Dell Inspiron 5100

ZDNet Editors' Choice

Dell Inspiron 5100

Summary: Home and small business users requiring a well-designed mainstream notebook with excellent performance and reasonable battery life will like the desktop Pentium 4-based Inspiron 5100.

  • Editors' rating:
  • User rating:
  • RRP:


  • Excellent performance
  • reasonable battery life
  • attractive price
  • big display
  • integrated dual-band 802.11a/b wireless antennae.


  • Big and heavy
  • media bay is fixed rather than modular.

Dell's first model in its revamped consumer notebook range, the mainstream Inspiron 5100, is different both inside and out. Gone is the buttoned-down grey case, to be replaced by a two-tone 'Venice blue and moonlight silver' design -- no, we're not making this up. Things are different under the lid as well, with a new keyboard and touchpad configuration. Inside, you'll find cutting-edge, dual-band wireless antennae, a fast Pentium 4 processor, and an enormous battery. These specifications made for excellent performance and reasonable battery life in our performance tests. Must cost a pretty penny, right? Wrong. The Inspiron 5100 range starts at £801 (ex. VAT). For the home user, the Inspiron 5100 is faster, longer lasting, and lower priced (in some configurations) than other mainstream notebooks, making it an Editors' Choices in this category.

The mainstream Inspiron 5100 series shows off a refreshing new colour scheme for Dell. The blue-and-silver case also has blue accents on the lid, the touchpad, the two standard mouse buttons and the strip above the keyboard. The case, which measures 33.5cm by 27.5cm by 4.65cm, has changed in another significant way: it now weighs a hefty 3.5kg. The blame lies primarily with its big 15in. display and giant 6,450mAh battery. Why such a big battery? Dell had to compensate for the 5100's power-hungry, desktop Pentium 4 processor, which lacks the battery-conserving capabilities of mobile CPUs. You can keep weight (and cost) down a bit by specifying a 14.1in. display instead. Dell has also reworked the keyboard. The new layout is less familiar but is comfortable nevertheless. There’s a single programmable button above the keyboard, but another cool Dell trademark, the dual touchpad/pointing-stick option, is gone -- the 5100 comes with a touchpad only. Floppies take another step toward oblivion in the new Inspiron range, as Dell omits them as a standard feature, although you can add an external USB floppy drive. Secondary storage now comes solely in optical form, with your choice of CD-RW, DVD or DVD/CD-RW drives filling the single internal bay. Unfortunately, the bay is fixed -- meaning you can't swap out a drive to insert another module such as a second battery or hard drive. Also, the primary battery bay only accepts batteries and doesn't take any other media drives. This big mainstream notebook offers all the right ports and slots. The left edge sports headphone and microphone ports, one Type II PC Card slot and your choice of integrated secondary optical storage drive (our review system shipped with a DVD/CD-RW combo drive). The right edge includes a 56Kbps modem jack, while the rear edge provides S-Video out, VGA, FireWire, Ethernet, two fast USB 2.0 ports and the grill for a big fan that keeps all of the components cool.

Dell provides a long list of options for the Inspiron 5100 so you can configure it to suit your budget. The desktop Pentium 4 processors come in speeds ranging from 2.4GHz to 2.8GHz. Fast, 266MHz DDR SDRAM is available from 128MB up to 1GB. The ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics chips come with either 16MB or 32MB of dedicated video memory. Hard drive choices consist of 30GB and 40GB units. Display options range 14.1in. with a native resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels, to 15in. at a graphics-friendly 1,400 by 1,050 pixels. You can choose among CD-RW, DVD and DVD/CD-RW drives to fill the system's internal fixed bay. The system we tested included a 2.8GHz Pentium 4, 512MB of RAM, a 32MB ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics chip and a 40GB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm. One unusual feature of the Inspiron 5100 is its built-in, dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) wireless antennae, which should optimise signal reception. Although Dell currently offers only an 802.11b wireless option for the 5100, the antennae will support nascent 802.11g technology when Dell begins selling it in the future. All 5100s ship with the antennae regardless of whether you configure your system with mini-PCI wireless when you buy. You can conveniently add a mini-PCI card yourself at a later date by flipping open the small plastic ‘door’ underneath the system. The Inspiron 5100 is stocked with all of the software you need for work or play. Two operating systems are available: Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional. Office suite choices include Microsoft Works and Microsoft Office XP (Small Business or Professional). Third-party applications include InterVideo’s WinDVD for DVD playback, and Roxio’s Easy CD Creator for CD burning.

Performance & battery life
The 2.8GHz Inspiron 5100 showed impressive speed in our performance tests, while battery life was reasonable considering the power of this system’s desktop CPU. The Inspiron 5100 delivered record-breaking scores of 59.5 and 42.4 respectively under the application-based Business Winstone 2001 and Content Creation Winstone 2002 tests, beating Compaq’s workstation-class 2.2GHz Evo 800w by a clear margin. The system performed pretty well in our battery life tests, lasting for 2 hours 38 minutes under BatteryMark 4.01 and 2 hours 42 minutes under MobileMark 2002. The Inspiron 5100's hefty 6,450mAh battery obviously has its work cut out when handling a high-speed 2.8GHz processor and a 15in. display, but anything over 2.5 hours isn't bad at all.

Service & support
A standard one-year collect and return warranty is the baseline warranty for the Inspiron 5100. Of course, you can substantially enhance your warranty with a variety of options, including three years of service, on-site repair, accidental damage protection and express service. Dell holds your hand tightly with its helpful Solution Centre software, which the company preloads on each 5100. This extensive application supplies a user guide, how-tos, links to online support options such as Dell's customer communities and more.


Dimensions (W x H x D) 33.5x4.65x27.5 cm
Weight 3.69 kg
OS & software
Operating system Windows XP Home
Software included InteVideo WinDVD, MS Works 7.0, Roxio Easy CD Creator 5, Broadcom Advanced Control Suite
Chipset & memory
Chipset Intel 845PE
RAM installed 512 MB
Number of memory slots 2
RAM capacity 1 GB
Storage controller Ultra-ATA/100
VGA (analogue) 1
Video out S-Video
GPU ATI Mobility Radeon 7500
Graphics RAM 32 MB
Display technology colour TFT
Display size 15 in
Native resolution 1400x1050 pixels
FireWire (IEEE 1394) 1
PC Card 1 x Type II
Ethernet Broadcom 440x 10/100 Integrated Controller
Modem Conexant D480 MDC V.92 Modem
Wi-Fi Dell TrueMobile 1180 WLAN Mini-PCI card (802.11b)
Pointing devices two-button touchpad
Keyboard 86 keys
Audio connectors microphone, headphone
Speakers stereo
Audio processor Sigma Tel C-Major Audio
Microphone no
Other integrated antenna supports both 802.11b and 802.11a
Service & support
Standard warranty 1 year
Service & support details collect & return
Battery technology Li-ion
Battery capacity 6450 mAh
Hard drive
Rotation speed 5400 rpm
Hard drive interface Ultra ATA/100
Hard drive capacity 40 GB
Optical storage
CD / DVD type CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo
Processor & memory
Clock speed 2.8 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Pentium 4


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Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Reviews


Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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  • 10.0

  • 5.5

    Made the mistake of ordering a Dell inspiron. Waited 8 days to get it -- and finally got one with a non-working display. Tech support estimated another 7-10 working days for repairing. Taking at least 4-5 days for shipping it to Dell and back -- this will mean I've effectively waited 3 weeks to get my laptop!
  • 7.5

    I opted for 512MB RAM (2x256) and I'll replace one of the 256 with a 512 from newegg or mwave. Recommend clean install of WinXP Pro, plus your own software packages as software that it comes with is somewhat lacking. Recommend upgrading the 8x DVD/CD or, like me, replacing it all together (really slow). ATI video drivers glitch once in a while (screen turns into many colours and shapes, refresh doesn't fix have to reboot) unfortunately no choice of Nvidia card.
  • 9.0

    Had it for 3 weeks; I am a DJ and I couldn't ask for a better laptop -- works great.
  • 9.0

  • 8.0

    Let down by tech support in India who, if cannot answer your question from their 'crib sheet' will assume you are a technophobe -- thus fobbing you off with trivial checks, BIOS updates etc, that are irrelevant to your problem. The Philips DVD+RW is c**p ! -- will not read disks it wrote !!! Dell knows of this but still persists with replacing your drive with another of the same make. Get an NEC DVD+RW from them, it is 4X and works a treat. Apart from that, so far so good.
  • 2.0

    overheating problem a huge huge issue with this model. READ OTHER reviews. dont get this computer!
  • 4.5

    I've had the Dell 5100 for around 3-4 years. Sudden loss of power witout warning has been a perennial problem. This makes every other experience with the machine crap and dell need to sort it and support customers warranty or no warranty. Because of this I won't purchase Dell again and actively discourage others from doing so.
  • 5.0

  • 6.0

    If I was writing this review in late 2003, I would be in the same boat as all the late 2003 reviewers; I would say that I absolutely LOVED the laptop, that it was the perfect balance between performance and price, and that Dell was amazing!

    Unfortunately, all those sentiments completely changed in December 2004, 14 months after owning the computer, when (after limited use for about a whole month before December) it mysteriously refused to turn on, no matter what configuration of adapter plugged in/out, battery in/out, etc. I tried. Dell Support (which, incidentally, was able to speak English just fine, although noticeably from India, which I don't find to be a problem since we have some really stupid and unintelligible here in the US as well), after some rudimentary testing, decided that the motherboard and CPU needed to be replaced, and since I only paid for the 1 year warranty, that it had to be 100% my cost!

    I explained to Dell how I buy on average 2 PC/laptops from them a month for clients of mine, and how their decision to not do anything about this issue (like RECALL the 5100!) has made me change my mind about them completely, and how they need to find a better resolution to this issue and not screw me over, etc etc, but I have yet to hear from them on what they're willing to do for me.

    Until you hear otherwise from other people, DO NOT BUY THIS LAPTOP! It's a deathwish, plain and simple. Furthermore, if you chose to buy a Dell, don't get anything less than a 2-year warranty, as most people seem to have lost their precious laptops within the first year and some months!
  • 10.0

    This thing is awesome -- the only thing bad I can say is my eyes hurt from being on for too long. A must for those who want perfomance and price.
  • 8.5

    It's got everything I want at a good price. With built-in Wi-Fi I search the Net from my lounge chair. I check them all -- the 5100 was the best buy.
  • 8.0

    Get the 2.6GHz but also upgrade the graphics to 64MB. it will perform fomidably. Good laptop, but heavy. Though I prefer the quality and feel of Compaq plastics and Compaq's chrome finish, this is a better performer for the price.
  • 9.5

  • 9.5

  • 7.0

    Bulky and heavy. I also had overheating problems. Called dell support, they came and replaced heat sink. Now it is a lot quiter and it does not overheat.
  • 8.5

  • 3.5

    It constantly overheated and after talking to Dell support, I got nowhere. I finally found the problem and fix and had to do it myself. So much for the three-year extended warranty. Also, I just had the computer damaged through a water spill and tried to contact Dell support to get information on a new system board, HDD and video card and again, got nowhere. I do however like the overall internal design of the computer. Having seperate boards, makes it easier and cheaper to replace parts when needed. Oh, that's if you can get the part numbers from Dell. They have the worst customer support ever imagined.
  • 5.0

    After six months of use, this model overheats and shuts down, then 1 month later you have a new motherboard installed by tech support, then 6 months later it starts again, but this time, you are 1 month out of warranty and you're stuffed. use an application at 100CPU usage for 60 minutes Eg: a DVD riping program.
  • 2.5

    Because of the design flaw (that DELL won't admit to) the poor machine OVER HEATS then turn's OFF without warning! This will in the end destroy software, ardware, and BIOS. DON'T BUY ONE LIKE I DID.

    Cutomer services are VERY POOR. Refused to reply to telephone and email reports, then near end of warranty they decided they'd talk to me, then warranty ended before problem was solved, they didn't want to talk anymore.