Dell Inspiron 6000 Review (pics, specs)

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by Hanumant Deshmukh, New York USA (and sometimes India!)

I had been using a Compaq Presario 1800T (PIII, 700MHz, 196MB, 15in SXGA+, Win2k) for the past 4 years and I loved it. However, age caught up with it and the machine no longer seems as zippy as it used to. I am a Java Developer and Architect and IDEs such as NetBeans, Eclipse, JBuilder, and WSAD, are my bread and butter. I also run BEA Weblogic and JBoss Application servers frequently. In the past couple of years all these applications have gotten really fat and the 1800T was simply not capable to run two of them at once. I had been complementing it with my desktop up till now. However, I have to go India for a long time and so I decided to get a new notebook, which ended up being the Dell Inspiron 6000.

Dell Inspiron 6000 (view larger image)

Pre-Buying Experience

My requirements were still similar to what I needed 4 yrs ago. The only difference was needing more power. I needed 15” SXGA+ — XGA resolution gives too small a screen for efficient code editing and 17” screen is physically too big to lug around; a decent combination of processor speed, battery capacity, and low heat output — believe me, in India heat factor is very important, AMDs just get fried out there; at least 1GB RAM and an average assortment of supporting devices such as Wi-Fi card, DVD drive, and hard drive. Finally, a mid level price point anywhere between $1250 and $1750. I am not a gamer so I didn’t need blazing fast 3GHz processors; moreover, they are the power guzzling, heat producing SUVs of the processor world so I didn’t consider them.

Now my requirements aren’t out of this world, are they? But I had a hard time finding a model offering these features. HP/Compaq, Gateway, and Sony offer SXGA+ (or UXGA) only on their 17” models. Toshiba and Sharp don’t offer SXGA+ at all. Panasonic and Fujitsu are prohibitively expensive at over $2000. That leaves only Dell and IBM. I configured comparable systems on Dell as well as IBM. The tradeoff was between price and weight. With so many of Dell deals and coupons floating around and IBM selling out its PC business, I chose Dell.

Overview and Introduction

I made good use of Dell’s customization website, which I found to be quite functional. They also have a wide variety of components and upgrades to choose from, more than any of the competitors. After spending almost two days trying to optimize the bang for my buck, here is what I finally ordered:

  •  Inspiron 6000D, Intel Pentium M Processor 730 (1.60GHz/2MB Cache/533MHz FSB) 
  • 15.4 inch WUXGA LCD Panel
  • 1GB, DDR2, 400MHz 2 Dimms
  • 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon X300Video Card
  • 60GB Ultra ATA Hard Drive 
  • Integrated 10/100 Network Card and Modem,
  • 8X DVD+/-RW Drive
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 (802.11b/g) Internal Wireless
  • 80 WHr 9-cell Lithium Ion Primary Battery
  • Windows XP Home

This cost me $1368 including tax and shipping (free). I used an “$800 off” coupon that I found on www.notebookreview.com . At the time of purchase, I thought it was an exceptionally good deal but later on I found out that Dell offers such steep discounts almost daily. In any case, I couldn’t find any other make offering comparable features for anywhere close to this price. So I am quite happy with the deal.

Form & Design:

As soon as my wife and I took out the machine from the packaging, we went WOW!!! May be it was because of my old laptop that we have been looking at all this time, but we definitely liked it. The design is not as cool as a Sony VAIO or Toshiba Qosmio, but it looks fresh. The casing is silver painted plastic with white trim and seems to be scratch resistant. In general, the build feels sturdy. I can feel a good solid click when I open or close the lid. The interior is devoid of any advertising stickers except two small Windows XP and Intel Centrino logos, and thus feels clean. I appreciated the thought they have put into an ordinary thing like the AC adapter. The adapter has two improvements — it has concave ends that allow you to wrap the power cord around easily, and it has an attached elastic rubber strap to secure the wrapped cord.

At 9 lbs, including adapter, it is not light to walk around with all day but it is not too heavy either for regular commute. Its breadth and thickness are 10”x1.75”, same as that of my 1800T. Length at 14” is 1.25” more, owing to 15.4” LCD Panel. It depends on what you do with your machine to determine whether it is a desktop replacement or not. For me, it is a mobile desktop replacement even though it is far less potent than the 3GHz P4 gorillas.

Dell Inspiron 6000 above view of lid (view larger image)

Dell Inspiron 6000 alongside competing Toshiba Satellite M45 Notebook (view larger image)

Screen

Inspiron 6000 comes standard with a 15.4” XGA (1280×800) screen. While SXGA+ (1680×1050) is available, which is what I wanted in the first place, I decided to get UXGA (1920X1200) for $175 more ($50 more than SXGA+). On the hindsight, it was not a good choice because at such a high resolution the font size becomes too small. Since I use the notebook for hours at a stretch, it strains my eyes. I have changed the display settings to use SXGA+ resolution. UXGA is probably more suitable for 17” screens.
The screen is not XBrite or TruBright as some other notebooks have but it is bright enough for in-house use. We tried watching Spiderman 2 on the machine and let’s just say it is good for watching movies only if you are sitting between two old ladies in an eight-hour flight.

I tried to use it outside in Bryant Park, New York, on a not too sunny day but it was practically not viewable even at the highest level of brightness. I quickly found some space in the shadow of a building and it was a little better. If working outdoors is a primary requirement, this notebook does not fit the bill.

Speakers

I love playing classical music while working and the speakers haven’t disappointed me. They are pretty good at low to moderate volume but they don’t sound as good at their loudest. They definitely cannot replace your external speakers but if you only listen to soft music at low volumes, you don’t need anything else. They are placed on the left and right side of the front edge, with standard control buttons in the middle, and that lets a man get his music even while the lid is closed. However, a small LCD display for the Time and Track Information is a glaring and unforgivable omission. Even my old Compaq has it.

Processor and Performance

The notebook came loaded with a lot of junk software and I was not surprised when it took 90 seconds to boot up. I got rid of most of the useless startup programs and the boot time is still a minute. With a Gig of RAM and 5400RPM HDD, I was expecting something better than this.

They say that a 1.6GHz Pentium M with Centrino specification performs as good as a regular 2.4GHz P4. However, after using this notebook, I don’t think so. My 2-year-old AMD Athlon XP 2100 desktop, which I built myself, is more responsive. Paying extra to get 1.7,1.8 or even 2.0GHz would have been money well spent. Even so, WebSphere Studio Application Developer (WSAD) and Rational Rose, both of which are known memory and CPU hogs, work fine.

While I haven’t tested any games on it, I don’t believe avid gamers would like it.

Benchmarks

I ran the Super Pi program to calculate 2 million digits of Pi and the results are really weird. I got 1m 55s on AC power. Then I unplugged the AC cord and ran the program again. This time I got 1m 53s! I thought, maybe unplugging the AC cord doesn’t trigger the battery saving features of the CPU so I restarted it on battery and ran the program again. I got 1m 52s!!  Whatever the case, below is a comparison of the best result I obtained with the Inspiron 6000 as compared to other notebooks:

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Dell Inspiron 6000 (1.60GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 52s
Gateway 7426GX (AMD Athlon 3700+) 1m 39s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 45s
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 48s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 23s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 3s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 28s

PCMark04 Results (alongside IBM ThinkPad T43 1.86GHz Pentium M results)

 Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  IBM T43 (1.86GHz) Dell Inspiron 6000 (1.60 GHz)
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.33 MB/s 3.115 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 27.19 MB/s 23.753 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 23.4 MB/s 20.863 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 10.88 MPixels/s 9.533 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1914.17 MB/s 1670.328 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.82 KB/s 2.390 KB/s
 File Decryption 54.11 MB/s 45.736 MB/s
 Audio Conversion 2496.87 KB/s 2186.623 KB/s
 Web Page Rendering 5.27 Pages/s 4.998 Pages/s
 DivX Video Compression 51.71 FPS 45.239 FPS
 Physics Calculation and 3D 159.19 FPS 154.692 FPS
 Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 868.44 FPS 1413.054 FPS

Keyboard and Touch pad

Dell Inspiron 6000 keyboard view (view larger image)

The keyboard is probably the worst thing about this notebook. The keyboard layout does not follow the standard for the navigation keys (Arrows, PageUp/PageDown, Home/End). The arrow keys are on the bottom right corner while the PageUp, PageDown, Home, and End keys are on top right corner. It may sound trivial but they are so far away from each other that I had to keep moving my right hand up and down while doing heavy editing. I went to Best Buy to see if it is just me or if this keyboard really does have a problem. In all the notebooks that I saw, I found that these 8 keys were grouped close to each other. After using it for a couple of days, I was really frustrated and I decided to return it. But then, as I explained earlier, there aren’t many choices. After a bit of googling, I found KeyTweak (http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick/), a free program that allowed me to reassign keys. I assigned Home and End to Right Alt and Right Ctrl keys and PageUp and PageDown to CapsLock and Left Windows keys respectively. Although it is not perfect, it is a lot more usable now. I would have been even happier if I were able to assign DELETE key, which is on the top right corner, to the Fn Key, which is stuck in the middle of the right side of bottom row (another non standard location), but for some reason, KeyTweak was not able to do so.

Anybody who uses my notebook now will drive themself nuts 🙂

The TouchPad, on the other hand, is a lot better in terms of functionality even though it feels a little rough. It supports vertical and horizontal scrolling and gestures such as Back & Forward for browsers. It also lets you assign applications that can be run automatically upon tapping the corners of the touch pad.

Input and Output Ports

This notebook comes with a nice set of I/O ports: 1 PCMCIA, 1 SD Card slot, Mic, Headphone, 2 USB, and 1 FireWire (IEEE 1394) on the right, 10/100 Ethernet, Modem, 2 USB, S-Video, VGA, and Power socket on the back, and a DVD drive and a Kensington Lock slot on the left.

There is no parallel port for printers and no PS/2 port for mouse and keyboard, but it is not a problem because a USB port can be used connect almost everything and there are 4 of them available.

Like all other notebooks, it doesn’t come with integrated Mic and I don’t understand why.

Left side of Dell Inspiron 6000 (view larger image)

Back side of Dell Inspiron 6000 (view larger image)

Right side of Dell Inspiron 6000 (view larger image)

Front side of Dell Inspiron 6000 (view larger image)

Wireless

I ordered the basic Wi-Fi capability that comes with Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 (802.11b/g). It scans and connects to available networks very easily in infrastructure mode. However, I am still not able to connect to my friend’s iPAQ handheld through the Ad-Hoc mode. I would have appreciated some utility application to help me with that.

Other wireless protocols such as 802.11a and Bluetooth are available for additional cost, but I didn’t need them.

Battery

I usually work either at home or in the office and very rarely “on the road” so battery was not too much of an issue to me but I still paid $30 more to get a 9-cell primary battery instead of the standard 6-cell one. I tried to run the battery out while doing my coding work, and the battery lasted about 3 hours. I find it sufficient. Oh yes, the music was on too.

Operating System and Software

I am not very satisfied with the backup media. I expected a standard Windows XP media and separate applications CD that can let me pick and choose the software I want to install. What I got was only a restore CD that apparently sets up the machine in the original factory condition with all the junk software such AOL, Earthlink, NetZero, and QuickBooks. There are several others I don’t even remember. They were all set to run on startup and they hog the memory and CPU. It took me almost an hour to uninstall them. There is a separate CD for WordPerfect also.

Customer Support

I think the customer service depends on the rep you get hold of. I talked to two reps while trying to get some help on specifications. One of them was very rude, he hung up on me as soon as I told him I don’t want to buy right then, while the other one was very nice and gave me all the details I wanted.

Complaints

Other than the Keyboard layout, everything is very good. Nothing is exceptional but nothing seems to be substandard either.

Conclusion

I really liked the affordability of this notebook. At this price, it has a great set of features. If you mean business and if you don’t need fancy stuff, nothing is better than this.

Pros:

  • Cheap even with wide array of upgrades
  • Good build

Cons:

  • Non-standard Keyboard Layout
  • Lack of convenience features and utility applications.
  • Heavier and thicker than similarly configured competitors.

Pricing and Availability

Note About the Author:

Hanumant is author of the popular Java Development and Study kit book SCWCD Exam Study Kit, his book is available from Amazon.com


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