Dell has pitched the Inspiron 2650 as a mid-range system that will appeal to small businesses and home buyers. There are various versions on offer, with ex-VAT pricing starting at under £1,000, but all are based on Intel’s notebook-specific Pentium 4 Processor-M, which indicates a certain seriousness of purpose.
The model reviewed here is one of the more powerful, with a 1.7GHz CPU, and Dell has taken the sensible step of leveraging Pentium 4 performance with PC2100 DDR SDRAM. Better still, you get a realistic 256MB of this memory as standard, along with a plentifully capacious 30GB hard disk.
There’s a choice of optical drives, so you could save some money by opting for a plain CD-ROM, but the review sample came with a CD-RW/DVD combination drive which plays CDs at 24-speed, DVDs at 8-speed, and carries out writes and rewrites at 8-speed. The floppy and optical drives are fixed in place, so there’s an argument for getting the most versatile at the outset, especially if the machine is being bought for the home.
An internal V.92 fax modem comes as standard, and you can opt for an internal 10/100Base-TX internal LAN if you need it. The review machine came with one installed which made it slightly more expensive.
Graphics are provided by Nvidia’s GeForce2 Go 100 accelerator, which was fitted with 16MB of DDR memory. This is an appropriate choice of GPU for a system like this, since it offers good 2D performance for general Windows use plus a moderate amount of 3D acceleration, which comes in handy for the occasional spot of gaming. The Nvidia adapter does the job, but it’s probably a good idea to keep your games’ resolution, colour depth and detail levels at middling settings for smoothest play.
The screen has recently been upgraded, and the 15-inch panel now runs in SXGA+ (1400 x 1050) rather than straight XGA. This gives you quite a bit more desktop and workspace area, but of course the size of text and screen objects is much reduced. If you don’t get on with high-resolution notebook panels for this reason, you could save some cash by specifying the 14.1-inch XGA panel as an alternative.
You don’t get a TV output, nor is there an IEEE1394 interface. The serial port has also disappeared, to be replaced by a pair of USB ports, but both the parallel port and a PS/2 connector for an external keyboard remain.
You might well not need the latter since the Inspiron’s own keyboard is entirely usable, thanks in part to the machine’s overall size. Its 328 x 274mm footprint makes for comfortable typing, but this is not a notebook for the regular traveller, since its dimensions contribute to its weight; a fairly substantial 3.65kg.
Build quality is generally fairly good, and the main body of the notebook feels solid and well put together. The screen lid is plastic, and relies on a generous clearance between itself and the actual screen to absorb the force of any impacts. This is an effective enough tactic, but in a perfect world, magnesium or titanium alloy would be preferable.
Despite its inbuilt power-saving routines, the Pentium 4-M is still relatively thirsty and battery life will tend to average at around the two hour mark. This is acceptable for a fast notebook, but obviously it isn’t going to let you work away from the mains all afternoon.
Overall performance is fairly good, thanks to the combination of P4 power with fast DDR memory and a reasonably responsive hard disk. The supplied copy of Office XP Home ran happily, and so should anything else within the normal range of business software.
The basic warranty gives you the benefit of collect and return cover, although Dell quotes a six day collection period. Faster on-site cover is available, but of course it costs more – £199 buys three years’ worth of next day on-site maintenance.
On balance the Inspiron is a product that works: you get the features that you need, wrapped up in a well designed package which doesn’t cost the earth.
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