A few weeks ago I was asked by my parents to find a laptop for my brother to use. Like my Sony GRZ630 a few years ago, this new system was going to be a graduation gift that would be useful through college. As you all probably know from my Dell XPS2 review in late April, I've since grown out of that machine and needed a much more powerful one. However, in this scenario price is the key factor in determining which system to get for my brother. It has to be fair priced, good performing, and nice looking. Unlike me, he probably won't grow out of the system as he is not involved in games and game modding/development like I am.
Dell Inspiron 6000 (view larger image)
I considered several systems for this purchase. The first was the Fujitsu N3510. By far that was the system I recommended as I like Fujitsu's N series. However, the price tag was too much for my parents to want to pay. The second option was a couple of inexpensive Acer Travelmate systems featuring both Centrino and Turion 64 systems. Although the Acer's were nice and the pricing was right, the quality of Acer products has never impressed my family and nobody really likes the curved keyboard. A few other options were the Asus Z80k, Asus Z71, and Sony VGN-A2401. I personally really like both Asus and Sony. But both Asus systems were declined because of the types of retailers offering the systems at competitive prices and their unfamiliarity to us. The Sony system was also turned down due to price after taking into account the amount of money to get the system up to 512 MB of ram and due to the 725 Pentium M.
After looking over all of the above models, we finally settled on the Dell Inspiron 6000D. Initially this was my last choice, although it had always been an option. As a current XPS2 owner who ordered through an Employee Purchase Program (EPP) just like my parents were about to do, I can say I'm still a little bitter about that massive $600-saving 35% off discount coupon that randomly appeared shortly after my purchase. One of the nice things about purchasing an inexpensive 6000D is that even when Dell does run better or worse promotions the amount of money that could be saved or lost is close enough that it's not going to make you mad in most cases.
Dell Inspiron 6000 D Specs:
Why buy Dell?
Unlike the Fujitsu, Sony, Acer, HP, and other models under consideration Dell provides the best balance of cost, performance, and quality in my eyes. Like I've said before, I absolutely hate their ugly plain grey laptops, but these new restyled Inspiron systems are very pleasing to both look at and use. I've also been very happy with nearly every aspect of my XPS2 system.
If you're a college student or someone looking to get a laptop for college it's important to read this paragraph. One of the biggest reasons for my brother to buy a Dell is because of all the agreements they have with his college and the fact that there is a service depot right on campus! If you're a college student you can't ask for any better than that. Also, when it comes to warranty plans Dell has the best offers through their Educational/Employee Purchase Program (EPP), especially on a 4 year plan. It's far more affordable than any other competitor under consideration and the on-site service with the warranty is great. I've spoken highly of Sony's service before, but not even their 5 day motherboard battery terminal repair on my GRZ630 can compete with a technician fixing a system onsite so you're not without your computer for a while. Another plus is that it's not exactly easy to deal with UPS depending on where you're living at college (dorm, apartment, etc.). Onsite makes things much easier, and for the cost through EPP it's highly reasonable.
If you do not want a warranty or are not going to use this system for college, it is a good idea to catch one of those big coupon deals that come out through the Dell Home section. I'm not particularly fond of warranties myself, but during college it's a big deal to have a constantly functioning system for me so I have no choice. Another important option is to check with your credit card company to see if they extend the warranty coverage of products you buy. This is becoming more and more common with credit cards and is a good way of avoiding paying a premium for extended warranty coverage when it's not a high concern.
Where to buy?
You can only buy new and factory refurbished Dell systems from Dell.com. You can then select which division to buy from. Your college or employer should have a special member ID and link to get you access to EPP if you wish to buy from there. If you want a used system you can use the Dell outlet, EBay, or check local ads and college campuses to see if there are advertisements of systems for sale. I sold my GRZ630 very quickly by just using flyers at my college campus. It is not advisable to buy new Dell systems from EBay because they're normally scams or you'll end up paying more to buy there.
Like I've said above if you're looking to buy with a warranty you should use EPP because of their 12% discounts effective when you buy a 3 or 4 year plan. If you're not interested in the warranty you should buy using a good Dell Home coupon and try to use a credit card that expands the warranty on its own. If you really need to save money don't forget that Dell Financial Services will offer a 2% discount on your purchase if you get to the credit card select screen and chose to sign up with them instead. However, I must stress that I highly advise NOT using Dell Financial Services because of their absurd interest rates, confusing terms, and complicated website/contact system. Take advantage of this discount only if you already have cash on hand and can pay off the system before they get the chance to charge you interest.
What's in the box?
In the box (view larger image)
This power cord is so cool! Wow, I wish my XPS2 one was this nice and easily wrapped up. Oh yeah, there are other things in the box too like 3 application restore CD's, a manual that tells you about all the terms and conditions of sale, some AOL stuff, a guide to connecting to a wireless network, and a nice large colorful Inspiron 6000 quick start guide that'll help you get your system setup quickly if you're new to laptops. There is also this annoying piece of paper that looks like an oversized CD and notes that you don't need a system CD because there's already a restore image on your hard drive. Users opting for a fresh install should be warned that this restore image contains the Dell bloatware you get when starting up the system.
AC Power Adapter (view larger image)
And I thought the bloatware on my XPS2 was bad. There is a ton of garbage on the Inspiron 6000 when you first start it up. It's like having an elephant sit atop your CPU, RAM, and hard drive it's really that degrading to system performance. This bloatware is very annoying and there's a lot of it to get rid of. With some patience it can be uninstalled without much of a hassle. Unfortunately, this stuff is practically an industry standard to install at the factory so you're stuck with it despite what brand of system you chose, with some high-end and smaller company exceptions.
Form, Design, System Size Comparison, and Heat Management:
Dell 6000 (left) and XPS2 side-by-side (view larger image)
First of all is, like I said earlier, the new Inspiron style for 2005 is really nice. True, I don't like the white and silver color combination, but that's personal preference. The system is very sturdy and well built. There is very little if any flex in the case even on the lid behind the LCD panel. The system feels solid especially on the bottom black colored half.
Dell 6000 on top of XPS2 right side view (view larger image)
As you can see from the pictures taken there are several ports to connect to on the rear right side of the system. Additional ports for VGA and Ethernet are on the back of the system on the right side also. On the left side are some venting and the CD/DVD drive. On the front are media and volume control buttons that illuminate blue when pressed. The keyboard on the Inspiron 6000 has no flex to it, a nice set of dedicated keys like pause and page up/down, and several function keys. The touchpad is large and as big as the one I have on my XPS2. However, the buttons are much firmer like a typical system. I still have not gotten the scroll areas of my touchpad to work and also can't seem to get them to work on the 6000 either. That's really not a big deal for me though and it's likely because I tend to kill off the touchpad software.
Dell 6000 on top of XPS2 back view (view larger image)
Dell Inspiron 6000 on top of XPS2 front view (view larger image)
Dell Inspiron 6000 bottom (view larger image)
Many people are probably in the same situation I was in a few months ago. I wasn't sure whether to buy a 15 inch, 17 inch, square, or widescreen display. I've included a few images of the 6000 atop my XPS2 which is a 17 inch screen and the same size as Dell's Inspiron 9300. As you can see the 15.4 inch widescreen is significantly smaller, but not by a great amount. It should fit in any 15 or 16 inch system backpack well (check first), but you'll want to watch the width of the laptop from side to side (not back to front). The 6000 is bigger than I expected and at the maximum size my brother said he would feel comfortable with carrying around campus and to class. If you're looking to compare resolutions see the display section below.
Heat management on this system is conducted by a single fan on the rear left quarter of the system. There is also some venting underneath and a little on the top right side, but minimal airflow in those areas. Heat will build up in the bottom center of the system quickly so it's not exactly lap-friendly. Additional heat will accumulate in the rear right area of the system underneath of the number 0 key when you do graphics-intense work. The heat put off is not annoying here and keeps your fingers warm. The 6000's fan is always on and I can always hear it, but generally it is not loud enough to be annoying to you or other people nearby. It's pretty quiet, but during intense processing on the higher spec Pentium M CPU's like the 2.0 GHz it will likely get loud.
Dell 6000 and XPS2 screen comparison (view larger image)
My XPS2 has a 1920x1200 resolution display which is going to be excessive for most people on a 15 inch screen. On this Inspiron 6000 there is a 1680x1050 display and I find it to work perfect for this system. Some users may like the higher resolution display but that can make things extremely small. Personally, I prefer the 1680 and it should be fine for most users. If you're really into graphics you may want to get the 1920 screen, but if you're a gamer or student on a budget you need to stay at 1680 so that you can play games in native resolution or have the "just right" size Windows desktop display space for productivity. There is a smaller resolution 1280 screen available but that resolution is too small now and I recall reading bad things about the quality of the screen.
Like in my XPS2 review I'll now rate the 6000's LCD on a series of 4 points. I'd like to note here that the screen on the 6000 and my XPS2 are both Samsungs now and are practically identical in every way other than resolution.
Point 1 -- Coating (Antiglare or Glossy)
The Inspiron 6000 does not have a glossy display. It has an antiglare coating that gives it a dull shine when turned off. On a reflective screen like my XPS2 or Dell screens with TrueLife you'll easily see your reflection with the screen powered off. The coating is not annoying and appears to be uniform over the panel.
Point 2 -- Dead Pixels
None! I have to give Dell a compliment here. I've seen 4 of their LCD's in the past 2 months and all of them had no dead pixels! I ran Dead Pixel buddy and checked each individual color to verify this.
Point 3 -- Light Leakage and Color
Unfortunately, here is where the Samsung LCD panels fail. Black is some shade between grey and black over the entire screen. There is even a characteristic pattern in Samsung screens where the center seems to have the least leakage and there's a small circle about the size of a USA quarter in the top center where there is no leakage at all. If you like deep true blacks then this system will not please you. However, I do want to note that normally it's not noticeable unless you're playing a dark game like Doom 3 or others where there are large dark areas on maps. Light leakage on both the 6000 and XPS2 Samsung screens is minimal at the bottom, but it is there.
Color on the 6000 and any Dell Samsung screen is warm and dull without adjustment. You'll want to immediately jump into your video properties and adjust your contrast, brightness, and others. I like a contrast of about 111%, brightness of 98%, and a gamma of 89%. One of the drawbacks of having an ATi card is that there is no digital vibrance control which really livens up the picture on my XPS2 to make the colors on par with a Sony and Princeton Graphics Senergy LCD. You'll want to play with the color settings and other programs at some point if you're really concerned about having your colors jump out and catch your eye. For most people the simple adjustment I outlined above should be enough.
Point 4 -- Unusual LCD Surface Anomalies
Back with my XPS2 review I blasted the LG screen for having sparkling on it. Well now I have an XPS2/9300 Samsung and a 6000 Samsung. If you want to be really picky you can see a little bit of sparkling, but that is completely typical of all the non-Sony and Fujitsu LCD's I've seen recently. Even my Princeton does this. The LG had a significantly different effect like as if there was glitter on the screen. I'm happy to say that the Samsung screens I've seen do not have this effect. Yes, if you're being picky you can see somewhat of faint horizontal lines, but it's not annoying in the least even when using programs like Unreal Ed that use grids a lot. Unreal Ed is the program that forced me to have the LG screen replaced.
Overall, I'd award the 6000 LCD 3 out of 4 possible points. It's not perfect but it's not bad either. Depending on what you do it should suit you just fine. I personally prefer the Samsung screens because of some of the programs I use. Light leakage and black color accuracy problems are a fact of a lot of LCD screens. If you need perfect you should look elsewhere. But for people on a budget like my family the Dell was the best choice. Sacrificing cost sacrifices some of the quality control on these LCD panels.
The Inspiron 6000 comes with two stereo speakers. The sound output is above what you'd expect from a laptop but nothing you'd want to play loud and brag about in public. There is no subwoofer on this system which does detract some from the sound experience. Most laptops don't have subwoofers so most people will be pleased with the sound coming from the 6000. It's much better than what my old Sony GRZ630 used to put out. One thing I like about the sound on the 6000 over my XPS2 is that there is little difference between sound off and sound level 1. It's a more steady increase in volume.
Keyboard, Touchpad, and Front Panel Buttons:
Dell Inspiron 6000 keyboard and touchpad (view larger image)
The Inspiron 6000 uses the standard Dell keyboard featuring many dedicated buttons. There are many functions available too including the wireless toggle, battery meter, and an eject button for the CD/DVD drive. You'll also find volume controls, brightness settings, and others have their own function keys too. The keyboard is comfortable to use and of a normal standard size for a 15 inch laptop. It's actually identical to the XPS2/9300 keyboard as well.
The touchpad is sunken into the system quite a bit and so are the buttons a little. The touchpad is completely flat, easy to use, and responsive despite the fact that it likes to stick for half a second on double clicks. Both buttons are firm and slightly closer to the front of the system than what they are on the XPS2/9300. I find the touchpad buttons on the 6000 very easy to get used to.
As mentioned earlier, the front panel buttons include your typical DJ controls for playback of CD's and media player content. There are also volume up, down, and mute controls that are supported by an on screen visual bar to show what your current setting is. When pressed, these buttons will illuminate blue.
Ports, Connectivity, and Power:
The right side of this machine features a Secure Digital I/O slot, Mic-in, headphone-out, 1 IEEE 1394 port, 2 USB ports, and 1 PCMCIA type II slot. I personally don't like having USB ports on this side of the machine but they are back far enough it shouldn't interfere with the plugging in of USB devices when using a mouse.
On the rear of the 6000 is a VGA port, Ethernet, phone jack, 2 more USB ports, and a special connector that can provide S-Video and composite video output if you buy the adaptor for it. The system's exhaust is also on the rear left side. Towards the center right of the rear of this system is the AC power connection.
On the left side are only the CD/DVD drive and the notebook's lock slot. There is some additional venting too.
The battery underneath of the 6000 is similar to my XPS2/9300 battery. It is easy to remove by using the latch and sits in the front right quarter of this system. Additionally, some venting is on the left rear quarter of the system's underside. One annoying point is that although the system seems to sit flat the rubber feet do not prevent the system from sliding around much because of the design of the ram cover. However, my XPS2 system used to do the same thing and no longer slides around easily. After some use the ram cover will become a non-issue.
On this particular model we opted for the Intel ProWireless 2200 card. It has superior range to my old Netgear PCMCIA card. I can't give an exact figure, but the range is plenty to get all around the house and partially out into the nearby yard. However, frequent disconnects occur when you're doing limited internet browsing. I've found my 2915 card has actually crashed Counter Strike Source by quickly dropping and then restoring wireless connection when on a server with less than 5 people. Best bet is to keep an IM program open in the background or something else if you need your connection to stay alive. Otherwise, try different settings, channels, and drivers if this bothers you.
Performance, Benchmarks, and Battery Life:
Rather than give a bunch of facts and figures I prefer to take a more use-oriented look at how this system performs. Again, 4 points rating different aspects of what this laptop will be used for.
Point 1 -- DVD Playback on Battery
This is a really simple point. This system has outstanding battery life. You can easily fit a 3 hour movie such as The Lord of the Rings into a single battery charge. The screen will need to be dimmed down half way but that's about all. You won't have much time afterwards to do anything else unfortunately. Get the 9-cell battery to enjoy more battery time if you need it.
Additionally, I ran Battery Eater Pro 2005. Here is some of the information it gathered on system and battery performance:
Battery Eater Pro 2005 Benchmarks:
Point 2 -- Game Performance
To test the gaming ability of this system on the latest and greatest games I decided to use Doom 3. The Inspiron 6000 D with the 64 MB ATi X300 card didn't do too well here. I could only get an average of 30 FPS when using low graphics settings and the 800x600 resolution. It looked pretty bad. Otherwise the game was working fine with all of its effects, characters, and maps.
Source Engine games should play better than that since it scales better to different kinds of hardware. Unfortunately I don't have a day to waste on going through 6 CD's and waiting for Steam to do its business. UT2004 should play well on this machine too. Although if you're looking to run Unreal Engine 3 next year you'll likely want to look elsewhere or put up with poor graphics.
Solitaire ran so well I couldn't even get an FPS count! :-D
Again, keep in mind this was not purchased as a gaming machine. Also, note that the right rear corner of this machine got noticeably warm in the keyboard area and quite hot underneath. It's not going to be comfortable playing games on your lap, but that's normal.
(Half Point Given)
Point 3 -- Graphics Benchmark Results
The graphics benchmarks were a little disappointing, but not surprising at all. I've read that Dell underclocks their X300 cards but have no intention of correcting that flaw since this is not my machine and it's not going to be used much for gaming if at all. Also, this is the 64 MB version of the X300. Everything was set to stock settings for these tests and all unnecessary services were disabled.
3D Mark 2005 Benchmark:
3D Mark 2003 Benchmark:
(Half Point Given)
Point 4 -- CPU Benchmark Results
For the CPU tests I ran Super Pi. I was rather surprised with the results as I didn't expect the Pentium M 1.6 GHz to beat my overclocked Athlon XP 2700+ (2.4 GHz setting). I have to say I'm pleased, although the bloatware does hold this system back a bit when doing normal tasks. Also, the 4200rpm hard drive is a bit slow but still alright.
Super Pi Benchmarks (s = seconds, m = minutes):
This machine would rate a 3 out of 4 possible points again when taking into consideration what its intended use is. I didn't want to hit it too hard for poor gaming performance, but it seemed like it should do a little better than that. Keep in mind that this was at stock drivers and settings on the 64 MB X300 card so without a doubt users who want to game should be able to substantially improve gaming performance by overclocking, getting the 128 MB X300, and updating drivers. Although the system did get warm above and hot underneath while gaming my XPS2 has gotten hotter so there is some thermal room to play with here. Do so at your own risk though and keep in mind that overclocking may void your warranty.
Closing Comments and Recommendations:
For the price that we paid for this 6000 system it has performed well over my two days of playing around with it. It have no doubt it will perform all of the tasks my brother needs it for in college without problems. Sure, there are a couple of aspects that could be better; especially the LCD. But overall I would recommend this system to users on a budget or college students. Gamers on a budget will want the upgraded X300 card and a faster hard drive. Otherwise, for common surfing, productivity, and portability this system delivers competitive results at a price undercutting most of the competition.
Bottom Line: If you're looking for an inexpensive 15.4 inch widescreen laptop with good battery life and moderate performance, the Dell Inspiron 6000 D is a good choice.
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