Dell Inspiron 9100 – Gaming Notebook Review


Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £1644.00

The Dell Inspiron 9100 has been out for a little while now and it’s probably one of the most powerful notebooks around. But it seems like the more powerful a laptop gets, the bigger and heavier it gets. The Inspiron 9100 is by far the thickest laptop I have seen in recent years, but one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

First of all, let’s look at the specifications, since the Inspiron 9100 is targeting the mobile gaming market and for anyone that has attended a LAN party, this has to be the ultimate portable computer – it’s far lighter than lugging a full-size PC along with you, but it can still push those high frame rates.

The core of the Inspiron 9100 is based on a Pentium 4 3.4GHz processor and a hefty 1GB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM. This has however been done before by several other companies, so Dell has gone the extra mile and brought out the first notebook with an ATI Mobility Radeon 9800 graphics card. And Dell hasn’t skimped on the graphics memory either, with a whopping 256MB fitted.

The Mobility Radeon 9800 is not derived from the Radeon 9800 as the name might suggest, but rather from the newer X800 family of chips. This means that it is far superior to its predecessor, the Mobility Radeon 9700 as this was derived from the Radeon 9600XT desktop part.

So what does the Mobility Radeon 9800 have to offer? Well, for starters it has eight pixel pipelines and four vertex pipelines, as well as a 256-bit memory interface. This makes it a real competitor to modern desktop graphics cards, as well as completely demolishing any previous mobile graphics chipsets.

If that is too much tech-talk for you, then let me try to break the Mobility Radeon 9800 down a bit. The Mobility Radeon 9700 from ATI had four pixel pipes and two vertex pipelines, although it was clocked 95MHz faster than this latest solution. But the Mobility Radeon 9800 is still a lot faster than the 9700 due to the additional pixel and vertex pipelines. Add the 256-bit memory interface, which is twice that of the 9700 and you’re getting very close to desktop 3D performance. All in all, this is a very heavy duty mobile graphics chipset, and means that you can play the latest games where ever and whenever.

As long as you’re happy with your laptop keeping even pace with something like a Radeon 9800XT then the Mobility Radeon 9800 won’t disappoint. Saying that, I’m still using a Radeon 9800 Pro in my PC at home and I have so far not come across a game that makes it struggle, and the Mobility Radon 9800 is even faster than that.

However, a fast, high quality graphics card isn’t much use without a good screen, but luckily this laptop is from Dell, so you’re getting a top notch 15.4 in widescreen display. The super-high native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 can be a little bit hard to read at times, but who can really complain with this much desktop real estate at your disposal – you can even have two word documents open side by side with space to spare.

Dell has also added support for DVI, D-SUB and S-Video out, so there is no lack of connectivity options for the graphics card. As it happens this is also the first laptop I have come across that features DVI output, but I like the idea of having a crystal clear, digital signal when using an external LCD monitor.

Just below the DVI connector is the 10/100Mbit Ethernet port as well as the 56k modem connector and four USB 2.0 ports. One of the USB ports also has a power connector next to it – there was a similar configuration on the IBM ThinkPad X40, but I’ve yet to see a device that makes use of such a feature. The power brick is also connected to the back of the laptop, although I would have preferred the connector to be more to one or the other side rather than right in the middle.

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