Dell Inspiron 600m Review (pics, specs)

by abaxter Reads (570,864)

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by Andrew Baxter, New York USA

The Dell Inspiron 600m is classified as a thin-and-light laptop, meaning it is designed to travel with you when necessary, but still has a big enough screen size (14.1″) for easy viewing and a large enough keyboard for comfortable typing.  The Inspiron 600m has lived a relatively long life; it was released by Dell back in mid-2003.  Its popularity has kept it on the virtual shelves of Dells online store and there it will remain until at least Spring of 2005.  So, is this notebooks popularity in sales justified by its performance and value?

Dell Inspiron 600m (view larger image)

Dell Inspiron 600m Specs

  • Pentium M 725 1.60GHz Processor, 2MB L2-Cache
  • ATI Mobility RADEON 9000 AGP 4X video graphics at 32MB
  • 14.1-in SXGA Monitor
  • 60GB Ultra ATA Hard Drive, 4200RPM
  • 512MB, 266MHz RAM
  • Microsoft Windows XP Home with Service Pack 2
  • 1-year limited warranty
  • Dell Wireless 1450 DualBand (802.11 a/b/g) internal Wireless card
  • Internal 56K Modem and Integrated Network card
  • 24X Combo DVD/CD-RW for Inspiron 600m
  • 53 Watt-hour Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery

Purchase

The absolute highlight of my Dell Inspiron 600m experience had to be hitting the “Buy” button at Dell.com.  That’s not to say it was downhill from there, it’s just that I happened to purchase the 600m when there was a $750 off coupon code available.  The Dell Marketing Department went temporarily insane a few days before Halloween of 2004 and offered a $750 off any purchase over $1500 coupon code.  Do the math and you see that would have meant a $1500 configured machine could be had for 50% off.  As it is, I configured the Inspiron 600m to total $1,778 in price, I then used the coupon code and, cha-ching, the total was $1,028.00.  Now that’s an amazing price for what I got, so it tempers any complaint I have about the 600m.

Design and Build

The Inspiron 600m carries the typical grey and blue Dell color scheme.  No complaints on the color from my viewpoint, definitely not as sexy as some of the Sony VAIO notebook color schemes, but it’s not ugly either.

The case is made of plastic, there’s little metal to be found externally but for some of the hardware buttons.  The plastic is not exactly rugged either, you can push in on the case in places and cause it to flex.  A slight fall would leave this notebook hurting and likely cracked.  The IBM ThinkPad T40 I have has a plastic casing, but it is much more rigid and sturdy with zero-flex.  But I paid twice as much for the T40.

The hinge that provides the swiveling for the LCD screen is so-so, when you open the screen up it tends to wobble a little initially, so the hinge certainly could be constructed better.  Don’t worry though, there’s no screen wobbling after initial opening unless you’re playing with the screen or happen to be on a bumpy plane ride.

The overall look and design of the 600m is nice.  The 600m has a clean look, not tons of flashing lights or ports here there and everywhere.  It looks sleek in a coffee shop setting, and given the fact it’s less than 6lbs then taking it to such a place as a coffee shop is totally doable.

The Inpsiron 600m is not as light as I expected it to be.  On the Dell website they say it “starts at just under 5 pounds” which is kind of funny because mine weighs just over 5.6lbs.  Add to that an adapter and plug that weighs about 1lb and you’re carrying something over 6lbs and not less than 5lbs.  I also have the Fujitsu LifeBook S6231 notebook in my possession at the moment, it has a smaller 13.3″ screen but I find it to be much easier to carry around as it is just slightly over 4lbs.

Display

I’ve always been satisfied with screens on Dell notebooks, I’ve bought and used (in order of date ascending) the Dell Inspiron 8200, Dell Inspiron 1100, Inspiron 9100, Inspiron 1000, Inspiron 700m and now the Inspiron 600m.  All except the 1000 had good screens, and the 700m had an exceptionally nice and bright screen.  The 600m has a pleasingly bright SXGA screen, but it’s not as bright as the 700m and it does not have the same glossy look.

However, all was not perfect with the screen out of the box.  When I first started using the 600m graphics and icons were large and blurry.  And I don’t just mean look hard to see blurry, it was full out ugly and pixilated blurry.  I don’t know how Dell could ship the notebook configured in this way, but I ended up doing my own research and took the following steps to resolve the display problem:

  1. Go to Control Panel
  2. Select Display
  3. Go to the Settings Tab
  4. Click “Advanced” Button
  5. This brings up graphics card settings, on the General Tab (which is automatically selected) from the drop down select DPI setting “Normal Size” instead of the 125% size. This should be 96 DPI. Click OK.
  6. Reboot the notebook.

I visited the Dell forums and found others had this exact same issue, people in the NotebookReview.com forums have reported this same issue too.  Not good, I hate to think of the number of people out there with an SXGA configured 600m that just accept the fact this is how their display should look and are not getting the correct viewing experience.

Once you’ve resolved this issue of the 600m being shipped with the wrong graphics settings, you will have a good viewing experience from a crisp and bright monitor.

Processor and Performance

When I purchased the 600m it came with the newer Intel Pentium M class of processor, the Intel Pentium M Dothan.  The Dothan features 2MB of L2 cache for faster throughput via enhanced code instruction caching.  The Pentium M is a great processor, and if you have one with speeds of 1.60 GHz or greater then you’ll be matching or exceeding performance that Pentium 4 2.80GHz chips achieve.  In other words, unless you’re a gamer that demands the latest processor in an over clocked state, then the Pentium M 725 or higher will let you cruise through use of CAD, Graphics Editing and certainly Office applications.

Having an ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics card isn’t going to help you much if you want to be playing Doom 3, but it will help out with gaming on slightly older games and offer better performance to your multimedia applications that like to use number crunching to perform certain graphic operations.

Below are some numbers on how long it took the Inspiron 600m to calculate Pi to 2 Million digits of precision, in the NotebookReview.com forums we have a thread in which everyone is invited to download the program “Super Pi” that enables you to run this calculation and benchmark how well your processor performs relative to others.

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Dell Inspiron 700m (1.6GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 23s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 3s
Fujitsu P5020 (1.0GHz Pentium M) 3m 50s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 28s

Keyboard and Touchpad

Dell Inspiron 600m Keyboard and Touchpad (view larger image)

I said earlier I’ve never come across a Dell Inspiron notebook screen I didn’t find pleasing.  My take on Dell Inspiron keyboards is quite the opposite, I haven’t come across an Inspiron keyboard that I like.  Every keyboard I’ve used on an Inspiron has a certain amount of flex to it, meaning if you push in on one key all the other keys around it depress down as well.  If you do this same thing on an IBM ThinkPad notebook then only the key you push goes in, every key feels individual.  In addition, keys on the Inspiron are sharp on the underneath edges and my finger sometimes catches the bottom of a key adjacent to the one I am pushing.  This gives the disconcerting feeling that you might accidentally tear off a key.  The feedback of the keys is also not that good, it just feels kind of mushy as opposed to solid.

I’ll temper my criticism of the keyboard by saying that people’s tastes certainly do differ and I do actually know people that like Dell Inspiron keyboards because they are “light to the touch” and offer the ability to type faster.  I tend to be aggressive with my keyboard and stab each key — maybe it’s because I like people around to hear me and get myself attention, or maybe I have built up angst and take it out on my notebooks keys.  Whatever the case, I personally dislike the Inspiron 600m keyboard, but maybe you’re not as picky and don’t think about such things as much.

A touchpad is not my cup of tea for navigating the cursor on a computer screen.  It’s a shame that 90% of notebooks of course use a touchpad implementation as a cursor and graphical navigation control, I am used to using a ThinkPad pointing stick and feel in some ways it’s superior to using a mouse (not having to ever remove your hand from the keyboard to reach for a mouse means faster input).  I wish a pointing stick were the de-facto navigation control for all laptops.  Alas, it is not.  The Inspiron 600m touchpad is the same as any other Inspiron, sometimes you’ll find you need to drag your finger across it a couple of times to get the cursor to where you want it to go.  Sometimes when you lift your finger to do this the cursor will jump to somewhere else — annoying.  At least the touchpad is larger than on some notebooks I’ve used, so that does help in moving the cursor.  When at a desk I recommend using a mouse plugged into the USB port for faster screen navigation.  The actual mouse buttons below the touchpad on the Inspiron 600m are a little clunky and loud when clicked, but no huge complaints, they work.

Heat

The hard drive for the Inspiron 600m rests on the lower-left side of the notebook.  If I didn’t tell you this, you would soon find that out because this is where all the heat builds up and you can certainly feel it.  I found my left palm getting rather warm and toasty, now since it’s the winter time I find this rather pleasing as a hand warmer.  But in general having heat build up on a palm rest is not a good thing and could annoy some people.  Indeed, if you’re running demanding applications on your 600m that causes the hard drive to have to spin a lot then it gets uncomfortably warm over on the left side there.

Noise

As I just mentioned the problem with heat build-up, I’ll give some good news/bad news.  The good news is that the 600m is very quiet, it sits on my desk quietly without making a peep.  The hard drive is quiet and there is no audible fan noise.  The bad news is that maybe it would be better if we did have an audible fan noise so that you could know the notebook is trying to expel some of the built-up heat!

The CD/DVD drive is a little noisy when in use, it tends to click and clack a bit when loading, but nothing bad or overly noisy and annoying.

Sound and Speakers

Laptops are notorious for having bad speakers, the only laptop I’ve used that has had good speakers is the Dell Inspiron 9100 thanks to its built-in subwoofer.  The 600m, being a laptop designed for mobility and not multimedia entertainment, shuns having good speakers.  The speaker volume is not loud and the quality is not good, but this can be said of 95% of speakers on laptops.  Buy some decent headphones or external speakers to overcome this weakness.

Ports and Buttons

On the left-side of the Inspiron 600m exists a headphone jack and microphone jack.  Next to these is a PC Card slot (PCMCIA Type II) and infrared (IrDA) port for external peripherals to communicate with your 600m.

Left-side view of Dell Inspiron 600m (view larger image)

On the back-side of the notebook are 2 USB 2.0 ports, an S-Video Out port for connecting to a TV to display DVDs or presentations.  Next to this are your modem and Ethernet ports.  A legacy parallel port and serial port exists for connecting older style devices, printers that were made a while ago used such ports for connecting to but these days most printers you buy will use a USB port.  Finally on the back is a Monitor-out port and AC adapter input.

Back-side view of Dell Inspiron 600m (view larger image)

On the right side of the 600m is the modular media bay that can support a DVD-ROM, CD-RW drive, CDRW/DVD combo drive, 2x DVD+RW drive, floppy drive, 2nd hard drive or second battery.  The Dell media bay is removable so you can upgrade and switch in and out your various options for this bay.  The only other thing on the right-side is a hole to put a security lock on.


Right-side view of Dell Inspiron 600m (view larger image)

On the keyboard of the Inspiron 600m you have some nice built-in hardware buttons that control

So overall you have a generous amount of ports on the 600m.  A 3rd USB port might have been nice to have and I’d certainly like to have seen a media card reader as they become more and more standard in consumer notebooks, but overall you’ve got a good mix of ports with the 600m.

Bottom-side view of Dell Inspiron 600m (view larger image)

Battery Life

The Inspiron 600m offers decent battery life, better than its close relative the Inspiron 700m that I only got 2-hours of life from per charge, but not as good as other thin-and-lights such as the ThinkPad T42 or Fujitsu Lifebook S6000 series.  With the screen brightness cranked all the way up and moderate usage of the Inspiron 600m I got 2 hours and 35 minutes of battery life.  Turn off the wireless and dim the screen down to the lowest setting and you’ll get 3 hours and 15 minutes of battery life with light to moderate usage.

If you need more battery life you can put an extra one in the media bay, but this will mean losing your DVD/CD drive and will also add extra weight.  You can of course purchase extra batteries, but when carrying these around you’re not as mobile.

Conclusion

It might seem like I’ve griped a bit about the 600m, but overall I think it’s an okay notebook, certainly considering the price I got it for ($1,028) it’s an incredible deal.  I’m a fan of the form factor, thin and light with good performance is the way to go when buying notebooks, I think more and more people will look towards buying this type of notebook as the months and years roll on.  The look of the 600m is decent too, you won’t be the ugly duckling in the room with this notebook.  I would recommend the Inspiron 600m to students that want a light notebook good for campus and at a reasonable price to performance ratio.  Mobile professionals might like this too, although I’d urge you to look at notebooks such as the ThinkPad T42, Toshiba Tecra M2 or Fujitsu S6000 before taking the plunge with the 600m.

Pricing and Availability

Links

Dell 600m 3D Virtual Tour: http://www1.us.dell.com/content/topics/segtopic.aspx/inspn600m_tour?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs&~lt=popup

Another Dell 600m 3D Tour: http://www.dell.com/html/us/segments/inspiron/3dmodels/600m.html

Dell Inspiron 700m Review:

http://www.notebookreview.com/default.asp?newsID=2022


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