capsule review

Dell Inspiron 9300

At a Glance
  • Dell Inspiron 9300

    PCWorld Rating

Dell Inspiron 9300
Artwork: Rick Rizner, John Goddard

The Dell Inspiron 9300 would not top my list of entertainment laptops. Dell may call it the "ultimate mobile multimedia center" within its own stable of portables, but the 9300 falls short in a few areas that are important for an entertainment notebook.

First, though you can order the 9300 with Windows Media Center Edition 2005, you can't get it equipped with a built-in TV tuner. Instead, you can buy Dell's external USB TV tuner and remote control--and add $160 to an already-high price tag. Second, the notebook's sound distorts at top volume, despite the presence of a bottom-mounted subwoofer that adds roundness to the 9300's stereo audio.

Performance and battery life were disappointing. It's not surprising that a unit with a power-sapping 17-inch wide screen would suffer from mediocre battery life, but Dell's 9-cell power pack, a $99 option (a six-cell is standard), doesn't come close to equaling its 5.2-hour billing. It lasted just 2 hours on a charge in our tests. Speed wasn't terribly impressive for a 2-GHz Pentium M 760-equipped laptop outfitted with 1GB of RAM. The 9300's WorldBench 5 score of 83 was worse by at least six points than the marks posted by four other notebooks configured with the same processor and amount of RAM.

In the 9300's favor, it's handsome and well equipped. At 7.9 pounds, the weight is reasonable for a 17-inch wide-screen notebook that includes an integrated DVD burner. On the front of the silver-and-gray case, seven media control buttons make listening to CDs, watching DVDs, and running slide shows a real pleasure. The pause button is great for movies, especially if you don't opt for the TV tuner and remote control package. Pressing any button on the front of the notebook causes them all to light up bright blue for a few seconds--a useful feature in dark rooms. In addition to giving DVD movies plenty of space to play in, the high-resolution 1920-by-1200-pixel screen accommodates multiple windows. The battery has an outer power gauge so you can check how much juice is left.

The 9300 sports a convenient design and plenty of ports, including six USB 2.0 ports, a standard VGA port, and a DVI port. The touchpad-equipped keyboard has a firm, no-nonsense feel and a good layout, though it lacks the separate numerical keypad that some 17-inch wide screens have. I did miss having a Wi-Fi switch.

The 9300 is user-upgradable. After removing two screws on the bottom, you can pull the hard drive (up to 100GB in capacity) out of the right side of the case. The thin printed manual isn't very enlightening, but the Acrobat owner's manual is detailed, with complete upgrade instructions (it even walks you through replacing the keyboard). And this PDF manual is easy to search, thanks to hyperlinked contents and index pages.

This beautiful 17-inch wide screen has fun-to-use media buttons, but you can find better-sounding entertainment notebooks; and for the money, we'd have like to get a TV tuner built-in.

Dell Inspiron 9300


WorldBench 5 score of 83, 2-GHz Pentium M 760 processor, 2GB of DDR SDRAM, Windows XP Media Center Edition, 17-inch wide screen, 80GB hard drive, Double-layer DVDA?RW drive, V.92 modem, ethernet, 802.11a/g, touchpad pointing device, 9.1-pound weight (including AC adapter). One-year parts and labor warranty, 24-hour daily toll-call support.
$2814
800/999-3355
www.dell.com

Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Multimedia offering lacks built-in TV tuner and could have had more power and longer battery life.

    Pros

    • Conveniently designed with lots of ports

    Cons

    • Doesn't have a built-in TV tuner
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