Dell Inspiron 1200
At a Glance
Dell Inspiron 1200 Notebook (1.30 GHz Celeron M 350, 256MB, 30GB, DVD/CD-RW, Windows XP, 14.1
You can get basic office work done and burn your own CDs with Dell's bargain-basement Inspiron 1200.
I still have my first notebook, a Dell with a square black case and a bulky 14.1-inch XGA screen. It looks like a Buick next to newer notebooks, and the battery has never lasted more than a couple of hours, but I have to give it credit. In the seven years we've been together, my Inspiron 2500 and its sturdy keyboard have never let me down.
The Dell Inspiron 1200, one of the new breed of ultracheap notebooks, reincarnates my old faithful with a similar square black case, screen, battery life, and trusty keyboard. At $499 after a $50 instant rebate, the 1200 is a lot cheaper than my old budget buy, which cost me about $1500, if memory serves. But today, with better choices even at the $500 level, I'd pass on this Dell.
Although solidly constructed and upgradable, the Inspiron 1200 is a very basic, plain-looking unit with a small 30GB 4200-rpm hard drive, a 1.3-GHz Celeron M 350 processor, and 256MB of built-in RAM (with one empty slot for adding another DIMM). Connections are somewhat limited, though you do get ethernet and modem jacks, a VGA port, headphone and microphone mini-jacks, and one PC Card slot. Built-in Wi-Fi is not an option. It also offers three USB ports--a generous number--though they're all inconveniently located on the back of the notebook (a design drawback the Inspiron 2500 shared).
Applications and DVD movies look fine on the 14.1-inch SVGA screen, but audio is weak and not terribly rich. The highlight of this 6.3-pound Windows XP Home-based unit (7.2-pound travel weight, including power adapter) is its right-side DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination drive for burning your own data and music CDs. Another nice extra is WordPerfect word processing software.
The 2.4-hour battery life and WorldBench 5 score of 57 is good enough for mainstream applications and short stints away from an electrical outlet. (Put in perspective, the Inspiron 1200 lags by about 40 percent the fastest notebook we've tested, a Micro Express CL5620 that earned a score of 97 thanks to a 2-GHz Pentium M and 512MB of RAM.) Unfortunately, the battery is an older nickel metal hydride type, which tends to wear out faster than the better-quality lithium ion batteries typically used today. A bonus: If you upgrade to a lithium ion battery ($79), you get a free 64MB Dell USB memory key.
Upshot: You can get basic office work done and burn your own CDs with Dell's bargain-basement Inspiron 1200. But there are nicer-looking and better-equipped $500 notebooks, namely the Acer Aspire 3003LCi or HP's Compaq M2000.