Dell Inspiron 500M review: Dell Inspiron 500M

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.5
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Battery life: 7.0
  • Service and support: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Good battery life; moderate price; lots of configuration options.

The Bad Very dense screen resolution; moderate speed; one-year standard warranty.

The Bottom Line The thin-and-light Inspiron 500m's many configuration options mean that you can match it to your needs whether you take it on business trips or park it at home.

Editors' Top Picks

Intro

Intel's Centrino technology promises longer battery life, and the new Dell Inspiron 500m, a "pure" Centrino thin-and-light for the home user, keeps this promise. The configuration that CNET Labs tested /0-1027-405-21218321-3.html>ran for 3.5 hours on its relatively small battery--not stunning by Pentium M standards, but still it's respectable. And although the Inspiron 500m (little sibling to the Inspiron 600m) is unspectacular in other ways, it's nevertheless an affordable, well-crafted thin-and-light. If you don't want to invest a fortune in your notebook and can live with some of the trade-offs, the Inspiron 500m delivers plenty of working time and adequate performance in a comfortable, capable, Wi-Fi-equipped package. The Inspiron 500m has an understated look, with discreetly rounded edges and a 12.25-by-10.25-by-1.5-inch footprint that's neither ostentatiously big nor post-modern tiny. The 5.4-pound base weight is also acceptable, and it's right in range for that of a thin-and-light. The front edge has no features at all other than the lid latch, while the right side houses only an optical bay holding a plain-Jane DVD-ROM drive. (Stereo speakers hide behind the front edge and produce average sound for a notebook.) For $120 more, the media bay can also hold a DVD/CD-RW drive; a second battery for the bay costs $129.

The left edge has just a solitary Type II PC Card slot, an infrared port, and two audio jacks. The back edge is more crowded, with two USB 2.0 ports; a port each for S-Video, modem and Ethernet, parallel and monitor; and even a serial port. The model that we tested had no floppy drive and no writable-media drive, so backup capabilities are restricted to a USB keychain or an external USB drive, unless you spring for the DVD/CD-RW drive.

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There's no pointing stick--just a standard touchpad-and-mouse-button combo.

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The audio ports are on the side.

Nevertheless, this thin-and-light sports several nice touches, including system status lights that run along the top edge of the right hinge, where they're visible whether the lid is open or closed. Another nice touch: The 1-pound AC adapter is spool-shaped so that you can wrap the power cords around it and fasten them down with a built-in rubber thong, which thankfully replaces the easily tangled Velcro strap that Dell used to provide.

In most ways, using the Inspiron 500m is a pleasant experience. To open the lid, you push in a latch and hook the same thumb or finger on a sort of handle that pokes down; it's one of the more elegant latches around. The lid opens to 180 degrees, so it can fold flat when you're standing at a lectern. (Not all notebooks open that far.) The keyboard makes noise when you type, but the keys provide good response and don't wiggle, and they're quite large for those of a thin-and-light notebook.
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There are several options for this media slot, including a combo DVD/CD-RW drive or a second battery.

When you buy from Dell.com, you can order the Inspiron 500m with several variations. Our test unit ran on a 1.4GHz Pentium M, but a 1.3GHz model costs $100 less, or for $225 more, you can bump up the system memory from the 256MB that we tested to 512MB. And you may want that extra memory, because the integrated Intel graphics controller can hog as much as 64MB of what you have installed. Our test unit came with a 30GB hard drive; a 40GB hard drive costs $70 more, and a 60GB drive is $190 more. The Inspiron 500m features built-in Wi-Fi antennae for 802.11a, b, and g, and our test unit came with the Intel 802.11b card and the 855 chipset that make a true Centrino. You can, however, order the Inspiron 500m with 802.11b/g wireless networking.

The screen gave us a bit of a shock. It comes in two resolutions: 1,024x768, which is about right for a 14-incher (picking that resolution costs only $50 less); and 1,400x1,050, which is way too dense for the size of the screen. Dell should offer a model with 1,280x1,024 resolution instead. Our test model featured the 1,400x1,050 resolution and displayed somewhat cool colors, though with a crisp, white background that was very evenly lit. Detail appeared sharp, but the resolution compressed text so much that you'll be tempted--or forced--to change your 10-point documents to 12 point.

You can order the Inspiron 500m with Windows XP Home or XP Pro, which costs $79 more. Dell packs the Inspiron 500m with Quicken New User Edition and Corel's WordPerfect productivity pack, which includes WordPerfect 10.0 and Quattro Pro 10.0. WordPerfect and Quattro are fine applications, but Microsoft Office so dominates the suite market that chances are you'll overwrite the Corel software with Microsoft's package. And the New User Edition of Quicken can't import old Quicken files, so unless you make buying the Inspiron 500m the occasion for computerizing your personal finances, you won't have much use for it. In other words, both components of Dell's bundle are check-off items rather than value-added features. The Inspiron 500m came in last place in our test group of three systems. Its big brother, the Inspiron 600m, beat it by 31 points in CNET Labs' tests--not surprising, since the Inspiron 600m has a processor that's 200MHz faster and twice the amount of RAM as the Inspiron 500m. It was a much closer race between the Inspiron 500m and the IBM ThinkPad X31, as each system has identical processors and the same amount of RAM. The ThinkPad X31's 5,400rpm hard drive, however, was able to push it just ahead. So the Inspiron 500m's configuration explains its performance, but its scores leave us somewhat disappointed.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Dell Inspiron 600m
169 
IBM ThinkPad X31
143 
Dell Inspiron 500m
138 

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Dell Inspiron 500m
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 Graphics Controller-0 (up to 64MB-shared); Hitachi DK23EA-30 30GB 4,200rpm

Dell Inspiron 600m
Windows XP Home; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 5,400rpm

IBM ThinkPad X31
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Hitachi DK23EB-40 40GB 5,400rpm
The Inspiron 500m scored about average for a Pentium M-based system, but it can't compete with the IBM ThinkPad X31's four-and-a-half-hour battery life. The gap is strange, because both systems have the same-speed processor and have comparable battery specs--1.1V, 4,320mAh for the Inspiron 500m and 10.8V, 4,400mAh for the ThinkPad X31. Don't get us wrong--a battery life of nearly three and a half hours is great, but by all accounts, it should have been higher.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 battery life in minutes  
IBM ThinkPad X31
270 
Dell Inspiron 500m
208 
Dell Inspiron 600m
201 

To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

System configurations:

Dell Inspiron 500m
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 Graphics Controller-0 (up to 64MB-shared); Hitachi DK23EA-30 30GB 4,200rpm

Dell Inspiron 600m
Windows XP Home; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 64MB; IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 5,400rpm

IBM ThinkPad X31
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Hitachi DK23EB-40 40GB 5,400rpm
The Inspiron 500m's warranty lasts for only one year, which is about on a par for the industry these days but not enough to keep you from worrying. You can extend it to three years for a hefty $169. Tech support, fortunately, isn't tied to the warranty: Dell provides free, toll-free, live-human support 24/7 for as long as you own the system.

This notebook also comes with a thorough printed manual and extensive onscreen help files; on Dell's Web site you can contact technicians, download driver updates and documentation, and search FAQs and knowledge bases. The company's fairly generous policy on defective LCDs considers five bad pixels to be too many.

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Dell Inspiron 500M

Part Number: CNETINSPIRON500M Released: Apr. 10, 2003

This product is no longer available.
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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Apr. 10, 2003
  • Weight 5.506 lbs
  • Installed Size 256 MB
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