The Inspiron 6400 is a desktop replacement notebook, offering up the familiar silver and white-accented design that's common to the Inspiron line. It's not exactly a stunner, but you certainly won't be ashamed to tote it around whilst in the public eye.
Being a cheaper notebook, the 6400's chassis is constructed mostly from a soft plastic, so scratching and denting may be an issue for those that use their notebooks haphazardly.
Regardless, the 6400 will likely stay on your desk for most of its existence. Its 2.8kg heft is far from feather-weight, and you'll definitely start grumbling after walking with it for 20 minutes or more. It's fine for shorter distances, but true mobility can only be found in a sub-2kg offering such as the Sony VAIO VGN-TX27GP.
Stereo speakers are mounted on the front of the unit, so sound isn't muffled when the lid is closed. Flanked by said speakers is a row of multimedia shortcut buttons, enabling users to navigate through their audio/video files without placing a finger on the mouse.
The trackpad is large and offers up both vertical and horizontal scrolling, while the keyboard takes up much of the width of the chassis and is comfortable to type on. The left and right mouse buttons are also large, but they don't offer a reassuring "click" when depressed, which took a while for us to get used to.
Another minor design quirk is the fact that the headphone and microphone jacks are placed on the right-hand side of the chassis, and the resulting cords may interfere with external mouse movement.
With a starting price of just AU$1499, the Dell Inspiron 6400 sits towards the top of the entry-level notebook category. Yet its mid-range feature-set defies this market segmentation -- the base model packs an Intel Core Duo T2300 processor, 512MB DDR2 memory and a 60GB hard drive. Since Dell builds its machines to order, users that have more money to burn can choose up to a Core Duo T2600 processor, 2GB of memory and a 100GB hard drive.
The model we tested included a Core Duo 2600 processor, 1GB of memory and an 80GB hard drive, as well as a 256MB ATI Radeon X1400 graphics chip. A 6400 with these specifications will set you back AU$3189.
Dell touts the 6400 as being a "mobile entertainment" unit, but this statement needs to be qualified. The notebook can be equipped with an 8x dual-layer DVD-RW drive (although the AU$1598 model is limited to a 24x CD-RW/DVD combo drive), so it can of course be used for DVD playback. However, gaming is somewhat limited, as the base configuration is hindered by an integrated Intel graphics chip, while the top-end model we tested includes an ATI Radeon X1400 chip, which will struggle running the latest games at smooth frame rates. That said, the 15.4-inch widescreen display is adequate for film viewing and gaming, thanks to its high resolution of 1680x1050 and widescreen aspect ratio.
Despite being on the cheaper side, the 6400 comes equipped with a number of handy multimedia features that are typically reserved for high-end offerings. For starters, it's got a 5-in-1 memory card reader (MS, MS Pro, SD/SDIO, MMC and xD), while TV-out support is provided by an S-Video port. There's even a Firewire connection for hooking up your digital video camcorder, while an ExpressCard slot ensures support for the next generation of notebook expansion cards. Finally, the 6400 makes use of Dell's MediaDirect instant-on technology, allowing for one-button access to digital media stored on the computer itself or on attached devices.
Wireless connectivity options include the mandatory 802.11a/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but there's no infrared.
On the whole we were pleased with the 6400's performance. It passed our MobileMark2005 office productivity tests with flying colours, landing a score of 209. This is virtually identical to that of the similarly configured NEC VERSA P8210.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Our qualitative tests also yielded positive results, with video playback being superb on the bright, high resolution display and audio coming through clearly and accurately using both the headphone jack and the stereo speakers. The high resolution screen also aids office productivity, as you can have numerous windows onscreen simultaneously
Less flattering is the notebook's gaming performance; the unit struggled to run Serious Sam 2 smoothly -- a relatively dated (although still graphically intensive) game. Suffice it to say, the 6400 will crawl when running the latest games even under low detail settings.
Its battery life trumps most of the desktop replacement notebooks we've seen, clocking in at 242 minutes (around four hours). This means there's enough juice to get through a feature-length film whilst still having time to edit some documents before you'll need to race to a power socket.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 battery life rating
(Longer bars indicate more battery-life minutes)
Dell's warranty service is second to none. The notebook comes with the optional three-year support package that includes a three year next business day onsite response service, 24x7 phone support and accident cover for the entire warranty period.