» Dell Inspiron 9300 Laptop Review «
Processor » Intel Pentium M Dothan 1.6GHz / 2 MB L2 Cache / 533MHz FSB
Hard Disk Drive » Fujitsu 100GB 5400RPM 8MB Cache ATA-6
Optical Drive » Sony 8x DVD±RW / 24x CD±RW DVD burner
Screen » LG 17" WXGA+ LCD (1440 x 900 Native Resolution)
Graphics Card » NVIDIA GeForce Go 6800 256 MB
RAM » Dell 256MB 200-pin 533MHz DDR2 SO-DIMM (PC2 4200)
Operating System » Windows XP Home w/ SP2
Battery » (2x) Sony Lithium-Ion 9 Cell (11.1V, 80WHr)
Power Supply » Dell 90 Watt AC Adapter
Wireless Card » Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 b/g 54Mbps Mini PCI card
Total Cost » $1260 + about $200 for the 4-year At-Home Warranty with Complete Care after the 40% off coupon
Processor » Intel Pentium M Dothan 1.7GHz / 2MB L2 Cache / 400MHz FSB » $120 (eBay - laptoppartswarehouse)
Graphics Card » NVIDIA GeForce Go 7800 GTX 256MB » $350 (eBay - bluedevils32701)
Sound Card » Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS PCMCIA Notebook » $55 (NBF - drzoidberg)
RAM » (2x) 1 GB Kingston 200-pin 533MHz DDR2 SO-DIMM (PC2 4200) » $200 (Newegg)
Power Supply » Dell 130 Watt AC Adapter » $30 (eBay - cosmicsalesinc)
Accessories / Other
Headphones » Icemat Siberia Headset » $20 (after $20 MIR) (Buy.com)
Mouse » Logitech MX518 Optical Gaming Mouse » $40 (Bestbuy)
Keyboard » Microsoft Standard Wireless Keyboard » $50 (Bestbuy)
Thermal Paste » Arctic Silver 5 (3.5g) » $6 (Jab-Tech)
Laptop Cooler » Powmax Typhoon Cooling Pad » $9 (OutletPC)
Ordering & Shipping
This is the 2nd computer I've ordered from Dell online. Ordering was fairly quick and easy using their website. You just follow the links to the computer you want until you get to the configuration pages. It's a very simple layout where you just click the bubble of the component you want and any changes are automatically updated to your total. Dell gives you a bunch of options on hardware, software, accessories, and warranties, but unfortunately they don't give you the option of not having all the pre-installed crap included with your computer.
The checkout cart is pretty straight forward. You see the sub total, can add cupons and estimate all the extra fees (S&H, Tax) with the calculator, then they give you a grand total before you commit to buying it, which really helped me in deciding (and convincing my parents) to purchase the right laptop.
The only part that screwed me up was after entering in all the shipping and billing information where you submit your order. The page with the submit button looks like a receipt with a detailed readout of exactly what you're buying, but is not actually submitted yet. I somehow made the mistake of thinking I had already submitted the order, when in reality I didn't. Even though this was my mistake, I was still a little mad at Dell. This was almost a huge mistake, as by the time I emailed Dell about my order, the 40% off coupon had expired. So needless to say when Dell claimed they didn't recieve my order, I was a little angry with them. Everything ended up turning out fine as they released another 40% off very shortly thereafter. This time, I made sure to double check everything and go through all the steps and had no further problems after that incident.
I ordered my 9300 late at night on August 2nd and I recieved a confirmation email right away. You are able to check the status of your order on Dell's website. Their estimated ship date was on August 18th, then to add onto that, they have standard 3-5 day shipping. So at first, I was expecting the longest wait of my life. It sat in "In Production" for three days, then all of the sudden, it jumped all the way to "Boxing" in 1 day, meaning it went through "Kitting", "Build", and "Testing" in less than 24 hours. Then two days later, it was "Shipped". So in all, it took Dell 6 days to build my computer in Malaysia, ship it to the United States, and then send it to me. Not too shabby.
I must have entered in that UPS tracking number a couple hundred times. I probably knew the number by heart. Anyway, two days after Dell shipped my computer, it arrived at my doorstep. So in total, it took 8 (if you count the day I ordered it, but it was more like 7) days from when I ordered it to when I recieved it. I am very pleased with how quickly Dell was able to get me my laptop.
I always worry about how well the things I order are packed, hoping the shipper packs the boxes well enough to survive the trip. Well, as it turns out, Dell seems to be very good at safely shipping packages (at least in my experience). When I looked at the boxes that arrived at my door, they looked like they took no damage at all. I opened them up and everything was exactly how it should have been, nothing was broken or missing. The only thing that disappointed me was they didn't include a Windows XP recovery / reinstallation CD or the drivers and applications CDs. A polite email to Dell tech support requesting the CDs was all it took to get them to send them to me, free of charge.
First thing I did after opening the package was to check for any exterior defects, which there were none I could find. I expected a plastic flimsy type feel as in some cheaper laptops, but it felt very solid and sturdy. There is very little flex when you push down on the lid of the laptop. Even with the little flex, the rubber guards on the inside of the lid keep the screen from ever coming in contact with the keyboard / touchpad area.
The laptop has a ton of screws holding it together, which is a pain if you're taking it apart, but it holds the laptop together very well, so I'm not complaining. Overall the laptop is very well built and held together. So unless you drop it or bang it against something regularly, it'll probably last a long time with everyday wear and tear.
The screen is probably one of the most important parts of the laptop, so this is the component I was most worried about. I saw a lot of threads about how bad the "sparkle" effect was, and how they couldn't possibly stand the light leakage. I decided to go with the WXGA+ screen over the WUXGA because my brother has a glossy LCD display for his desktop and I don't like the glare I get off of it sometimes. The resolution wasn't much of a deciding factor, I was fine with the 1440 x 900, I didn't need anything higher than that.
When I first turned on the computer, I was impressed by the clarity and brightness of the screen. After a few small color and brightness adjustments, the screen is actually very nice. It took me a while to figure out what the "sparkle" effect was, and it is there, but it's not nearly as bad and some people make it out to be. To me, it's barely noticeable unless you're sitting very close and you're specifically looking for it.
As for the light leakage, there was a considerable amount at first, but most of it went away over time. It's only noticeable on a dark backround in an unlit room, so it doesn't bug me at all. However, in a dark room with the brightness turned down, I do tend to notice that the screen isn't quite evenly lit, which kinda annoys me.
Keyboard / Touchpad
As many other 9300 owners have noted, Dell should have designed it with a full keyboard (it's missing the keypad), as they had plenty of room to work with. There is no flex in the keys, and they have just the right amount of movement while typing to give you the right amount of recoil, which helps when typing a lot.
The touchpad could be a little bigger (again, a lot of space for Dell to work with), but otherwise, the touchpad is still better than ones on some other laptops. I still prefer using an external mouse, but when I don't have one, the touchpad is sufficient.
The only problem I have with the keyboard / touchpad placement is that sometimes when typing, I accidentally brush the touchpad with my thumb which throws the cursor wherever the mouse is pointing, which is annoying when you're trying to type.
I love the media buttons on the front of the laptop. All the necessary buttons are there, and they light up blue when one of them is pushed, which is very cool, especially at night. I wish there was an option to keep them lit though, but I can't seem to find it if there is one.
Along with the added support from Microsoft Intellitype software (which I use for my wireless keyboard), the media buttons work with most of my favorite media applications, such as Winamp and PowerDVD, but there are a few little quirks. With Winamp, it has to be minimized to the task bar in order to work with the media buttons, not sure why. It would have been nice if Dell had "Instant-on" media capabilities like some other companies have, which allows you to listen to music and play movies without booting up Windows to extend the battery life, but I can live without it.
I was more impressed with the overall look of the laptop in person, pictures really don't do it justice. The design is very sleek and professional. I still think the laptop would look better with black trim like on the XPS2, but it doesn't bother me as much as some people.
After a couple weeks, the decal on the lid that says "INSPIRON" was starting to rub off, so I went ahead and rubbed the rest of it off. Later on, I also took off the stickers in the lower right-hand side of the palm rest area that say "Designed for Windows XP" and "Intel Centrino Technology". I think the laptop looks better without them anyway.
The sound that comes from the speakers is very good quality compared to other notebooks. The subwoofer really adds to the quality of the sound in music and movies. The sound can get very loud before any distortion is noticeable.
My only complaint with the sound on the laptop, and I may just have a faulty sound card or something, is that sometimes the sound goes out because of a loose or broken connection in the headphone jack. Whenever it goes out, I have to stick a plug from a set of headphones into the jack and wiggle around the connector inside to get it to work properly. I might have to call Dell eventually to see if they can either replace the part or get someone to fix it, but for now, wiggling connections is a hassle but an easy fix.
The two stock fans inside the laptop, one for the CPU, one for the GPU, work fairly well to keep the temperature down by blowing the hot air off of the heatsinks. To control the fans and monitor my computer temps, I use spudsdude's program I9kFanGUI . I forgot to write down the temperatures with stock components, but I know that they were close to 30-35°C for the CPU and 45-50°C for the GPU when idle and with the fans on low, not bad.
The only problems I've had with overheating were after about 7 months, a good 1/2" of dust was building up between the fans and heatsinks. The temperatures were getting way too high. Up to this point, I had never opened up my laptop before, but I'm glad I did when I did, before something overheated and died. As long as the dust is kept from building up, the fans do a pretty good job.
After opening my computer for the first time and seeing how simple it was, this got me started on a customization phase.
CustomizationApplying Arctic Silver
NOTE: I followed the instructions found on Arctic Silver's website that can be found HERE. In addition to the instructions, I also used the pictures and advice found in Why0Why's photo guide to applying AS5 that can be found HERE.
After realizing how hot my laptop was getting and cleaning out my fans, I decided that maybe some Arctic Silver wasn't such a bad idea to help keep the temps down a little bit. I shopped around for it on sites like Newegg, but the shipping cost was almost always about as much as the product itself. Eventually, I found Jab-Tech.com selling it for $6 with free shipping, so I jumped on that deal. Before the AS5 arrived, I went to the store to buy some supplies needed to do the mod. I bought 99% isopropyl alcohol, a lint-free cloth, and some compressed air, costing less than $7 total.
When I recieved the AS5 in the mail, I went straight to work on applying it. First, I opened up the laptop and took off the CPU heatsink, after that I took a small pocket knife and slid it underneath the black thermal sticker to remove it from the heatsink, then I cleaned off the stickly black goop residue it left behind with the isopropyl alcohol absorbed into a Q-tip swab as recommended by the Arctic Silver instructions. I then did the same to the core of the CPU.
After it was cleaned with the alcohol, I dried the surfaces with the lint-free cloth. I then follwed the instructions by applying an amount of AS5 "Slightly less then the size of an uncooked grain of short-grain white rice or 1/2 of a BB" to the core of the CPU. I then took my pocket knife cleaned with the isopropyl alcohol and spread the AS5 evenly across the entire top of the core. It spreads very easily, almost like smooth peanut butter on a piece of bread. I made sure to smooth it out as evenly as possible, then replaced the CPU heatsink.
I then did the exact same thing with the GPU, only with a little bit more AS5 because the core is slightly bigger than the CPU's. A word of warning about the GPU, you will need a Torx T-8 screwdriver in order to remove the heatsink from the GPU. It took me a while to find a small enough bit in my dad's toolbox that fit the special screws, so make sure if you're going to do this mod to the GPU that you have the right screwdriver.
After reseating the GPU heatsink, I put the laptop back together, and booted up Windows. According to I9kFanGUI , my CPU temp was about 4-5°C below what it was before and my GPU temp was only about 2-3°C below what it was before the AS5. This is before the "200 hour break-in period" as described in the Arctic Silver instructions. Not too bad for about $13 total cost.
NOTE: Why0Why made a great guide on how to do the pin mod that can be found HERE. I used this guide as my main source of info on how to do the pinmod.
After a few months of reading a bunch of threads and posts about pin modding, I decided to give it a shot. I figured I could get a cheap 400MHz FSB CPU from EBay and then sell my 1.6GHz CPU that came with the laptop for basically the same price, making the upgrade very cheap to do. After losing a couple auctions on 1.8GHz CPUs, I found a 1.7GHz 400MHz CPU on EBay for $120 shipped from laptoppartswarehouse, so I decided to get it. A few days later I recieved it in the mail.
I opened up my laptop, popped out the old CPU, put the new one in, applied AS5 to the core, reseated the heatsink, and closed the laptop back up. I made sure the CPU wasn't DOA and that it worked before I tried the pin mod. I booted into the BIOS and the computer recognized the new CPU, then booted up Windows. Yup, everything was working fine, so I decided to go ahead and try the pinmod.
First, I chopped the cord off of a really old AC adapter that hadn't been used in years, so it wasn't needed anymore. I took a single copper strand and lopped off a small piece of it. The strand itself is no bigger than a single human hair, it's that small. I cleaned the strand with 99% isopropyl alcohol to clean any form of residue off of it and used tweezers to bend it into a "U" shape. After that, all I had to do was drop the pin into the correct holes between the 15th and 16th columns and the 3rd row down, much more simple than I thought It'd be.
I put everything back and booted into the BIOS again to check if it worked. Sure enough, the CPU was running at 2.26GHz, a 660MHz (or about 41%) speed increase from my 1.6GHz CPU. After this came the hard part with the pin mod, volt modding.
NOTE: Mr. K6 has made a great guide on volt modding that can be found HERE. I used this guide and his help as my main sources of info on how to volt mod. I also used TrueVolt, a little application made by Hazridi to help find what grounds result in what voltages.
After successfully completing the pin mod,I tried booting into Windows, but it would lock up after opening Notebook Hardware Control, a nifty program that allows you to manage and monitor many aspects of your laptop. This perplexed me for a few minutes. I thought about it for a while and remembered that I had it configured to undervolt my old CPU. Of course! Because the old CPU was only a 1.6 it didn't need the full 1.340v to run at full speed, but obviously the new one was going to need at least that much to get it to run stable.
To fix this, I had to go into the BIOS and disable speed stepping, the feature that allows Pentium M CPUs to change the multiplier of the chip on the fly to help conserve battery life when the CPU isn't in use. This forced the CPU to run at it's lowest multiplier of 6x (800Mhz). I was able to boot into Windows and clear my old CPU settings on NHC to make sure that it would not try to undervolt my new CPU when Windows boots up.
I rebooted back into the BIOS to re-enable speed stepping, and Windows then booted up fine at 1.340v. But then more problems arose. Whenever I would try to run Prime95, a program that overclockers use to stress their CPUs to test their stability, it would error after only a few minutes. Additionally, any games I would try to run would lock up the computer after only a few minutes. This meant the CPU wasn't getting enough voltage to stay stable.
I'd like to thank Mr. K6 for helping me at this stage. Through PMs and in his "Extreme pin modding guide" thread, he gave me advice on which volt mods to try in order to get the right one. Through a long process of trial and error, I was able to figure out that I needed 1.404v to get my CPU stable at it's highest multiplier. I was even able to slightly undervolt the lowest multiplier to .764v, so I'd say overall the pin mod was a complete success.
7800 GTX Upgrade
NOTE: IRobertus has made a great guide on how to upgrade to the Go 6800 Ultra or the Go 7800 GTX that can be found HERE. I used this guide in addition to Mr. K6's advice as my main sources of info on how to do the upgrade.
After weeks of reading threads about 7800 success stories, people bragging about their 3DMark scores, Dell's discontinuation of the Go 7800 GTX, very slowly dropping prices, and seeing as how this will probably be the best card compatible with the 9300, I finally gave in and started bidding on eBay auctions for the card. I set a price limit of $350 being the max amount I would pay for one. I lost quite a few auctions by a couple bucks, but I waited patiently.
One night I was bidding on one of bluedevils32701's 7800s that he sells on EBay (he also sells them on the forums in the For Sale/Wanted boards, his thread can be found HERE). With about 30 seconds left, I put up the highest amount I was willing to bid, with about 5 seconds left I was outbid by $5. Fortunately, a short while after the auction, I got an email from eBay. It turns out he offered me a "buy it now" auction for the 7800 for the price I got outbid at, which was very generous of him, so I took him up on the offer.
Already having a 9 cell battery, all that was left to get was the upgraded PSU. I bought a 130 watt AC adapter needed for the 7800 mod for $30 shipped from cosmicsalesinc on another "buy it now" auction shortly after the 7800 purchase. 2 days after I bought the products, I recieved both packages at my door at the same time via USPS Priority Mail.
Following the directions in IRobertus's thread and some advice from Mr. K6, I downloaded the .iso for the BIOS flashing program, burned the .iso to a CD-R using Nero, used the CD to boot, and flashed my BIOS to the XPS2 A01 BIOS. I then went to Dell's website and downloaded the newest BIOS version available, IXPS2A05. I uninstalled my video drivers and ran Driver Cleaner Pro. After uninstalling the drivers, I shut off my computer, opened it up, and installed the 7800.
The only small problem I came across during the installation was that I had to remove the two small rubber guards above the CPU heatsink in order to have enough space for the left heatsink on the 7800 to fit into the empty spot, other than that, everything went smoothly.
After the card was installed, I then went to laptopvideo2go.com and downloaded and installed the 83.90 drivers with the modified .inf file as usual. I prefer laptopvideo2go's drivers over the Xtreme-G drivers because the X-G drivers never seem to work for me. I always get some wierd errors in-game with them for some reason and I've never had any of those problems using laptopvideo2go's drivers.
The installation of the card went very well and it was much easier than anticipated.
Overclocking the 7800 GTX
NOTE: hammermd has made a great guide on how to overclock the Go 7800 GTX that can be found HERE. I used this guide as my main source of info on how to overclock the Go 7800 GTX.
Before overclocking the 7800, I wanted to test it out to make sure it worked. I ran 3DMark05 and got a score somewhere in the 6850 range.
Following the directions in hammermd's thread, I downloaded the .iso, burned it to a CD-R with Nero, booted from the CD, and flashed the 7800's clock speeds. Very simple to do. After a few trial and error runs with some different speeds artifacting, I found 430C1200.ROM (430MHz core speed, 1200MHz memory speed) was stable, and that's currently what I'm at now.
I didn't notice much of a difference at first playing Counter-Strike: Source, but I can really tell a huge performance difference after playing FEAR and Quake 4. I can now play any game with maxed out settings and have the game be playable where the 6800 might have experienced slow downs. I'm very happy with the performance result of the 7800 upgrade.
Benchmarks3D Mark '05
Test was run using 3DMark05 Version 1.2.0 at 1024 x 768 screen resolution on the NVIDIA GeForce Go 7800 GTX graphics card @ 430MHz Core and 1,200MHz Memory clock frequency
3D Mark '06
Test was run using 3DMark06 Version 1.0.2 at 1280 x 854 screen resolution on the NVIDIA GeForce Go 7800 GTX graphics card @ 430MHz Core and 1,200MHz Memory clock frequency
Tests were run using Super PI Version 1.1e on a Pentium M 735 Dothan 1.7GHz processor pinmodded to run @ 2.26GHz
Test was run using HD Tach Version 188.8.131.52 on a Fujitsu 100 GB / 5,400 RPM / 8 MB cache / ATA-6 2.5 inch laptop hard drive
Test was run at 1440 x 900 resolution with all detail settings on High, 2x Anti-Aliasing, and 4x Anisotropic Filtering
Test was run at 1440 x 900 resolution with all physics, sound, detail, and effects settings on Maximum, 2x Anti-Aliasing, and 4x Anisotropic Filtering
Test was run using a 9 cell (11.1V, 80WHr) Lithium-Ion battery with low screen brightness, wifi enabled, no USB devices attached, CPU running with speedstepping enabled @ 6x multiplier (700MHz) undervolted to run with .764V, and the 7800 GTX running @ 340MHz Core / 1,200MHz Memory
Applications used during the test were Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, Notebook Hardware Control, I9kFanGUI, Microsoft Word, and PaintDotNet.