Dell Inspiron 700m Review (pics, specs)

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Introduction 

The Dell Inspiron 700m has been on the market since October 2004, but, like the Inspiron 600m, it has managed to maintain its popularity. At 4.1 lbs, the 700m sits inbetween the spectrum ultraportable (3-4 lbs) and a thin and light (4-6 lbs).  The Inspiron 700m replaced the Inspiron 300m, one of Dell’s first ultraportable notebooks. The difference between the two is that the 700m features a 12.1″ widescreen (Dell touts this as a multimedia machine so the widescreen is the only logical choice) and an integrated optical drive. One of the things that make this notebook so popular is definitely the features you get for the price. So here we go, a full review of the Dell Inspiron 700m.

Dell Inspiron 700m (view larger image)

Overview

I purchased the Inspiron 700m with the following specs:

  • Intel Pentium M processor 745 (1.80GHz, 2MB Cache, 400MHz FSB)
  • Microsoft Windows XP Home
  • 1024 MB shared DDR SDRAM
  • 8 cell (65Whr) Smart Lithium Ion Battery
  • Ports: Integrated IEEE 1394, 2 USB 2.0, Line-out (external speakers/headphone) and external microphone, 15-pin monitor connector, S-Video/TV Out: 7-pin mini-DIN connector, Secure Digital memory slot, Supports (1) Type I or Type II card
  • 12.1-inch Wide Screen crystal clear TFT XGA display (1280 x 800 resolution)
  • Intel Extreme Graphics up to 64 MB shared memory
  • 80 GB Ultra ATA Hard Drive, 5400 rpm
  • 24x10x24x CD-RW and 8x DVD Optical Drive
  • Integrated Stereo Sound
  • Internal 56K capable v.92 Fax modem
  • Integrated 10/100 Ethernet
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2915 Internal Wireless (802.11 a/b/g, 54Mbps)
  • 1-year warranty
  • Dimensions: Thickness: 1.5 inches, Width: 11.7 inches, Depth: 8.5 inches
  • Weight: 4.1 lbs

Reasons For Buying

I needed something to replace my old Compaq 2100 series laptop. The machine was slow (it used 256 MB of shared RAM) and it was very heavy and bulky.  I needed something lighter that I would be able to travel with to and from school, or to places such as the library.  There are a lot of other ultraportables around, but I soon found out that a lot of them made sacrifices in the performance department for a smaller case. For example, some of the Sony VAIO ultraportables are quite nice and even have integrated optical drives, but they used Ultra Low Voltage Processors running at 1.0 GHz, which didn’t seem adequate to me even though ULV processors probably are more efficient. I don’t like to make any compromises in the performance department — I like to have muscle in my systems and I don’t like when they lag. My desktop runs a Pentium 4 with Hyper Threading at 3.2 GHz, and I wanted a system similar to that performance-wise. The speed of the system will be discussed later on.  That being said, an integrated optical drive was a must: I’d want to watch DVD’s on the go. Another reason for wanting an optical drive is for safety reasons — I’d never want to be stuck with a software or data CD that I needed to boot and not have an optical drive. Of course, Internal Wireless was a must. I didn’t need a dedicated graphics card since I have my nice desktop to do all the gaming I want.

Dell Inspiron 700m (view larger image)

Before buying, I did a lot of research, particularly on the NotebookReview.com forums. I was recommended several times to buy the Fujitsu S6231 for its outstanding build quality and great form factor. However, I just didn’t feel comfortable buying a Fujitsu. I’m sure they make fine machines, but I have owned so many Dell products that are fantastic that it was almost natural for me to buy a Dell laptop. I really liked the Sony T-150, but it was very expensive and offered much weaker performance. I also took a long look at the Apple Powerbook G4 for its nice build quality and reliability, but I was turned away after doing some research. I figured I’d be able to pick up Office for Mac and Printshop, two applications that I regularly use. I was happy to see that they have MSN Messenger for Mac, but I was disappointed when I found out from the TV show “Call For Help” that the version Microsoft has out there is terribly outdated. Just for security reasons, I’d like to have a PC since I’ve been using them since I was a kid and I already have the software. The reality is that most people use PC’s, well at least they do in my area, so I’d prefer to be on the same page as them. PowerBooks, however, are beautiful machines and I would have loved to own one.

After weighing all the options, I decided to go with the Dell Inspiron 700m. It was less expensive than its competitors and offered more features and superior performance.

Purchase

I bought this machine direct from Dell for $1850 Canadian (tax out). This was a pretty good deal- there was a graduation promotion that saved me a few hundred dollars. Too bad we don’t have those awesome coupons like they do in the U.S.A.  In the States, this laptop is considered a budget computer while in Canada, it is literally the most expensive one. I was angry because I had been awaiting the ship date all week, and Dell missed it by a few days.

Build & Design

First off, this laptop is small. I was very surprised by its size when I first took it out of the plain old Dell box. There are other machines that are even lighter, but often those leave out the optical drive, which is a necessity for me. I planned on using this thing as a DVD player as well as to burn my work when I was done with it, so a lot of other ultraportables were out of the question (for example, the Thinkpad X series line featured some gorgeous machines I would have really liked, but they didn’t have internal optical drives).

It’s a Diet Coke and 700m Comparison, who wins this taste test? (view larger image)

Subjectively, the machine feels light and is very easy to carry, even with the extended, 8-cell battery, which will be discussed in greater detail later on. Put a piece of printer paper on your desk. Those are the dimensions of the 700m (except for the thickness, unfortunately.) Yes, this machine is thicker than your average ultraportable, although it’s not so thick that you can’t carry it. I was a little worried that the machine would be too thick to my liking, but when I first took it out of the package, I was relieved. It’s a perfect size to lug around effortlessly.

Dell seems to be moving away from its classic charcoal and blue design scheme. Laptops such as the Inspiron 6000 and the 9300 now have silver chassis’, which I find to be more modern and classy. The 700m looks just like a shrunken 6000. The machine is all silver except for its white trimmings that add a touch of class. This notebook is definitely a conversation starter because of its beauty and its size.

I feel that Dell has skimped a little on the overall build quality. The case is pretty much plastic — it feels durable, but I wouldn’t want to drop it or anything (well, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to drop any laptop, right?) If you need a rugged machine, look elsewhere (Thinkpad/Fujitsu line). Don’t get me wrong, the machine does by no means feel cheap, it’s just that if you compare it to a ThinkPad, there is much to be desired. Overall, the machine feels pretty solid in my hands. Unfortunately, I went somewhere without a laptop bag (I just shoved it into a regular back pack), and when I took it out, the lid was scratched. They’re pretty minor scratches and are only visible from some angles in the right light, but it nevertheless ticks me off.

Dell 700m next to an iPod for size comparison (view larger image)

Screen

Dell Inspiron 700m screen (view larger image)

The 700m has a jaw-dropping 12.1″ widescreen, glossy display. I am trying to make this review as objective as possible, but honestly, I have seen a lot of displays in my lifetime, and the 700m bests every single one of them. With a resolution of 1280×800, everything is sharp and crisp. I can almost fit more data on this screen than I can with my 17″. For me, the fonts aren’t too small, but perhaps some people with vision problems may not be in the same situation as I am. To me, the display is perfect. It’s extremely bright and I never feel the need to put it on full brightness. People often speak of the glare that occurs with this type of display, but they are wrong. There is only glare when the display is off. It’s like that with TV’s too. When you turn on the computer and get past the all-black Windows XP screen, the glare disappears. Maybe it’s the lighting in my house, but I really have to look to find something behind me (blinds, a picture…etc.) that is being reflected. The only glare I find is when the screen is all one color, otherwise, I can barely notice it. The display remains bright and readable outdoors, too, which is a plus.

There is a downside to this type of display. It attracts dust and fingerprints (fingerprints more because whenever I see a spec of dust, I try and brush it off gently with my finger but then I mess up and the display gets a fingerprint) Luckily, Dell has included some wipes that, when done properly, work well.

I am happy to report that, unlike other machines, the 700m has a lid clasp!

I find it strange how although the display is widescreen, I still get small black bars when watching some movies. I suppose it’s because it’s not 16:9. Don’t get me wrong, though, it plays movies better than a 4:3 display — you get more viewing area. Also, it’s great for spreadsheet jockeys.

Speakers

There is nothing special with the speakers. Luckily, there are two of them, so the speakers are decent, but by no means will these replace your 5.1 system. They provide ample power for listening to music or watching a movie at a crisp quality. They go pretty loud also, to my surprise. The sound gets better when you plug in headphones. The jack is conveniently located at the front too, so you won’t have to go through the nightmares of tangling cords. There are no dedicated audio buttons located on the laptop. To change the volume, you can use the FN function on the keyboard. The speakers provide little or no bass, but the headphone jack will.

When I first plugged in my headphones, there was a hissing sound that accompanied whatever I was hearing. It was annoying, but after I changed from the Sigmatel audio drivers to the Intel ones, it was gone! It’s strange why Dell ships the laptop with those defective drivers.

Keyboard & Touchpad

People often bash the 700m when it comes to the keyboard. The major complaint is that it’s small and that the “.”, “,”, and the “/” keys are half-sized. So are the arrow keys. There are also no dedicated “Page up/down” keys (instead, you need to use the FN key and press the left/right arrow keys). I have pretty big hands. I’m a big, tall person. Typing is a breeze. No, not because the keyboard is big, but probably because I have used the “Palm Ultrathin Keyboard”, which is even smaller and have gotten used to it as well. Right when I powered on the 700m, I was a pro, and my typing speed only falls from about 120 wpm to 110. I never really press the “/” key instead of the “.”, but you’ll see why some people do in the image below. The keyboard makes good use of the FN key. There are shortcuts to make the screen brighter, music louder, to power the wireless…etc. Overall, the keyboard is usable. It is very firm, solid, and responsive, which I like. Some laptops have mushy keyboards that sink into the machine when you touch them. Thankfully, the keyboard on this laptop is solid and isn’t loud either.

Dell Inspiron 700m keyboard and touchpad (view larger image)

I personally never use any of the mouse buttons (and you’ll see why soon). I know some do, so I’ll comment on them. They feel clunky. Not necessarily cheap, but they’re loud to the touch so I’m sure that will keep users away from them. On the other hand, the touch pad is amazing. I was worried right when I got the laptop because the touchpad was very rough and there was too much friction between it and my index finger. It appears as if I broke it in a bit because it’s very smooth. Not only that, but it’s responsive as well. As I earlier said, I don’t use the mouse buttons. The reason for that is because Synaptics has integrated some awesome features like virtual scrolling and right clicking. I never even have to use the arrow, either, because with the touchpad, I can effortlessly whiz through long documents. The touchpad is also very big — it takes up almost the whole space between the space bar and the edge of the laptop.

Ports and Inputs

Dell Inspiron 700m front side (view larger image)

Dell Inspiron 700m Right side (view larger image)

Dell Inspiron 700m Left side (view larger image)

Processor & Performance

My machine has the 1.8 Ghz Pentium M Dothan, but it can be configured with either 1.6 or 2.0 Ghz as well. I didn’t choose the 1.8 Ghz, it was part of the promotion I got so I took it. But honestly, I wouldn’t pay for this $200 (Canadian) upgrade from 1.6 Ghz. These processors are extremely fast; in fact, mine is equivalent to around a 3.0 Ghz Pentium 4. You can check out Lowlymarine’s FAQ for more information on processor comparisons. The only thing you really have to know is that a Pentium M is much more powerful than a similarly clocked Pentium 4. The reason why I wouldn’t pay for an upgrade is because in a few months, they’ll have something way better (Sonoma is out now — it’s not way better, but it’s still more powerful) so when that something comes out, you won’t care whether you have the 1.8 or the 2.0. Whatever they have then will be much more sophisticated than the 2.0, so who cares what you have? My advice is to just pick up the 1.6 Ghz processor, as it will still offer you excellent performance. To add to that, you probably won’t even be able to differentiate the 1.6 from the 2.0 when working on the machine.

Subjectively, the machine is quick. It loads up all of the applications quicker than my 3.2 Ghz Pentium 4 H/T desktop and is a pleasure to use. It never gets bogged down when I am doing my work. I mostly use this machine for office, DVD viewing, and publishing work, and I haven’t yet to lock it up, forcing it to have to shut down the program.

The laptop uses integrated graphics, so my gaming expectations, if any, were very very low. Even though I didn’t want to play games with this machine, I still installed the Sims 2 just to see how the 700m would handle it. To my surprise, it worked quite well, even with its 64 MB of shared video memory. This may be because I have 1024 MB of ram, so there was plenty to go around. However, don’t buy this machine for games; you won’t be satisfied. I doubt I’d be able to even hit 20 FPS with Doom 3 or Far Cry.

Benchmarks

Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Dell Inspiron 700m (1.80GHz Dothan Pentium M) 1m 58s
Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 53s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M)
1m 45s
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 48s
Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 52s
Toshiba Tecra S2 (2.00 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 41s
Sony VAIO S360 (1.7 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 1m 57s
Sony VAIO S170P (1.5 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 07s
Acer Aspire 5021 (AMD Turion 64, 1.6GHz) 2m 11s

Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
 Test IBM T43 (1.86GHz) Dell 700m (1.80GHz)
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.33 MB/s 3.319 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 27.19 MB/s 26.885 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 23.4 MB/s 23.432 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 10.88 MPixels/s 10.59 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1914.17 MB/s 1788.771 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.82 KB/s 2.726 KB/s
 File Decryption 54.11 MB/s 53.759 MB/s
 Audio Conversion 2496.87 KB/s 2475.156 KB/s
 Web Page Rendering 5.27 Pages/s 5.463 Pages/s
 DivX Video Compression 51.71 FPS 48.285 FPS
 Physics Calculation and 3D 159.19 FPS 63.256 FPS
 Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 868.44 FPS 358.814 FPS

Heat & Noise

This laptop runs quiet and cool. Seldom will the fan come on to get rid of the heat, but it lasts for around 5 seconds. The fan is nothing to worry about. There is a “clicking” issue with the hard drive. The hard drive makes a “clicking” noise every few minutes, but this can be fixed by downloading a patch of some sort that repairs it. I haven’t yet installed it because it needs to be booted from a CD and I’m pretty lazy, but Dell and other people claim that it works. The machine doesn’t get warm under the hard drive where I thought it would. I know that I could cook eggs on my iPod after I’ve transferred some files. The machine gets a little warm where the processor is. It’s nothing that will keep you from buying the machine though. This laptop will not burn you nor will the heat bother you at all, even if you’re picky and sensitive.

Battery

Most definitely, the battery is the 700m’s weakest point. The standard, 4-cell battery will give you around 2 hours of playing time. That is very weak, especially because Dell has dubbed this as a machine that is meant to be traveled with! There wasn’t enough room inside the laptop to put the battery, so it is attached to the back. The standard battery sticks out a bit, but it’s not really an eye-sore. If you plan on doing any sort of extended work on this laptop, getting the standard battery won’t suffice; instead, you’ll have to dish out $40 to get the upgrade for the extended, 8-cell battery. I chose the extended one so that I can consistently get 3.5 — 4 hours with Wi-Fi on. I’m actually a very heavy Wi-Fi user and I don’t like to scale back my processor to conserve battery life; but with Wi-Fi off, the processor scaled down, and the screen not set on the maximum brightness, you can easily achieve 5 hours. The catch is that this battery jets out of the back quite a bit, adds weight (around 0.5 lbs), and bulks up the system. It’s not unbearably ugly, as some might say, and it doesn’t really look awkward, but it does stick out about an inch. It only looks odd compared to the standard battery. It does give you a grip to hold onto when carrying around the machine, though. Overall, I’d recommend the extended battery — 2 hours just isn’t enough.

Battery test results (8-cell battery):

  • Wi-Fi on, screen brightness up, normal activity (writing review, mp3’s…etc.) : 4 hours approximately
  • Wi-Fi off, screen brightness up, normal activity: 4.75 hours to 5 hours

Optical Drive

Unlike many other ultraportables, the Inspiron 700m includes a built-in optical drive. A nice feature of it is that it’s modular, meaning that should you ever want to replace it with a dvd-burner or should your existing one be defective, you just swap it out and replace it! In fact, you can even remove the optical drive when the machine is on! Having a modular drive is great because it you’re traveling and you don’t want the added weight, you can easily take it out. Unfortunately, Dell doesn’t have a weight-saver, so I wouldn’t recommend removing the drive for too long because dust will accumulate.

OS & Software

I customized my machine with Windows XP Home Edition. Too bad Dell doesn’t ship recovery CD’s like they used to. You need to burn your own, which isn’t the end of the world, but I’d like for them to include everything you need to get going. “Wait a minute? What do you mean? You don’t need the recovery disk to get going!” I knew you’d ask that, so here goes: This machine, like all Dell machines, comes loaded with useless junk. AOL, jukebox, ultra-media-centric-super-dooper-garbage-photo viewer are just some of the titles available for you. Not only does it slow down your machine unnecessarily, but it created confusion and frustration because there’s just so much of it. Going to “Add/Remove Programs” just isn’t an option here; I felt the need for a full restore. The only program I kept was the DVD viewer. I like to keep my system very clean, with only the essential stuff installed, like Firefox, Picasa 2, Zone Alarm, and some anti-spyware solutions. I suggest you protect your brand new machine (after you’ve formatted) with Spybot Search & Destroy, Lavasoft Adaware, and Zone Alarm. If you don’t already have one, I also suggest you pick up a version of Office (or download OpenOffice) because Word Perfect doesn’t really cut it.

Wireless

It was part of the promotion at the time so I received the Intel a/b/g wireless card — this means that I got that cool Centrino sticker! The router in my house is 802.11b, and I’ll be honest, I get way better range with this laptop then I do with my old one and my Dell Axim x50v! I wasn’t expecting this because no matter what wireless card I’d have I’d still be on a “b” speed. Bluetooth would have been a nice option, but luckily there are very cheap and portable USB Dongles that can give me Bluetooth.

Customer Support

I haven’t had any problems yet, and if I did, I probably wouldn’t call Dell support because in the past, they haven’t been very helpful. (Only once did they send a technician over to replace a hard drive in an old machine, so that was nice) Usually, their phone support people are pretty clueless. Instead, I’d just consult the forums we have here at NotebookReview.com! I didn’t choose to get any extended 4-year plans, because by then, the laptop will be obsolete and I’ll want to replace it with a newer machine. I have heard of people calling Dell and purposely complaining about faults of the machine (not defects) so that they can get free merchandise. I heard that it works, but I don’t want to try because I think it’s unethical.

Conclusion

To sum up, the Inspiron 700m has its flaws, but those are easily out weighed by its pros. You get a gorgeous widescreen, a modular integrated optical drive, and a wealth of other features, all for a low price — in the United States, you can get coupons that will get you $750 off. You can get a maxed out machine for very cheap these days. Its competitors offer similar features for a much steeper price. For those reasons, I would highly recommend this machine.

This notebook is very small and sleek and students/frequent travelers should have absolutely no problems or get hernias by taking this thing back and forth! Your back will thank you when you get this machine over a heavier one. You know all of the pros, but I’d like to present you with a list of cons and their rebuttals (if applicable) so that you can properly make a choice. Remember, there are a lot of other laptops out there and I suggest you to visit the Hardware forum on NotebookReview.com, fill in the FAQ, and we’ll suggest to you a good machine for your needs. Although the 700m is a good notebook, it’s not for everyone.

This review of the Inspiron 700m has been fairly glowing, but to balance it out and offer a few of the downfalls as I see them, the following list serves as the “cons” for the 700m:

  1. Small screen – The screen is only 12.1″. If you’re coming off of a 17″ monitor from your desktop, or even a 15″, you’ll need some adjusting time. However, your working area may even be increased — the display is high resolution so you can fit a lot of data on it at once. If you have vision problems, this may not be what you want — some people say that this display kills their eyes. I find it fine, but if you suspect you might find it small, check it out at a Dell kiosque. Remember, you can’t lower the resolution without some ugly effects happening.
  2. Small keyboard – The keyboard is not full size. As I said earlier, some of the essential keys are shrunk, and if you have larger hands like I do (but no experience using smaller keyboards), you will definitely have problems with it and some adjusting time (maybe 2-3 weeks!) You wouldn’t want to write a novel on it. If you’re worried, just make sure you check it out first. I find it very usable, but everyone’s different.
  3. Weak battery – The standard battery is very, very weak. If there were no extended battery option, I would not have bought this laptop nor would I recommend it to anyone. The extended battery adds bulk and weight, though, so be sure to check that out to and analyze the pictures I’ve posted! I’ve also included some comparative pictures so you can see how big the machine with the extended cell is.
  4. No Legacy ports – If you have some peripherals (such as old printers, mousse, keyboards…etc.) that require Legacy connections, you’re out of luck. Most devices now are USB compliant anyways.
  5. No integrated microphone – A lot of laptops these days have mic’s in them for recording lectures and such. You’ll need to get an external one. However, most onboard microphones are probably very weak, so you can’t be missing out on much.
  6. Mediocre build quality – It doesn’t feel cheap, it’s just that I’d prefer having the build quality of the Thinkpads.
  7. Clunky mouse buttons – I don’t use them, but they do suck. Make sure you configure your touchpad to do all the stuff the buttons would normally do.
  8. No dedicated media buttons – I am surprised there are none since this is a media-oriented machine. You’ll just have to press an extra key to have access to certain commands.
  9. Heavier and thicker than other ultraportables – This machine is tiny and very very light, but some ultraportables are even tinier. However, they sacrifice the optical drive, and I needed one of those. I know that the Fujitsu S6231 has an integrated drive and is around the same weight, but it’s significantly more expensive.
  10. Poor technical support – We’ve all heard this one before. Luckily you have this amazing forum.

Those are all the cons I could think of now. If you have any questions about this machine, feel free to PM me.

In my opinion, this is the best bang you could get for your buck. Not only that, it’s an excellent machine, in every sense of the word. If you’re in the market for an ultraportable, I’d give the 700m a strong look before looking elsewhere. Good luck!

Pricing and Availability

Other NotebookReview.com Dell Inspiron 700m Reviews


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