Dell Inspiron 8500

ZDNet Editors' Choice

Dell Inspiron 8500

Summary: With its wide-aspect 15.4in. screen, excellent performance and reasonable battery life, Dell's redesigned Inspiron 8500 series is a mobile media powerhouse.

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


  • Fast (especially 3D graphics)
  • wide-aspect display
  • dual-band wireless antennae.


  • Flimsy keyboard
  • erratic mouse buttons
  • relatively hefty, with a large footprint.

Dell should bundle a big supply of popcorn with its new Inspiron 8500 series, because the laptop's awesome 15.4in. wide-aspect display will have you watching DVD movies all night. This completely redesigned desktop replacement system has plenty more in store as well, including the fastest Mobile Pentium 4-M processors, integrated dual-band antennae for 802.11b and 802.11g wireless and excellent performance. All of these features are wrapped in a silver case that you can customise with QuickSnap lid covers in a variety of colours. For all that it offers, the Inspiron 8500 range's £1,256 (ex. VAT) starting price is reasonable. Any way you look at it, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a cooler, faster desktop replacement notebook than the Inspiron 8500 series, which is why it's an Editors' Choice in this category.

With the advent of the Apple iBook a few years back, coloured plastics briefly became all the notebook rage. Dell attempts to rekindle that enthusiasm with the Inspiron 8500 series. Naked, the case exterior is completely silver; snap on one of the £15 (ex. VAT) optional lid covers, and the 8500 assumes a whole new look. You can get Bamboo, Burlwood, Graphite and Venice Blue (the latter was fitted on our review sample, which made it look a lot like another new Inspiron, the mainstream 5100 model). The Inspiron 8500 series's 36.1cm by 27.6cm by 3.9cm case is especially broad due to its wide-aspect, 15.4in. display. The bright, crisp display comes in two different resolutions: WSXGA+ (1,680 by 1,050 pixels) or -- as in our review sample -- WUXGA (1,920 by 1,200 pixels). Either one is great for watching DVD movies, many of which are optimised for wide-aspect viewing. And when it's time to get back to work, the wide-aspect screen lets you view two windows side by side. Despite its girth, the system stays fairly trim by including just one swappable bay for secondary storage drives and other modules. Our review system included a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, but you can also order CD, DVD, CD-RW and floppy drives, plus a second battery to fill the bay. The whole package weighs 3.53kg (4.09kg with the AC adapter). That's a bit lighter than most full-sized, three-spindle desktop replacements (including Dell's own Inspiron 8200 series), but significantly heavier than similar two-spindle, wide-screen designs that blur the lines between a desktop replacement and a thin-and-light system, such as Apple's PowerBook G4. The extra-wide case leaves lots of room for a spacious keyboard with a familiar desktop-like layout, but the keyboard felt flimsy to us. We also found the four mouse buttons to be a little erratic: the two under the spacebar (you're supposed to use them with the pointing stick) depress too far, while the other two beneath the touchpad barely move. However, we appreciated the CD controls to the right of the keyboard and buttons for volume up, down and mute located above the keyboard. The two speakers on the front edge emit clear, although not booming, sound. The Inspiron 8500 series includes the ports and slots you'd expect in a desktop replacement. On the left edge, you'll find one Type II PC Card slot, headphone and microphone jacks, FireWire and infrared. The back edge features S-Video out, RJ-45, RJ-11, parallel, VGA, serial and two USB 2.0 ports.

A consumer desktop replacement should be packed to the rafters with the very latest parts -- and the Inspiron 8500 series doesn't disappoint. You can load up the system with the fastest Mobile Pentium 4-M processors at speeds from 2GHz to 2.4GHz. Main memory comes in increments of 128MB up to a whopping 2GB. You can choose hard drives ranging from 30GB to 60GB at two different rotational speeds. The system's one internal, swappable bay can be outfitted with a CD, DVD, CD-RW, DVD/CD-RW or floppy drive, a second hard drive, or a second battery. And two graphics chips are available: a 32MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 or a 64MB Nvidia GeForce 4 4200 Go. The configuration we tested included a 2.4GHz Intel Pentium 4-M, 512MB of DDR SDRAM, a 60GB 4,200rpm hard drive and an Nvidia GeForce4 4200 Go graphics card with 64MB of video memory. The Inspiron 8500 series's innovations extend to wireless. As with the new Inspiron 5100, the 8500 includes two integrated antennae with dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) capabilities. This setup will support the current norm in the wireless world -- 11Mbps 802.11b -- as well as the faster 54Mbps 802.11g. You can add wireless to the system through a convenient, internal Mini-PCI slot, or if you already have a wireless PC Card, the Inspiron 8500 series will support it as well. Our review sample had the 802.11b TrueMobile 1180 Mini-PCI card fitted, but Dell will shortly offer the dual-standard 802.11b/g TrueMobile 1300 card. Dell also provides the option to build Bluetooth into the system. The software options are typical of most Dell models. You can choose either Windows XP Home or Windows XP Professional, as well as one of three different office suites.

Performance & battery life
As you'd expect from its specification, the 2.4GHz/512MB Inspiron 8500 is a very good performer, delivering scores of 52.3 under Business Winstone 2001 and 30.5 under Content Creation Winstone 2002. However, neither of these scores are good enough to threaten the fastest notebooks we've tested -- namely Dell's 2.8GHz desktop Pentium 4-based Inspiron 5100 and Acer's 1.6GHz Pentium M-based TravelMate 800. Where the Inspiron 8500 clearly excels is in 3D graphics, thanks to its 64MB Nvidia GeForce4 4200 Go GPU. This is the first time we've tested the GeForce4 4200 Go, and its 3DMark 2001 score of 9,346 is easily the fastest we've recorded. The previous 3DMark 2001 title holder, Acer's TravelMate 800 (which uses a 64MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9000), scored 7,285 on this test. The Inspiron 8500's 28 per cent advantage over the previous fastest 3D performer is remarkable, and means that it can truly claim to deliver 3D acceleration to rival a desktop PC. The Inspiron 8500 is a powerful and hefty 3kg desktop replacement, and delivers the sort of battery life you'd expect for a system of this type: 2 hours 46 minutes under Batterymark 4.01, and 2 hours 45 minutes under MobileMark 2002's battery test. However, this result requires the use of a bulky and heavy 11.1V, 6,486mAh Li-ion battery -- testament to the power requirements not only of the fast 2.4GHz processor, but also the large, high-resolution 1,900 by 1,200 display. Note that the considerably thinner and lighter Pentium M-based Acer TravelMate 800 delivers similar application performance, along with 2 hours' more battery life.

Service & support
A one-year, parts-and-labour plan with return-to-depot service is the standard warranty for the Inspiron 8500 series. The company also offers a laundry list of extended warranty options that provide everything from on-site fixes by Dell's technical representatives and extra-fast express service to a long three years of free service and protection against accidental damage to your system. Free, around-the-clock telephone support is also included with the Inspiron 8500 series. If you're the type to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, Dell's extensive, preloaded Solution Center software is where you'd start. The program provides several self-help avenues, including electronic copies of the informative user's guide and plenty of how-to tips. The application also contains direct links to Dell's support Web site, where you can seek further assistance in the user forums and FAQ database.


Dimensions (W x H x D) 36.1x3.9x27.6 cm
Weight 3.53 kg
OS & software
Operating system Windows XP Home
Software included Microsoft Works 7.0, Dell QuickSet, Easy CD Creator 5, InterVideo WinDVD
Chipset & memory
Chipset Intel 845
RAM installed 512 MB
Number of memory slots 2
RAM capacity 2 GB
Storage controller Ultra-ATA/100
VGA (analogue) 1
Video out S-Video
GPU Nvidia GeForce4 4200 Go
Graphics RAM 64 MB
Display technology colour TFT
Display size 15.4 in
Native resolution 1900x1200 pixels
Serial 1
Parallel 1
FireWire (IEEE 1394) 1
Docking station port yes
PC Card 1 x Type II
Ethernet Broadcom 440x 10/100 Integrated Controller
Modem PCTEL 2304WT V.92 MDC Modem
Wi-Fi Dell TrueMobile 1180 WLAN Mini-PCI card (802.11b)
Infrared 1
Bluetooth optional
Pointing devices two-button touchpad; two-button trackpoint
Keyboard 88 keys
Audio connectors microphone, headphone
Speakers stereo
Audio processor SigmaTel C-Major Audio
Microphone yes
Accessories LCD back covers (£15), second 40GB hard drive (£240), second 48Wh Li-ion battery (£79), port replicator with AC adapter (£140), monitor stand for port replicator (£39)
Service & support
Standard warranty 1 year
Service & support details warranty extension to 3 years international next business day (£199)
Battery technology Li-ion
Battery capacity 6486 mAh
Hard drive
Rotation speed 4200 rpm
Hard drive interface Ultra ATA/100
Hard drive capacity 60 GB
Optical storage
CD / DVD type CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo
Processor & memory
Clock speed 2.4 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Mobile Pentium 4-M


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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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  • 6.0

    An alright machine, but pray you don't have to use Dell support. You can plan on spending 45 minutes on the line if you need technical support. I think that's planned because I called 3 times and waited that long each time. What's really neat is that you get to talk to a tech support representative who knows less than you do! You may as well save some bucks and buy from a different company.
  • 8.5

  • 9.0

    Seems to me that this is the best notebook you can buy for this money with all the features it has. I'm using it in my wireless network and it works great.
    I needed the (Dutch) helpdesk once till now. I got an answer within 36 hours. I think that’s real fast if you compare it with some companies.
  • 6.0

    I've been using the 8500 for 2 months now. I love the performance and the screen, but hate the low-buget plastic Dell use. My case has 2 cracks on it already! One on the bottom from where the docking connector is and the other one is on the side of the screen frame.

    The configuration that I have has a 2.4GHz CPU, the ATI graphic chips and the 1680x1050 screen. If you don't need ultra-fast graphics for games, this is the best combination. I got close to 3.5 hrs casual usage out from a fully charged battery (Running on battery saving mode -- i.e. 514MHz).
  • 7.5

  • 5.5

    I had mine in November 2003. At Christmas the DVD drive started playing up. I sent it back to Dell, who kept it for 3 weeks. It came back with the DVD drive still not working. They had changed the operating system from XP Pro to XP home, the DVD drive decoders were not installed, many other programs were missing. They offered to send an engineer. But if they can't fix it in 3 weeks, what hope? Trading standards advised me to pursue a claim against Dell. So far Dell has not responded to any communications. I have a dead machine. It was good when it worked, but tech support seems to be run by 15-year-olds. Buy one and see. Good machine, but in the UK at least, pray yours doesn't need help. I'm buying a Mac next time, there's a local agent at Brighton.
  • 4.5

    Though really heavy, the computer worked pretty well for about a year; however, as soon as my warranty was up, it quit. I've had the same problems as everyone else. I cannot put my laptop on my lap, as it runs way too hot, and I often get errors messages which require me to reboot because of the heat. In addition, I usually have to reboot at least two times whenever I use it, and have gotten the "Blue Screen of Death" several times. Obviously, some of these problems are Windows based, but honestly, for the processing speed and amount of RAM I have in it, the CPU shouldn't be acting up so much at 18 months. The screen is BEAUTIFUL, but that's about it. The keyboard rattles, case is cheap, and support is awful. I definitely made an expensive mistake. Next time, I'm getting a Powerbook.
  • 4.0

    I bought mine 8 months ago. I had to send the first one back, and I am on my second one. It is still the worst computer I have ever owned. I expect a lot more from Dell.
  • 8.5

  • 8.5

  • 5.5

    I bought this machine May 2003, I had interference noise from the CD drive(I was told this was normal), USB played up when I inserted a 2.5in. HD caddy, 2 weeks later the display flex broke. April 2004 and the display is faulty again. Will it last another year once it's replaced?
  • 8.0

    Monitor went bad and Dell sent replacement within three days no questions. Customer (me) was able to replace at home! If you want to replace desktop with a compatable laptop, the 8500 is the way to go. However if you want mobility, go with a smaller screen and weight.
  • 9.5

    Love the graphics. No problems whatsoever.
  • 3.5

    Initially Dell were good to deal with (well they would be when they want your money wouldn't they?). However things went downhill as soon as they had my cash.
    They sent the laptop with a floppy drive but no CD-RW as I specified -- after changing their Website they swore blind that it was never advertised with one ... but they would sell me one for £15. As I had just ordered this £1600 laptop and a £1200 media projector from them and taken every option for the highest spec possible they still wouldn't concede their mistake ... but offered the CD-RW for £10 now ! After a LOT of hassle they finally conceded and supplied what I had originally ordered!

    The laptop is slow, the keyboard is cheap & nasty and rattles ("It's designed like that" I was told !?!). I have just tried to use the Bluetooth facility to find that it isn't installed !?!?!? As it's now about 18 months old I realise that there's no chance on earth of getting any joy out of DEll.

    I'm left feeling that, having trusted to Dell's reputation, I made a very expensive mistake. I'm disappointed with their product. Their customer service is disgraceful! There is no way that I would recommend Dell to anyone.
  • 9.0

    At the time I bought mine, it was the only laptop I found that offered the GeoForce Video Card. This laptop kicks butt with all the games I play and DVDs I watch with my wife. Adding an optical mouse ($10 from Staples) made it complete which took care of the only problem of an occasional mouse pointer creep. Of course I maxed out the screen size and resolution which gives me ample real estate when opening multple apps or instances of apps. The modular bay makes swapping out the DVD with floppy a no-brainer when needed on occasion. Coming from the old stick mouse control to the touch pad took awhile but I finally got used to it and I was glad it came with both. This computer is solid like my 1996 GSXR 750 Sportbike. Takes a beating and keeps on rockin'. Hack on brothers.
  • 10.0

  • 6.0

    I bought this laptop in November 2003 and the screen and initial performance were excellent.

    It runs very hot and is now very slow;
    The screen frame has cracked;
    The screen has had to be replaced (the engineer says he replaces lots of inspiron screens "must be a design fault")and the screen seems to be on its way out again - after 10 days!
    Support is terrible - like other reviewers i found the support desk spoke poor english, had no grasp of UK Pc 'issues' ("what's PC world?" !?!?) and have no real desire to help you when you have a problem.

    This is my third dell laptop in 6 years and it will be my last. The quality has definitely slipped and the support isn't there to deal with the consequences of that.

    Buy sony / toshiba / compaq but not dell if you need to rely on your laptop.
  • 7.5

    I have owned my 8500 for about 15 months now, having had a Ins 3700 before which did have keyboard problems which Dell did fix quickly, the 8500 does for me, I move it around, it has survived a couple of drops and still works fine, a quick machine, as time goes on will be suceeeded I am sure, but am happy so far!!
  • 8.5

    Don't get me wrong, Dell makes great desktops, but their laptops need a bit of work. I love my dell inspiron 8500 as a desktop replacement, but as a laptop, it's really quite heavy, and the keyboard is flimsy as many people have already pointed out. It's fast, and can keep up to my everyday requirements on my desk - but as soon as I need to take it somewhere else, it becomes a burden. When I put it in my already heavy bag, it's almost too heavy to carry around! On the plane, I can barely use it unless I have first class seating. So if you plan on using this laptop primarily as a desktop replacement, I strongly agree with your decision, but if you happen to travel quite a bit, you definately require something lighter.
  • 4.5

    Problems: standby does not work; poor keyboard; can reach temparatures of 75 degrees C (I had to buy a device to sit under the unit to help keep a good airflow); Dell support is based in India, had a really frustrating time trying to explain the problems and eventually gave up.

    Am looking for a replacement laptop now.