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Dell Inspiron 510m

  • Editors' rating
    7.8 Very good

Pros

  • Solid performance, good battery life
  • good range of wireless connectivity and expansion ports

Cons

  • Bulky and heavy for a 'thin and light' notebook

Observers of the notebook scene will have long concluded that Dell can make thoroughly worthy mid-range products, and the Inspiron 510m is further evidence of this. Of its kind, the 510m is notably well equipped. If you're happy to trade off size and weight for flexibility and connectivity, you might as well get the works -- and with parallel, serial, dual USB, IEEE 1394, infrared, SVGA, PC Card, modem and 10/100 Ethernet, there's not a lot you can't plug in except a PS/2 keyboard or mouse.

Our review model came with a dual-band 802.11a/b/g adapter and Bluetooth (much more wireless, and it would be able to talk to Beagle 2). There's a choice of four or six cell battery (ours had the latter), and a storage device bay that came with a DVD/CD-RW drive but will also house an extra 40GB hard disk to augment the 60GB internal drive.

All this comes at the expense of a certain bulk that belies Dell's 'thin and light' designation for the 510m. At 2.6kg and 33cm (W) by 27 cm (D) by 3.3cm (H), this is no miniature of the species, and Dell's muted styling in silvers, greys and cobalt is an exercise in futuristic workmanlike aesthetics.

Everything works well enough: the lid release button is solid, positive and easy to operate; the stereo speakers recessed into the front produce enough volume for personal consumption and sound as good as a reasonably expensive transistor radio; the keyboard and two-button trackpad are as good as twelve years of portable computer experience can make them. However, you'll look in vain for smartcard readers, integrated cameras or keyboard lights -- the 510m isn't that sort of beast.

Functionally, the Inspiron 510m does the job. It has some good points: for example, the 802.11a/b/g Dell TrueMobile 1400 wireless LAN module, which is based on Broadcom's BCM4039 chip, has been reported to work under Linux; also, the 1,400 by 1,050 SVGA+ resolution 15in. TFT display is fine in most office, home and transport lighting conditions. Among the less good points is the choice of Intel's 855GM integrated graphics system: although most people won't know or care about this, it's not the chip of choice for the ardent gamer.

The benchmarks show the computer to be a moderate performer under MobileMark 2002, with a productivity score of 153 -- not out of line for a 1.7GHz Pentium M system with 512MB of RAM, but hardly pulling up trees either.

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Battery life is good. We got 3 hours 46 minutes out of the MobileMark 2002 test with the supplied 53WHr six-cell battery, and found we could expect around four hours' moderate use with low screen lighting and medium network activity. One tiny niggle: there is a function key combination (Fn+F3) to bring up the battery meter on screen, but unlike other function key shortcuts it doesn't toggle -- once brought up, you have to click on OK or press Enter to remove it. That's a small piece of counter-intuitive design, although the fact that it's noticeable highlights how smoothly the rest of the computer works.

As configured above, the Inspiron 510m costs £1,293 (ex. VAT), but the range starts from £908 (ex. VAT) for a 14.1in. screen, 1.4 GHz Pentium M, 40GB hard disk and no Bluetooth.

Being a thoroughly online company, Dell prefers you to seek your warranty and support options through its Web site. As specified, the review system includes a three-year European collect and return policy -- you can boost that to next business day on-site maintenance for £49 (ex. VAT). Electronic documentation, Web-based tutorials and live chat links to Dell technical support staff come through the Solution Center software, and there is no shortage of other online areas for discussion and problem resolution.

Dell's Inspiron 510m is a solid performer, if a little too solid for extreme portability. Doughty rather than flashy, it will fit into a wide variety of roles in the business and at home and makes an excellent general purpose notebook for those who don't have to travel too far.

NOTE: Dell’s E-Value code for this review system is 200 I12REV

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