Dell Inspiron 700M review: Dell Inspiron 700M

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
  • Overall: 6.4
  • Battery life: 5.0
  • Design: 6.0
  • Features: 6.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Service and support: 8.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Nice size and weight; excellent price; beautiful design; display is bright and wide-screen.

The Bad Short battery life; reflective screen; small keyboard; three-prong AC plug.

The Bottom Line Drop a few pounds and save a few bucks with Dell's Inspiron 700m, a thin-and-light laptop that breaks new ground in design, size, performance, and price.

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Review summary

Editor's note: We have changed the ratings in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Find out more here.

Dell's string of mundane, cookie-cutter notebooks comes to an end with the Inspiron 700m, a thin-and-light laptop with a design that would make Apple proud. A guaranteed conversation starter in business-class cabins, the Inspiron 700m runs a 1.8GHz, second-generation Pentium M processor; 512MB of RAM; a 60GB hard drive; and a DVD burner. This little laptop delivers enough performance and features to ably mix business with pleasure, but it's not perfect. The shiny coating on its 12.1-inch, wide-screen display gets dirty quickly, and its three-prong plug may be one prong too many for some outlets. Still, the Dell Inspiron 700m can run with the best of them and can do it for about $500 less than comparable laptops, making it one of our top thin-and-light choices. With its stylish silver, white, and black design, Dell's Inspiron 700m borrows a page from Apple's playbook. Measuring 1.2 inches thick (closer to 1.6 inches thick in the back, due to its little rubber feet), the Inspiron 700m is truly a mighty mite. In fact, it's thinner, narrower, and lighter by several ounces than the Sony VAIO V505, although the 700m is heavier than the IBM ThinkPad X40 .

The Inspiron 700m weighs 4.1 pounds, and with its 14-ounce power-pack, its travel weight is less than 5 pounds. You'll need a three-prong outlet (or adapter) to charge it--an action that, unfortunately, you'll have to do quite often. The Inspiron 700m's paltry 2,200mAh cell runs for only about 2.5 hours, at least an hour short of the V505's battery life and half as long as the ThinkPad X40 lasts. For this reason, we recommend getting the $129 double-capacity battery, which can power the 700m for about 5 hours; it adds about 6 ounces and 0.7 inches to the unit's profile, however.

Mitigating the benefits of the Inspiron 700m's slim size is its undersize keyboard. With its 17.9mm keys and a skimpy 1.8mm of depth--about average for a system of this type--typing is a chore. We prefer the keyboard on the ThinkPad X40. On the other hand, the unit's pair of tiny speakers, located below the screen, sound surprisingly strong and natural; however, there's no dedicated volume control wheel or button, so you're forced to use the function key controls. We like the good-size touch pad that sits below the keyboard, but it lacks a scroll button for whizzing through long documents. It may be a lightweight, but the Dell Inspiron 700m can hold its own against brawnier competitors. With Intel's second-generation, 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz Pentium M processor, the Inspiron 700m easily blows by the ThinkPad X40's 1.2GHz CPU. In addition to the high-performance 60GB hard drive that came on our test machine, Dell offers configurations featuring 30GB and 80GB drives. Our test unit came with 512MB of 333MHz DDR memory and one empty SODIMM memory socket that can take on as much as 1GB more, for a total of 1.5GB of RAM. (You can buy the Inspiron 700m with 1GB soldered on the board, then put a 1GB card in the empty socket for the maximum amount of memory: 2GB.)

The Inspiron 700m has a vivid 12.1-inch, wide-aspect display with a 1,280x800 native resolution, perfect for watching DVD movies and big enough to work comfortably with two open windows. The system uses Intel's integrated graphics processor and up to 64MB of system RAM, which delivers inferior 3D performance compared to the Sony V505's ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 graphics chip with 32MB of dedicated video memory. Like other shiny screens, the Inspiron 700m's panel picks up stray reflections, fingerprints, and dust faster than you can wipe them off. We were happy to see that it comes with Klear Screen moist towelettes and a cleaning cloth.

Dell also packs in a modular DVD+RW burner, which you can substitute for a plain-vanilla DVD player or a CD-RW/DVD combo drive. The Inspiron 700m, in addition to its modem and wired LAN, comes with a Broadcom-based 802.11b/g wireless radio that remained online 95 feet from our test router--an average distance for comparable systems. Like many new machines, however, this laptop lacks an infrared receiver, and adding Bluetooth to the system requires using the system's only PC Card slot--a hassle if you want to use a cell-phone wireless modem, which are available only in PC Card format. Otherwise, this laptop offers the right connections, including ports for audio, FireWire, external monitor, and S-Video out, as well as a pair of USB 2.0 ports along the sides. Also present is a Secure Digital flash-card slot for digital photos, music, or plain old data.

The system we reviewed came with Windows XP Home, as well as the WordPerfect Productivity Pack, Microsoft Money, and Dell Media Experience, a nice utility that consolidates, organizes, and plays digital content. Our favorite bundled app is Dell's Wireless LAN utility, which puts Microsoft's and Intel's Wi-Fi software to shame by consolidating all you need to know and do to get online wirelessly. Mobile application performance
Dell's Inspiron 700m is one of the best-performing notebooks we've tested. The system scored a 211 in our mobile performance test, putting it about even with the excellent HP Compaq nc6000 . The Gateway M275XL came in 9 percent behind the Inspiron 700m, probably because it runs Windows XP Tablet, which has adversely affected performance in other systems. Built on Intel's 1.8GHz Pentium M processor, the Inspiron 700m is a powerhouse.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating  


Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Dell Inspiron 700m
Windows XP Home; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M 745; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel Extreme Graphics 2 for Mobile (up to 64MB-shared); Fujitsu MHT2060AH 60GB 5,400rpm

Gateway M275XL
Windows XP Tablet; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M 745; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel Extreme Graphics 2 for Mobile (up to 64MB-shared); Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 60GB 5,400rpm

HP Compaq nc6000
Windows XP Professional; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M 745; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 32MB; Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB 5,400rpm Unlike its excellent mobile performance, the Dell Inspiron 700m's battery life leaves much to be desired, particularly for a system designed with mobility in mind. In our tests, the Inspiron 700m lasted about two and a half hours--46 percent less than the Gateway M275XL and 57 percent less than the HP Compaq nc6000 . The Inspiron 700m's lackluster performance is due to its meager 14.8V, 2,200mAh (33WHr) battery, which got dusted by the Gateway M275XL's 14.8V, 3,600mAh (53WHr) battery and the HP Compaq nc6000's 14.4V, 4,400mAh (63WHr) battery. Though its battery life wasn't terrible, we wish that Dell had included a more powerful battery for such an inherently portable system.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate longer battery life)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery life in minutes  


To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark 2002. MobileMark measures both applications 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 700m
Windows XP Home; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M 745; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel Extreme Graphics 2 for Mobile (up to 64MB-shared); Fujitsu MHT2060AH 60GB 5,400rpm

Gateway M275XL
Windows XP Tablet; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M 745; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel Extreme Graphics 2 for Mobile (up to 64MB-shared); Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 60GB 5,400rpm

HP Compaq nc6000
Windows XP Professional; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M 745; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 32MB; Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB 5,400rpm Dell continues to provide excellent support and service for its notebooks, but the system's warranty runs for only one year. Still, upping the coverage to a more realistic three years adds only $100, about half of what you'd pay with other vendors--clearly money well spent.

Dell has a thorough online database of support topics and an excellent forum for users and technicians to solve problems and share the results. There are also Web site quick links to areas of immediate interest, including extended warranties, wireless, and recycling. Dell offers downloads for the expected drivers, BIOS updates, and manuals, and all of the information is thoughtfully organized online--all you need to do is enter the unit's service tag. Everything is logically laid out, and there's a place to e-mail your questions to a support technician. Dell's help-desk line is open 24/7 and is available for the life of the warranty; a human being was on the line in 2 minutes, 5 seconds to competently answer our question.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jul. 27, 2004
  • Installed Size 512 MB
  • Weight 4.2 lbs
  • Hard Drive 40 GB HDD
  • Optical Drive DVD-ROM - removable
  • Graphics Processor Intel Extreme Graphics 2
  • CPU Intel Pentium M 725 / 1.6 GHz
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