Dell Inspiron B120 and Inspiron 1300 Ultra Budget Notebook Review (pics, specs)

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by William C.


The Inspiron B120 is currently the most inexpensive Dell laptop that can be purchased. It is sold under Dell’s Home division and an identical Inspiron 1300 is sold under the Business division. One may think that the B120 could not possibly have much to offer at such a low price, but you will be surprised at how much horsepower this budget notebook has.


Dell Inspiron B120 (view large image)

Specifications of the model reviewed here:

  • 14.1″ WXGA TFT Display with 1280 x 800 resolution
  • Intel Celeron M 370 (1.50 GHz/1MB Cache/400MHz FSB)
  • 256 MB DDR2 PC-4200 / 533 Mhz
  • 40GB 5400RPM / Toshiba MK4032GAX
  • Combo Drive: 24x/10x/24x CD-RW and 8x DVD-ROM
  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900
  • Dell Wireless 1390 WLAN ExpressCard/34 802.11b/g
  • Chipset: Intel i915GMS/i910GML
  • SigmaTel Sound Card, headphone and microphone/line-in jack
  • 56Kbps modem and 10/100 Mbps Integrated Network Card
  • Ports: 3x USB 2.0, VGA out, 1x ExpressCard/54 (also supports ExpressCard/34)

Where and How Purchased:

This laptop was purchased through Dell.com for $564.84 including shipping and handling and it came with a $100 Mail-In rebate (final price $464.84). The order was placed on 4/25/2006 and the laptop arrived on 05/02/2006.


Inspiron B120 back left side view (view large image)

Build & Design:


Inspiron B120 closed view (view large image)

The exterior design, although not beautiful, could definitely be much worse. The B120 is mostly black. The back of the screen is gray colored, with a silver Dell logo in the center. Also the keyboard has a gray border surrounding it, which some people may find visually pleasing. The plastic latches on top of the screen seemed a little flimsy, but when it is shut, they hold the base firmly and only a very strong force could break it open. The screen hinges are strong and they don’t adjust themselves while moving the laptop from one location to another. When pressing on the back of the LCD the plastic does flex inwards a little bit, however this doesn’t cause any ripples on the viewing area.


Underside view of B120 (view large image)

Screen:


Screen latches (view large image)

The screen is a 14.1″ WXGA TFT Display with 1280 x 800 resolution. I find it incredible that you can get a wide screen laptop for such a low price. It has decent brightness, not anything blinding, but I personally don’t need anything brighter. In my tests I have found that it is still very usable outdoors in broad day light, though I had to turn the brightness to maximum to achieve this.

Speakers:

They are like most laptop speakers, terrible. For listening to radio shows or speeches they do just fine. You can drive up the volume pretty high without having any clipping.

Performance:

When I first got the laptop, I thought what the heck, I’ll try running the Unreal Tournament 2004 demo. What I saw was incredible, I got an average frame rate of 49 FPS at 800×600 resolution (note that I used the UMark program to calculate this). The average boot time is about 24 seconds, from the time I press the power button until the logon screen shows up.
It plays HD 480p Quicktime movies at a full 30FPS. Videos in 720p resolution are also playable, but I did notice some stuttering. It may be possible to get better video performance by adding additional RAM.

Benchmarks:

Below is the time it took the Inspiron B120 to calculate Pi to 2-million digits of accuracy using the program Super Pi and comparison to other notebooks.

Notebook Time
 Dell Inspiron B120 (1.50 GHz Intel Celeron M 370)  2m 25s
 Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Intel T2500)  1m 12s
 Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)  1m 36s
 Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)  1m 48s
 Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)  2m 10s
 HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)  1m 46s
 Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)  1m 18s

PCMark05 Results:

PCMark05 Results
 HDD – XP Startup   5.67 MB/s
 Physics and 3D   50.36 FPS
 Transparent Windows   76.22 Windows/s
 3D – Pixel Shader  4.17 FPS
 Web Page Rendering  2.09 Pages/s
 File Decryption  36.92 MB/s
 Graphics Memory – 64 Lines  265.77 FPS
 HDD – General Usage 3.7 MB/s   3.7 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 1 / Audio Compression  N/A
 Multithreaded Test 1 / Video Encoding  N/A
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Text Edit  41.22 Pages/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Decompression  8.27 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / File Compression  1.7 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / File Encryption  9.15 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / HDD – Virus Scan  7.64 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Memory Latency – Random 16 MB  6.01 MAccesses/s

http://service.futuremark.com/compare?pcm05=356172

HDTune Results:


(view large image)

Heat and Noise:

I have an old HP Pentium III 700MHz laptop that gets so hot after being on for a short period of time, that it is uncomfortable to keep on my lap. So I was very pleased to find out that the B120 stays much cooler. A nice thing is that only the area around the CPU, which is in the back left, gets warm and not the entire underside.  I also discovered that the CPU fan, the only one in the laptop, is a Sunon Maglev. This model of fan doesn’t use ball bearings, but magnetic levitation, so it is much quieter and more reliable, as there are less parts to wear out. The DVD drive is also very quiet and cannot be heard when playing a DVD.

Keyboard and Touchpad:


Keyboard view of B120 (view large image)

I have nothing to complain about with the keyboard. I am happy with the placement of all the keys and there is no learning difficulty when switching over from a full size keyboard to the B120’s. It has a full size backspace and the Fn key is placed in between the Ctrl and Windows key. The touchpad works well, but unfortunately there is no scroll button.

External Connectivity:

The B120 has a VGA out that can be used to clone or extend the desktop. When running an extended desktop both screens can have full 32-bit color. Unfortunately it only has one ExpressCard/54 and no PCMCIA slot.


Left side view of Inspiron B120 (view large image)

Wireless:

My order included a free Dell Wireless 1390 card that performs very well. I get good reception when I am two stories above my wireless access point. This card works fine with Netstumbler.

Battery:

Included with the basic B120 configuration is a 29WHr 4-Cell Lithium Ion battery. I was able to play a DVD for 81 minutes at maximum screen brightness and the sound set to 25%. This is unfortunately not enough time to play most movies. The battery will last longer if the laptop is only used for web browsing. For an additional $99 a 56 Whr 6-Cell battery can be purchased, that would last about 156 minutes while watching a DVD.

Operating System and Software:

Windows XP Home came preinstalled with my B120. There was no OS installation CD included, instead there is a 3 GB hidden partition on the hard drive that holds the restoration files. It would probably be a good idea to backup these files onto a DVD, so that you won’t need to buy a new copy of Windows when the drive fails or a virus deletes the partition. Besides the usual demo software, PowerDVD DX v5.5 and Sonic DigitalMedia LE were installed.

Linux:

Everything but the sound card and wireless card are properly detected and installed when I boot from a Knoppix LiveCD. The wireless card can be made to work with Ndiswrapper. The sound card driver however seems to have some major issues, one of them being that the speakers won’t turn off when you plug in headphones.

Conclusion:

I am very impressed with the performance and build quality of the Inspiron B120, as I had very low expectations when I ordered it. Prior to having the B120, I belonged to the anti Dell crowd and only bought it because the price was so low. I was actually shocked when I first used it. The battery life could be better, but for the price I paid, I can’t complain too much. With a RAM upgrade this should be a great student or work laptop that can master all Microsoft Office applications with ease and also perform certain multimedia tasks. I definitely recommend the B120 to anyone that can’t or doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on a portable computer.


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