Dell Inspiron 3200 review
Pentium II processors are now the best choice for all but the cheapest PCs, and with 233MHz models now available for under £700, the days of the older Pentium are surely numbered.
However, laptops lag behind desktop PCs and it generally takes six months or so for new processors to make it into notebooks. CPUs need to be redesigned in less battery-sapping versions before they can comfortably make the transition. Given that the original Pentium II was a power-guzzling package the size of a box of cooking matches, Intel's mobile version has taken a while to arrive.
The Dell Inspiron 3200 uses one such mobile Pentium II chip. It has a 233MHz model, which is as slow as PII chips get, but still knocks spots off most plain Pentiums.
The Inspiron's looks are pretty straight-forward - it's black, square and slender, and it feels solid and well constructed. The keyboard is compact, and the keys themselves are fairly small. The action is light, without much travel, but I found typing pretty easy. Instead of a mouse you get a touch pad - the one fitted to the Inspiron, made by Synaptics, is great. Apart from being more responsive than average, the touch pad has lots of control enhancements that make it a lot easier to use than some of its rivals. For example, the right-hand edge of the pad is used to activate scroll-bars in documents.
Attachments for external devices are standard. There are PC Card slots (two Type II or one Type III) on the left-hand side, which is where the audio line in/out and headphone jacks are also to be found. The back sports a monitor output, parallel and serial ports, and a connector for a port replicator. These are in a recess and they look like they should be covered by a hinged flap, but there isn't one. There's also a USB port and an infra-red printer port.
The most noticeable thing about the Inspiron is the screen, though. It's an impressively large (13.3in) and bright TFT affair can be run at a resolution of 1,024x768. While it's smaller than a 14in monitor, it is sharp enough to make 1,024x768 resolution perfectly legible. The only problem is that it's almost too bright - it strained my eyes in a dimly-lit room, and the brightness control's limited range couldn't compensate.
The performance of the Inspiron is impressive. The 233MHz PII is great for most tasks, but it really comes into its own for games. The 32Mb of RAM is adequate, but not generous. Still, the combination of CPU, 512K cache and fast NeoMagic graphics give this machine something approaching desktop performance.
Though the Inspiron is cheap for a Pentium II machine, it's expensive as notebooks go. Unless you need the PII you might be better off with an MMX Pentium-based laptop. Having said that, it's a nice machine, and the combination of performance, build quality and screen make many alternatives look inadequate.