We recently purchased a number of new laptops at work. A number of them were for the board and a few for the IS department. The IS department needed beefier computers so we purchased Latitude D600s for them. The board however, simply needed a reliable, functional computer. Since they didnt need much, we opted for the low-end Dell laptop, the Inspiron 1100. Our experience with Dell has taught us that at least when dealing with Dell, the old adage of you get what you pay for could not be truer.
Recommend this product?
The laptop itself has respectable equipment for the price. Considering it is a laptop, which always cost more, the 2.4 Ghz Celeron processor is robust enough for the average user. The 14.1 display is very nice, perhaps the 1100s best feature. It has a clear, sharp picture that is viewable from even fairly extreme angles. Color on the screen is more than adequate for business use. The 20 GB hard drive is a nice size for a laptop. The problem is that Dell appears to have cut corners on quality here in order to bring the cost down. As you will see below, many of the problems seem to involve the hard drive. It also includes a 56k modem and embedded NIC. When we purchased ours, we got a deal where they doubled the 256MB of memory for free so the 512 MB has been up to the task for everything thrown at it so far. Throw in the 24x CDRW/DVD drive and you have a decent machine. The one thing I wish they had included is a floppy drive. While not as widely used as they once were, they are still used enough that including it should have been worthwhile. It isnt worth what they charge for it as an Add-on though.
The best thing you get with the 1100 is the software package. Not only does the laptop come with Windows XP Home and the Dell Tools CD standard it includes a host of other software. One thing that Dell has started doing that I think is wonderful is that they actually include an O/S CD with the laptop rather than just a restore CD. On top of this great little perk, they throw in: Word Perfect Productivity Pack, MS Money 2004, MS Encyclopedia 2004, Dell Jukebox and a 90 day trial of MacAfee Anti-Virus. The software package is robust enough to meet the needs of an average office employee but needs more for a power user. This is an area that Dell did not skimp in; we have had no problems with any of the software provided by Dell.
The good thing about the Inspiron 1100 is definitely the price. These are 2.4 ghz Celeron processors in a laptop for just a little more than the price of a desktop. No other manufacturer has a model that can compete with this one on price alone. We purchased 13 of these at about $599 each.
When they are working, they are durable and reliable. Considering they are not Centrino chips, they get a lot of life out of a fully charged battery. Again, when they are working, there seems to be few problems during typical use. Word-processing, presentation viewing, reading acrobat documents and the like do not seem to be a problem for these laptops.
The when they are working caveat in the good section is due to this models propensity to Blue Screen. (For those of you who are not aware, when a Windows NT, 2000, or XP machine crashes it gives a blue screen of information meant to help troubleshoot the crash. This is commonly referred to as the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD).) So far, of the 13 of the Inspirons we purchased, 11 have now had at least one BSOD. After extensive troubleshooting here, we have narrowed one of the causes down and it seems to be a problem with the embedded NIC and Windows Update. It is easily resolved, simply reboot in safe mode, go into Device Manager and disable all the NIC variations, reboot and re-enable them. All of them will disappear except for the actual driver. If this were the only cause, it wouldnt be much of a concern since the Windows Updates are infrequent. The problem seems to crop up for unexplained reasons during other operations as well. The simple process of booting up, for instance, may result in a BSOD. Other simple processes that have caused a BSOD have been closing an application, opening a file, and changing web pages. Oddly enough, other than Internet Explorer (IE), once you get into an application it is pretty much safe until you are ready to close it. We did discover how to fix all of these problems for good (or so it seems). This is where it gets
The Truly Ugly
As bad as the laptops work and all the problems we have had with them, the worst thing by far is the Customer Service and Technical Support available with the Inspiron. (On a side note, if you go with a Latitude, you get a completely different set of support people.) The technical support staff was pathetic. I have never been treated so rudely by any support provider. Our next step was to send a laptop in for service and they assured me they would fix the problem. To their credit, they sent a padded box specifically for the laptop and paid for shipping both ways. This small act of kindness on their part was quickly overshadowed when I opened the box. They had replaced a faulty motherboard on this particular laptop; however, there was also a hard drive problem. They could not replace that. I had to call and have a new hard drive delivered and I had to install the replacement hard drive on the machine they were fixing. After all was said and done, it did work again and the BSODs went away.
After a call to Customer Service to report the jokers I dealt with the first time and see if I could get someone who would actually assist me, I was given someone even worse than the first Technical Support person. I asked to speak with a manager and he put me through to a different support person who actually listened to what I said and with a little troubleshooting and a little trial and error, we discovered that replacing the hard-drive and reinstalling everything from scratch seemed to do the trick. Now that we knew the problem, you would think that it would simply allow me to get replacements for all t he laptops having the problem. You would think that, so would I, so would most reasonable men and women, not the Dell Technical support staff. Even though they could see that I had purchased 13 of these laptops and reported problems with 11 of them, I would have to call for each of them, giving the various numbers for each one in turn. They would not even allow me to give them the list of service tag numbers all at once so they could send the drives together and save me a lot of time on all the phone calls.
The Bottom Line
While the Inspiron does turn out to be a serviceable laptop at a very good price, all of your savings will be eaten up by the time it takes to get to that point. If you are not technically savvy, you will have a hard time getting this laptop to a point where it is usable. You are far better spending a little more money on a low-end Latitude and getting far better performance and service for your dollar. It will save you money, time and sanity.
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Amount Paid (US$): 600
Operating System: Windows
Processor: Intel Celeron
Processor speed: over 1000
Screen Size: 14 inches
RAM: More than 256
Internal Storage: CD-RW and DVD
Hard Drive (GB): 13-20