Monday, December 25, 2006

A Review on Dell Inspiron 8200

Merry Christmas!

I have bought the new Tablet PC - Toshiba Portege M400 on 24 Dec 2006.

==Consideration Trial==
When I saw my friend Chris having a Gateway Tablet PC, I think Tablet PC is a good idea. Since then, I have been thinking my next laptop will be a Tablet PC. I have been thinking buying a new laptop since summer 2006, as the floppy is not working, and the CD burner cannot burn anymore. I have visited Dell inspiron too. It is $300 to $500 cheaper, but what I am thinking is productivity. I want to maximize my productivity, so I have set my target solely on Tablet PC.

==Determination and Decisions==
Why Tablet PC? I don't want to take notes in paper any paper. Using a pen is easier than using mouse. I have tried to configure the Tablet PCs on IBM, HP, Toshiba, Gateway, and Fujitsu. I have also looked to Dell and Panasonic. It seems to be all the options available to me. I get triple points for my American Express when I shop in Dell, Gateway, HP, Toshiba and Panasonic, so I have been taking advantage of it.

A good computer is one of the major determinant of the fate of my grades. I don't want the laptop is too expensive, but I want a laptop that save a lot of hustles by not creating more problems for me (See my Dell Inspiron 8200 history log below). That is why I am trying to buy a really good laptop while still keeping the price realistic. I don't go for an extra 333Hz for $250US. I don't buy RAM more than I need because I know that ebay sells the battery and system memory in much cheaper price. I have made sure that what I have bought is matching the market price and making sure that the components are not overpriced.

Ebay -> No core 2 Duo Tablet PC, cannot customize model to the way I want.
tigerdirect -> Only have one Tablet PC
Gateway -> no fingerprint reader, all reviews I have read are saying bad Tech support.
IBM X41 -> Weird harddisk
IBM X60 -> Don't like to buy a docking station for the Tablet. More expensive than the one I bought.
Panasonic Toughbook -> Too expensive. I don't need a Tablet that kind of tough but slow.
Toshiba RC15 -> no SXGA
Fujitsu T4215 -> no 7200rpm harddrive option, and still more expensive than the one I bought.
HP -> no SXGA, no 7200rpm harddrive option
Dell's Motion Computing -> no Core 2 Duo Model, they should have adjust the price.

I read a lot of reviews and I have determine that Gateway Tablet PCs are cheap, but not stable.
Tablet PC Review

Laptop Magazine is a good resource, it talks IBM Levono, HP Tc4400, Fujitsu Lifebook, and Toshiba Tablets
Laptop Magazine

People in the forum saying that Toshiba Portege M400 is having a fan problem, I have acknowledge that problem and the solutions are follows:

I don't like to split my new Tablet PC in half, but good to know:
Alex Parker blog

This is perhaps the solution:
Toshiba User Forum

==Specification of the new Toshiba Portege M400==
Toshiba Portege M400-ST4035 Tablet PC - Toshiba Laptop

(Images, Generic Specification)

Intel® Core™2 Duo* Processor T7200 (2.00GHz, 4MB L2 Cache, 667MHz FSB)
Genuine Windows® XP Tablet PC 2005 (Express Upgrade to Windows Vista Business)
1024MB PC5300 DDR2 667MHz SDRAM (1024MBx1)
12.1" Diagonal SXGA+ Wide View Angle Display (1400x1050)
Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator 950 with 8MB-128MB dynamically allocated shared graphics memory
80GB HDD (7200rpm, Serial-ATA)
Ultra SlimBay DVD SuperMulti (+/-R double layer) drive
Intel® PRO/Wireless 3945ABG (802.11a/b/g), Bluetooth® Version 2.0 + EDR
Emergency Pen Bundled, 1 Year Standard Limited Warranty

Garmin GPS 18 USB Package is $129.00US (So I am not going to buy any GPS, and I will buy used car without GPS installed)
Total: $2500 US
Laptop itself without tax is $2188US
Free shipping

==How long will everything last?==
It will at least last for 4 years. I have read the review and search the tablet PC news really thorough. I expect the hardware are more stable than the Dell. The old dell laptop is still usable, but it is not up to par to deal with the software engineering and multimedia demands like video editing. I have been pushing to the limit for using the Dell laptop. In order to save more money.

I don't spend money on games, toys nor eating out, but I am willing to save the money to get my class have more opportunity to go well. I must consider the most important to get a class working is getting a right priority. Finding out the reason of what I am working for is my job.

Printer HP psc2175 will last at least forever until it breaks.
All usb 2.0 hubs, Cables to go switch box, Logitech Bluetooth keyboard and mouse will last forever until it breaks or new prevalence standards are not backward-compatible anymore.
Wireless devices will last forever until it breaks until the world doesn't support such wireless network anymore.
19" LCD monitor will last at least 6 years (5.5 more years).
Dell Inspiron and Shuttle Desktop PC will continue calculating proteins

Please read my Rules of Computer Investments to see how exactly I justify an computing investment.

==Review of the Old Dell Inspiron 8200==

The Bottom Line: At all times, Dell Inspiron in general are a good buy (I browse Dell website every once while). Inspiron 8200 is a four-year-old model anyway. If you can afford it, you should go buy new ones.

Pros: long lasting, big screen, intuitive notebook
Cons: heavy, thick, hot, noisy, no usb2.0

Experience Rating: 3.5/5

Total when I bought it: $1579.5 US (bought it in Hong Kong, no sales tax)
Year purchased: beginning of March 2003
Age of laptop when this review written: 3.75 year old

version 2.01 -fixed the typos and added new points that I has to say.

I myself is a computer science student. I need to do a lot of programming, and personally it used to be my own multimedia station. 3 years after purchase, I bought a new desktop to handle my multimedia demands. I browse websites a lot during my working-hours and non-working-hours. I used to open 30+ tabs on my firefox when programming in the visual studio and then I have to copy and paste the code to the Microsoft word. These applications are all memory hogs.

I didn't purchase any extraneous insurance or support plan, because I can fix any software problem.

Why I buy it: Dell laptop is cheap so I bought it. It is noteworthy among friends that dell laptops are stable.

==Hardware Love and Hate==
(1) The screen is huge enough (1600*1200) for programming, it is viewable indoor, but you will have to try hard to read the screen outdoor. The screen is not reflective (no glass and I feel plastic on the screen), so there is no reflection of light (glare) going on at all for my Dell inspiron.
(2) Keyboard and touch-pad, and the trackpoint are good to use and no weird key arrangements. It is a pretty tough laptop as most of it is still working for me now.
(3) It has two speakers (stereo) and they doesn't play the bass as good as the new laptops that are equipped with Altec Lansing laptop speakers (But remember it is a 4-year old laptop for me). Every surface on the laptop like the laptop cover is good at resisting fingerprints except the screen.

(1) I didn't realize it is usb 1.1/1.0 after 3 months I bought it, probably Dell didn't say it is usb 1.1 or usb 2.0 because I have gone through everything like fine prints at least twice when I was customizing the Dell laptop.
(2) Before I bought the Dell laptop usb 2.0 was out for a while already at the time. It is bulky (9 pounds). Heat are unbearable that has damaged some components. Noisy fans. You can clean the fans with a air cleaner container that blows the air to remove dust, but you are going to disassemble the laptop in order to clean the dusty heat sink after a few years (depend on your laptop's usage).
(3) Mic is so bad that it is always recording the noise that the laptop produces.
(4) The screen is easily to get dusty even I use anti-static cleaner solutions and micro-fabric cloth, but this dusty problem is bearable for me. You will have to clean the screen at least every 2 to 3 weeks.

Remark: Do not step on the laptop as it is not made to deal with your weight. My friend's inspiron (not the same model) got broken because she stepped on it.

==Software Love and Hate (mixed)==
*SpeedswitchXP and I8kfanGUI are third party programs to control speeds of fans and power options. Dell itself have no software to control the annoying fans.

*I have inspected all the files on the disc after the autorun program failed to try to give me an option to launch the CD burning program, I have confirmed that the CD burning software isn't on the recovery discs (blue for Dell resources CD and purple recovery disc). Also, there may be more software missing on the recovery discs the CD burning software. I need to warn you even the Dell website does not have the CD burning software but just the CD burning software update. As a paid customer, I have to buy nero instead. That is the embarrassing spot of Dell.

*The updated drivers/software are easy to find on the Dell website. Dell website let me search the website so I can locate the update page easily. However, it is hard to figure out what is updated the last time if I have forgot the version of the software update that I have applied.

==My Dell Inspiron 8200 History log==
2 months old - confirmed no internal wireless, purchased a belkin 54g wireless PCMCIA card. (I could have bought a Internal wireless card when I bought it.)

4 months old - (1) firewire is broken, resulting in having two attempts of buying a PCMCIA (PC card) usb 2.0 firewire adapters, but they didn't last due to dell's temperature. Abandon the attempt to use usb 2.0 and firewire on this laptop. (2) Also, I have found out that no CD burning software in the Dell resource CD. (3) Buy a new laptop cooler underneath the Dell laptop, which help a little because I have a proper surface for the Dell laptop to sit on. I am not dare to put it on my bed even there would be nothing on it.

2 year old - original AC adapter is broken. replaced with igo 90 (not a good product).
2.5 Year old - one battery failure (it takes 4 minutes from fully charged to 0%). Using the extra battery that was purchased during the purchase of the laptop instead.

2.75 year old - replaced igo 90 with the ac adapter for inspiron 8200 from ebay, manufactured by Dell.

3 year old - confirmed the DVD/CD burner combo drive cannot burn proper CD-R/CD-RW anymore, confirmed the 2nd memory slot is broken due to the overheat, resulting in the laptop cannot receive any memory upgrade on the 2nd memory slot. Disassemble the laptop to clean the dust-clogged heat sink and the two exhausted fan. Bought a Celeron D 3.06GHz desktop to deal with my multimedia demands.

3.1 year old - replacing 256mb system memory with 512mb, 30gb 5400rpm hard drive with 80gb 7200rpm.
3.6 year old - confirmed the modular 1.44Mb floppy drive is dead.

3.75 year old - planning to buy a new tablet PC to retire the dell inspiron 8200. The laptop is still working fine but slow when using demanding applications (like paint shop pro, visual studio, firefox), and the memory cannot be further upgraded as the system memory slot B is broken. It can be still working for me for years to go, but not for my mission critical tasks anymore.


chumly said...

How good are refurbished laptops on ebay or ubid?

Wayward Wayfarer said...

Hello there! I don't know where to post my response to chumly so I chose to post here.

Thanks chumly for a comment. Yea. Review Review Review. I used to read a lot a day.

Steps are shown at the end of this message for you to buy laptop. It is for your reference only, and it will do you good.

Rule of thumb, read seller's feedback from previous customers at least a page. Customers complain if they have defective/fake products, poor packaging, shipping mistakes etc etc.

Frankly, I haven't been buying laptops on ebay, BUT usually I buy computer components on ebay and tigerdirect. I buy laptops on dell direct, toshiba direct websites because of (1) warranties (of some people yes but not me) (2) options of earning triple points with a credit card is what I am after. However, I bought my desktop a year ago on and assembling the components myself. (3) I want to get the laptop first hand so that I know the problem is directly from the manufacturers (one layer), not the retailers, resellers etc (many layers to get through).

So I can only tell you about how good are the computer components deals on ebay base on my experience.

Computer components on ebay are most likely okay. There is a risk, but let's if see buyer protections helping ebayers for irresponsible sellers.

Used Components: If it is used, you got to be careful. Make sure it is returnable and even refundable. Be careful if the used components because they are not tested.

Refurbished components: I had Igo 90 a year ago and it didn't do good to me. I haven't read enough review. I bought an open box HP PSC2175 all in one, and poor shipping.

Brand new components on ebay: Usually they are good deals. As of December 26 2006, I may buy a 1Gb ram for $129US for new my Tablet PC if I want (may be two years later). The same thing will cost $200US on toshiba direct now. Look at the warranties though.

**Begin Important**
You mostly cannot upgrade the refurbished laptops to Windows Vista unless they say things like "express upgrade to Windows Vista".
**End Important**

First of all, auction website are giving you a cheap price. Ebay Sellers sell older models than the manufacture direct stores (e.g. Panasonic, Gateway) does, and usually cheaper. You cannot customize model to the way your want. You may not get a good warranty. Read the fineprints carefully. Look at the auction is refundable/refundable or not. To be safe, please do read online reviews and recommendations.

==Buy a laptop that is extendable, and don't be so mean to yourself==
Make sure you have your candidate laptops have a free RAM slot, so you can add RAM and don't waste any RAM that you owned when you upgrade. (I bought 1*1024Mb RAM in my Tablet PC, so I know there will be a free RAM slot for new RAM.)

As of Dec 2006, I myself recommend to reserve at least 30Gb for Windows XP and all your various applications. You will need more if you store media files, but if you have big external harddrive then save most of your documents and big files on the external harddrive then. (Laptop harddrive space cost more than an big external harddrive because Laptop harddrive spend less energy to read your data, lighter, and smaller in size.) 512Mb of RAM is the minimum or you are going to wait an IE or Firefox for a long time (10+ seconds is probably annoying).

If you predict your needs of software is increasing, and you can afford it. Don't not buy a laptop that fit into your current demands. Remember softwares updates may demands more of your laptop but updates are necessary to maintain your laptop. I know that for those who considered refurbished laptop will not buy a laptop every year. It usually cost more (I think) to buy two laptop every year than a laptop that last 3 to 4 years, and your time and energy spend on reading review are considerable too. Not only this will apply to laptop, but any computer components.

Please remember that components and laptops drop in prices, so you should know the market.
Please read my Rules of Computer Investments to see how exactly I justify any computing investments.

It has been a tough decision for me to decide buying such a Tablet PC because it costs $2500US now (Dec 24 2006). It was a decision of an entire week. I am not a big spender but sure I am a big spender on computing stuff.

==Steps to buy computers== (same theory applies to buying any computer investments.)
No matter where you are going to buy computers, these steps apply. It is for your reference only. It will do you good. That is exactly what I have followed to buy my Toshiba Portege too.

0.1 Why do you need a laptop? Why not a Desktop? Why not a PDA? Cellphone? Slate Tablet PC? Convertible Tablet PC? Again, do you really need a new laptop? Or, upgrading you currently have will do you good? (Like upgrading the hard drive.)

0.2 What kind of computers? Read wikipedia topics like "laptop","desktop computers". There are a lot of form factors like "Ultra portable","small form factor", "ATX", and perhaps "Big mama" (joking). Are you anywhere between high-end to low-end buyer spectrum? Don't feel bad if you are low-end buyer. Everyone just get what they need. Sometimes I buy low-end product just because I don't think I use it frequently or I care about the quality and just get my job done.

1 Rule of thumb, read seller's feedback from previous customers at least a page. Customers complain if they have defective/fake products, poor packaging, shipping mistakes etc etc.

2 Read manufactures' specifications and presentations of your candidate computers.

3 Ask your friends and especially techies for advice about reputation of computer manufacturers. Your friends and techies may sell you computers. Who knows?

4.1 search review online and read.
4.2 Read review about manufacturers
4.3 Read wikipedia about the manufacturers and laptop models (e.g. Toshiba Portege, if possible)
4.4 reviews on cnet,, overstock, bizrate, tabletpcreview, laptop magazine, PC magazine, and epinions.
4.5 Read user support forums on manufacturers' websites (so you know the computer's problem well enough).

5.1 Customize the laptops on websites (for wherever apply). Compare prices with bizrate, pricegrabber. Usually you need to compare prices yourself.
Think about the shipping too. It is possible for ebay sellers selling you a supercomputer for $0.01 and $99999 as your shipping.
Think about the balance between prices and reviews. Don't let the reviews make you down. Remember: No laptop is perfect.
5.2 If you want to earn points from credit cards, ask to credit card companies and/or inquire their websites. You may be able to earn triple points. Patrick encourages only healthy credit card practices.

6 Ask your friends and techies even if you are sure what you are going to buy. (I am a techie, so I ask another techie!) Cool down! Think again. Attack your decisions and reasoning. Why not this? and why not that? Don't be too impulsive. Either you will regret your choice or you will get mad for any of your excessively impulsive buying. Don't be thrilled about your final choice. You might change your final answer! You should be able to explain everything by now.

7 Buy it! Review shipping date, REBATES, credit card/bank account balance that you are going charge on. Do not feel bad because you can explain to your friends and yourself why you need this such a thing and explain the price if they ask you. Well, most of them won't care. You have your reasoning.

8 Review your order again, so that nothing is missing. Don't forget the rebates, and keep track of the order. Test thoroughly once you receive the item. Get support and user forums. You may have to register and activate software products like office/windows. You may have to register your computers (for your warranty good sake). You may have to update the software through the manufacturer website*, install softwares you like.

*if you buy on third party auction sites like ebay, you should be able to get your software update drivers from manufacture website. You can still register your computers.

Buyers are getting smarter Huh!?

Patrick Yau said...

How good are refurbished laptops on ebay or ubid?