Dell Inspiron 9100 Review

by abaxter Reads (82,165)

Dell introduced the new Inspiron 9100 at the beginning of March.  The Inspiron 9100 uses the same design as the Inspiron XPS, but is marketed as a desktop replacement style notebook rather than a gaming machine.  The 9100 is good for those people that want a laptop computer to replace their desktop, but don’t need to carry their laptop around to too many places.  Following is a full review of my experience with the Inspiron 9100.

Overview

The Dell Inspiron 9100 is Dell s contender in the desktop replacement class of notebooks.  It competes with such notebooks as the HP ZD7000, Toshiba P25, Sony VAIO GRT and Acer Aspire 2020.  However, the 9100 does not sport a 16 or larger screen as some desktop replacements do, so it s actually one of the smaller size desktop replacements on the block.  The Inspiron 9100 has a 15.4 screen and comes with default widescreen view, you just have to choose between WXGA, WSXGA or WUXGA.  The Inspiron 9100 weighs in at 8.92lbs.  Once you include the AC adapter, which happens to be very large, and a bag then the 9100 is easily 9+ lbs in travel weight.  So yes the 9100 is heavy, that s why Dell doesn t class this notebook as a thin and light notebook.  Dimension wise the 9100 is 14.1 x 10.8 x 2.0 (width x depth x height).  This is actually not all that big footprint wise (footprint is the area the base of the notebook takes up, width x depth = 14.1 x 10.8 = 152.28 sq. inches).  However, this machine is thick.  I like my milkshakes thick, but prefer laptops thin, this computing tool is twice as thick as my IBM T40 laptop and as thich as my old college textbooks, and I m talking Calculus and Shakespeare collection sized books and not French 100. 

Amazing, the Inspiron 9100 is as thick as my old Shakespeare college textbook that contains all of Shakespeare’s works, now that’s thick.

The body and case of the 9100 is actually the same as the Inspiron XPS.  Think of the XPS as the evil twin brother to the 9100 the XPS offers only high-end options with an upgradeable video card and ability to snap on customized looks such as a skull design.  Gamers buy the XPS, normal folks looking for a desktop replacement notebook with good multimedia features buy the 9100.

Our review unit of the 9100 came with the following specs, it is a middle of the road configuration:

  • Intel Pentium 4, 2.8GHz Processor
  • 15.4-in. WXGA screen
  • 512MB,400MHz 2DIMM RAM
  • 64MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 Graphics card
  • 40GB Ultra ATA Hard Drive
  • 4X CD/DVD burner (DVD+RW/+R)
  • 96 WHr 12 Cell Battery
  • Dell Truemobile 1300 802.11 b/g Wireless card
  • Microsoft Windows Home Edition (English)
  • 1 yr. Warranty

Total Cost for Configuration: $1348.00 (using coupon code at time of purchase).  You can’t beat Dell for value, that’s a great price, but remember this is not a really-high end configuration and prices can climb quickly as you add features and upgrade options.

When buying through Dell.com you of course have various options in how you configure the 9100 which all effect performance and price of the 9100 greatly.  Here s a sampling of options available for the 9100:

Processor: Pentium 4 2.8GHz, Pentium 4 3.0GHz, Pentium 4 3.2
Screen: WXGA (1,280 x 800 res), WSXGA (1,680 x 1050 res), WUXGA (1920 x 1200 res)
Optical Drives: 4 x CD/DVD Burner (DVD+RW/+R), 24x CD-RW/DVD Combo
Memory (DDR 400MHz RAM): 256MB, 512MB, 1GB, 2GB
Video Card: ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 64MB DDR, ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB DDR
Hard Drive: 40GB 4200RPM, 60GB 4200RPM, 60GB 7200RPM, 80GB 4200RPM
Wireless: None, TrueMobile 1350 802.11 b/g, TrueMobile 1450 802.11 a/b/g

You can of course stack accessories on top of your purchase through Dell, our opinion is to look for better deals elsewhere instead of filling your basket while purchasing the 9100.

A size comparison of notebooks, from left to right: Sony VAIO V505EX, IBM ThinkPad T40, Dell Inspiron 9100

Design & Input/Output Ports

A look at the back of the Inspiron 9100 where most of the ports are located

The case for the Inspiron is the now common light silver with a bit of blue coloring splashed here and there, such as surrounding the keyboard.  Looks wise the 9100 isn t all that pretty.  It s fat, there s no sleek curves, the case by looks is obviously plastic, it s got big feet (I refer to the rubber stands it uses to elevate the notebook for cooling) and there s no cool flashing lights or uniquely styled buttons  A Sony VAIO, Fujitsu N5000 or Apple PowerBook will turn more heads and score you more compliments.  But who cares, you won t be carrying this notebook around too much anyway, so leave your ego at home along with the 9100 and there s no worries.

As far as design from a usability perspective, things are pretty good.  All of the ports and bays have been placed on the left hand side or back of the notebook.  This is especially good for right-handed people because when you re using a mouse on the right-side there s nothing plugged in over there to bump into or avoid.  Here s a rundown of the ports and buttons you get and where they are:

  1. S-video connector
  2. AC adapter connector
  3. D/Bay connector (used to attach external optical, floppy or hard disk drive)
  4. Video Connector
  5. USB connector (3 ports)
  6. Network connector
  7. Modem connector
  8. DVI-I connector
  9. Audio connections (2)
  10. FireWire Port
  11. PC Card Slot
  12. Module Bay
  13. Track Stick
  14. Touch Pad Buttons
  15. Touch Pad
  16. Track stick buttons
  17. Media Control Buttons
  18. Power Button

Overall Dell has given you most input and output ports you need, some people that like to have a PS2 port or Serial port might be disappointed, but those ports are almost never included in notebooks today because they belong to the dinosaur age of computers.  I m a little disappointed there are no flash card readers whatsoever on the 9100.  It s becoming more and more standard these days to find a Secure Digital card, Compact Flash card or Memory Stick card reader built into a notebook so you can easily transfer files from these media storage types often used in digital cameras, PDAs and MP3 players.  The IR placement on the front of the notebook is good if you have a remote control you want to use in conjunction with the DVD player capabilities of the 9100, but you don t get a remote control with the 9100 as some desktop replacements will give you.

Dell Inspiron 9100 front-side view

Dell Inspiron 9100 left-side view

Dell Inspiron 9100 right-side view

Screen

As mentioned before, you have a few choices in how to configure the screen on the 9100.  Our review unit came with WXGA.  You can choose from WXGA (1,280 x 800 res), WSXGA (1,680 x 1050 res), WUXGA (1920 x 1200 res).  I feel the WSXGA is the best way to go, the XGA is very readable but even with the 15.4 screen I find using one application window at a time is the best I can do really.  With the WSXGA you could easily have two Excel spreadsheets open on the same screen and be able to comfortably view both.  With WUXGA you might even try opening three application windows in the same screen and see everything.  But be warned, if you ve never experienced UXGA resolution before, the text and pixel size is very small and might strain your eyes.  If you have bad vision, the UXGA could be disastrous to try and use, but if you crave screen real estate then it might be your choice.

The Inspiron 9100 does a nice job for the playing and viewing of DVD movies

Outside of the resolution you choose, the brightness and crispness of the screen is important.  I m happy to say there are no complaints on this front.  I ve never had a problem with Dell Inspiron screens and the 9100 continues the tradition of providing a bright and crisp display, no dead pixels on this unit.  Watching movies on the 9100 is enjoyable due to the Widescreen format of the screen.  Some people might find that they prefer an even larger screen than 15.4 if they re using the Inspiron 9100 as a desktop replacement, however this option is not available.  Notebooks such as the HP zd7000, Toshiba P25 and Apple Powerbook offer 17 inch screens truly desktop replacement size displays.

Sound

Very rarely do I come across a notebook in which I think the sound is good.  The Inspiron 9100 therefore surprised me, even from going through the Windows XP setup and registration I could tell the sound was going to be good that XP setup step through with the cool wind instruments in the background has never sounded so good on a laptop!  The good sound can be attributed to the Subwoofer that Dell included in the 9100.  The subwoofer is actually integrated with the battery, the subwoofer provides deeper richer sound than the typical notebook.  So two thumbs way up for the good audio you ll get with the 9100.  The volume doesn t go quite as loud as I would like it to, I prefer that volume can go all the way up to a level that s too loud and then you can step in a turn it down from there.  However, while watching a movie from 10 feet away I was left wishing the volume would go up a couple more notches.  If you plan on sitting close by to the 9100 at all times you probably won t need to bother buying external speakers though the quality is that good.  If you want more volume, you ll need external speakers

Keyboard and Input Usability

The Inspiron 9100 comes with an 88-key keyboard that is easy and fairly comfortable to use.  It s the size of a full size keyboard you d be used to on a common desktop keyboard.  My only gripe is that because the base of this notebook is so thick I find I have to elevate my wrists a little too much and they ache after typing for extensive amounts of time if the Inspiron is on the desktop.  Maybe that s just a personal peeve though, I ve not heard this complaint from any others.  I can t give the keyboard a perfect rating, it doesn t feel as nice as the keyboard on the IBM ThinkPad Series of notebooks  The key travel is not as smooth on the 9100 as it is on the ThinkPad T40 for instance.  But at least Dell included a Windows toolbar shortcut key, while IBM stubbornly leaves it off all of its notebooks (I suppose IBM doesn t want to appear tied into Windows in any form, they re big supporters of Linux too).
In the keyboard area the 9100 also offers a volume control button at the back of the keyboard and on the right-hand side there are media player controls for Play, Stop, Rewind and Fast Forward.  There s certainly no input button overload, but all of the basic extra feature keys are there you might want.

The Dell Inspiron 9100 has a nice touchpad, pointing stick and dual mouse input locations

The 9100 offers dual-pointing devices in the form of a touchpad and pointing stick, there s also dual mouse buttons that can be used that correspond with whichever input device you re using.  I find the pointing stick to be my favorite, the touchpad works perfectly well though if that s more your style.

Battery

The Inspiron 9100 comes equipped with a 12-cell 6450mAh battery.  In general you ll get about 2 hours of battery life from the 9100.  It s no champ on battery life, but if very much so on par with other desktop replacement notebook battery life stats.  The Pentium 4 is a power hungry chip that s used in desktop computers.  If you want battery life you need to get a notebook with a Pentium M chip.  If you absolutely insist on working unplugged with the 9100, you can of course extend battery life by performing the usual tricks such as dimming screen brightness, turning off wireless and avoiding processor intensive applications such as 3D gaming.

Processor & Performance

The Inspiron 9100 was supposed to be available with the new Pentium 4 3.2GHz Prescott generation processor.  That s the most recent Pentium 4 chip, it s a faster chip than the older Northwood generation because it has a larger L2 cache (1MB) and longer pipeline.  However, Dell says the Prescott Pentium 4 is in short supply so it is shipping the 9100 with the Northwood Pentium 4 instead.  The Northwood has 512KB cache and is slower than the Prescott.  However, the Northwood chip runs cooler than the Prescott, so that s actually an advantage.  Some people are fairly mad to find out that they re getting the older generation P4 chip, but given the fact it runs cooler and this is a notebook I m not so sure you d be completely happy with a Prescott chip anyway.  You can raise an issue about this with Dell if you wish, they do advertise the 9100 as coming with the newest P4, and try to get free shipping or some other free upgrade through your complaining.

Prescott or Northwood debate aside, the performance of the 9100 will depend a lot on the processor speed, hard drive and video card that you choose.  If you trick out the 9100 with a 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4 Hyper Threading processor, 60GB 7200RPM Hard Drive and ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 with 128MB RAM then your notebook will veritably fly through anything thrown at it.  Games such as WarCraft III, Quake III and UT2004 play fluidly on the 9100, 3D rendering in CAD design will be fast and multimedia applications will chew through video editing tasks.  With a low-range configuration of say a 2.8GHz Pentium 4 chip, 64MB of Video RAM and 4200RPM Hard Drive you ll still have a fast performing machine, and for most people it will be fast enough, but for high-end games or computational intensive applications (CAD Design, Video Editing, Database Engines) you might be left waiting from time to time.  Please do yourself a favor and DO NOT configure the 9100 with any less than 512MB of RAM.  If you buy the 9100 with 256MB of RAM you ll be very upset with performance, nobody should be buying a desktop replacement notebook with any less than 512MB anyway.

Benchmark Numbers for 9100
3DMark2003: 3,358 (very good)
MobileMark 2002: 193 (good)
SysMark2002: 297 (good)
BatteryMark2002: 130 minutes (poor)

Software

Microsoft Windows XP Home is the default operating system for the 9100, you can choose to upgrade to XP Professional.  I won t go into the differences of the OS s here, it s well documented and you can visit an existing FAQ we already have for this issue.
The multimedia software bundled with the 9100 is a decent fare.  PowerDVD, Sonic MyDVD (a $99.99 value, allows you to burn DVDs, www.mydvd.com), Sonic DLA ($29.99 value, gives you the ability to easily drag-and-drop your files directly to a recordable CD or DVD disc and make the disc compatible with almost any Windows computer and Sonic RecordNow ($29.99 value, allows you to burn data + audio CDs), Dell Picture Studio, Paintshop Pro 8.

As far as Office productivity applications go, the 9100 comes standard with Word Perfect.  Immediately upgrade to Microsoft Office or the cheaper Microsoft Works Suite if you don t have the disks and license for that.  I didn t even know Word Perfect was still available.
Dell includes the McAfee line of Security software.  The McAfee Security Center is a nice software application that allows for virus scanning and feedback on how secure your machine is.

Unfortunately Dell also includes annoying software installs such as America Online 9.0 and Microsoft Encarta.  Like I don t get enough AOL CDs every week for 1000 free hours if I sign up now which I haven t done in six years.  Get that garbage off my machine I say.  Oh, and Microsoft Encarta is in my opinion obsolete once your connected to the web that s a good enough information resource in my opinion.

Dell Service & Support

Let me start by saying I didn t need to contact Dell Service or support for the 9100.  That s a good thing.  So Dell is batting 0 for 0 in my case, and in the world of customer support math that s a 100% batting average.  However, based on others comments I know the level of customer support from Dell ranges from excellent to abysmal.  Remember though, people are always more vocal about problems they have with computers than when things go right.  In a recent PC World survey it turned out that Dell was actually tops in customer support and satisfaction as rated by consumers themselves.  On a scale of 1 100 Dell got 72.  Dell placed 10 points ahead of HP in customer ratings of satisfaction with support.  But, Dell sells more laptops than any other company in the world, so of course you re going to hear more about problems that exist with Inspiron notebooks just due to the sheer volume shipped.  I m not defending Dell, and I know in some cases the support they provide is miserable, especially if you connect with a call center person in India (where a lot of their Inspiron issues are handled) that does not speak good English, then it s an absolute nightmare.

Your hope as a consumer is that you ll never have to call customer care because the machine will never give you problems.  Knowing that laptops have a greater tendency to have issues after a year of use, you might be wise to purchase one of Dell s extended warranties.  Dell offers up to 4 years of service and care plan.  For a 3-yr service and home care plan (in which a technician will come to your house to fix the 9100, instead of you having to ship it back) you ll have to tack on $270 to the cost of the default 1 year service plan.  For peace of mind in knowing your laptop will be fixed if it breaks within 3 years, you can t go too wrong with this extra money.  If  you re on a budget though then $270 is a lot and maybe you should skip this and take the risk.  It s an individual call and depends on your situation as to what service and care plan you get.

General Complaints Section

There are a few gripes I have with the 9100 that should be aired out.  One of those being that at least one fan on the 9100 will run constantly, and that adds up to some loudness, although it does keep the machine cool of course.  The 9100 cannot be called whisper quiet because of this though, several people have commented to me that my laptop is rather loud when they walk into the room I have the 9100 sitting in.

The build and ship time on my 9100 ended up being 1 month, this was due to issues Dell was having in first releasing this notebook.  Ship times are much faster now, but Dell didn t handle the delay very well, all I got was a terse email about 3 weeks after the order was placed saying the order was being delayed.

The AC Adapter on the 9100 is huge, just too big.  It s literally the size of a brick.  I don t get why it has to be so big and it makes an already tough to carry around notebook even more immobile.  Finding a bag that the AC adapter fits comfortably in along with the notebook is tough.  On the positive side, if you whirl the adapter around on the end of its lead it serves as a great bludgeoning weapon for protecting against intruders into your house or other such occasions for defense.

Conclusion

But don t let my few and relatively insignificant gripes turn you off from buying the Inspiron 9100 if you have your mind set to it and you feel it s the right desktop replacement notebook for you.  I like the 9100, it probably offers the best performance and most features at the most reasonable price point of any desktop replacement class notebook.  The question you ll have to determine is if it offers the right features for you.  If you re set on having a 17 screen then you ll have to look elsewhere.  However, if you want a notebook that can match or outdo the performance of a desktop computer, and provide nice sound and be purchased at a good price then the Inspiron 9100 might be right up your alley.

Pros
 Great performance at a good price (look for Dell coupon codes to get better deal)
 Subwoofer gives the notebook good sound
 Nice dual pointing devices, good keyboard
 Good layout of I/O ports
 Nice sharp screen that gives wide aspect ratio

Cons
 No memory card reader
 Body is very thick at slightly over 2 , weighs 8.92lbs, huge AD adapter
 Somewhat loud with fans running
 Generally ugly, blocky design with hard plastic casing no design awards.

Pricing and Availability

The Inspiron 9100 is only available via Dell.com, check back to NotebookReview.com often for the latest pricing and coupon codes available for the Inspiron 9100

Tip Jar and Word From the Author

Hello! I hope you enjoyed and found this review of the Dell Inspiron 9100 informative and helpful.  I’m a freelance writer and programmer based in New York.  If you did find this review helpful and have a $1.00 to spare as a tip or contribution to the “Baxter Fund for Buying More Tech Gadget Junk” it would be greatly appreciated, just click the button below to donate via PayPal.

Thank You!  Thank You!


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