lights and speakers that sit at the very front of the notebook. The power button sits at the back of the keyboard. There are no volume control buttons or other types of shortcut buttons to speak of. As I said before, just the bare essentials here.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Inspiron 1000 does have a full-sized keyboard, and although it doesn't have as nice a feel as the IBM Thinkpad T40 notebook I use, it's actually not a bad keyboard overall. There's enough travel to the keys and "clickiness" so you know you've hit a key without having to look at the screen or keyboard to check if that's the case. I don't like the location of the Insert/Delete/PgUp/PgDn/Home/End buttons, they are all on the right to bottom right-hand-side of the keyboard. I prefer them to be on the top right-hand side as is usually the case with a desktop computer keyboard.
keyboard view of Inspiron 1000 (view larger image)
The touchpad navigation is decent. I'm just not a big fan of touchpads in general and always prefer to have a pointing stick. Using the touchpad you can assign short cuts to open programs by double tapping in the corner. Double tapping the touchpad performs the same action as a double-click of the mouse. The touchpad buttons are pretty cheap feeling and the travel is not very smooth for pushing them down. But they work and I've actually seen worse in more expensive notebooks. In particular I've always had issues with the touchpad that the Sony VAIO line of notebooks has, sadly enough I found this $799 notebook to have a better touchpad than some of the $2500 VAIOs I've used.
The one thing missing from the keyboard area is any hardware shortcut buttons; it's always nice to have a volume control or mute button at the top. Guess that was put on the cost-cutting block!
Processor and Performance
Well, first of all let's get things straight, if you're buying the Inspiron 1000 you're not going to be the type of buyer looking for the best performance in a notebook possible. You just hope that it runs all of your Office applications well and you can surf the web. With the Intel Mobile Celeron 2.2GHz chip you'll accomplish this, but not much else. Gaming is out of the question for all but the most basic games, especially with 256MB of RAM and an integrated graphics card from Silicon Integrated Systems Corp. that uses 32MB of shared memory. Windows XP will be wanting to use most of the memory that's available if you have 256MB, so don't go opening too many applications at once or you'll be hitting the hard drive frequently and the Inspiron 1000 will sputter along. Getting 512MB of RAM will help with performance, and leaving the laptop plugged in rather than unplugged will also help. Remember, this is a Mobile Celeron chip so once you switch to battery power it scales back on performance to save power.
I found performance difference to be quite vast between being plugged-in and not plugged-in. I used a simple benchmark program named "Super-Pi" to test the processor performance of the Inspiron 1000, this program allows you to calculate the number Pi to a selectable number of digits of precision. Calculating Pi to 2 million digits of precision took 2 mins 59 secs when on AC power, upon switching to battery power the same operation took 9 mins and 3 secs. That's 300% slower. So the moral of the story is, stay plugged in with this notebook when you can.
Just to add though, although processor and overall notebook performance are not a strong point of this machine, most people will be thrilled just to know that the notebook is more than capable of playing a DVD, playing music, and burning CDs. If that's the extent of the multimedia work and enjoyment you wish for, then the Inspiron 1000 will fit the bill.
Using my typical battery drain test of charging the notebook all the way up to 100% and then playing a CD with the screen on full-brightness caused the Inspiron 1000 to warn me at exactly 2 hours and 2 minutes that it's battery was low and only 10% remained. Then, 6 minutes later at 2 hours and 8 minutes of battery usage the Inspiron forced itself into hibernation mode due to a critically low battery. This 2 hour and 8 minute battery life time was actually slightly better than I expected. The Entry Level and Mid-Range Inspiron 1000 comes equipped with an 8-cell 43WHr Nickel metal Hydride battery that I was expecting to get a 1.5 hour battery life with. Not that 2 hours of battery life is all that great, but there are certainly notebooks out there that do worse, specifically any desktop replacement style notebook. The Dell Inspiron 9100 has comparable battery life to the Inspiron 1000, but the 9100 is more expensive and much more powerful of course. If you upgrade to the 8-cell Lithium Ion battery, which is actually standard with the higher-end configuration of the Inspiron 1000, you'll likely get 2.5 -- 3 hours of battery life.
The idea of having a notebook computer is that you could put it in your lap and work if you want, thus how the alternative but not quite so PC name of laptop computer arose. With some notebooks you find things get rather warm and uncomfortable on your thighs if the machine doesn't cool itself well or tends to generate too much heat. Unfortunately, I found that the back left area of the Inspiron 1000 did indeed make things uncomfortable for me after about 20 minutes of time. So, my recommendation is if you're going to be doing a lot of work with a notebook in your lap, you might want to look elsewhere or make sure you're wearing long pants!
The Inspiron 1000 has two speakers that are well placed at the front of the notebook so that they project forward. All the same, the sound quality from these stereo speakers is bad so there's not much to project. If you're watching a DVD or listening to music the sound-quality deteriorates as you try to crank up the volume to overcome problems of lack of speaker clarity. For better sound quality use headphones or external speakers to overcome these problems.
With a 15" XGA (1024 x 768 pixels) screen you're not going to have any problem seeing icons or text. The screen is decently bright so viewing a DVD or even a webpage from a few feet away is certainly doable. Some might think that with the low price of this notebook you'd expect a dim screen, uneven backlighting or some other type of sacrifice. Not the case, although the screen isn't on par with say a Sony VAIO XBrite technology equipped notebook and it doesn't have widescreen viewing, it's fine for what it is. Personally I prefer having SXGA resolution so that I can fit two windows on one screen, that's not an option with the Inspiron 1000. Overall, thumbs up on the screen though; well-lit and easy to read with no dead pixels to speak of on the Inspiron 1000 I have.
As mentioned before, the Inspiron 1000 comes standard with a 24x DVD/CD-RW optical drive. This drive is not modular, meaning you cannot upgrade to a DVD burner or even leave it out of the notebook for that matter. The drive is a little flimsy when open, it wobbles around quite a bit and I'd be fearful if it were rough handled it could break, but as far as performance for playing back DVDs/CDs and burning CDs it's just fine.
The software included with the Inspiron 1000 is as basic as it gets. WordPerfect productivity pack and McAfee Security center 90-day trial and Dell Picture Studio (Jasc Paint Shop Pro 7) are the only real extras you get outside of the Windows XP Home OS. The good news is that Dell provides you with a recovery disk and device drivers on CDs for those times that you totally hose your system and have to start from scratch again. It amazes me how many manufacturers still don't do this or that make you pay for them if you decide you want them. Kudos to Dell for providing these CDs, even when the notebook is a cheap one.
The Dell Inspiron 1000 is absolutely a no frills notebook. It's budget priced and has very limited and rigid configuration options. No internal wireless is kind of a blow, but you can get a 3rd party external wireless card that slots into the PCI slot. You can expand on this notebook with accessories by using the 3 USB 2.0 ports as well.
The combined processor, hard drive and memory performance of the notebook is rather slow if you're running any type of demanding application or trying to multi-task by playing music, browsing the web and typing a Word document. But for doing one thing at a time and using the notebook for basic computer tasks, you don't need the latest 64-bit chip and you'll be just fine with the Celeron 2.20GHz chip the Inspiron 1000 is equipped with. I don't recommend this to students that want a notebook for 4-years, it'll be outdated and won't last the abuse you'll give it on campus. I don't recommend this to professionals that need to be mobile and get work done, it's simply not a good solution. But, if you're on a budget, which absolutely many of us are, but still crave the convenience and mobility of a notebook computer that can be used around the home or do a bit of travelling, the Inspiron 1000 may have just lowered the price bar to provide a name brand computer with service and support (1-year) for those that don't make oodles of money. Or, if you just need an extra notebook to put in the kids room or basement den, then maybe this is for you too.
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