The New Dell Notebook Hits the Sweet Spot

 
 
By Bill Howard  |  Posted 2003-04-03 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A throwback to designer notebooks by Apple and IBM, Dell's new Inspiron 5100 comes with a variety of snap-on colors, but is it worth your green?

Notebooks below $1,000 may grab your attention, but features can get a bit light. If youre willing to let the price float up a few hundred dollars, youll get far more for your money. With the Dell Inspiron 5100 desktop replacement notebook ($1,456 direct, as tested), for instance, you get productivity software, decent multimedia abilities, and surprisingly good battery life.

Our unit had a fair-to-good feature set, but included nothing that would push the price anywhere near $2,000. Thus the system came with a 2.4-GHz Pentium 4—the slowest of four processors Dell offers, but still adequate—and 256MB of RAM. The monitor was the midlevel Inspiron offering, 15 inches instead of 14, and XGA not SXGA+. All laptops in the 5100 line have a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and an S-Video output for a TV set. Ours included 802.11b wireless Ethernet in addition to standard wired Ethernet and a modem, a fixed DVD/CD-RW drive, and a 16MB USB memory key instead of a floppy disk drive.

Theres a lot of real estate for showing off the striking finish, done in what Dell calls Moonlight Silver accented by Venice Blue. The system measures 1.8 by 13.1 by 10.8 inches (HWD), has a system weight of 8.2 pounds, and a travel weight with the transformer of 9.5 pounds—hefty even by desktop replacement standards. Some of the bulk comes from the 12-cell, 1.4-pound lithium ion battery; most batteries are 0.9 to 1.1 pounds. Nevertheless, the charge lasted 3 hours 41 minutes on our Business Winstone BatteryMark 2002 test—competing systems are hard-pressed to break 2:30. The 21.4 on Business Winstone 2002 and 29.2 on Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2003 are in line with what wed expect from a 2.4-GHz P4 processor and about four-fifths of the scores newer Pentium M (Centrino) CPUs deliver.

With the included MusicMatch Jukebox 7.1 (called Dell Jukebox), Roxio Easy CD Creator 5, and Jasc Image Expert 2000 (rebranded Dell Picture Studio), youre adequately set up for tasks involving music and photos. But beyond its FireWire port, our 5100 was less suited for video editing—theres only a 30GB hard drive, no video software other than the clunky Microsoft Windows MovieMaker 1.1, and no writable DVD drive option.

The WordPerfect Productivity Pack with Quicken 2002 New User Edition is also part of the bundle as is the Dell Security Pack, which includes McAfee VirusScan, Personal Firewall Plus, and Privacy Service. For the most part, these are not the best or newest applications. You may want to consider upgrades. $20 extra buys a better version of MusicMatch, $30 upgrades Image Expert to the Premium version, and $15 will replace WordPerfect with Microsoft Word and Works Suite 2003.

For the price, the Inspiron 5100 is a good deal, and youre better served by picking the more fully equipped model than the $1,099 entry-level model. Conversely, those who do little more than Web browsing, e-mailing, and word processing can save $200 with the $899 Celeron-based Inspiron 1100.

 
 
 
 
Bill Howard

Bill Howard is the editor of TechnoRide.com, the car site for tech fans, and writes a column on car technology for PC Magazine each issue. He is also a contributing editor of PC Magazine.

Bill's articles on PCs, notebooks, and printers have been cited five times in the annual Computer Press Association Awards. He was named as one of the industry's ten most influential journalists from 1997 to 2000 by Marketing Computers and is a frequent commentator on TV news and business shows as well as at industry conventions. He also wrote the PC Magazine Guide to Notebook & Laptop Computers. He was an executive editor and senior editor of PC Magazine from 1985-2001 and wrote PC Magazine's On Technology column through 2005

Previously, Howard spent a decade as a newspaper editor and writer with the Newhouse and Gannett newspapers in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Rochester, New York. He also writes a monthly column for Roundel, a car magazine for BMW enthusiasts.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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