Dell Inspiron 9400 review

20 Apr 2006

Expensive and with only a great warranty and decent battery life to show for it, the Inspiron 9400 will disappoint those looking for a desktop replacement for entertainment

Price when reviewed 
1,269
4

The Inspiron 9000 series has impressed us in the past, so we were eager to find out whether Dell could make the 9400 the best model yet thanks to the Core Duo. The 9400 is customisable on Dell's website, so you can choose from various Core Solo and Duo parts as well as RAM, video and even OS configuration. Just bear in mind that the E-Value code you see above is for the specification on review: modifying it could bump up the price.

And at £1,269, the 9400 is the most expensive notebook on test. You do get a Core Duo T2500 CPU, which is the joint fastest on test with the Elonex and Hi-Grade: this meant it matched the Overall 2D performance of our reference PC, which packs a dual-core 3.2GHz Pentium D 840 chip.

Backing up the processor is 1GB of DDR2 RAM and a 100GB hard disk. But, despite the price, the Inspiron lacks a discrete graphics card, relying instead on Intel's GMA950 GPU. This could only muster 10fps in Half-Life 2 at 1,280 x 1,024 - not a great result. You can upgrade to a 256MB GeForce Go 7800, but that will set you back a wallet-busting £329.

It's a shame, as the 1,440 x 900 widescreen 17in display is ideal for gaming. However, even this proved slightly disappointing, as it had a grainy appearance, uneven backlighting and viewing angles were poor too.

This is all the more damning when you realise that Dell includes Windows XP Media Center Edition. Fortunately, the speakers offer decent quality and volume for music. And, ergonomically, we had no other complaints. The keyboard has a sensible layout and a firm action. Overall build quality is fantastic; the 9400 has one of the best-protected lids we've ever seen.

You'll never be short of USB 2 ports either. There are six of them, with two on the left side by the dual-layer DVD drive for easy access. Bluetooth is also fitted, as is 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, but the Ethernet connection is 10/100 rather than the expected Gigabit. Other benefits, though, are the DVI, VGA and S-Video outputs.

Many will appreciate the three-year on-site warranty, but the long battery life (of almost five hours under light use) isn't that useful on a notebook weighing 3.5kg.

Asus' A7J can't match the Dell on the latter two counts but has a better screen, a TV tuner and a decent GPU for less money. If you're after a powerful desktop-replacement notebook for entertainment, the Asus offers better value.