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As is to be expected from a sub-AU$1500 notebook, the Inspiron 630m uses a plastic chassis that's far easier to scratch/dent than a metal body. That being said, the above average thickness of the unit - its dimensions are 330 x 244 x 38mm - give it a far sturdier feel than other similarly priced units. It can certainly withstand the rigours of day-to-day travel, but with a weight of 2.48kg, the 630m is hardly a subsitute for a fully fledged ultra-portable.
Thicker than average, but not overly chunky
On the front of the notebook, just below the track pad, is a line-up of eight multimedia buttons which enable users to control playback of audio/video files without touching the mouse. There's also a "MediaDirect" function, allowing for instant playback of audio, video and picture files from a DVD or from the hard disk itself. The beauty of this feature is its speed, as users aren't forced to wait for the operating system to load up before they can access their files.
Flanking the quick launch buttons are two stereo speakers, which are angled in such a way that audio playback isn't muffled when the notebook's lid is closed. As per usual, the sound output from these speakers is lacking in the bass department, but they can reach surprisingly high volume levels before becoming distorted.
The full-sized keyboard and wider than average track pad is comfortable to use for extended periods, but one small qualm we have is that the left and right mouse buttons don't give an authoritative 'click' when depressed.
The 630m's port layout is also fairly logical, apart from one minor issue. Two of the four USB 2.0 connectors, as well as the LAN, modem and VGA ports are located on the right hand side of the chassis, so connecting external devices could prove disruptive for those using an external mouse.
The 630m's feature-set ranks competitively against other brands. Our particular unit was powered by a 1.6GHz Penitum M processor, an Intel Media Accelerator 900 graphics chip, a 60GB hard disk drive and 512MB of memory. This puts it on a good footing when compared with competing offerings in its price range.
Marvel at the bright 14.1" widescreen display
Networking support is limited to 802.11b/g wireless and 10/100 Ethernet - Bluetooth, infra-red and Gigabit LAN aren't supported. Other connectivity options include four USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire port, an S-Video port (for connection to a TV), a 5-in-1 card reader (Memory Stick / Pro, SD, MMC, xD), and an ExpressCard slot.
Disappointingly, the notebook doesn't include a DVD writer, instead featuring a 24x CD-RW/DVD combo drive. Since Dell builds to order, buyers are able to upgrade the drive but this comes at an additional cost.
Performance and battery life
The 630m's MobileMark2005 scores place it at the top of its class in terms of both performance and battery life. In our office productivity test, the 630m scored 176, which makes it equal fastest out of the four notebooks we compared it to. It handled most of the tasks thrown at it with ease, but audio/video encoding and gaming are both out of the question unless you spec the notebook up with faster (and more expensive) components. The 14.1" widescreen display is a boon for DVD viewing, but its gloss coating -- designed to reduce glare when outside -- can become annoyingly reflective indoors.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Battery life is where the 630m really comes into its own. Lasting just under 5 hours on a single charge (281 minutes, to be exact), it almost tripled the battery life of the Toshiba Satellite M50, more than doubled that of the BenQ Joybook A33E and survived almost an hour longer than the Optima Centoris KN.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 battery life rating
(Longer bars indicate more battery-life minutes)
Service and support
The 630m comes standard with a one year on-site parts and labour warranty. Telephone support is available during normal working hours, and if necessary, Dell promises to dispatch a technician to your home on the next business day. Dell also provides online support that includes an extensive knowledge base and various tutorials.
Buyers can upgrade their warranty plan to two or three years, and these plans can be customised to include features like night/weekend service, accident damage (e.g. spillage) and theft. More information regarding these packages can be found at Dell's services page.
All things considered, Dell's Inspiron 630m is undoubtedly the most impressive sub-$1500 notebook we've tested to date. Its battery life blitzes the competition, and its performance and feature-set is also top notch. Highly recommended.