- Superb performance, especially from the ATI Mobility Radeon 9000-based graphics subsystem
- high-quality, high-resolution 15in. screen
- excellent multimedia features, including FireWire, S-Video-out and digital audio-out ports.
- Bulky and heavy
- poor battery life unless a second battery is fitted.
Dell's Inspiron 8200 range of desktop replacement notebooks is regularly the first to showcase a new flagship Intel mobile processor, and the latest 2.2GHz Mobile Pentium 4-based model is no exception. Another first with this particular Inspiron 8200 is its leading-edge graphics accelerator -- ATI's Mobility Radeon 9000. Previous high-end Inspiron 8200s have used nVidia's GeForce4 440 Go chip, to good effect. However, the Mobility Radeon 9000 takes notebook 3D graphics performance to another level. If you're looking for a no-holds-barred notebook performer, and you don't mind its considerable bulk and 3.74kg weight, look no further than this Inspiron 8200 model.
The new 2.2GHz Mobile Pentium 4 processor clocks down to 1.2GHz when running in SpeedStep's Battery Optimised mode. In battery mode, the operating voltage also drops from 1.3V to 1.2V, resulting in an average power drain of less than 2 Watts, according to Intel. Featuring Intel's 845MP chipset and 512MB of 266MHz DDR SDRAM (expandable to 1GB), this Inspiron 8200 has as powerful a CPU/memory subsystem as we've seen in a notebook to date.
Incremental increases in CPU clock speed are hardly big news these days, but a significant boost in 3D graphics functionality and performance undoubtedly is. Notebooks have been able to deliver reasonable 3D acceleration ever since nVidia launched the GeForce2 Go chip some 18 months ago, and today's nVidia GeForce4 440 Go and ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 products are excellent products. However, the new Mobility Radeon 9000 is a different beast altogether. For a start, it is fully DirectX 8.1 compatible, featuring programmable pixel and vertex shaders for the first time in a mobile graphics chip. Other advanced features include a fast 4-pixel pipeline, anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, video deblocking, dynamic power management, multi-monitor support and enhanced scaling. In partnership with 64MB of DDR video memory, all this adds up to a notebook graphics subsystem that’s well ahead of the current competition.
Our review notebook had a display that was well matched to this cutting-edge graphics chip: an ‘enhanced’ 15in. TFT screen with a native resolution of 1,600 by 1,200 pixels – the ‘enhanced’ nomenclature refers to the screen’s higher brightness, faster response time, higher contrast ratio and wider viewing angles than conventional UXGA displays.
The remainder of the specification is standard-issue Inspiron 8200: the hard disk is a high-capacity (60GB) 5,400rpm IBM TravelStar; the fixed optical drive is a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo unit; and the primary battery is a 4,460mAh Li-ion unit that can be supplemented by a second battery in the system’s front-mounted modular bay. This bay can accommodate a variety of other drives -- hard disk, floppy, Zip, DVD-ROM and CD-RW. As well as the usual ‘legacy’ ports (serial, parallel, VGA, PS/2, infrared), there’s a pair of USB ports, a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port and an S-Video out port for viewing DVD movies on an external TV screen. A special cable that fits into the S-Video port provides additional support for composite video and digital audio out (SP/DIF). Expansion is available via the usual pair of stacked Type II PC Card slots, while wired V92 modem and 10/100 Ethernet connectivity is integrated. If you need a wireless 802.11b connection, you can specify an internal Mini-PCI card or use one of the PC Card slots.
Did we mention that the 2.2GHz Inspiron 8200 was fast? In fact, overall, it’s the fastest notebook we’ve tested to date. The two most impressive benchmarks it delivered were: a Content Creation Winstone 2002 score of 33.6 -- 17.1 per cent better than the previous incumbent of the top spot in this test (Hi-Grade’s 2.2GHz desktop P4-based Ultinote M6500); and a 3DMark 2001 score of 6,699 – a massive 34.6 per cent better than the Inspiron 8200 model based around the 1.7GHz Mobile P4 and the GeForce4 440 Go. Naturally this 2.2GHz system runs mainstream applications at an excellent lick, delivering a Business Winstone 2001 score of 47.2 (the workstation-class Dell Precision M40 has a marginally higher score of 47.5, but the difference is not statistically significant).
Battery life isn’t likely to be critical with a bulky desktop replacement system such as this, which is just as well: with the standard battery installed, BatteryMark 4.01 reported a touch under two hours’ life; with a second 4,460mAh battery fitted in the modular bay in place of the floppy drive, this figure rises to four hours and five minutes -- but the system weight also rises from a hefty 3.74kg to a very hefty 3.93kg.
Supplied with a one-year European collect and return warranty (various extended options are available), this £1,749 (ex. VAT) system currently leads the field in portable (or more accurately, transportable) performance -- especially when it comes to 3D graphics.