Dell Inspiron 4100

  • Editors' rating
    7.2 Very good


  • Good performance and battery life
  • dual cursor controls and a great keyboard
  • strong software and documentation
  • high-end components.


  • Single USB port
  • no IEEE 1394 connector
  • no dedicated audio, volume or mute buttons.

Equipped with Intel's 1.2GHz Mobile Pentium III Processor-M, the Dell Inspiron 4100 is predictably fast. This 2.6kg two-spindle notebook is also a no-nonsense, portable package featuring high-quality components. But if you're looking for an adventurous form factor full of snappy design elements, you might want to look elsewhere.

To supplement its cutting-edge processor, our review model included 256MB of RAM, Intel's 830 chipset and ATi's Mobility Radeon graphics subsystem with 16MB of video RAM. The Inspiron 4100 certainly delivers impressive performance, turning in a score of 35.5 in the mainstream application based Business Winstone 2001 test. However, that's not as fast the other 1.2GHz system we've tested recently, Sony's VAIO PCG-GR215SP, which scored 41. Nor does it approach Dell's 1.13GHz Inspiron 8100, which still holds the record at 44.2. The main culprit on our review system appears to be the 30GB Hitachi hard disk, which was outperformed by 44 per cent and 73 per cent by the VAIO's and the Inspiron 8100's hard disks respectively.

The Inspiron 4100 handles most video and graphics tasks well. DVD playback from the system's swappable DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive looks excellent at full screen, with little pixelation and no discernable stuttering. Gamers will also like the notebook's high 3D frame rates: our test unit scored 1,636 under the 3DMark 2001 test -- that's fast, although nowhere near the 2,000-plus score that the leading-edge GeForce2 Go graphics chip -- as used in Dell's Inspiron 8100 -- can generate. The Inspiron 4100 features a 14.1in. screen with a native resolution of 1,400 by 1,050 pixels. Based on our battery testing, you'll be able to play games for just over three hours, which is a good result.

We love the Inspiron's keyboard, which strikes the perfect balance between resistance and key travel for a feel reminiscent of a standard desktop keyboard. Key layout is excellent, with full-sized Tab and Backspace keys and well-situated arrow buttons. The Inspiron's dual pointing devices are also a nice touch. Unfortunately, though, there are no dedicated audio-CD controls or one-touch Web buttons (save for a single programmable key that defaults to the excellent Dell Solution Center). Dell preloads a good assortment of documentation and help files on the Inspiron 4100's hard drive.

As far as aesthetics and connectivity are concerned, the system delivers more mixed results. Its standard matte-black case is pretty uninspired, and the snap-in colour attachments for wrist rest and screen lid aren't to everyone's liking. The Inspiron 4100 also features those annoying dummy PC Cards rather than spring-mounted doors. And although our review model came with built-in Ethernet and modem connections, there's no room for built-in wireless 802.11b networking and neither an IEEE 1394 port nor a second USB connector.

The Inspiron 4100 is a fast and solid two-spindle notebook that's suitable for a wide range of mobile professionals. But if you want something a little bit out of the ordinary design-wise, you'll need to look elsewhere.