Dell Inspiron 9100 review: Dell Inspiron 9100

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.7
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 9.0
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Service and support: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Wide, high-resolution screen; fast processor; very well outfitted; modest price.

The Bad Gigantic and very heavy; extremely short battery life; high resolution makes for small, difficult-to-read text.

The Bottom Line The Inspiron 9100 is a portable (although barely), high-performance multimedia station that's powerful enough to compete with the fastest laptops on the market.

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Review summary

The Dell Inspiron 9100 is a true desktop-replacement laptop. In addition to a speedy desktop processor, it has a host of multimedia features that make it well suited for users working with video or 3D modeling; these include a nice, wide-format screen with an impressive 1,920x1,200 native resolution, a DVD burner, and a variety of video ports. Even better, it's less expensive than other comparably equipped systems, such as the Eurocom D470V; the Inspiron 9100 we tested retails for $2,310 (as of July 2004). Still, though there's a lot to love about the Inspiron 9100, its size, weight, and extravagant battery consumption give us pause. As carrying it around is inconvenient at best (and backbreaking at worst), we recommend the Dell Inspiron 9100 only if it will spend most of its days in one place. The Dell Inspiron 9100 is not small. It sits almost 2.5 inches thick, 14 inches wide, and 10.75 inches long; it weighs 9.25 pounds on its own, and its enormous AC adapter bumps the total load to 11.6 pounds. And unfortunately, you won't get far from your desk without that AC adapter.

The Inspiron 9100's battery is the electronic equivalent of your vestigial appendix; it barely cracked the two-hour mark in CNET Labs' tests. We tested the Inspiron's 1.5-inch-thick, 12-cell battery, which incorporates space and electrical connectors for--get this--an internal subwoofer. If you can live without megabass, we recommend spending an extra $129 for a 16-cell battery (CNET did not test this battery's runtime).

But what the Inspiron 9100 lacks in battery life, it makes up for with a very big display. The panel on our test unit was 13 inches wide and 8.25 inches high (15.4 inches diagonal), and it featured a 1,920x1,200 (also known as WUXGA, for wide ultraextended graphics array) native resolution and a 4:2.5 aspect ratio that's well suited for watching letterbox movies. Graphics looked bright and crisp, colors were vibrant, and the image was easy to see from either side and above; however, even on such a big screen, the WUXGA resolution makes text very small and hard to read. Dell sells another version of the Inspiron 9100 with a 1,680x1,050 native resolution panel--it costs about $100 less and is probably better for viewing text.

Weight issues aside, we like the Inspiron 9100's design. The lid closure features an unusual and welcome innovation: there's space for your thumb to grip and lift the lid as you push the latch in to release it. The metal lid feels very rigid and attaches to the base on wide hinges. Forgoing a numeric keypad, which you'll find sometimes on very big notebooks, Dell has included CD track advance and volume control buttons along the right side of the keyboard--a good fit for this multimedia monster. The keys on the keyboard itself are big enough, they don't sag, and they provide good resistance; there's a touch pad and a pointing stick for mousing, and each has its own set of left- and right-click buttons. The Dell Inspiron 9100 ships with an Intel Pentium 4 processor running at 3.2GHz; it's a desktop processor, and it makes more demands on the battery than would a Pentium M. The system we tested had 512MB of PC3200 memory in two user-accessible modules; the 1GB configuration costs $400 more. The Inspiron 9100 supports up to 2GB of memory, but its architecture requires two modules for optimal performance (that's why Dell doesn't sell it with an empty slot), so you should buy your system with all the memory you want already installed; otherwise you could get stuck discarding unnecessary chips when you upgrade. An ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 with 128MB of its own memory powered the display. Our system also came with a 60GB hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm, and for wireless communication, our Inspiron 9100 had a Bluetooth card tucked into a tiny slot next to the battery, as well as a Dell TrueMobile 1450 a/b/g Wi-Fi adapter.

The Dell Inspiron 9100 comes lushly equipped with other useful new technologies. Located at various points around the notebook's capacious edges are a four-pin FireWire port, a single PC Card slot, a removable DVD+RW drive, and three USB 2.0 ports, as well as Ethernet and modem connectors. There's also a full complement of video connections, including ports for S-Video and analog connectors, plus a DVI input for connecting the Inspiron 9100 to an LCD. The 9100 also has a D/Bay port, which Dell describes as a powered USB port; however, the company doesn't currently sell any D/Bay-compatible devices. Although it's a bit peculiar looking and much smaller than a standard desktop 5.1 subwoofer, the Inspiron 9100's subwoofer actually sounds decent from its location underneath the notebook.

Our test unit came preloaded with Windows XP Home, running on a 3.2GHz Pentium 4; XP Professional costs $79 extra.

Dell throws in a copy of the WordPerfect Productivity Pack, which includes the WordPerfect word processor and Microsoft Money. Unfortunately, no multimedia apps are included--we find it strange that Dell doesn't bundle some A/V software or even an OEM media player for a system such as this. SysMark 2004 performance
Of all the systems running 3GHz or higher that we've tested, the Dell Inspiron 9100 scored slightly below average. We pitted the Dell Inspiron 9100 against the Alienware Area 51m Enthusiast and the Eurocom D470V in CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 performance test. The Inspiron 9100, which runs on 512MB of RAM, scored a 144, and the Alienware Area 51m Enthusiast, which runs on 1,024MB of RAM, turned in a 157--a fairly slight, 8.2 percent difference in performance. The Eurocom D470V, a system with specs virtually identical to those of the Inspiron 9100, turned in a statistically identical performance. Still, the Inspiron 9100 is capable of handling most productivity tasks without breaking a sweat.

SysMark 2004 performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2004 office productivity  
Alienware Area 51m Enthusiast
157 
186 
132 
Eurocom D470V
151 
188 
121 
Dell Inspiron 9100
144 
176 
118 


To measure maximum notebook application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Find out more about how we test notebooks.

Unreal Tournament 2004 performance
In the Unreal Tournament 2004 test, the Dell Inspiron 9100, the Alienware Area 51m Enthusiast, and the Eurocom D470V turned in very even performances; there was a scant 8.3 percent difference between the top and bottom scores, and the Dell Inspiron 9100 scored in the middle of the pack. Although the Alienware Area 51m Enthusiast has a more powerful graphics adapter, the Inspiron 9100 scored virtually equal to it and was a mere 6.3 percent ahead of the Eurocom D470V. These kinds of variations in performance would not be apparent while you were playing, and all three systems performed comparably to the fastest desktop-replacement laptops on the market.

Unreal Tournament 2004 performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Atari Games/Epic Games Unreal Tournament 2004  


In order to test gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Atari Games/Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2004. Rather than isolate the graphics adapter, this test evaluates overall system performance, with an emphasis on CPU speed. Find out more about how we test notebooks.

Performance analysis written by CNET Labs assistant lab manager Eric Franklin.

System configurations:

Alienware Area 51m Enthusiast
Windows XP Professional; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4; 1GB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5700 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm

Dell Inspiron 9100
Windows XP Home; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm

Eurocom D470V
Windows XP Professional; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm Dell provides fairly strong support for the Inspiron 9100. Our chief complaint is that only one year of warranty coverage comes standard, and three years of coverage costs an extra $169. Dell offers live, 24/7, toll-free tech support, and the company's Web site is brimming with information and other ways to access help. The warranty provides prepaid shipping for repairs. Regarding the Inspiron 9100's LCD, Dell's bad pixel policy says it will replace screens with more than four defects "the size of the end of a small paper clip"--a fairly respectable deal considering the enormous number of pixels in a 1,920x1,200 screen.

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Dell Inspiron 9100

Part Number: 9100sap

This product is no longer available.
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Quick Specifications See All

  • Installed Size 256 MB
  • CPU Intel Pentium 4 3.2 GHz
  • Color Black
  • Weight 9 lbs
  • Optical Drive DVD-ROM - removable
  • Graphics Processor AGP 8x - ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 - 128 MB DDR SDRAM