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Dell Inspiron 300M series review: Dell Inspiron 300M series

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The Good Very light; unique design; lots of integrated wireless options; cool media base; long battery life with the optional, high-capacity battery.

The Bad Weak battery life with the primary battery; tiny Function and arrow keys.

The Bottom Line Jet-setters will love this ultralight's cool-looking design and 3-pound weight, but its even lighter primary-battery life may require a pound or so of backup power in your briefcase.

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7.9 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 6
  • Support 7

Review summary

The ultralight 300m flaunts the most intriguing design in Dell's revamped Inspiron line. Like all new Inspirons, the 300m sports cool, silver-and-blue colors, but its 3-pound case weighs roughly 2 pounds less than the second-lightest Inspiron, the 600m. The Inspiron 300m's wispy weight makes it an ideal travel companion, although the limited life of its primary battery means you'll want to take along the 1-pound, high-capacity cell, as well. Battery stamina aside, its 1.2GHz Pentium M processor had no problem tackling CNET Labs' performance benchmarks. Back at home base, you can easily slip the system into its media slice, which includes a built-in bay for charging a backup battery, plus another swappable bay for secondary storage modules. Frequent fliers shouldn't hesitate to get the Inspiron 300m, as long as their suitcase can accommodate an extra battery.

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The Inspiron 300m comes with a decent-size keyboard for an ultralight.

Dell saved its best new Inspiron design for last with the release of the 300m. This 10.8-by-9.2-by-1-inch ultralight weighs exactly 3 pounds--a perfect size for routine travel.

Just because the Inspiron 300m is petite doesn't mean it's hard to use. The keyboard is fairly sizable for an ultralight, although the Function and arrow keys are admittedly tiny. The touchpad (no pointing stick is available) and the dual mouse buttons are about the same size as those of full-figure laptops. The 12.1-inch screen, with a native 1,280x768 resolution, is just big enough to prevent eyestrain.

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The touchpad and the mouse buttons are slightly smaller than those of full-figure laptops.
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The optional, high-capacity battery sticks out a few inches from the back of the notebook.

While Dell did a good job with the Inspiron 300m's design, the company couldn't pull off an internal swappable bay for secondary storage. Instead, Dell put the bay in the optional, 1.9-pound media slice, which snaps on underneath the system, then easily detaches from the laptop with one pull on the slice's left-side eject lever.

The swappable bay inside the slice supports a long list of storage drive options: floppy, CD, DVD, DVD/CD-RW, and DVD+R/+RW. It also includes a very cool battery bay, so you can charge both a backup battery (if you choose to buy a second one) and your primary battery. You should consider the optional 1-pound, high-capacity battery, too, since the Inspiron 300m's primary battery quickly petered out in CNET Labs' drain tests. However, keep in mind that all of this extra equipment adds precious pounds to your travel load.

For an ultralight, the Inspiron 300m features a fairly healthy selection of ports and slots. Ethernet, 56Kbps modem, two USB 2.0, FireWire, headphone, and microphone ports line the left edge, along with one Type II PC Card slot and one Secure Digital memory card slot. A proprietary port, also on the left, lets you connect an optional, external media bay for secondary storage modules. IrDA, VGA, and one more USB 2.0 port fill the right edge.

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The media slice, which snaps on underneath the system, includes plenty of storage options.

Most ultralights ship with little or no choice of internal specs, but the Inspiron 300m breaks from that tradition with a comparatively long component list. Although the system ships with just one 1.2GHz Pentium M processor; an Intel 855GM graphics chip, which borrows up to 64MB of video RAM from main memory; and a 12.1-inch display, it offers choice in other areas. Main DDR SDRAM comes in amounts ranging from 256MB to 1,152MB. Hard drives measure 20GB, 30GB, 40GB, or 60GB. The many integrated wireless mini-PCI options are branded by Dell or Intel and include 802.11b, 802.11b/g, or 802.11a/b/g standards. Secondary storage choices abound for the Inspiron 300m's media slice or the external media bay: floppy, CD, DVD, DVD/CD-RW, and DVD+R/+RW.

The Inspiron 300m offers equally copious software options. You choose whether the laptop will arrive with Windows XP Home or Windows XP Professional as its operating system. Dell offers Corel's WordPerfect Office 2002 with Intuit Quicken New User Edition as the default software suite, but you can upgrade to Microsoft Works or Microsoft Office XP suites. Roxio Easy CD Creator handles CD burning, while InterVideo WinDVD lets you play DVDs. As always, Dell throws in its PictureStudio, Jukebox, and MovieStudio apps for working with various media, such as photos, music, and film.

Mobile performance
In our small ultraportable roundup, the 1.2GHz Dell Inspiron 300m beat two other systems with different processor speeds. The Sony VAIO TR1A features a slower 900MHz processor, while the IBM ThinkPad X31 houses a faster 1.4GHz processor. However, because the Inspiron 300m has only 384MB of RAM, it fails to reach its full performance potential. The same holds true for the ThinkPad X31, which has 256MB of RAM and scored a few points lower than the Inspiron 300m. However, the Inspiron 300m still offers good performance in office and multimedia apps, especially for an ultraportable.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Dell Inspiron 300m
IBM ThinkPad X31

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).

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Dell Inspiron 300m
Windows XP Home; 1.2GHz Intel Pentium M; 384MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855GM/GME Extreme Graphics (up to 64MB); Hitachi DK23EB-40 40GB 5,400rpm

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