Dell Inspiron 9200 review: Dell Inspiron 9200

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The Good A 17-inch wide-screen display; capable performance with games and overall; comparatively light; quality speakers; double-layer DVD burner.

The Bad Lacks an integrated TV tuner; can't play audio or video without booting up, unlike some other multimedia systems.

The Bottom Line We recommend the Dell Inspiron 9200 to home users who want an awesome, relatively portable, desktop-replacement laptop with cutting-edge features and solid performance.

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8.3 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Support 7


The Dell Inspiron 9200 is everything a desktop-replacement laptop should be. Its sweeping, 17-inch wide-aspect display offers plenty of screen real estate, and this system comes laden with all the important ports, drives, and slots you'd find in a desktop PC, including four USB 2.0 ports, a multiformat double-layer DVD drive, and a Secure Digital card slot. Our test unit arrived equipped with a 2.0GHz Pentium M processor and a 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics chip, which provided scorching game speeds and a strong overall performance in CNET Labs' tests. Even its speakers sound good. Despite loading the Inspiron 9200 with features, Dell managed to keep its weight down to 7.7 pounds--not exactly light, but downright emaciated for a laptop in this category. Our loaded evaluation model cost approximately $2,700 (as of December 2004), and we'd recommend it to almost all home and small-business users. Frequent fliers will be better off with an ultralight laptop, however, and those who want more robust multimedia features (such as a TV tuner) should look to the Sony VAIO VGN-A190 or the HP Pavilion zd8000 instead. Though you can customize the Dell Inspiron 9200 with a variety of internal components (see our series review for more info), all of the systems come in the same colossal silver case with white trim. Constructed out of a strong magnesium alloy, the notebook measures 15.5 inches wide, 11.3 inches deep, and 1.6 inches thick. However, at 7.7 pounds (with a 6-cell battery), the Inspiron 9200 is surprisingly light for a laptop of its size; our evaluation model, which included a 9-cell battery, totaled 8.1 pounds. Granted, it's still too heavy to haul around regularly, but the Inspiron 9200 weighs just as much as the eMachines M6811, which features a smaller 15.4-inch display; it's a half pound less than the Sony VAIO VGN-A190, which also has a 17-inch screen; and almost two pounds less than the gargantuan HP Pavilion zd8000.

The Inspiron 9200's two speakers and internal subwoofer deliver crisp and rich sound, unlike the weak, flat strains that trickle out of most laptops. Better yet, because the speakers sit in the corners of the laptop's front edge, your hands won't muffle them while you're typing. Sandwiched between the speakers, a row of seven buttons let you control disc playback and adjust or mute the volume. The buttons are handy, but we wish they let us play discs without booting up the system--a feature standard on the Toshiba Qosmio and the HP Pavilion dv1000.

With such a big case, the Inspiron 9200 can afford to include a big keyboard, though it lacks a separate number pad, which the HP Pavilion zd8000 has. The mouse buttons are downright huge, and the touch pad is adequately sized. The latter features arrows running along its right and bottom edges, outlining where to place your finger when using the software-enhanced pad to scroll through documents or Web pages.

Like all of Dell's laptops, the Dell Inspiron 9200 is extremely configurable--a full discussion of your options is available in our series review. At approximately $2,700 (as of early December 2004), the configuration CNET tested isn't the cheapest option available. But when matched spec-for-spec against competitors such as the Sony VAIO VGN-A190, the Inspiron 9200 is the better deal--at least for users who don't need a TV tuner. Our test model had a fast ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics chip with an ample 128MB of dedicated video RAM; a power-saving 2.0GHz Pentium M processor; 1GB of speedy 333MHz system memory; a fast 7,200rpm 60GB hard drive; and a giant, 17-inch display. The Inspiron 9200 test unit flew through CNET Labs' benchmarks, so if you're low on dough, consider getting a unit with a slower, cheaper processor and less memory; if you're looking for a significantly less expensive, lower-octane desktop replacement, check out the eMachines M6811.

The Inspiron 9200's pièce de résistance is its bright, expansive, 17-inch wide-screen display. Our evaluation model's WUXGA 1,900x1,200 native resolution made Unreal Tournament 2004's graphics really pop, and we thoroughly enjoyed watching a DVD movie. We should note that the antiglare coating on the Inspiron 9200's WUXGA screen creates a somewhat sparkly effect that's most noticeable against white backgrounds. Dell was unable to provide us with an evaluation model that included a WXGA+ display for comparison.

There's no dearth of ports, jacks, and slots: the Inspiron 9200 offers FireWire, S-Video out, VGA, and four USB 2.0 ports; 56Kbps modem, Ethernet, headphone, and microphone jacks; one each of Type II PC Card and Secure Digital slots; and a swank DVI port, should you want to connect the laptop to an even bigger digital LCD. Last but definitely not least, the Inspiron 9200 includes a cutting-edge, multiformat double-layer DVD drive, which is fixed and cannot be swapped out for another drive.

Though CNET Labs no longer officially tests battery life, we drained the Inspiron 9200's big 11.1V, 7,200mAh cell by watching a DVD movie with the laptop's huge 17-inch screen set to half brightness. The battery lasted 165 minutes--not bad considering the system's power-hungry display.

Mobile application performance
The Dell Inspiron 9200 that CNET tested featured a Pentium M 755-2GHz CPU with a 2MB L2 cache--a competitive setup that outscored many comparably clocked systems that we've tested this year. It even held pace with an eMachines M6811 equipped with a slightly faster 2.2GHz Mobile Athlon 64 3400+. The Sony VAIO VGN-A190, another fairly powerful desktop-replacement system, runs a slower version of the Pentium M, and it brought up the rear in this test group. The Inspiron 9200's performance is proof that even at a relatively low clock speed, the Pentium M can hold its own with higher-end CPUs. The Inspiron 9200 will deliver a strong performance for office and content-creation apps.

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.

SysMark 2004 performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2004 office productivity  
eMachines M6811
Dell Inspiron 9200
Sony VAIO VGN-A190

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

Unreal Tournament 2004
Thanks to its ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB video adapter, the Dell Inspiron 9200 comes out on the top of the heap, with a significant advantage over the eMachines M6811, which houses a slower ATI Mobility Radeon 9600--an earlier-generation video adapter with only half as much video memory as the Radeon 9700. The Sony VAIO VGN-A190 also has the Radeon 9700 but with only 64MB of video memory. In fact, the Dell Inspiron 9200 scored only fractionally lower than the mighty HP Pavilion zd8000, which runs a much faster and more powerful Pentium 4 processor with twice as much video memory. As such, we recommend the Dell Inspiron 9200 as a capable gaming machine.

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