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Inspiron 8100 series... a solid desktop laptop

Nov 14, 2001 06:18 AM 12914 views

(Updated Nov 14, 2001 06:18 AM)

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The Inspiron 8000 series represents usually represents the latest technology available for laptops. This is usually Dell's most expensive laptop model as well as it's heaviest model. Overall, the Inspiron 8000 series is meant as a ''desktop replacement'' model.


The Inspiron 8100 model I'm looking at has the following bells and whistles:


Pentium III-M 866 GHz


128 MB of RAM (buy extra RAM from Crucial... high quality and cheaper)


GeForce2Go 32 MB


DVD/CD-RW Combo drive


Extra Battery


56K built-in PCI modem with 10/100 network


Leather Notebook Case


Additional color face plates


15 inch UXGA Screen


20 GB HD


Running Windows 2000 with XP coupon upgrade


Office XP SBE


The prices have really dropped since the model was released about a half year ago. The basic 8100 package can run under $1500! But regardless, you know what... this notebook isn't for everyone... there are still some shortcomings on this notebook!


Performance


The Inspiron lives up to legacy of the 8000 model series. It is truly meant to be a Desktop replacement. The new Pentium III-M (I will call it the PIII-M for now on) chips are smaller and run on less electricity. The advances on this processor over the older PIII mobile series means that the PIII-M processor and motherboard is significantly faster than a comparable Pentium III chip. A 866MHz PIII-M chip outpaced my PIII 1 GHz Inspiron 8000 with the exact same hardware configurations running Windows 2000 (using various standard benchmarking tests).


The screen is stunning with the crisp details of the GeForce2Go 32MB card (which may no longer be the top of the heap with the ATI Radeon Mobility 7500 chipset being released)... if you're a big spender you can go for the gusto with the 15.1 inch screen with UGA graphics. The keyboard had an excellent feel and key spacing was not cramped. No burnproof on the DVD/CD-RW though. One battery lasted only 2 1/2 hours still... huh?! What the heck?! I'll get into this a little later...


The notebook is still slower than many comparable desktops however. Likely due to things like a slower hard drive and less powerful video card than you can put into a desktop. The video card in this 8100 was a GeForce2Go 32 MB 4x AGP card. In fact, you can only choose the 16MB or 32MB version of the chipset. This is about the equivalent of a GeForce 2 MX/MX400 card with 32 MB of memory. You are not getting desktop cutting edge graphics... but it's an excellent performer even though the ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics chips have much better specs.


Sound from the speakers is a bit weak... but this is common to most notebooks with the exception of the Toshiba 2805-S402 notebook and others in the 2805 line. The Toshiba model has a built-in subwoofer... the sound of that Toshiba notebook is plain awesome!


An oddity in DVD playback on the GeForce equipped Inspirion 8000/8100 laptops was that close up viewing of the screen showed a kind of filmly layer to the picture. Colors separated with skin tones especially. This odd coloring with the GeForce2Go detracted from the overall DVD viewing on my Inspiron 8100. Again, like the 8000, running Quake III and other computer games did not exhibit this quality on the notebook screen to any notable degree. I tried The Matrix, Jet Li's Fist of Legend, My Dog Skip, and Dark City with similar results. Funny though, The Simpsons came through in vivid color!


The Inspiron 8100 is still a heavy notebook! It weighs almost 7 lbs if you remove the two optical drives from the unit... however, with this setup of having one optical drive with two batteries, I was looking at more than 8 lbs of computer hardware. The extra battery and DVD/CD-RW drive really add some weight to the computer. This is a hard notebook to carry around. Bring the AC adapter with you and a few other trinkets, you're approaching 9 to 10 lbs.


Battery issues (somewhat technical...)


Major problem here! Dell is not using the latest Intel chipsets with the PIII-M in the Inspiron 8100 series and sacrificing the Enhanced Speedstep function of the PIII-M. You sacrifice a chance at enhancing the battery life. There was only a few minutes of difference in running the PIII-M 8100 versus my PIII 8000 notebook. Without chipsets like the i830 in the 8100, the notebook utilizes the PIII-M like a regular mobile PIII. The notebook is using many of the same chips in the original 8000 notebook. So the 8100 is running regular Speedstep instead of the enhanced version on the PIII-M because the Inspiron 8100 doesn't recognize Enhanced Speedstep yet. I'm sure that Dell will correct this sometime in the future, but right now... I feel it's a major problem. Other notebook maker with the PIII-M chips and i830 chipsets are running 3-4 hours with their mid-range and high-range notebooks... a far cry to what the Inspiron 8100 is currently running at. Even the new Inspiron 4100 runs a significantly higher battery time, so far, I've seen up to 3 1/2 hours on that notebook!


The short of it is... you don't get the vaunted long battery life that the processor is capable of!


Options... and more options


The Inspiron 8000 series has many options for it... especially since the line is extremely popular. You can customize and upgrade the notebook quite a bit. All the additional accessories like port replicators and the such. A general rule is that the majority of Inspiron 8000 accessories fit the 8100 with a few minor exceptions... like memory boards.


Conclusions...


All in all, the Inspiron is a solid performer and great desktop replacement... but it lacks some features that should have been included into the notebook. The lack of an upgraded controller chipset like the i830 in almost unforgivable because it sacrifices that precious battery life! Like many computers these days, it possesses more power than the majority of consumer users will need... gamers, engineers, and graphics specialists will love this notebook. The Inspiron 8100 easily competes with the mid-range desktop segment and even some high-priced/ranged desktop segment. It is powerful enough for games and medium to high-end graphical solutions. You also have a 5 hour portable solution in your hands as well. It's hard to complain with that...


There are other downsides to the Inspiron 8100 from a notebook standpoint. It's bleeding heavy! A fully loaded Inspiron 8100 will weigh more than 8lbs! This is not the easiest of laptops to bring around with you. Customer service is a mixed bag... sometimes excellent service and other times poor service. Not unlike other vendors' customer service however.


If you are buying a notebook to replace a desktop system, this may be a good answer. If you're looking for a supplement for a desktop system, maybe you should think again... the size and weight of the notebook are major factors here. If you are using the notebook for more menial tasks like basic word processing and web surfing... then look at cheaper notebooks like the Inspiron 2100, 2500, and 4000. The new Inspiron 4100 will also suit many tasks especially with the improved battery life with the latest controller chipsets... it may only sport a Radeon Mobility M6 graphics chip but the system definitely packs a wallop! Don't forget those other notebook makers like IBM, Sony, Toshiba, and Compaq... and even the lesser known names like KDS and Sager and WinBook.



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