Dell laptops Updated January 24, 2006
The pioneer of the built-to-order home computer, Dell remains the number one choice for purchasers of home computers. After years of calling all of its consumer-focused laptops simply Inspiron, Dell recently separated its laptops for home users into two distinct product families. The Inspiron line is aimed at those who simply need a straightforward computer, while the newly expanded XPS series focuses on high-performance PCs for customers who are willing to spend extra on a complete PC for gaming and digital home entertainment. A third line, Latitude, is geared toward business users.
With many Dell laptops, choosing a model is just the beginning: you'll also be able to choose Intel Celeron or Pentium processors in a variety of speeds, different quantities of RAM, multiple hard drive sizes, and several optical drives. With the exception of the XPS line, the Inspiron E1705, and the business ultraportable Latitude X1, all of Dell's laptops start at prices below $1,600--and in most cases, rebates and Web-exclusive deals bring the starting price even lower. And you'll generally get a pretty compelling set of specs and features for your money.
There are, however, two noticeable absences from Dell's product lineup. First, though Dell offers a range of component choices, processors aren't one of them; the manufacturer exclusively offers Intel mobile processors, eschewing less expensive processors from AMD. Second, Dell has yet to add a tablet PC to its business line of laptops, though we suspect that will change once tablets have moved more firmly into the mainstream
As it has from the beginning, Dell sells PCs direct from its Web site. Though the company has begun to test the retail waters by selling some low-end models at Costco
, you generally won't find Dell systems in brick-and-mortar stores, nor are they available online from retailers such as NewEgg.com or Buy.com.
Dell laptop lines:
Dell's line of high-end consumer laptops, the XPS series, includes two models. The 5.5-pound XPS M140 provides a pretty impressive mix of entertainment features for a thin-and-light
; a 14.1-inch wide-aspect display, dedicated multimedia controls, and Windows XP Media Center
come standard. Those features make the XPS M140 a great, lightweight entertainment PC, though its lack of a discrete GPU means it's not cut out for serious gaming. Still, the XPS M140's appealing design, speedy performance, and lengthy battery life--not to mention its $999 starting price--will appeal to home and small-office users with multimedia aspirations.
The other member of the XPS line, the XPS M170 desktop replacement
, is one of the most powerful gaming laptops on the market. It's actually a refresh of Dell's high-octane XPS Gen 2
model, with some upgraded components--most notably Nvidia's latest mobile GeForce Go 7800 GTX 256 3D graphics chip. In addition to the new GPU, our fully loaded test configuration
was equipped with an Intel 2.26GHz Pentium M processor and 1GB of RAM, which resulted in dynamite performance. Pricing starts at $2,699 and goes sky-high--our fully loaded XPS M170 test unit
cost $3,642. Though it's probably too much for amateurs, the XPS M170's amazing performance and loaded feature set helps Dell live up to its promise of a "Lexus" lineup
Dell's consumer-focused Inspiron line offers something for every budget in almost every size category
. In the thin-and-light
category, the 4.1-pound Inspiron 700m--a longtime CNET editors' top laptop
--offers a choice of Pentium M processors up to 2GHz, up to 2GB RAM, and up to an 80GB hard drive. The 700m also includes a 12.1-inch wide-aspect display and integrated Intel graphics. When we reviewed the 700m
, we found that it offered a great mix of performance and features at a reasonable price.
The 700m will be phased out in early 2006, though, to make way for the Inspiron 710m
. Virtually identical to the 700m, with the exception of a slightly faster processor and a new case color, the 710m delivers great battery life, but we think you can get much more for its $1,699 price.
The Inspiron line includes three midsize
models. The $599 Inspiron B120 offers an economical Intel Celeron processor, either 256MB or 512MB of RAM, a 14.1-inch display, and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. The slightly heavier Inspiron B130, which starts at $699, offers similar configuration options with an option for a Pentium M processor, more room for RAM upgrades (up to 1GB) and a choice of 14.1-inch or 15.4-inch wide-screen displays. Though those specs aren't stacked, these bare-bones laptops should be sufficient for e-mail, Web surfing, and typing documents. The Inspiron 6000, which starts at $999, offers a 15.4-inch wide-screen display and an optional ATI Mobility Radeon X300 graphics card. Though the integrated graphics in our Inspiron 6000 review unit
weren't robust enough for demanding graphics tasks, the machine did deliver a solid combination of performance and features for the average home user.
Long the sole desktop replacement
in Dell's consumer lineup, the Inspiron 9300 has plenty of handy connections as well as an expansive 17-inch wide-aspect display, though a number of users have complained about the screen's resolution
. In early 2006, the Inspiron 9300 will be phased out to make room for the newest model in Dell's consumer lineup, the Inspiron E1705. Though it shares the same case design and many of the same features as the Inspiron 9300, the E1705 includes Intel's Core Duo T2400 processor, the Nvidia 256MB GeForce Go 7800 graphics card, and a few other revisions. It's not cheap--the first available configuration costs $2,299--but the E1705's top-of-the-line components promise a ton of power for entertainment, multimedia, and gaming.
Dell's business line of Latitudes features a model for every size category. Latitudes generally include midrange to high-end Pentium M processors (except the D510, which offers a budget-friendly Celeron option), along with swift hard drives and more RAM than Inspiron models. Latitudes typically come with business-friendly features, such as a modular bay (for an optical drive, a spare battery, or an extra hard drive); security measures, such as a Trusted Platform Module
and a smart card reader; and a standard three-year warranty that includes onsite service. Most Latitudes ship with Windows XP Professional, though buyers can save a few bucks by opting for Windows XP Home Edition instead.
The Latitude lineup includes two ultraportable models, the X1 and the D410. The 2.5-pound Latitude X1 is the more portable of the two, squeezing fewer features and less power into an extremely thin case. The chunkier 3.9-pound D410 is the more well-rounded model, with a faster, 1.73GHz processor, a larger hard drive, and a PC Card slot. Both models lack an optical drive and have a 12.1-inch (diagonal) display, though the Latitude X1's is a wide screen.
The Latitude's thin-and-light
, the D610, may not be as flashy as the XPS M140
, but it combines a 14.1-inch XGA
display with a choice of integrated Intel graphics or a discrete chip with 64MB video memory. It's a bit pricey for a small-business user--pricing starts at more than $1,300--but it's a solid all-around laptop.
Slightly bulkier and at least 0.5 pound heavier than the D610, the Latitude D510 offers a choice of a 14.1-inch or 15-inch XGA
displays. The D510 is easily the most customizable model in Dell's Latitude lineup, with an astounding array of configurations, from the budget-oriented $799 model to the $2,061 top-of-the-line machine. The D510 lacks discrete graphics, and it's the only Latitude that does not include a Trusted Platform Module or a smart card reader. However, for businesses on a tight budget, the Latitude D510 delivers a good mix of features and performance for the money.
The Latitude D810 desktop replacement
offers processing power and graphics performance that rivals more entertainment-oriented systems. Its 15.4-inch display comes in your choice of three native resolutions (WXGA
, or the superfine WUXGA
), which affords an incredible amount of screen real estate. This model may be overkill for typical productivity work--you're better off with the cheaper, more portable D510 for that--but the D810's performance and display size are well suited to database or graphics work.