As long as I can remember Dell has been at the forefront of the very competitive laptop market and has always had some amazing machines in its lineup. The Inspiron 8600 does not disappoint here as it offers some of the very latest in mobile technology and you would have a hard time finding another laptop with so many high-end components in it.
The Insipron 8600 is based on Intel’s Centrino platform, which means that under the bonnet you’ll find a Pentium M processor, the Intel 855PM chipset and Intel 802.11b wireless networking. The Pentium-M processor in this review model is the 1.7GHz version, but the Inspiron 8600 is available with processors from 1.4GHz up.
But it doesn’t stop here as you’ll also find an ATi Radeon Mobility 9600 graphics card with 128MB of memory, while the CPU is backed up by 512MB of PC2700 DDR system memory. Both the graphics card and memory can be specified on Dell’s website at the time of purchase and the Inspiron 8600 can handle up to 2GB of memory.
As always with high-end Dell laptops you’ll find a massive hard drive, this time it’s an incredible 80GB, which is still a common size in many desktop PCs. There is also a four-speed Philips DVD+R/RW drive fitted, which can also write CDs. There is however no floppy drive supplied as standard, but this can, as with many other options be purchased from Dell. The DVD writer is hot swappable and can be replaced by a floppy drive or a second battery as required.
Around the back you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, modem and network connectors, a parallel and a serial port, a D-SUB so you can use an external monitor or projector, a video out connector and the power socket. The video out connector is actually more of an AV output since it comes with a small dongle that gives you a standard S-Video as well as composite video and S/PDIF outputs. This is ideal if you want to use the Inspirion 8600 for presentations or DVD playback.
On the left hand side is a four pin FireWire connector a single Type II PC Card slot and below that the IrDA window. Further down towards the front of the left hand side are the microphone and headphone sockets as well as a Kensington lock point.
I would like to pause here for a second and mention the power brick; this is a new fangled device from Dell that is as far from universal as possible. The part that plugs into the laptop itself has always been specific to each manufacturer. But not too long ago Compaq introduced a new three pin lead that added grounding to laptops. This caused some problems for world travellers as only this specific plug fitted the Compaq power bricks, but this seems to have been adopted by other laptop manufacturers now. However, with the Inspiron 8600 Dell has developed its own proprietary plug that doesn’t fit anything else but the latest Dell notebooks. It is a three pin grounded connector, but as you can see in the picture it has an unusual design that will be extremely hard to find if you loose it or if you need one when you’re travelling. This is a big thumbs down to Dell and I sincerely hope that this is something that will be changed back to something a bit more standardised.
Let’s take a closer look at the parts that you can’t see. As with all Centrino based notebooks there’s integrated Intel 802.11b 11Mbit wireless Ethernet. Bluetooth doesn’t come as standard, but it is available as an option at time of purchase.
You also get wired 10/100Mbit Ethernet and a standard 56k V.90 modem. The integrated audio, or rather the speakers impressed me as they are some of the best I’ve ever heard on a notebook.
The display sports an incredible resolution, but I must say that unless you’ve got perfect eye sight (which I don’t have) then you might be struggling to use the 15.4in widescreen display. The reason for this is the insane WUGA resolution of 1,920 x 1,200. Personally I’m quite happy with 1280 x 1,024 on my 19in CRT at home and the same goes for the 17in TFT that I’m using in the office. Past Dell Inspiron models used to have a widescreen resolution of 1680 x 1050 which is much easier on the eyes. It is however a brilliant display if you need acres of desktop space for image editing or similar applications.