I'm a miserable old git.
I'm ashamed to say it's been a **** very **** long time since I reviewed my "trusts", have sought to rectify this by going through every review I've written in the past couple of years, if you feel hard-done-by, drop me a note.
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Dell 8600 - still worth looking at ten years on
Full size laptop with 'netbook' performance, very cheap to buy now .
Lacks some of the most recent features of modern units
Look & Feel
Comfort & Portability
Robustness & Durability
Value For Money
Memory / capacityGood
Ease of useEasy
Range of Extra FeaturesPoor
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Around ten years since it was announced, and five years since the last review, the Dell 8600 is still worth looking at – as long as it’s for the right reasons.
The It industry is obsessed with smaller, faster, more features, but price points seem remarkably resilient.
When the 8600 was first produced it was at the lower-middle end of the performance range, and commanded a price accordingly – around £750 I believe.
It provided a reasonable range of ‘current’ features which still make it a desirable ‘second best’ system, and by modern standards offers ‘netbook’ performance in a ‘full size’ format, but at a fraction of the original cost.
I came by a very tidy example a month or two back. A friend had upgraded their family laptop, and was all set to toss this in the bin. The prime motivation for this was that it had become ridiculously slow, and the windows installation was unstable.
First off, I ran a full set of diagnostics which revealed that the hardware was still in full working order, my first action was to scrub the existing installation and completely reload XP from the original CDs.
I then set about applying service pack two and three, at which point the system slowed down agan, and the instability reappeared – “Blue Screens of Death” abounded. I noticed at that point that the system had the minimum
configuration of 256Mb of memory, which it had been delivered with.
Digging in the spares box, I found another 256Mb SODIM card, which stopped the crashing, but performance was still lamentably slow.
I forked out forty quid for an upgrade to 2Gb, and now it’s running better than ever, and whilst isn’t lightning fast, is plenty for browsing, word processing and watching DVDs – as long as you don’t try to do these all at once!
The system comes with a pretty usable set of features; the 40Gb hard drive is plenty for XP, a replacement unit shouldn’t cost any more thatn £50. Whilst DDR1 memory is getting harder to find, it’s still only around £20 a gig – well worth the investment to take it up to the maximum 2 gigabytes.
There’s ‘only’ two USB ports, but for most occasions that’s enough – the keyboard, touchpad and trackpoint is enough for use in the field, but for extensive home use, an external mouse is just about all you’d need extra.
It doesn’t have a built-in SD Card reader, as most modern laptops do, but a card reader is only about a fiver, and few of us need these all the time.
There’s a wireless card which lets you use 802.11b and g, again, sufficient for most needs, it has a DVD drive installed, if you *really* wanted to, this could be upgraded to something more exciting, such as a blu-ray, but you’d probably be better considering a USB connected external unit If this was a ‘must have’.
Typical for the time, there’s a ‘firewire’ port – if you still have a Mini-DV camcorder, this would be hugely desirable.
Some ‘old world’ features still exist on this model including serial and printer ports, tere’s even a cable which lets you plug into a TV through a composite port, although this predates HDMI.
The base software backage featured ‘Microsoft works’ – which I didn’t bother with, preferring to stick on ‘open Office’, and instead of the old virus software I put on the current version of AVG Free.
Something which may be of interest to you might be that it has full dell ‘docking station’ compatibility – I had one of these kicking about from when I used a Dell laptop at work, and it provides more USB sockets as well as a means of setting up a permanent workstation (the docking staion has a mini-DVI socket, but I don’t know if this would support a DVI to HDMI adapter)
Screen resolution is a perfectly respectable 1280 by600 pixels, is stable and flicker free and at 15.5” measured across the diagonal.
Latest drivers are still available for all standard options from teh DELL site.
The unit also comes with a 100Mb Ethernet port and has an analogue ‘narrowband’ modem built in (remember them!)
Finally, there’s a PCMCIA slot for anyone with legacy cards they want to plug in, and thestandard 3.5mm audio jacks for headphone and microphones.
Really, the only feature missing, and found on most modern laptops are a built in video camera (vastly overrated in my view) and support for ‘express’ external cards, and again, most could probably live without this.
Guideline price for a good second hand unit is ‘well under £100’ fully refurbed, or £50 needing a bit of work – cost will be largely dependant on the amount of memory fitted.
As long as you get an operating system supplied (or at the very worst, licence key) don’t bother too much about what software it comes with, most functions such as word processing, photo cataloguing and indexing, DVD burning and so on is available for free on the Internet.
Given what one of these will cost you, and with the expectation that you’re not going to use it as your ‘main’ machine, or your needs are fairly modest. As I mentioned in the introduction, ten years on, it’s still well worth considering.
**** Update 2013 **** came by another of these units recently - you can get a memory upgrade - to the full 2Gb for under twenty quid now, a 'thrd party' power supply only costs around eight pounds, and the docking station is well under a tenner. Accessories will become increasingly expensive overtime, therefore this is absolutely the best time t pick up one f these while you still have the chance.