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Dell fields 17-inch notebook

The new model features the PC maker's biggest notebook display to date. Yet the device is only 1.5 inches thick--fairly svelte.

Dell's Inspiron notebook line made its big-screen debut Tuesday with the introduction of a model with a 17-inch display.

As expected, the Inspiron 9200, which starts at $1,699, features more screen real-estate in an effort to appeal to customers interested in viewing movies or manipulating multimedia files.

Dell said its 17-inch wide-screen display offers a 26 percent larger viewing area than a typical 15.4-inch display, the next-smallest screen size available in notebooks. At the same time, the 9200 measures about 1.5 inches thick and weighs less than 8 pounds, making it fairly svelte for a 17-inch screen notebook.

Still, the big screen comes with a price. It starts at a list price of $1,699 before rebates and special offers (Dell on Tuesday was offering a $200 instant rebate). But adding more memory, increasing hard drive capacity and opting for a speedier processor quickly increases the 9200's price by several hundred dollars.

Although 17-inch notebooks have been on the market from companies such as Apple Computer since 2003, their high prices have limited their success to date, analysts say. Machines with 15.4-inch screens can be found for hundreds of dollars less.

Although Dell sells directly to customers (that is, not through stores), retail market data offers some indication of how consumers are reacting to 17-inch notebooks. The average price of about $2,000 has helped limit sales to 6 percent of total U.S. retail notebook sales in the past 15 months, according to data from market researcher NPD. The average selling price for all notebooks sold at retail stores is much lower, hovering around $1,350 during the last few months, according to NPD.

Dell offers Inspiron 9200 customers a choice between two 17-inch wide-screen displays, offering resolutions of either 1,440 pixels by 900 pixels, known as WXGA+, or 1,920 pixels by 1200 pixels, known as WUXGA. The machine can also be configured with one of three Intel Pentium M processors (running at speeds between 1.6GHz and 2GHz), hard drives of up to 100GB, and wireless networking. The 9200 also comes with ATI's Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics, fitted with 128MB of its own memory.

The base 9200 comes with a 1.6GHz Pentium M 725, the WXGA+ 17-inch display, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM and an 802.11b Wi-Fi module from Intel. It's priced at $1,699. That price tag drops to $1,499 with the current Dell rebate.

The list price jumps to more than $2,000 if a customer chooses a 1.8GHz Pentium M 745, 512MB of RAM, a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive and an 80GB hard drive. After the rebate, the machine configured with those options sells for just over $1,800.

By comparison, Dell's Inspiron 8600, which comes with a 15.4-inch screen, starts at a list price of $1,349 with a Pentium M--or $1,149 after Dell's current $200 rebate. The model's base configuration includes a 1.4GHz Pentium M 710, a 15.4-inch WXGA (1,280 pixels by 800 pixels) display, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM drive, a Wi-Fi module and Nvidia's GeForce FX Go5200 graphics with 32MB of memory.