ZDNet Editors' Choice

Dell Inspiron 8600

Summary: Building on the success of its 8500 predecessor, the Inspiron 8600 combines state-of-the-art components with a proven design to deliver an excellent multimedia-orientated desktop replacement notebook.

  • Editors' rating:
    8.3
  • User rating:
    0.0

Pros

  • Top-notch specification
  • excellent performance – especially 3D acceleration
  • wide-screen 15.4in. display
  • dual-band wireless antennae.

Cons

  • Relatively hefty, with a large footprint.

If you're looking for a notebook on which to watch DVD movies, play games or edit video, then Dell's new Inspiron 8600 should be at the top of your shortlist. On the other hand, if you want something portable and affordable on which to run your business productivity software, then this £1,599 (ex. VAT) system is seriously over-specified. Featuring a 1.7GHz Pentium M processor, 512MB of 266MHz DDR RAM, a 15.4in. wide-screen display, Nvidia's new GeForce FX Go 5650 graphics chip with 128MB of video RAM and an 80GB hard disk, the Inspiron 8600 is a state-of-the-art notebook that takes no prisoners.

Design
As far as design is concerned, the 8600 looks identical to its 8500 predecessor, the defining component being its 15.4in. wide-screen display. Designed primarily for viewing DVD movies, this 16:10 aspect ratio LCD requires a sizeable notebook to house it, and the Inspiron 8600 duly measures 35.9cm wide by 27.4cm deep by 3.8cm high; our review sample weighed a hefty 3.32kg without the AC adapter. We had the highest-resolution 1,920-by-1,200-pixel screen, which is great if you want a large workspace; however, it can make screen icons, toolbars and type very small. You'll probably need to use Dell's Quickset utility to reset the size of icons and toolbars, and perhaps adjust the font size in Display Properties/Appearance to get a comfortable working environment. As with the 8500 model, you can jazz up the default silver livery of the 8600's lid cover with a choice of optional £20 (ex. VAT) add-ons -- they come in Bamboo, Burlwood, Graphite and Venice Blue. Without any such embellishment, the 8600's look and feel is pretty middle-of-the-road: there's no unnecessary design gimmickry, and it feels quite solidly built without being particularly ruggedised. With so much space to play with, you get an 88-key keyboard with a sensible desktop-style layout -- all that's missing is the separate number keypad that you only get on truly gargantuan notebooks like Acer's Aspire 1700 series. There are dual pointing devices: a conventional two-button touchpad, and a keyboard-embedded trackpoint with a further pair of buttons just below the spacebar. The keyboard is flanked by a set of CD control buttons to the right, while at the top there are volume and mute buttons. Stereo speakers mounted on the front edge deliver reasonable sound by notebook standards, although DVD movie buffs will probably want to attach a set of external speakers when at home. To make the 8600 a true desktop replacement system, you may want to consider adding the £140 (ex. VAT) D/Port port replicator, which adds connectors such as PS/2, DVI and SP/DIF audio-out that are missing from the main system unit.

Features
Unlike its predecessor, which was based on the Mobile Pentium 4-M processor, the Inspiron 8600 is a Centrino system, using the latest 1.7GHz Pentium M chip backed up in our review system by 512MB of 266MHz DDR memory. There are two SODIMM slots, so you can fit a maximum of 2GB of RAM if you really need it. Hard drive sizes range from 30GB to 80GB, our review sample coming with the latter. There's a single modular drive bay, fitted in our system with the top-end component, a Philips DVD+RW drive: alternative choices include DVD-ROM, DVD/CD-RW combo, a second 40GB hard disk, a second battery and a floppy drive. The 15.4in. wide-screen LCD can be driven by a selection of graphics chips, from ATI's Mobility Radeon 9000 with 32MB of video RAM, through Nvidia's GeForce4 4200 Go with 64MB ( as featured on the 8500 model we tested a few months ago), up to the new GeForce FX Go5650 with a whopping 128MB. As detailed below, the latter component delivered record-breaking 3D performance in our review system. By default, the Inspiron 8600 comes with the Centrino-standard Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 802.11b Mini-PCI card, but you can specify Dell's b/g TrueMobile 1300 or a/b/g TrueMobile 1400 options if you're prepared to pay £30 (ex. VAT) more. The 8600 can also accommodate Blueooth internally, although this is a £39 (ex. VAT) factory install option that requires you to specify the 64MB GeForce4 4200 Go graphics chip as well. As far as I/O is concerned, the Inspiron provides what you'd expect in a desktop replacement system: serial, parallel, VGA, two USB 2.0, S-Video-out, FireWire plus audio (microphone and headphone) ports, and a single Type II PC Card slot. There are also RJ-11 and RJ-45 ports for the modem and 10/100 Ethernet connections respectively. If you need more, you'll have to buy the optional D/Port mentioned above.

Performance & battery life
Considering that its specification is state-of-the-notebook-art, it's no surprise to find that the Inspiron 8600 is an excellent performer. Its Business Winstone 2001 score of 66.3 makes this the fastest Pentium M system we've tested to date when running mainstream business applications, while its Content Creation Winstone 2002 score of 35.8 shows that it'll handle high-end applications with aplomb, too. If you're a gamer and you select the 128MB GeForce FX Go5650 option, you won't be disappointed. In fact, you should be delighted with the 8600's record-breaking score of 9,955 under 3DMark 2001 SE (1,024 by 768 resolution, 32-bit colour depth). Basic 3D performance like this will allow you to turn on the graphics chip's image quality enhancements such as anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering and still get good frame rates. Battery life may not be a key concern with a hefty desktop replacement system such as the Inspiron 8600, but if you do become separated from a source of mains power, you can expect to get around three hours' life from the system's 9-cell, 6,486mAh Li-ion battery in desktop mode. If you need more uptime, you can apply more conservative power management settings, or buy a second battery for the modular bay for £69 (ex. VAT).

Service & support
Dell provides a wide range of warranty and support options via its Web site. The price for the review system includes a three-year European collect and return policy; this can be extended to next business day on-site for another £49 (ex. VAT). Dell's Solution Center software provides a wealth of electronic documentation, Web-based tutorials and live chat links to Dell technical support staff. Dell's Web site also provides user forums and FAQs, so you shouldn't find yourself alone with a problem for long. NOTE: Dell’s E-Value code for this review system is 200 I08REV

Specifications

General
Screen type Wide-screen
Notebook type Mid-size laptops (6-7.5 lbs.)
Memory
Max RAM Supported 2 GB
Modem
Max Transfer Rate 56 Kbps
Software
Software Included Corel WordPerfect Productivity Pack, MusicMatch Jukebox
Dimensions & Weight
Height 1.4 in
Weight 6.900 lbs

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Reviews

About

Hello, I'm the Reviews Editor at ZDNet UK. My experience with computers started at London's Imperial College, where I studied Zoology and then Environmental Technology. This was sufficiently long ago (mid-1970s) that Fortran, IBM punched-card machines and mainframes were involved, followed by green-screen terminals and eventually the pers... Full Bio

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