Dell Inspiron 8600
This wide-screen laptop is packed with conveniences, boasts a very good battery life, and has multimedia chops. But at $2840 it's expensive, and at least one competitor is a tad faster.
The 8600's all-too-rare press-and-check external power gauge saves you from having to turn on the notebook just to check battery life. That said, you shouldn't have to check too often: The 8600 gave us a generous 4.5 hours in our tests.
Need even more battery life, or more internal storage? You can pop out the 8600's DVD burner and insert an additional battery ($99 extra), or a second hard drive ($249) to expand the unit's 60GB storage by another 40GB. Thanks to the 8600's spring-loaded side release, you can make the swap using one hand.
With a strong set of speakers built into the front of the case and dedicated audio buttons, the 8600 makes a good stand-alone CD player. The volume controls, located at the top of the keyboard, are cleverly designed with rounded, concave surfaces. Separate CD control buttons run down the right side of the keyboard.
If you like a keyboard with a springy feel, the 8600's will please you. It lacks extras such as a scrolling button and application launchers, and we found that we sometimes hit the audio buttons when we wanted to hit the nearby Page Up or Page Down key. But the rest of the layout is fine, and we found typing easy overall.
Our review unit came with a 15.4-inch screen and a whopping 1920-by-1200-pixel native resolution, excellent for doing graphics work, opening multiple windows, or cramming huge spreadsheets onto the screen.
Dell sells just one choice of docking station for the 8600, the $169, 1.7-pound Advanced Port Replicator. As the name suggests, it's not much more than a convenient place to plug in your peripherals; however, it provides two additional USB ports and a DVI port, which is useful for connecting the notebook to a flat-panel monitor.
The 8600 comes equipped with Intel's 2-GHz/400-MHz Pentium M 755 chip--the fastest mobile processor available today--and 1024MB of RAM. Although it earned a WorldBench 5 score of 90 in our speed tests, one of the highest marks we've recorded, another laptop we tested this month with the same configuration, the $2499 Polywell PolyNote 3015AW, scored even higher, at 98. However, the 8600 should be plenty fast enough for any application. An excellent printed manual and the Corel WordPerfect Productivity Pack top it all off.
If you've got the money, the Dell Inspiron 8600 has solid sound, superior battery life, and thoughtful design touches.
Dell Inspiron 8600