Dell’s 6400 series starts at just $1499 but our model packs in the upgrades for a grand more. It sports a 2.16GHz T2600 Core processor and a 16:10 widescreen with a 1680 x 1050 resolution.
It’s not a bad-looking machine either. With a silver body edged with iBook-esque white, it’s clearly aimed at the sort of home that’s been finished with burnished oak floors. It’s well built too, but it does feel every gram of its 2.85kg weight and, despite a 39mm height, it’s also bulky: this isn’t a notebook we’d choose to take on our travels every day.
However, you’ll be able to use it away from the mains without worrying about battery life. Under light use, with the backlight set to a low but readable level, it survived for three and three-quarter hours. When the processor was pushed to the limit, it managed two hours, eight minutes, so you’ll get somewhere between the two depending on what you’re doing. Playing DVDs is a good example: it kept going for two-and-a-half hours before the battery gave up. That’s excellent news, as one of the 6400’s biggest strengths is when playing movies: the speakers are loud enough to fill a small room, while the screen looks fantastic thanks to its glossy finish. We were also impressed by its wide viewing angles, allowing several people to watch the screen at once.
The screen does have some minor failings, though. It has a slight grain, so whites don’t look pure white but slightly murky. However, neither is a damning criticism, and we didn’t find its glossy finish distracting either.
We were also won over by its terrific resolution. If you like working with several windows open at once, you’ll start to wonder how you ever coped without 1680 x 1050 pixels, and it’s also ideal when working with spreadsheets. Dell even includes scroll buttons built into the touchpad: slide your finger down the far right-hand side, for instance, and the page will scroll down.
The keyboard is respectable rather than great, with slightly spongey keys compensated for by its excellent layout – for instance, there are separate keys for operations such as page up and page down.
Dell intends the Inspiron 6400 as an all-round entertainment machine. There’s a wide selection of playback controls on the front and the OS is Windows XP Media Center Edition, although its usefulness is rather hampered by the lack of a TV tuner or remote control. You can add a USB or PC Card TV tuner easily enough and you can transfer large video files with the dual-layer DVD writer as the 80GB hard disk could soon fill up.
The X1400 graphics are mediocre, you’ll have to drop resolutions to play the latest games as 12.5fps and 13.3fps in Half-Life 2 and Far Cry attest. You certainly won’t be disappointed by the Inspiron’s speed in general use, though: those two cores mean you’ll hardly ever see the hourglass, and it races through tasks like applying photo filters. Its score of 0.96 in our benchmarks is just four percent slower than a 3.2GHz Pentium D desktop machine.
With the relatively large chassis, there’s plenty of room for Dell to spread the connectors: two USB 2 ports at the back are kept company by S-Video, VGA, modem and 10/100 Ethernet connectors, with a further two USB 2 ports and mini-FireWire to be found at the right.
Digital camera owners will also appreciate the 5-in-1 built-in card reader. It includes 802.11b/g WLAN too. Best of all is Dell’s warranty. You get the standard Dell two week satisfaction guarantee plus a one year onsite next business day warranty to boot – no-one matches this as standard.
All in all it’s a great mid range notebook with 3D performance being the only real let down. It’s a little more expensive than the previously A-Listed Acer Aspire 5672WLMi but it beats it thanks to the screen resolution, multimedia abilities, power and outstanding support.
If the price is too much then choosing a lower spec (particularly a lower-priced processor) will save you some money at the expense of only a relatively minor performance hit.