Price: from £949 plus VAT
While other vendors such Sony offer desktop replacements with traditional screens that grow ever taller to 15.7 or 16 inches, Dell is following Apple by going wider. The new wide-aspect Inspiron 8500 measures 15.4 inches diagonally with a resolution of up to 1,920-x-1,200 pixels – the highest resolution we’ve seen so far on a laptop – and has a 16:10 aspect ratio. Pricing for the Inspiron 8500 begins at a low £949 plus VAT, but add the features that it deserves and that rises steadily. Our test machine featured a 2.4GHz Pentium 4-M processor, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a DVD/CD-RW combo drive and the 1,920-x-1,200-pixel version of the screen – which drives the price up to a still-acceptable £1,483. What can you do with the extra width? It lets you display side-by-side A4 pages or Web browser windows – handy for design. It’s ideal for video-editing tools such as Avid Xpress DV or Adobe Premiere. And in our graphics tests, the 8500 combined the wider screen with fast frame rates for great-looking 3D. The wide screen is just one element of a complete redesign of Dell’s flagship notebook. The elegant 8500 has a silver skin with dark blue mouse buttons and keyboard border. Dedicated audio buttons sit in a vertical panel down the right side of the keyboard. The 8500’s dual pointing-devices, a touchpad and an eraserhead, improve on the 8200’s dual design, especially with regard to the eraserhead’s mouse buttons. They depress more deeply and comfortably than the 8200’s stiff, concave buttons did. The 8500 also introduces an external battery gauge (you had to remove the battery to see the old one) and a spring-loaded release on the side for the optical drive (on the 8200, you had to slide a release on the bottom of the notebook). For a notebook with such an enormous screen, the 8500 is remarkably slender and easy to carry. It measures 4cm tall with the lid closed, and weighs 3.3kg, not including the power adaptor. However, the battery life is mediocre at 2.3 hours, and the keyboard felt flimsy to us. When we typed, we could see the keyboard flex. The 8500 may have a breathtaking screen, but it’s modestly equipped otherwise. All of the expected notebook connections are there, including a FireWire port, but you get no fancy memory slots or multiple USB ports. Our unit didn’t include the optional 802.11b/g wireless Mini-PCI card that Dell offers, either. The 8500 earned a PC WorldBench 4 score of 105 – very close in performance to the 107 posted by the other two 2.4-GHz Pentium 4-M notebooks we’ve tested.