Dell Inspiron 4000 C600GT Notebook Review

Reviewer: Jon Buset
Category: 
Systems
Model: 
C600GT
Price: 
$1900
Recently, I was given the chance to get my hands on a brand new Dell Inspiron 4000. Can you guess what the first thing I did was? If you guessed, "Format that filthy Windows partition and install Linux on that baby!" then you are dead right. The contents of this review is a detailed synopsis of my experience with Linux on the Dell Inspiron 4000 C600GT laptop, how compatible it was as a whole, as well as my general thoughts on it.

Features

  • Intel Celeron 600Mhz
  • 8MB ATI Mobility M3 - 128-bit 3D graphics card and 2X AGP
  • ESS Maestro 3i audio chip
  • 64MB SDRAM (max 512MB)
  • 6GB Hard Drive
  • Weights as little as 5.2 lbs.
  • 14.1" TFT XGA active-matrix display
  • Max of 1024 x 768 x 16M resolution
  • DualPoint Keyboard
  • 8-cell 53WHr "Smart" Lithium Ion battery with Express Charge delivers up to 4 hours of battery life
  • Hot-swap modular floppy drive and 24x CD-ROM drive
  • A single USB port
  • PCI docking connector lets you connect to a port replicator.
  • 15-pin VGA monitor connector (1280x1024 out)
  • PCMCIA: Supports two Type I / Type II cards or one Type III card
  • Physical Dimensions: 12.5" x 10" x 1.47" H

Installation (attempt) #1

My first attempt at an installation was with my current desktop distribution of RedHat 6.2. Since I already had the 6.2 CD lying around I used it as my first OS attempt. I first swapped the CDROM into the drive bay, I then hopped into the bios and made sure the CDROM was set to boot (it wasn't set by default). I then put the RH 6.2 CD into the drive and off I went. The install process begins and as usual, and I expect to see that nice Anaconda GUI install interface. Low and behold, I receive an Xserver error and I get stuck in the old text-based install. This was no problem; I've tackled RH installs back as far as 5.0 so this is no sweat. I continue on. When I reached the X configuration portion I get into a load of problems. The utility had great problems probing my video card, and there was no laptop display option in the choices of monitor. This installation seemed to be a failure, so I eventually finish with no X. I'm guessing XFree86 3.3.6 didn't like the AGP video controller.

Installation #2

Well, since the install of RedHat 6.2 failed miserably, I decided to give the recently released, and highly controversial, RedHat 7 a whirl. Lucky for me, I was even more successful than I even hoped for. Just as before, I started the install. This time I was expecting the same results as with 6.2, an X error and a quick jump to the text-based install. Well, low and behold, I was quickly brought to the nice X based install that RedHat is so well known for. From this point on, the install went without a hitch. The video card and LCD display were correctly probed and configured using XFree86 4.0.1, and I was on my way. The rest of this review is based on the results I got using RedHat 7, so lets see how things shaped up.

X Windows

Well, as anyone who has a nice laptop with a 14.1" display, I certainly wanted to get as much bang for my buck as I could. During the installation, the LCD display was probed and configured and I was quite happy. By default, RedHat 7 installs and configures XFree86 4.0.1, so this is what my results are based on. With the combination of the 8MB ATI Mobile Rage 128 and the beautiful 14.1" XGA display, I was able to attain the maximum resolution of 1024x768 that the display allows. It seems that for this device to reach it's maximum potential, it requires XFree86 4.0.1 or greater. So plan on upgrading if your desired distribution doesn't come with it by default. UPDATE 12/27/2000: After many e-mail requests, I've decided to post a link to the XFree86 4.0.1 XF86Config-4 file for the Inspiron4000.

Modem

A PSION Gold Card PCMCIA 56k data + fax modem was included with this Inspiron 4000. I checked the docs, and found that it was a normal hardware modem and not a *cough* winmodem (thank goodness). I fired up wvdial and I was configured for my ISP and ready to go in no time.

Pointing Devices

The Inspiron 4000 comes with a DualPoint keyboard. That is, it includes a Touch Pad as well as a Track Stick (nub) pointer. Both of these devices seem to work relatively well, the click function of the Track Stick isn't working as it did in windows, but the Touch Pad is working perfectly and is definitely my preference of the two.

Sound

Well, so far everything has gone pretty smoothly, but the next bump in the road occurred when I tried to configure the soundcard. As usual I ran the RedHat "sndconfig" utility and moved through the usual process. The detected soundcard chipset used in this laptop is the ESS Maestro 3i, which turns out to be "not supported". Hmmm... interesting... But I wasn't ready to give up just yet. I decided to hit some mailing list archives and I soon discovered that OSS has released commercial drivers that work with the ESS Maestro 3. WhooHoo! I grabbed the evaluation driver and gave it a whirl. Low and behold it works quite well. For the small fee of $30 you get free upgrades for 2 years and tech support for 1 year. I would consider it a small defeat, but still worth the small price. UPDATE: It has just been brought to my attention by Danny that there are some *very* *very* ALPHA drivers for the Maestro 3 chipset on http://www.zabbo.net/maestro3/. Be sure to read the variety of warnings by the author before trying these drivers.

Hot-Swapping Drives

The Inspiron 4000 comes with a modular hot-swap bay. That is, you can switch a CD-ROM, floppy, DVD-ROM, Zip Drive, second battery, etc. in the bay while the computer is on. With this system, I have a CDROM, floppy, and second battery that uses this bay. Switching between a single device (i.e. CDROM) and the 2nd battery works perfectly. Unfortunately I was unable to get the floppy and CDROM to successfully swap while the system is running Linux. I have read some ways that people have done it, but so far I have been unsuccessful. Much to my surprise, an external cable for the floppy drive module was included with this laptop. This cable allows you to use the CDROM in the modular drive bay, and connect the floppy drive via the parallel port at the same time. Thus temporarily solving the hot-swap issue. If I can get any further with hot-swapping, I?ll be sure to post an update.

Cosmetics/Appearance

What else is there to talk about besides compatibility? Well, I hate to be superficial, but I don't want something that looks like ugly. The chassis for the Inspiron 4000 is a new design for Dell, which allows for removable panels on the top and hand rests that allow you to customize the look of your laptop. This laptop only included the straight midnight gray panels, which I believe will look the best out of all the colour combination's. The choice of colours for the replacement panels is Midnight Gray (default), Storm Gray, Tahoe Blue, Royal Purple or Golden Yellow. The midnight gray body and panels look very attractive with the silver Dell and Inspiron logos on the top (see pictures). The only other colour I might consider (IMHO) would be the panel with the lighter shade of gray, Storm Gray.

Summary

As a whole, I was very impressed with this laptop. With its sleek and thin design, crisp 14.1" display, and an impressive array of hardware, the Inspiron 4000 is a fantastic package. Overall, I was able to get everything I wanted working within a day or two, with the exception of hot-swapping. The Inspiron 4000 would be a great addition to any Linux enthusiast's arsenal, and I would definitely recommend it.

Conclusion

The Good - Pros
  • Crisp display
  • Nice design
  • Good Linux compatibility
The Bad - Cons
  • Commercial-only sound driver requires cold-swapping of drives
The Ugly - Problems
  • N/A
The Verdict - Opinion
  • Absolutely fantastic laptop, with almost total Linux compatibility.

Innovation: 
4/5
Performance: 
4/5
Compatibility: 
4/5
Cost / Value: 
4/5

16/20

Overall score


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