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Dell Inspiron 9300 review: Dell Inspiron 9300

Dell Inspiron 9300

Brian Bennett and Stephanie Bru
5 min read
Packing just about everything you'd want in a desktop-replacement laptop, the Dell Inspiron 9300 has an expansive 17-inch wide-aspect display, plenty of handy connections and drives, and a bevy of top-notch components, including Nvidia's robust GeForce Go 6800 graphics chip. Delivering nominally lower productivity performance than the prior Inspiron 9200 model, the Inspiron 9300 provides a slightly improved gaming performance and a number of refinements, including Microsoft XP Media Center 2005, an optional TV tuner, and two additional USB 2.0 ports, for a total of six. It's not cheap--our loaded configuration costs $2,858--but we recommend it to home and business users who want power and features in a relatively portable rig.
The body of the Inspiron 9300 is crafted out of sturdy and stylish magnesium alloy and measures 15.5 inches wide, 11.3 inches deep, and 1.6 inches thick; it has an attractive silver hue with white trim. At 8.2 pounds, the Inspiron 9300 is on the lighter side of robust desktop replacements, weighing more than a pound less than the HP Pavilion zd8000. Still, it's far too heavy for regular travel. With such a big case, the Inspiron 9300 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. The Inspiron 9300'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 lets 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 other laptops. Though the Inspiron 9300 runs Media Center, the bundled TV-tuner box is rather bulky and probably too big to bring on the road.
Our test unit had a bright, vast 17-inch wide-screen display with a WUXGA 1,900x1,200 native resolution. It made newer games such as Half-Life 2 really shine, and we thoroughly enjoyed watching a DVD movie. We must note, however, that the antiglare coating on the Inspiron 9300's WUXGA screen creates a somewhat sparkly effect that's most noticeable against white backgrounds; we've heard from a number of irate users who have found this intolerable, so beware.
There's no dearth of ports, jacks, or slots: the Inspiron 9300 offers FireWire, S-Video-out, VGA, and six 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 9300 includes a cutting-edge multiformat, double-layer DVD drive, which is fixed and cannot be swapped out for another drive.
Like all of Dell's laptops, the Inspiron 9300 is extremely configurable; our Inspiron 9300 series review includes more details about the available components. At $2,858 (as of May 2005), the configuration CNET tested was quite expensive. Our test model had a blazing Nvidia GeForce Go 6800 graphics chip with an ample 256MB of dedicated video RAM; a power-saving 2.0GHz Pentium M processor; 1GB of speedy 533MHz system memory; a moderately fast 5,400rpm 80GB hard drive; and a giant 17-inch wide-screen display. Our Inspiron 9300 test unit flew through CNET Labs' benchmarks, so if you're low on dough, consider getting a unit with a slower, less expensive processor and less memory; if you're looking for a significantly less expensive, lower-octane desktop replacement, check out the Toshiba Satellite P35-S611.
Our test model featured a 2.0GHz Pentium M 760 CPU with a 2MB L2 cache--an extremely robust mobile rig which outscored many comparably clocked systems we've tested. It held its own in 2D application performance and edged out other powerful laptops on our latest 3D graphics tests; the Inspiron 9300 will undoubtedly deliver strong performance for office and content-creation apps. The Inspiron 9300 even bested the mighty Voodoo Envy m760 on our Half-Life 2 gaming benchmark, revving up to a speedy 64.60 frames per second, though it proved no match for our top gaming machine, the Dell XPS Gen 2. The Inspiron 9300's performance is more proof that a fast Pentium M coupled with Nvidia's latest and greatest graphics solution is a worthy competitor to a heavier, more unwieldy Pentium 4-based machine.
The Inspiron 9300 delivers exceptional design, features, and performance, but its warranty maintains the status quo. Dell backs the Inspiron 9300 with an industry-standard one-year warranty on parts and labor, available by mailing your laptop back to Dell; upgrading to three years of warranty protection costs $269. Toll-free telephone support also lasts for just a year. However, Dell offers a long list of warranty-extension options, including onsite repair, night and weekend service, and accidental-damage coverage, for up to $389. Since you'll be shelling out a pretty penny to get the Inspiron 9300, protecting your investment with at least a two-year warranty is a good idea. The best part of Dell's support Web site is the customer forum, where users can go to get help from other Inspiron owners and Dell reps who moderate the discussions. Otherwise, the site offers the typical knowledge base and downloads sections.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
BAPCo's SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2004 office productivity  
HP zd8000
Gateway m680
Dell Inspiron 9200
Dell Inspiron 9300

3D gaming performance  (Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Atari Games/Epic Games Unreal Tournament 2004  
HP zd8000
Gateway m680

Find out more about how we test Windows notebooks.
Dell Inspiron 9200
Windows XP Professional; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 755; 1GB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm
Dell Inspiron 9300
Windows XP Media Center; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 760; 1GB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go 6800 Go 256MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 80GB 5,400rpm
Gateway m680
Windows XP Professional; 2.13GHz Intel Pentium M 770; 1GB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon X700 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 60GB 7,200rpm
HP zd8000
Windows XP Media Center; 3.6GHz Intel Pentium 4 560; 1GB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon X600 256MB; Toshiba MK8026GAX 80GB 5,400rpm