The Inspiron 3800 is Dell’s most affordable power notebook, and as such is aimed at the small business or home buyer who wants a laptop rather than a desktop cluttering up the place. It comes with a software bundle to match its targeting in the form of Works Suite 2000, and a Psion Dacom GoldCard multifunction PC Card modem is included in the price. This handy device does the usual V.90 modem stuff, but if you are prepared to shell out the extra for the appropriate connectors, it can also be used with a GSM mobile and even an ISDN line.
Although the Inspiron isn’t especially compact, or particularly light at 3.15kg, it’s actually a two-spindle notebook with a multifunction bay at the front which can be used either for the 6-speed Toshiba DVD-ROM player or the floppy drive. As usual, the floppy drive can be plugged in via the parallel port when there’s something else in the bay, and there are optional modules available including CD-RW, ZIP 100, LS-120 and a second battery pack. With an eye to convenience, Dell includes a simple software utility that lets you hot-swap drives.
The 12GB IBM TravelStar hard disk is removable, and the memory sockets are readily accessible beneath a panel in the base, but we did notice that the 128MB supplied occupied both sockets, so if you need to upgrade you will lose a 64MB module. The existing memory count should be sufficient for most users, though.
There was some flex in the body of the case, particularly where the battery and drive bay cutouts weakened the middle of the palm rest, and the lid surface moulding was thin and gave way under pressure. In order to preserve the screen Dell has simply made the whole lid thicker, leaving more air between the back of the screen and the inside of the lid as a buffer, but we’d have much preferred to see the whole arrangement toughened up somewhat.
This model comes with a 14.1-inch XGA TFT screen which was reasonably bright and easy enough to read, and you get the very real benefit of one of Dell’s excellent keyboards as well. This approaches the size and relative key proportions of a desktop keyboard, and is a pleasure to use.
Performance is solid – there are some faster PIII/700 SpeedSteps out there, but the Dell is quick enough in its own right to keep most of us happy for the time being. We were even more pleased to discover that it will run for a good 3.5 hours on a full charge, which is a reasonable result for a 700MHz portable. It’s true that the build wasn’t quite all it could be, but on balance, the Inspiron’s many good points carry the day.
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