Dell Inspiron 9100 under $4,800 Pentium 4 Best gaming Laptop

This right here is the Dell Inspiron 9100.

A gargantuan desktop replacement system from the mid-2000s weighing in at 4.1 kilograms or just over 9 pounds.

And for its size, you received such amenities as a 15.4” 1200p display, combination CD-RW and DVD drive, a built-in subwoofer, and even a full-sized Pentium 4 desktop CPU.

Yeah, this thing ran hot and fast, with impressive capabilities and a price tag to match.

Now, the base model Dell Inspiron 9100 on its own started at $1549 upon its launch in March of 2004, but Dell offered gobs of upgrades to take it to the next level.

A hundred gig hard drive was two hundred bucks, 256 meg Radeon 9800 graphics were another two hundred, the Windows XP Professional upgrade cost 80 dollars, 802.11a/b/g WiFi support was 59 dollars, two gigs of DDR-400 RAM cost nearly 1800 dollars,

and a 3.4 gigahertz Pentium 4 Extreme CPU configuration sets you back another grand on top of that.

So yeah, roughly $4,800 for a maxed-out Dell notebook in 2004,

making for a cool $6,700 or so adjusted for inflation.

With another, more intense, more expensive model on top of that, the XPS Dell Inspiron 9100, a gaming-oriented machine built into the same case but with these

trendy snap-on lids Dell called QuickSnap covers.

And these three lids are about the most 2004 thing I’ve ever seen, titled Cipher, Plasma, and Skullz. With a Z.

Perfect.

This particular Dell Inspiron 9100 I have here isn’t quite that extreme, but it did receive several upgrades, like the maximum supported two gigabytes of RAM, an 80 gig hard drive, 802.11b/g WiFi, a Radeon 9700 with 128 megs of VRAM, and a 3.2 gigahertz Pentium 4 HT.

An absolute beast of a machine that I could only dream of affording back in ’04, so shoutout to LGR viewer John for donating this lovely example for us to peruse today!

And let’s start with one of its standout features, the fact that it came with a full desktop Pentium 4 installed.

None of that Pentium Mobile stuff, this is a Socket 478 Prescott Pentium 4 with hyperthreading, 800 megahertz front side bus, a 1-megabyte L2 cache, and clocked at 3.2 gigahertz.

And also consuming up to 103 watts of power so uh, not exactly the coolest-running machine around.

Nor was it very kind to battery life, with a full charge to its 12 lithium-ion cells only lasting less than two hours.

Sure, this is a desktop replacement intended to be plugged in most of the time, but around 86 minutes of battery is still amusingly awful, especially considering it’s a 6,450 milliamp-hour beefy brick of a thing.

It’s also got this handy little self-test button that lights up to show the current charge level, along with a built-in subwoofer in the corner.

Yeah, you heard that right, the battery’s got a woofer driver installed with an opening on the side that pushes bass out into a resonance chamber next to the battery bay.

Making this just about the most awesome laptop battery ever made.

Well, except for the fact that they had a tendency to overheat and potentially cause fires, leading to a recall of 2.7 million units in 2006.

Whoops.

Eh whatever it’s fine, let’s move on.

Because dude, look at the sheer number of ports around back, augh!

I love ports.

Ya got S-video, VGA, and DVI video output, a 56k modem and ethernet jacks, three standalone USB 2.0 ports, the AC adapter connection, and a Dell D/Bay port.

This also doubles as a USB2 port, but that little connection above allowed D/Bay devices to combine power and USB into a single cable.

This meant easier connection of external CD burners and DVD drives, or even additional 2.5” hard drives if you get the inner tray and swap it out.

Speaking of drive swapping, it also featured a hot-swappable drive bay on the left-hand side, normally filled with a combination CD-ReWritable DVD drive.

It also supported 3.5” floppy drives if you really wanted to, but by 2004 that had become far less of a necessity.

Beneath the optical drive is a single PCMCIA slot that came with this Dell-branded plastic blank inside, as well as a Firewire port to the left of that, and two 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks are driven by a Realtek AC97 audio chip.

On the right-hand side of the machine is a whole lotta nothing, but around the front beneath the lid release is a handy infrared communications port

for syncing up your mid-2000s PDAs and cell phones.

The bottom of the Dell Inspiron 9100 is packed with easily-accessible stuff too.

Beyond that ridiculous battery, you can also access two exhaust fans, both of which can be quickly removed for cleaning.

And accessing the RAM, the WiFi card, and the hard drive are all similarly simple to swap, with only a single screw holding each one in place.

Now that’s an uncommon sight with modern notebook computers, this kind of user-serviceable design warrants respect.

And then up top, there’s the screen itself, a 16:10 aspect ratio TFT LCD panel with a native resolution of 1920×1200, allowing for full HD video-driven by

a 128 megabyte ATi Mobility Radeon 9700.

Nice.

As for the keyboard area, heh, of course, Dell wasn’t gonna keep it simple.

It’s surrounded by blue plastic highlights and an array of media buttons for sound and transport controls.

And not one, but TWO mouse input devices, with both a trackpad and a track stick, each with their own separate left and right mouse buttons.

Why stop at one mouse when you can have two.

The blue track stick works just like a red IBM TrackPoint as you’d expect, but those mushy buttons it uses are truly awful.

The trackpad fares much better with proper clicky buttons, but the pad itself leaves plenty to be desired, it’s a tiny little thing that seems to have acceleration turned on no matter what you choose through software.

Then there’s the keyboard itself, which is a nicely-sized tenkeyless design with respectable key travel, a full row of function keys, and inverse-T cursor keys that don’t suck.

Nothing fancy, but nothing

awful either, it’s all plenty good enough for word processing, web browsing, and even a bit of gaming.

Speaking of which, let’s power up this inspiring monstrosity, boot into Windows XP, and put it through its paces with a selection of PC games and applications suited to this brute of a laptop from 2004.

Right! So It probably goes without saying but I do not recommend using this so-called laptop on top of a lap of any kind.

Not only is it heavy and hot as balls, but…

well no ‘buts,’ that’s it.

It’s extremely uncomfortable on a lap, so desktop it is.

Which is fine, this is exactly the environment it was designed for after all, with its desktop Pentium 4 and ridiculous subwoofer underneath that sounds best up against a solid surface like this.

And to that effect, let me just go ahead and play a music file here to hear a little bit more of that thing.

Yeah.

I know you’re just hearing this on-camera recording through a YouTube video, through whatever speakers or headphones you happen to have, but hopefully, you can tell that there’s a little bit of a thump to it.

Just, just a little bit.

I mean, it doesn’t sound like crap, but it doesn’t sound great either.

It’s just got a wee bit more bass response than maybe you’d otherwise expect.

I’m not sure I’d call it a subwoofer so much as another speaker

with a bit of a resonation chamber, but hey.

It’s got more bass-rashness than just about any other laptop I’ve tried from this time period.

So that’s something.

Yeah, that’s another thing worth mentioning real quick.

You know how that has a WiFi card that has been installed in here.

That was an option.

WiFi was not always on these things and it’s also not turned on by default.

You actually have to press function F2 to enable the WiFi card and well, taking a windows XP machine like this onto the modern internet is not a good idea for several reasons, not the least of which being security and such.

I do have some antivirus and Malwarebytes and things on here to hopefully mitigate some of that really quickly.

Cuz I just wanted to show you how YouTube runs on here.

We’ve got the latest version of Firefox, for XP anyway. And yeah, it’s already — it’s already locked up.

I mean, it’s kind of responding. I mean, it’s not happy.

Hear those fans going nuts.

Phelps!

50% CPU utilization, three to 400 megs of RAM being used.

Oh, my word!

It’ll get there eventually.

But a single-core Pentium 4 3.2 gigahertz, two gigs of RAM and just Windows XP in general.

It surprisingly plays pretty smoothly. And of course, sounds good. I mean, you got that speaker doing its thing. It actually does sound really good for a laptop, but uh.

Right now it’s at 480p.

Yeah, it’s doable, but you don’t want to do it.

Oh my goodness.

It’s just. it’s bringing back bad memories.

And even when we’re not doing anything it’s still pretty loud, but again.

Pentium 4 desktop thing going on here, you have the fans, crazy heatsinks and stuff.

It’s just a hot machine.

Like it’s, it’s radiating.

Let’s open Crystal Mark here so we can just see a bit more of the details.

And it’s that Pentium 4 with hyper-threading, 90 nanometers, Prescott socket 478, just straight up desktop stuff right there.

Just gonna run a hard disk test here to see what we get

from that little 80 gig hard drive in there.

Sequential read of 26 megs per second. So sequential write is around the same, 27, and it’s not gonna be great. I don’t know if it’s a 5,400 RPM or I think it was reading it is 7,200, but it is still IDE, Ultra ATA but whatever. It’s not very fast.

It’s just kind of how it is. An SSD would go a long way into making this much more usable, no doubt. But I’m not gonna do that. Yeah, there are the final results there.

4226 for the hard disk. And of course, we do have that ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 in here, 128 megs. I mean, it’s not that bad for the time. It’s not amazing. The 9800 would have been the better option that was available, at least on the XPS.

I don’t know if it was available on the Dell Inspiron 9100 regular, but I know just looking at the Dell website it seemed to be available later on, like 2005.

I am running this at 1280 by 800 resolution because the full, you probably saw earlier, 1920 by 1200 is just ridiculous.

You don’t have the scaling kind of thing that you would get on later versions of Windows, so…

Yeah, we’ll do this even though it is not particularly great scaling either, but it’s more readable. Otherwise, yeah.

I mean, it looks awesome for a display of the time.

I’m a fan of the 16:10 aspect ratio.

There is the sound for the aquarium just turned on there, but yeah.

I mean, it looks great.

It’s not the brightest, most vibrant screen I’ve seen for computers around then.

The Acer Ferrari that I have is a bit better I would say, in that respect.

But I mean now, you know, it was from a year later.

So it’s perfectly good for 2004, that’s for sure.

And on that note, I’m gonna do some benchmarks in a bit, but let’s play some games from back then because I feel like it!

Yeah, this is Flux!

This is something I was thinking about recently when I was messing around with that NEC PC-FXGA because of SameGame.

And that’s pretty much what this is.

Heck yeah, that sound.

Well, screwed that up.

Ah, man, I really enjoyed playing this back on Real Arcade back in the day.

Also Hyperbowl, anybody remembers this one?

Yeah.

It came with the Microsoft Plus Pack for Windows XP.

There’s something about the specific way you control the ball all the way down the lane.

Eh.

That’s what it is, man. It’s Hyperbowl.

No hyperbole needed, it’s pretty awesome.

Moving on to some slightly more substantial games though, like Speed Busters.

Another of my favorites from back then.

I’m gonna run these mostly at 1024 by 768, this and the next few games because not a whole lot of stuff was actually supporting 16:10 back then natively.

I mean, this is a game from a few years before 2004.

Still, even in 2004, most games were still gonna be running at 4:3.

Yeah.

Oh, this game has personality, that’s for sure.

One of those where the track changes slightly with every lap.

And a fascinating career mode with a bunch of upgrades and NOS for your cars.

Years before Need for Speed Underground was doing that kind of upgrade stuff, made it pretty fun.

Gotta try some UT2004.

It is only appropriate for a system from that year.

1280×800, 32-bit, mostly normal.

Just gonna run it that way, see how that goes.

Look at that!

You know what, actually might wanna turn on Fraps for this.

And hey, look at that!

Getting around a hundred frames there and going down to like…

I mean it’s still pretty darn good, we’ll see what happens during actual combat.

Dang right.

Oh yeah.

Running this well on a laptop back then was a dream — and I turned myself into a skeleton.

All right.

Like I remember this running pretty good even on the laptop we had back then, but.

Seriously, this?

Just awesome.

Killing spree!  Yeah!

I haven’t been playing — I have been playing — I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the frame rate, but I think it was over 60 the entire time, so yeah.

Excellent.

And of course, Elder Scrolls III Morrowind.

Now at the time I remember getting frame rates around 25 ish.

It was definitely under 30, but ah.

Yeah look at that.

Getting around 40 to 50.

Not bad at all.

Let me see.

At 1024×768 and kind of medium on the shadows and view distance.

Which I played on much lower settings than that at the time.

Go to jail.

And it runs great!

Look at all those frames in the indoor scenes.

It was really, you know, the outdoor scenes.

I remember some of the places just absolutely chugging, some of the more open landscape areas.

And anyway, Morrowind.

Just wanted to see how it runs real quick.

Expected it to be pretty good, and it was, but of course we got to try Doom 3.

Like the ultimate thing to try and run in 2004 alongside like Half-Life 2 and Far Cry.

Doom though, this right here.

Yeah. We’re going to run high-quality 1024×768.

Again, this is only a 128 meg card.

It was definitely made for higher.

Like if you tried to go to Ultra?

Requires over 500 megs of texture memory. No.

I mean, it’s not running too bad.

I’d say that’s about on par with what I was expecting.

Yeah.

It may not look amazing in terms of performance right now, but back then, seriously.

It’s like fantasy territory, especially for a “laptop,” truly.

Aw yeah.

Welp, I’m just playing Doom 3 forever again.

Okay.

Oh and of course DVD playback, that was a massive selling point for me back then.

DVD and CD-RW combo drive, really wanted one of those, and I had just a standard DVD-ROM on my Toshiba.

  • It’s always time for Jurassic Park.
  • Those lovely old computers.
  • Macs, SGI stuff.
  • Mm.
  • Just an awesome display for watching DVDs on the go.

Even though you couldn’t watch a full movie because the battery would run out before you could finish!

So you’d probably have to plug it in at some point.

But you know, such as the nature of putting a doggone desktop Pentium 4

in a portable computer.

It’s a ludicrous idea.

I love that they did it, nowadays anyway.

I probably would have been somewhat disappointed in the whole portability aspect back in the day.

Let’s try one more thing here.

Actually wanted to check out a benchmark, Future Mark 3DMark03.

Indeed.

So it will be running at 1024 by 768.

And no anti-aliasing, just all the default tests.

Just gonna go ahead and let this run and get the results while I head to other room to grab some benchmarks for similar machines.

For now though, enjoy some early 2000s 3D graphical benchmarks!

[downtempo beats play soothingly] [music fades]

Alrighty! Well, I hope you enjoyed that little interlude, and uh, results are in.

So 3391 is the 3DMark03 score here, for just the default selection of things.

Which, I mean, means absolutely nothing unless we have something to compare it to.

However, we do have some things to compare to thanks to the 3DMark benchmark archives on their website.

And two of the most similar machines in terms of specs and running this exact same GPU?

That I could find on their website anyway was this Fujitsu Amilo A1630.

And no surprise, the Acer Ferrari 3400.

I think both of these were sort of in that general $2,000 range, which this one was too.

If you were to get it in kind of a base-ish, slightly expanded configuration.

But they scored higher, with the Fujitsu getting 3713 running the same tests.

And the Acer Ferrari. 3903.

And in fact, as I was just looking around the benchmarks listed on the website, one thing that was in common with all of them that were scoring better, but in similar price and specification ranges in late 2004, early 2005?

The one thing they had in common was an AMD Athlon Mobile 3200+ CPU.

There were pretty much no Pentium fours placing even close with this particular GPU.

And if you know anything about the Pentium 4/Athlon 64 rivalry, if you could really call it that, then that makes total sense.

The Pentium 4 3.2 gigahertz, even the desktop version, versus the mobile Athlon 64 3200, I mean, look at it.

It’s just an objectively better CPU.

It was faster, it probably ran cooler.

All the benchmarks that I remember seeing back then, and see now, say that the Athlon 64 laptops, and even desktops as well, just completely wiped the floor with the Pentium 4.

I mean, the Pentium 4 was never a particularly great chip anyways, but then the 64 came along and it was at this point that I was completely on board with AMD.

And I was for years and years and years, then I switched over to Intel again for a few years, and now I’m back to AMD.

So yeah, Athlon 64, those impressed me back then.

They still do now. Anyway, that is pretty much it for the Dell Inspiron 9100, with the ridiculous desktop CPU that really didn’t blow anyone away except for it being a desktop CPU in a laptop.

And a built-in subwoofer that isn’t really so much a subwoofer as it a slight bass boost, maybe?

Dell was trying, you know, they certainly got the headlines.

It’s one of those computers where the reputation or really more of the perception was even better than what reality actually was.

Not to say that it’s a bad computer, I mean, still.

It would have been fantastic to have this kind of thing to me back then, this is beyond anything that I could imagine having myself.

But it wasn’t long until other computers, especially Athlon 64 Mobile-based machines were just outperforming it in pretty much every category.

And then you had better graphic’s chips from Nvidia and ATI coming along, and you had things like the Acer Ferrari series that I’ve covered before

that was just so much better in so many ways.

So yeah, I hope that you enjoyed seeing this look back at this particular laptop.

Thanks again to John for donating this so that we could all share in the experience.

And if you did like what you saw here, then awesome.

Maybe check out some of my other videos, I post LGR things on all kinds of topics each week right here on this very website you’re reading now.

And as always, thank you very much for reading what you just did!

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