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On the left hand side is the NEC DVD writer, which can write to DVD+R at 8x, DVD+RW at 4x and DVD+R9 (dual layer) at 2.4x as well as to CD-R at 24x and CD-RW at 16x. It will not write to DVD-R/RW media, but this is a minor issue as long as you’re happy to buy + media. Just below the DVD writer is a single Type II PC Card slot and next to this is a four-pin FireWire port and headphone and microphone sockets. This leaves only the front mounted IrDA port, which makes the Inspiron 9100 a legacy free notebook - there are no PS/2, serial or parallel ports to be found.
What you can’t see is that Dell has fitted both Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g wireless networking as standard, which is a pretty comprehensive wireless solution for any notebook. Let’s not forget the hard drive in this frenzy of specs, as it’s huge by laptop standards. The 100GB drive is the most capacious I’ve ever seen, although it has a comparatively slow spin rate of 4,200rpm. That said, I can’t see too many people complaining about spindle speed, with that much storage space on hand.
So what we have so far is a super-powerful gaming laptop with more features than most users would know what to do with. But the Inspiron 9100 isn’t perfect I’m afraid, and I think a lot of gamers will be disappointed with the SigmaTel audio codec, as it has no settings for extra 3D effects, nor any real support for games. Dell has fitted 2.1 speakers to the Inspiron 9100 which actually sound quite good with a punchy enough bass unit to make a real difference.
At first sight there seems to be no S/PDIF connector either, but Dell supplies a small dongle that oddly enough connects to the S-Video out of the graphics card – this then provides S-Video and composite video connectors, as well as an S/PDIF connector. This is more awkward than having it built into the chassis and it seems like Dell could have quite easily fitted an S/PDIF to a machine as large as this one.
Dell usually does a very good job with notebook keyboards, but the example on the Inspiron 9100 isn’t the best I’ve seen. Several times during the writing of this review I ended up typing at random locations in the text. Now this was not due to the fact that I accidentally touched the touchpad, but rather the little trackpoint, which is far too easy to hit. That said, you could always turn off the ability to “tap” with the trackpoint to avoid this problem. The keys also exhibit very short travel and I never felt really comfortable typing on the 9100. The general keyboard layout is however good, and the keys are where you expect to find them.
If you use the trackpoint instead of the touchpad, the buttons are also quite hard to press. They are placed on a lip, just above the touchpad, making them very hard to hit without pressing your thumb against the chassis of the laptop. This is only a minor issue, and if you’re a touchpad user you won’t even notice it.
The general build quality is also a little below par by Dell standards. The blue frame around the keyboard was loose on one side of the review unit and there didn’t seem to be a way to get this to stay put.
If you fancy having a notebook that looks that little bit different, Dell offers the option of various QuickSnap covers. The QuickSnap covers attach to the top of the laptop and give it a more individual look. Our review model was supplied with the Graphite Swirl option, but Dell has a full list of designs on its website. Personally I prefer the plain silver look, although the QuickSnap covers can help to protect the laptop from scratches and the occasional knock, adding as it does, a few millimetres of plastic to the lid.
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