Dell Inspiron B130 and B120 Review (pics, specs)

by abaxter Reads (581,897)

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by Andrew Baxter, New York USA

Introduction

The Dell Inspiron B130 is a 15.4″ widescreen notebook, depending on how you configure it the B130 can be considered a budget offering or a mainstream type notebook with decent performance.  The Inspiron B120 offered by Dell is precisely the same as the B130 except with a 14-inch widescreen.  The B120 build and dimensions match that of the B130, only the B120 has a thicker plastic area around the screen to replace the display real estate.  The following is a review of the Inspiron B130 but the evaluation can be carried over and applied to the B120 as well.

Dell Inspiron B130 collapsed open (view larger image)

Specs for Inspiron B130 as reviewed:

  • Intel Pentium M Processor 740 (1.73GHz/2MB Cache/400MHz FSB*)
  • 15.4-inch WXGA display
  • 512MB of RAM (2 stick configuration)
  • Intel integrated Media Accelerator 900 graphics card
  • 60GB Hard Drive (5400RPM)
  • Microsoft Windows XP Home
  • 24x CD Burner/DVD Combo drive
  • Dell 1470 Internal Wireless 802.11a/b/g
  • 56Kbps Modem and Integrated Network Card (ethernet)
  • Dimensions: Height 1.41″, Width 14.0″, Depth 10.5″
  • Weight: 6.7lbs (with 4-cell battery)
  • 4-cell Lithium Ion Battery
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0, VGA out, Modem RJ-11, audio line-out (for speakers headphones), external microphone port, ExpressCard 34 slot
  • 1 yr. warranty
  • Final Price (after using $250 off Dell coupon): $1,027 – $250 Off Dell Coupon Code + $49.00 Shipping + $69.17 Tax = $895.17

* the Pentium M 740 actually has a 533MHz FSB but operates at 400MHz in the B130

Where and How Purchased

I purchased the B130 via the Dell.com site, it’s of course the only way to buy a Dell notebook.  I placed the order on November 18, 2005 and was given an estimated ship date of December 13, 2005.  The B130 actually shipped on November 30 and it arrived on December 1, 2005.  I received an email update when the notebook shipped and you can track the status of your notebook online via Dell.com.  I like the ordering process through Dell, I’ve never had a problem with them and emails are always sent if there’s going to be a delay with shipping.

Design and Build

Above view of Dell Inspiron B130 / B120 (view larger image)

This is a budget notebook and as such is constructed in a manner to keep costs down.  The body casing is entirely plastic, no fancy aluminum or magnesium protection.  The plastic used is not flimsy though, it’s actually really quite sturdy.  I used the Dell Inspiron 1000 a while back and was highly disappointed with the flimsiness of the casing, the B130 is certainly a step up from that.  There’s no major flexing issues of the body and the keyboard is firm.

Dell Inspiron B130 (view larger image)

The hinges are firm, there’s no wobble of the screen even if you move the notebook around.  This is impressive, often with budget notebooks the hinges can be somewhat weak.  The protection provided by the lid is also good, if you push in on the lid area it’s hard to get ripples to appear on the screen.  However, the plastic area around the screen is not held on very well and on the B120 (14-inch screen version of the B130) it is very thick and ugly looking.  I can pull the plastic covering away from the LCD with ease.

The look of the Inspiron B130 is a mix of silver and black.  The lid is an entirely silver-grey color while the rest of the body is black with an accent of silver trim around the keyboard.  The look is not bad in this author’s opinion, and actually better than the some off the exisiting Dell Inspirons available with the silver and white finish.  It’s certainly not sleek or pretty by any stretch, it looks like the plastic it is built from, the front speakers are ugly holes in plastic that look more like vents, and the largish green LED light indicators on the front are reminiscent of a 1980′s mainframe computer.  So no design awards but due to the well selected and professional black-silver coloring it’s not ugly either.

Screen

The Inspiron B130 is a widescreen notebook that uses a WXGA resolution (1280 x 800).  The screen is a matte finish and there is no option for the popular glossy high-contrast display finish that Dell calls “TrueLife”.  The screen brightness is middling, it’s certainly not as bright and glorious as the Dell Inspiron 700m or the Dell XPS M140 I’ve reviewed in the past.  When on AC power the screen is bright enouggh, but when you switch to battery it becomes too dim — you can adjust your display and power settings to force the screen to be brighter when on battery but at the cost of shorter battery life.  Overall, the text and images are sharp and the matte screen means you won’t get a bunch of reflection on the screen that can become distracting. 

There’s some light leakage around the bottom area and lighting is not even across the screen, but this is only noticeable on dark backgrounds such as the default Windows XP screensaver in which the screen is all black and the Windows logo can be seen floating across it.  Also, it seems that some colors are not true — reds tend to appear a bit orange like so it’s probably not the best display for those really into photo editing.

Speakers

You’re not buying a multimedia machine with the B130 and for that reason you can expect to get the usual rather poor sounding notebook speakers.  The speakers are located on the right and left front sides, which is good placement since they fire forward to where you are sitting.  If only the audio they pumped out was good.  The speakers are good enough for system sounds and the likes, but playing audio music or listening to DVDs is pretty painful.  You need external speakers or headphones via the lineout to get any type of decent audio.

Processor and Performance

You can opt to have your Inspiron B130/B120 configured with either a Pentium M or Celeron M processor.  You’ll save money with the Celeron M configuration and to be honest, I think that’s the best route to go with this notebook.  It’s a budget machine and when you have the Intel 910GML chipset and motherboard (as the B130/B120 does) you’re going to be limited to a bus speed of 400MHz between the processor and memory.  Even though my system indicated a 533MHz FSB on the Pentium M 740 processor I configured and the memory I have can theoretically run at 533MHz, it does not, it runs at 400MHz.  So esentially Dell put together a machine in which the chipset is the weakest link, and since components work together as a team, the system can only be as fast as that weakest link is willing to work (400MHz). 

The Pentium M 740 has a 533MHz Front Side Bus (FSB) but the Dell site indicates it as having a 400MHz on the B130 configuration page due to the fact the Intel chipset used prevents the processor FSB from actually moving data at this speed

When I bought my system it said on the Dell website the FSB on the Pentium M 740 processor was 533MHz, since receiving complaints from customers who indicated to Dell that with the given chipset this was not in fact the true throughput speed, Dell decided to change the specs on their website to indicate the Intel PM 740 FSB is 400MHz — interesting solution to resolving the complaints I must say.

And so, if you select the Celeron M processor you can save yourself $150 and not sacrifice much performance — the Celeron M runs at 400MHz FSB and therefore falls into lockstep with the bus speed rate the rest of the components can actually push through information at.  Since the Pentium M does have a faster clock speed and superior architecture, it will of course still outperform the Celeron M — but I don’t think by enough to justify the extra cost and since you’ll only be using this notebook for web/email/Office tasks then why not save money?

One thing I am very happy about with the B130 is that the hard drive is standard 5400RPM, not a slow 4200RPM.  The drive I got is a Western Digital made drive that has an 8MB buffer, some people in the NotebookReview.com Dell forums have indicated getting a Toshiba 5400RPM hard drive with 16MB cache buffer — that’s excellent for a “budget” notebook.  There’s no telling what brand hard drive you get, just depends on what’s in supply the day your notebook is configured and whether you’re lucky or not.

On the Dell website it’s indicated that the B130 is upgradeable to 1GB of RAM, however some users report being able to successfully install and run the notebook with more.  I’m not sure why Dell would short itself in their specs by saying 1GB is the max when it is not — rather 2GB seems to be the max.  I have 512MB of memory and for the web browsing and office tasks I’ve been using the B130 for the notebook has been fine with no lag.  I installed Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 to see how it ran on this notebook (the simulator does not require a dedicated graphics card thankfully) and, while it ran, it was choppy and a bad experience.  This notebook is not for gaming nor for running resource hog types of applications or programs.  It’s good to use as an extension to your desktop, stuff like browsing the web and Office related tasks.

Benchmarks

We use the program Super Pi to calculate the number Pi to 2-million digits of accuracy, this is a good way of simply forcing the processor to do work to calculate a number and deriving performance from the time it takes to achieve the end goal.  Below is a table showing how the B130 with the 1.73GHz processor stacks up against other notebooks.

Notebook Time
 Dell Inspiron B130 (1.73GHz Pentium M)  1m 52s
 Dell Inspiron 9300 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 39s
 Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 53s
 IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s
 Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 41s
 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
 HP DV4170us (Pentium M 1.73 GHz)  1m 53s
 Sony VAIO S380 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)  1m 45s

Everest is a program that simply provides a virtual dump of hardware information for the system it is run on, it’s for the technically inclined, the report generated by Everest Home for the B130 is here: Inspiron B130 Everest Hardware Report

Below are results gained from running PCMark04, the results from the B130 are compared to the XPS M140:

Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  Dell XPS M140 (1.86GHz Penitum M, Intel graphics) Dell Inspiron B130 (1.73GHz, Intel graphics)
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.32 MB/s 3.12 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 26.66 MB/s 23.55 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 23.46 MB/s 22.11 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 10.87 MPixels/s 9.99 MPixels/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1866.81 MB/s 1653.93 MB/s
 Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.85 KB/s 2.7 KB/s
 File Decryption 53.74 MB/s 50.78 MB/s
 Audio Conversion 2478.85 KB/s 2321.4 KB/s
 Web Page Rendering 5.53 Pages/s 4.92 Pages/s
 DivX Video Compression 50.35 FPS 46.5 FPS
 Physics Calculation and 3D 98.57 FPS 89.81 FPS
 Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 479.95 FPS 367.08 FPS

I chose not to run the 3DMark05 results on the B130 as the only thing they’d prove is how poor the notebook is in terms of graphics — this is not a notebook intended for gaming.

Below are the HDTune results for the B130 60GB 5400RPM Western Digital hard drive:

Heat and Noise

The B130 is amazingly quiet, in fact I can’t recall the fan making any noise.  The heat vent for the B130 is on the back of the notebook, this is good positioning because you won’t get hot air blowing onto your hand when using a mouse or anything.  The heat has not been a problem either.  I’ve only been using this notebook for simple office related and web related tasks on it, but then again that’s all most anybody wants this laptop for and so you won’t need to worry about overheating issues.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Dell B130 / B120 keyboard and touchpad area (view larger image)

The keyboard on the B130 is fine.  The keys have a nice click when pressed, but are not loud.  The buttons are all full size, including full size Backspace, Enter and Shift keys.  There is no sag or problems with the keyboard.  The touchpad is as usable as they get, its size is appropriate and there’s enough room to move your finger around.  I’ve used notebooks for years and still dislike the touchpad form of input mechanism — I still often find myself pulling up menus and losing them as my finger slips slightly and thereby takes the cursor off of the menu (webpage menus like this are the worst as they’re sometimes hard to use even with a mouse).  I’ve always favored a pointing stick mechanism such as the ThinkPad line of notebooks offer — and if that’s not available a wireless optical mouse is a nice option.

Battery

When using the B130 for simple web browsing and typing this review and with screen brightness set to half the battery ran out after 2hours and 20 minutes.  That’s a little disappointing, but expected for the 4-cell battery I configured with the B130.  The half-brightness setting was too dim and wasn’t a very pleasant viewing experience, if at full brightness and wi-fi on you’d be under two hours of battery life.  Watching an entire DVD at full brightness on this laptop would only work if the movie is 1-hour 30 minutes or less.  I’d recommend buying the 6-cell battery if you know you’ll need extra battery life, but if you’ll be at a desk and plugged in most of the time then don’t worry about it.  The 6-cell battery is more expensive and will weigh a little more than the standard 4-cell, but the good news is it does not stick out of the back of the notebook.

Input and Output Ports

You get the most basic of selections for the input/output ports for the B130.  Here’s a quick rundown of the ports and slots on this notebook

  • 3 USB 2.0 (all on left side)
  • VGA/monitor out (left side)
  • Modem (left side)
  • RJ-11 Ethernet (left side)
  • Audio line-out (for speakers headphones) (left side)
  • External microphone port (left side)
  • ExpressCard 34 expansion slot (left side)
  • Power jack (back side)

Having all the ports on the left side means things will get busy over there if you have 3 USB devices plugged in — spreading them out a bit would have been nice.

Left side view of Dell B130 (view larger image)

Front side view (view larger image)

Close up of light indicators (view larger image)

Right side view of Inspiron B130 (view larger image)

Back side view of B130 (view larger image)

Only having an ExpressCard slot is somewhat of a downer.  There’s hardly any ExpressCard accessory options on the market right now, it’s all still PCMCIA focused.  The ExpressCard is cheaper for manufacturers to put in notebooks than PCMCIA and that’s why Dell opted for this expansion slot.  I’d prefer to see a dual PCMCIA / ExpressCard slot solution.

Operating System and Software

Unfortunately the B130 comes with the typical amount of garbage software you’ll get with a Dell Inspiron notebook.  McAfee is on there continually popping up messages every 10-seconds and doing something on its own, whether you want it to or not.  Stuff like AOL, Yahoo Music Trial, WordPerfect trial and some Corel trial image software are on there to name a few and will pop up and try and get you to subscribe/buy the software.  Those that are savvy enough might try doing a fresh install of Windows XP, but for others that don’t want to do that you can go through the process of uninstalling programs or removing them from startup using msconfig (Start > Run > type: “msconfig” and go to the “Startup” tab).

The B130 has the option of Windows XP Home or Professional.  I got Home and that will likely suffice for most anybody buying this notebook.

Wireless

I got a Dell 1470 Internal Wireless 802.11a/b/g card with the B130.  It works well and I’ve been getting good range, no dropped connections using this card.  Since this is not an Intel branded card it means that while this notebook has a Pentium M processor, it is not a Centrino machine.  Oh well, one less sticker on the notebook to peel off!

Customer Support

I’ve never had a problem with Dell service and support, they’ve always been prompt and there’s both online chat and phone support.  Dell is rolling out a new service called Tech Direct that will allow you to interact with a service support person online, during the session you can go to a website and they’ll be able to take over your machine and fix it as you watch.

In regards to the issue with the misrepresenatation of the B130 as having a 533MHz bus speed when it does not, that’s obviously a knock against customer support and overall treatment of customers.  The resolution Dell has taken of now representing the Pentium M 740 as a 400MHz FSB chip is actually a misrepresentation of what the processor you’re buying is capable of and a way for Dell to just gloss over the specifics of the notebook.  Most customers will not know any differently, but for those that are informed and care about what components their notebook consist of and their capabilities — they will be frustrated by what Dell has done there.

Conclusion

The Dell B130 ends up being a fine notebook for general usage and as an extension of a desktop computer.  Obviously this notebook is not for gaming, but if you’re looking for a cheap solution for a portable PC so you can do work or surf the web from the couch, or have a cheap PC in the dorm room then the B130 is fine.  To be honest, I think the HP dv4000, HP dv1000 and equivalent Compaq offerings (Presario v2000 and Presario v4000t) are price equivalent notebooks with much better features.  I can’t whole heartedly endorse buying this notebook when there’s better options out there for the same price, but if you like Dell and can use one of the often available Dell coupons to get a good price on this machine then it’s not a bad pick.

Pros

  • Decent looking design that’s actually more appealing than some higher-end Inspirons
  • 5400RPM hard drive is impressive for a budget PC
  • Cheap, $700 or less with some configurations
  • Overall decent build and sturdy feeling for a budget PC

Cons

  • Uses old Intel 910GML chipset that limits bus speed to 400MHz, even if processor and memory can run at 533MHz and so hurts Pentium M 740 and memory performance
  • Very basic selection of ports
  • Screen is just okay, some colors don’t seem true and light bleeds from the bottom
  • Lots and lots of junk ware installed that you’ll want to remove

Pricing and Availability: Dell Inspiron B130, Dell Inspiron B120


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