Price: $1,569 ($150 mail-in rebate available).
Weight and screen: 5.5 pounds (6.5 pounds with power adapter), 14.1-inch LCD (1,024 by 768 pixels).
Processor and memory: 1.5 GHz Intel Pentium M processor, 384 MB memory, 32 MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics.
Storage: 37.2 GB hard drive, 24x/10x/24x CD-RW/8x DVD-ROM combo drive.
Communications: 1-Gbps Ethernet, 802.11b WiFi, v.92 modem.
Expansion: One PC Card slot, one smart-card reader, two USB 2.0 ports, one parallel port, one serial port, one infrared port, one VGA monitor port, one S-Video port.
Support: One-year warranty. 24-hour, toll-free phone support.
At 51/2 pounds, plus a pound for a power adapter, the Inspiron 600m isn't a miniature laptop, but it is a comfortable carry, with its compact frame and rounded corners.
This seemingly small machine, like a fun house, offers more than you'd expect on the inside, in the form of a roomy 14.1-inch screen and large keys. (Their pale lettering was hard to read; Dell should use higher-contrast paint or add a keyboard light, as IBM does.)
Processor and storage are all about average for this category -- helpfully, the CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive comes as a removable, replaceable module, allowing customers an easy upgrade down the road. The oddball memory allotment of 384 megabytes, however, is on the low side. And with only two USB 2.0 ports and no FireWire ports, users with more than a couple of peripherals will need to buy a USB hub or get used to plugging and unplugging cables.
Gigabit Ethernet (10 times faster than the networking on most home computers) and a reader for "smart cards" (electronic IDs issued by some financial institutions and employers) might seem nice additions, but how many consumers will ever use them?
Battery life fell a bit below expectations, given this machine's power-efficient Pentium M chip: 2 hours and 18 minutes of DVD playback, 31/4 hours of music playback and just over four hours at minimum power settings. A set of LEDs on the battery's underside should let you check its charge status even when the computer's off, but they didn't illuminate on our review unit.
Tech support is free for the life of the product -- one of Dell's standout virtues -- and squared us away when the internal modem wouldn't start without reinstalling a driver.
Dell's advertised software bundle is built around Microsoft Works Suite (including Word 2002) and a 90-day trial of Norton Internet Security, but the review unit instead included Corel's WordPerfect Office and 90 days of McAfee's security suite. Six months of AOL also come free, a generous extra. The installed copy of Windows XP needed 14 security updates.
Like most Dells, the Inspiron 600m isn't the most exciting machine ever, but it's unlikely to leave you flat on the road.
-- Rebecca Rohan