Dell Inspiron 3700 500GT review
Budget notebooks used to mean putting up with a slower processor and a tiny hard disk.
However, a glance at the spec of this notebook shows that's all changed. Speed and space are in abundance. It's also clear some effort has been put into appearance, too. Instead of the usual plain black slab, the 3700 has some eye-pleasing curves. The unit we received was a dull grey colour, but according to the web site it can be ordered in 'Tahoe Blue'. Sounds a lot more interesting.
A notebook has many inherent advantages over a deskbound PC. By its very nature it's portable, allowing you to be productive almost anywhere. And in the office, its reduced size means a much more spacious desk.
However, the size also means that ergonomic compromises have to be made. Instead of a mouse, notebooks employ either a pointer or a trackpad. Which works best is essentially a matter of personal preference, but in the case of the Inspiron 3700, we're spoilt for choice. Dell has included both. At first I was comfortable with either, but eventually the trackpad had to be turned off. Accidental thumb contact tended to make the cursor shoot off to an unintended part of the screen. Moving to the pointer didn't resolve all the problems, however, as the buttons underneath did have an alarming tendency to stick, causing chunks of text to be highlighted and even moved.
It's therefore advisable to use an external mouse if you're hoping to replace your desktop PC. This won't be a problem, thanks to the plethora of ports including PS/2, USB and serial. If you want a bigger screen (say for presentation purposes), you can output to an external monitor via the standard VGA port. Thanks to the generous 8Mb of video memory on the ATi Rage Mobility M1 graphics chip, this can be pushed to a resolution of 1,600x1,200. An S-Video out port (thoughtfully accompanied by a composite converter cable) means you can use a TV, too.
Considering the problems with the trackpads and pointer buttons, the quality of the keyboard was something of a relief. Many notebook keyboards suffer from a saggy middle, but the Dell's is the firmest I've ever come across. Typing also benefits from a full-size space bar and Enter key, as well as discrete placing of the Arrow keys.
The keyboard's firmness, however, was not matched by the screen. Though solidly attached by its hinges, the lid exhibited an alarming degree of flexibility - a drop test would do this notebook no favours. The display on the 3700 is 14.1in, just fine for the default 1,024x768 resolution. The technology used is the superior TFT, and image quality was good, if not outstanding, with even lighting and no 'dead' pixels - ideal for watching a movie via the (included) 6-speed DVD drive. This drive can also be hot-swapped with the floppy drive, thanks to the PC's BayManager software.
Hard disk technology has come a long way in recent years, packing more megabytes into the same physical space. The hard disk on this 3700 is a generous 12.7Gb, a capacity that would put some desktops to shame.
But the area where the Dell really excels is in performance. A 500MHz Mobile Pentium III and 128Mb of memory combine to make the Dell the fastest notebook yet to grace the pages of Computer Buyer. It whizzed through our benchmark suite in no time, with a score of 1,481.
A faster processor can often shorten battery life, but this wasn't the case here, the lithium ion battery lasting a healthy 2hrs 20mins in our tests. Sadly, though, the Inspiron 3700 doesn't yet benefit from Intel's new SpeedStep technology, which enables power saving for the processor, extending battery life still further.