The Inspiron 9400 has modem and LAN ports at the rear, and its DVI, D-Sub and TV-out ports give you great freedom to connect to a wide range of external displays. To the right of the laptop you'll find PC Card and mini FireWire ports, headphone and mic jacks, and a memory card reader supporting SD, MMC, xD and MS/Pro cards.
Safety freaks will be pleased to see a StrikeZone resonance vibration damper -- essentially, a small rubber bump below the hard drive compartment that helps protect the disc from physical damage on sudden impacts.
It's not often you see a desktop replacement laptop emblazoned with the Intel Centrino sticker. The technology is more closely associated with small, light laptops, but it has crept across to the larger Inspiron 9400.
Our review sample uses an Intel Core Duo T2500 processor running at 2GHz. This CPU serves as a very solid technical foundation and is only two rungs below the fastest available Intel dual-core mobile processor. This is paired with 1GB of fast DDR2 memory and the Intel 945GM chipset, so it's got the potential to run most applications expeditiously.
Most users of the Inspiron 9400 will probably make good use of the laptop's Media Center interface. This lets you arrange all your digital content in one convenient place, with images, video, and music files sensibly ordered in one easy to use area outside of the main operating system.
We found the laptop's 17-inch widescreen TFT was well-suited to the Media Center interface, and was great for playing DVD movies. Its 1,440x900-pixel screen resolution also provides plenty of desktop space when using multiple application windows. Unfortunately, the quality of the display is somewhat questionable. It has a rather dark overall appearance even when running at the brightest setting, and its limited vertical and horizontal viewing angles mean the clarity of the image deteriorates if you aren't looking at the screen from a central position.
It's not all good news on the audio front, either. The laptop's internal speakers are understandably lacklustre, but even though the Intel 945 chipset affords the 9400 the option of outputting sound to a set of 7.1-channel speakers, it lacks the necessary output jacks to do so in a straightforward manner. Only earphone and mic jacks are included, so you're restricted to 2.1- or 5.1-channel speakers only.
Our sample of the Inspiron 9400 comes with a generous 100GB hard drive. This should provide ample storage for all but the most prolific of multimedia file hoarders. There's an NEC ND-6650A DVD rewriter on hand if you run out of space or want to create file backups. It isn't as fast as the more modern 16x rewriters, but it'll write DVD-R discs at a maximum of 8x, and DVD-RW at 6x, which is tolerable.
There are versions of the Inspiron 9400 with strong graphics performance. The top-of-the-range model uses the Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX Go -- one of the fastest mobile graphics processors on the market. Unfortunately, our review sample uses the onboard graphics card provided by the Intel 945 chipset. It'll run games, but the unbearably low frame rates it'll achieve in modern titles will have you tearing your hair out in frustration.
All Inspiron 9400s ship with a copy of the Microsoft Works 7 office productivity suite. As a result, you'll be able to start working on word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents from the moment you unpack the laptop. There's also the reassurance of a three-year at-home service warranty -- but you can swap this for a one-year collect and return warranty and save yourself £200.
As expected, the Inspiron 9400 delivered a solid performance that was in line with its specification. It achieved a score of 3,158 in PCMark 2005, which is amongst the highest we've seen for a dual-core laptop. It's not quite as quick as the Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi, but it'll handle most jobs without breaking a sweat.
Its graphics performance is understandably lacklustre. It could only manage an unimpressive 235 in 3DMark 2006. It also only achieved 8 frames per second (FPS) in our default 1,024x768-pixel Far Cry tests -- you'll probably want to look elsewhere for your gaming kicks, unless you're a masochist.
Battery life was far more impressive. It lasted a pretty stunning 3 hours 49 minutes in our MobileMark tests -- which is almost unheard of for a desktop-replacement laptop. You'd be lucky to coax one hour of mains-free performance from previous examples in its weight category, so the Inspiron 9400 is real proof that assigning Centrino status to larger laptops pays dividends.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide