Dell Inspiron 9300 Review by an Apple User (pics, specs)

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by Daisuke Koya, California USA

note to readers: this is the 3rd published review of the Inspiron 9300 on this site, previous reviews can be seen here:

Overview and Introduction:

The Dell Inspiron 9300 is a desktop replacement notebook. The configuration I ordered consists of:

  • Intel Pentium M Processor 740 (1.73 GHz/2MB Cache/533MHz FSB)
  • 512MB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 533MHz 2 DIMM
  • 80 GB 5400 RPM hard drive
  • 17 inch UltraSharp Wide Screen XGA+ Display
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 Internal Wireless (802.11 b/g, 54Mbps)
  • Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005
  • Dell notebook backpack (since I’ve heard that this notebook doesn’t fit in most notebook bags)

Dell Inspiron 9300 (view larger image)

I’ll have to provide a disclaimer in advance that although I am not new to notebooks and personal computing as I have owned four Apple notebooks, I am not very familiar with Windows, so this review may reflect that tone.

Reasons for Buying:

Although I am mainly a Macintosh user, reality hit me that Virtual PC (a Windows emulator for the Mac) wouldn’t cut it for a graduate student in engineering. I am very partial to the Mac platform, and still plan to use it as my main computing platform. However, for study and work, I am forced to be in a Windows environment as there is virtually no audio engineering software available on the Mac. So the Dell 9300, my first Windows notebook, will serve as a secondary computer to run Windows only programs. Portability of a notebook is a plus too since some of these Windows programs are acoustic measurement programs, which require the PC to be relocated. Moving around a desktop for these purposes is a bit of a pain and no fun. I plan to own this Dell notebook until the Intel Macintosh notebooks come out, and then I’ll be able to stay all Mac again.

Another factor for purchase is that the Dell was priced very cheaply while being full featured, especially compared to an Apple notebook. The coupons Dell sometimes offers are unbelievable.

Other notebooks I looked at were the Sony VAIO FS and the Fujitsu E8020D. I didn’t end up buying the Sony, although it was price competitive with the Dell. I guess it was the lesser video card on the Sony that swayed me to the Dell. If I had a larger budget, the Fujitsu would have been compelling since when calling them for sales advice, I was treated courteously by a native English speaker. The Fujitsu was more expensive, and although further customizable configurations were built in Japan (wow!), these were non-returnable. That was a little hard to swallow for a notebook I had to buy on faith since there were no retail outlets around my area where I can view one hands on.

It was mind boggling to shop for a Windows notebook due to the bewildering selection possibilities and configurations. Actually, I couldn’t look at’ the Inspiron 9300 at all since no Dell kiosks in Southern California I’ve called seemed to have them on display. A few calls to the Dell kiosks confirmed that most other Inspiron models were on display, but not the 9300. At one Dell kiosk location, the person who answered was not familiar with the model numbers and thought the 9300 was either the 6000 or the XPS2, adding to the confusion of whether the 9300 could be checked out in person. Anyhow, based on the numerous positive individual reviews of the 9300 on notebookreview.com and CNET it seemed that this model was generally a reliable notebook.

Where and How Purchased:

The Inspiron 9300 was bought from the Dell Home online store. The total was $1,272.97 (U.S.) including tax, shipping, and California State Environmental Fee. With the Dell $750 (U.S.) off coupon, this notebook was more than a good deal, it was a steal! Unlike others I’ve read on the web who have used the $750 (U.S.) off coupon, mine was not mysteriously cancelled midway. It took six calendar days from order to delivery, which is quite acceptable. There were informative email updates along the way including when the notebook shipped.

Backpack purchased with th eDell Inspiron 9300 (view larger image)

Build & Design:

The Inspiron 9300 has a simple, uncluttered, and utilitarian design. I wouldn’t say it looks sharp, but it’s not ugly either. The screen hinge is an exception though. There are wide gaps in the screen hinge mechanism, and the axle can be clearly seen through. That said the hinge is solidly built. The screws on the bottom of the notebook are not flush mounted. The notebook body is of solid build, although the screen frame is a little flimsy. Also, there are two permanently exposed latches on the screen frame, which is not elegant. The case is made of lots of plastic, and although the metallic silver plastic does look somewhat cheap, the glossy white plastic trim is of decent quality. The 9300 feels light, considering how large it is. It also feels hollow, as if there is not much stuff inside the case.

Top view of Dell Inspiron 9300 (view larger image)

Dell Inspiron 9300 right side view (view larger image)

Dell Inspiron 9300 back side (view larger image)

Dell Inspiron left side view (view larger image)

Dell Inspiron 9300 under side view (view larger image)

Screen:

The 17-inch wide-aspect XGA+ (1440 x 900 pixels) screen is very nice and bright. I couldn’t detect any dead pixels. I am very satisfied with the quality of the screen aside from the viewing angle, which could be better. Brightness and contrast are very good. I own a 17-inch Sony XBrite LCD display, and I wasn’t missing much with the XGA+ screen on the 9300 aside from a lack of a glossy screen treatment. DVD playback quality was very nice and there did not seem to be any light leaks or uneven backlighting.

Speakers:

The sound from the speakers is acceptable for something built-in a notebook. The treble quality is not the best and is strident, but there is semblance of bass, which provides for a rich sound. Credit the 1-inch integrated subwoofer’ on the bottom of the case for this.

I went further and did a measurement of the 9300 speaker frequency response. The calibrated laboratory grade microphone was placed at 21-inches from the front edge of the notebook at a 120 degree angle relative to notebook chassis, between the two speakers. This is roughly where my head is relative to the notebook, when listening to sound from the 9300. The measurements confirmed that while the response down to almost 100 Hz was certainly impressive for any notebook, the midrange and highs have something to be desired.

Speaker frequency response graph (view larger image)

Headphone output is noisy, and there is much ambient hiss while there is no audio playing. I have to add though that I do use Etymotic ER-4P headphones, which are accurate and revealing. Some headphones may not uncover the noisy ambient hiss of the 9300 headphone output.

Processor and Performance:

Although to me the operating system does not feel all that snappy, the 9300 does have a workhorse CPU, as witnessed by the fast Super Pi benchmark. The processor is a 1.73 GHz Pentium M with 533 MHz FSB. It takes about two minutes for the Dell to boot up. The hard drive speed is 5400 RPM. There is 512 MB (256 MB x 2) of RAM installed in the 9300.

Just like on an Apple PowerBook, this Dell notebook goes to sleep when the lid is closed and wakes up from sleep when the lid is opened although the process isn’t instantaneous. The Dell does take about 10 seconds re-finding the wireless network upon waking up from sleep. When in sleep mode with the lid closed, the power light purrs’ just like on a PowerBook, a nice touch.

An external DVI LCD monitor was not automatically detected initially when connected. Furthermore, the secondary monitor resolution had to be configured manually in the be-ginning. When an external monitor set as the main screen’ was unplugged, the 9300 screen was left hanging as the secondary monitor-spanning screen.

I’m not a hard-core gamer, but after buying this notebook, this may change. One of the very few Windows games I own is Command & Conquer Generals, and the 9300 had no problems playing the older game with all the options turned on at maximum resolu-tion (stretched 1024 x 768). As I wanted to check out the graphics capabilities of the 9300 further, I went to my local CompUSA, and got a game recommendation of Lord Of The Rings – The Battle For Middle-Earth. This game played acceptably (jerky some-times) in the high’ graphics mode ( ultra-high’ being the best) and in the stretched 1024 x 768 resolution. The graphics of the LOTR game itself were beautiful.

Benchmarks:

Below are the results from calcuating Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy using the program Super Pi:

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Dell Inspiron 9300 (1.73 GHz Pentium M) 1m 47s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz Pentium M) 1m 45s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Pentium M) 2m 23s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 3s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Pentium M) 2m 10s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Pentium M) 2m 28s

 

Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  Dell Latitude D410 (2.0 GHz) Dell Inspiron 9300 (1.73 GHz)
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.8 MB/s 3.21 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 29.21 MB/s 25.33 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 25.28 MB/s 22.3 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 11.78 MPixels/s 10.01 MPixels/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1889.02 MB/s 1605.48 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 3.0 KB/s 2.74 KB/s
File Decryption 58.7 MB/s 50.44 MB/s
Audio Conversion 2684.73 KB/s 2312.91 KB/s
Web Page Rendering 6.01 Pages/s 4.85 Pages/s
DivX Video Compression 54.23 FPS 46.65 FPS
Physics Calculation and 3D 93.54 FPS 171.49 FPS
Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 373.98 FPS 2025.99 FPS
Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores
3DMark Score 192 3DMarks 2915 3DMarks
CPU Score 1762 CPUMarks 1598 CPUMarks
Gaming Tests
GT1 – Return To Proxycon 0.8 FPS
GT2 – Firefly Forest 0.5 FPS
GT3 – Canyon Flight 1.0 FPS
CPU Tests
CPU Test 1 1.1 FPS
CPU Test 2 1.3 FPS

HD Tune — See screenshot below

HD Tune hard drive benchmark results (view larger image)

Final Fantasy XI Official Benchmark 3 – 6197-L

Keyboard and Touchpad:

The keyboard is not the best, but better than most notebooks I’ve tried at my local Fry’s (large American computer store). The keys do not feel flimsy and typing on the keyboard doesn’t produce any cheap and nasty clicking sounds which I’ve experienced with some notebooks I’ve tried. There is no flex while typing on the keyboard.

The touchpad is responsive, although it feels like there is a fine layer of sand on top and feels grainy.’ The horizontal and vertical scrolling bars on the touchpad work well. Touchpad buttons are generously sized and feel solid, although the click is loud, and sounds hollow. I had to turn off the tapping-on-the-touchpad as a mouse click option, which was turned on by default. I was accidentally clicking on random website links and dialog box buttons otherwise.

The media buttons on the front of the notebook to control CD and DVD playback are very handy.

Input and Output Ports:

The 9300 has (count them all!) six USB 2.0 ports and one FireWire port, although not a full sized one (4-pin). There is an SD card reader, and a plethora of video output options such as DVI, VGA, and S-Video. There is no parallel port offered for printers, however.

Wireless:

The 9300 came with Intel’s implementation of 802.11 b/g. My Netgear wireless router was found immediately, and the Wi-Fi connection is strong and stable. It was easy to configure wireless connections in Windows XP MCE. The Bluetooth option was not ordered, since I don’t own any Bluetooth devices. There is no infrared port on my 9300.

Battery:

First, I was happy to see that the 6-cell battery arrived with a full charge. Battery life with the screen halfway dimmed (what happens when you unplug the AC adapter) and performing tasks such as surfing the web via Wi-Fi, downloading drivers, transferring files from an external hard drive, attempting to connect a digital camera (see below), and ripping a music CD was about 1 hour and 55 minutes. More heavy usage and brighter screen settings will result in less battery time. Since I do not plan to use the 9300 on the road, I am not concerned with the battery running time. Those who do may be advised to opt for the 9-cell battery option.

Operating System and Software:

Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 came with the 9300. Disks provided by the manufacturer included WordPerfect, a Drivers And Utilities’ disk, and a useless AOL CD-ROM. A reinstallation DVD for the operating system was included since I paid the $10 required for outright purchase. The only reason I didn’t mind paying the extra ten dollars was that this sole purchase pushed the total of the 9300 to be over $1899, allowing me to redeem my $750-off Dell coupon.

Windows XP Media Center Edition does not feel snappy. Perhaps I need to install additional RAM and remove some of the OEM bloatware’ that came on the Dell. Initially I found that some icons on the desktop were blown up and pixelated.  All images on Internet Explorer were stretched and difficult to discern. Since I’m not familiar with Win-dows, it took a friend who is familiar with Windows to show me how to fix the stretched icons (change from 48 to 32 DPI) and huge system menu bars and stretched graphics on IE (display DPI change from 120 to 96 DPI). The system-wide text was initially difficult to read, however, ClearType antialiasing helped text readability. The included aquarium screen saver is very nice!

Japanese text was not installed by default, and subsequent installation encountered some error in the end which asked for the Windows XP Pro CD-ROM which I do not own since I never ordered it. Japanese text also does not look great in Windows XP MCE. I’ve seen mobile phones in Japan which have much better-looking Japanese text.

Plugging in and powering on a USB digital camera (Canon S100) did not result in any photography organization software to launch. Instead, I got a dialog box that inquired whether I wanted to install the drivers for the S100 since the hardware was detected. The operating system was unsuccessful in its attempt to locate appropriate drivers for the camera. Upon downloading the camera drivers from the Canon web site and launching a trial version of Jasc Paint Shop Photo Album 5, Starter Edition, I was still unable to connect my digital camera to the 9300.

Popping in a music CD resulted in Dell Jukebox by Musicmatch to launch. The Sheryl Crow CD track listings were accessed immediately. One gripe is that unless one upgrades, the Musicmatch software limits CD ripping speeds to 5x.

I attempted to edit some DV-format clips from my Mac by importing them into Windows Movie Maker, but was unsuccessful, as I received a message “The file is not a sup-ported file type, and it cannot be imported into Windows Movie Maker.” Surely connecting a MiniDV camcorder directly would have avoided this problem. Unfortunately, I did not have access to a MiniDV camcorder to confirm this.

Burning DVDs for data backup was a clear and simple process using the bundled Sonic DigitalMedia LE v7.

Customer Support:

Thank God I haven’t had to use Dell Hell’ technical support (yet). I’m crossing my fingers. I did not opt for any extra warrantees, and only got the 90-day version. Since the Dell will not see heavy use and travel, I hoped I wouldn’t need an extended warranty.

Complaints: 

  • Mini 4-pin Firewire port (non-powered)
  • Noisy headphone output
  • Optical drive not slot loading

Praises:

  • Excellent value
  • Solid build quality
  • Light for size
  • DVI output
  • Nice screen
  • Great graphics card
  • Good bass (for notebook speakers)
  • Media buttons convenient for CD/DVD playback

Conclusion:

My complaints are centered around more on the software and not the hardware, which should be just a function of myself getting more acquainted with Windows, and checking out third-party software for digital photography and video editing. I’ve just bought the book “Microsoft Windows XP Plain & Simple, Second Edition,” so I plan to familiarize myself with Windows more. As for the Dell hardware, I have little complaint, as its components seem to be of good quality and the build is solid. This notebook is fully recom-mended to those of you who prefer a great balance of performance and value as long as you don’t mind the utilitarian design and large size.

Pricing and Availability: Dell Inspiron 9300


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