Dell Inspiron 8600 OS/2 hardware review

Based on that we all would like to see more hardware reviews where OS/2 has been tested I thought I make my share of writing a review on the Dell Inspiron 8600 I bought around 2 months ago.


1. Introduction
For a while now I have been thinking on getting a proper laptop for use at home. I sort of started to get tired of being tied up to the stationary system that I got and when we moved to a house it got a bit isolated using the office even when it came to do some surfing. On my current system I'm running OS/2 Warp 4.52 (Convenience Pack 2) and this is what I also wanted to continue with. Leaving OS/2 still not an option since I have used OS/2 since version 2.0 beta. The main reason for choosing a Dell system is based on that my wife has a Dell Inspiron already and this system got bought upon recommendation from friends. I have to admit that I kind like IBM ThinkPad’s and the system has superior quality. But, the new extra system I need is for home office use and I then think the IBM ThinkPad’s are a bit overprices compared what I get from Dell.

1.1 Versions
Dell offers the possibility of configuration the system your self, but I basic went for the standard offer of the Dell Inspiron 8600 with some minor exception. I added Bluetooth Wireless Network Card and I got 40GB disk instead of 30GB (the offer of the month when I ordered, i.e. getting extra 10GB disk space). As standard from Dell the system comes with BroadCom BCM4401 10/100 network card and as well Intel Intel's PRO/Wireless 2100 MiniPCI wireless NIC. Dell also offers Dell TrueMobile™ 1300 Wireless (802.11b/g) Mini-PCI Card among other. But the option might be different from country to country. The current 8600 system from Dell is called 8600C and the major difference to the system that I ordered is that the 8600C lacks both the COM and LPT-port. Otherwise the system is has the same basic configuration from Dell.


1.2 To buy or not to buy
When I started to look around for a new laptop I started of course to look into the IBM ThinkPad’s and asking around. The basic answer from the most people tends to recommend, well what did you expect; yes it's correct IBM ThinkPad’s. But, due to the fact that IBM don't even bother to make any recommendation or write a single line about OS2 I started to look around for something else and I ended up to once again look into Dell laptops. The only way to figure out if the system would work or not is to check in on the hardware used. And here actually Dell does a better job than they did couple of years ago telling you what components they uses. Even IBM could learn something from Dell or IBM could share their knowledge by publishing the proper system information so one can find the info. Price: approx. € 1392.

2. The Ordering Experience
Placing the order itself was simple since I placed it online via Dell Swedish home page. Here one can also alter and change the basic configuration. The only thing that I added to the system was the Bluetooth Wireless Network Card as mentioned earlier. But this was due to the fact that one cannot add this hardware your self and it only cost me €16 extra. I was tempted to add memory directly from Dell, but when I saw that they actually would charge me the double what the street price is, I changed my mind. So additional to the 256MB 333MHz RAM pre-installed from Dell I bought some extra 256MB and added myself. From placing the order to receive the system it took Dell 10 days to deliver from the factory located in Ireland. The only flaw regarding their ordering system is the lack of giving you notification what the current status is of the order when it comes to when it has been shipped of from the factory. So I had to call Dell and check it out with when the system was supposed to be shipped and when to arrive. So over all I'm Dell did their job that was expected to deliver the system - nothing more or less.

3. Specifications


Standard features:

Intel Centrino Mobile Technology:
  • Intel® Pentium® M processor - M 1.4 GHz (1MB on-die L2 cache and Enhanced Speedstep)
  • Intel 855PM Chipset
  • 400Mhz Front side Bus

  • 512MB (2x256) 333MHz DDR SDRAM (2 GB maximum using 2 x SoDIMM sockets)

  • 64MB DDR nVidia(R) GeForce(TM) 5200 Go AGP 4x
  • 15.4" WSXGA+ (1680 x 1050) UltraSharp Wide - Aspect Screen

  • Internal 56Kbps V.92 capable modem
  • Internal AC'97 bus

  • Intel Pro Wireless 2100 Mini PCI Card 802.11b, 11 Mbps, Wi-Fi compliant
  • Antenna built into both sides of display for enhanced wireless signal strength
  • BroadCom BCM4401 10/100 Ethernet LAN on Motherboard
  • Bluetooth Wireless Network Card

Storage capacity:
  • 40GB Ultra ATA hard drives
  • Modular Optical Drive 8x CD-RW/DVD Combo

I/O Ports:
  • Ports: 1x VGA, 1x S-video out, 2x USB, 1x IEEE 1394 (Firewire), 1x RJ-11, 1x RJ-45, 1x COM-port

PC Card Slot:
  • Texas Instruments PCI4510 PC card CardBus Controller
  • One type I/II PC Card slot

  • Intel 82801DB AC'97 Audio Controller
  • High quality audio system with built-in speakers
  • Two audio jacks: headphones/speakers out, microphone in

  • 4 Mbps infrared port
  • 2x Kensington Lock sockets

  • Height: 38 mm (1.5 inches)
  • Width: 359 mm (14.1 inches)
  • Depth: 274 mm (10.8 inches)
  • Weight with travel module and 72-WHr battery : 3.13 kg (6.9 lb)
  • Weight with DVD drive and 72-WHr battery : 3.27 kg (7.2 lb)


Primary Battery
  • 9-cell "Smart" Lithium Ion battery
  • 72 WHr
  • Approximate operating time: Up to 3.5 hours per battery (depends on usage)

AC Adapter
  • Input voltage: 100 to 240 VAC
  • Input current (maximum): 1.5A
  • Output current: 3.62A maximum
  • Output power: 65 Watts

Input Devices:
  • Keyboard, 88 keys (Europe) with 12 function keys
  • TrackPoint
  • TouchPad, X/Y Position resolution : 240cpi. Size : Width 64.88mm (sensor-active area), Height 48.88mm (rectangle)

Click here to view pci.exe's output while running on Dell Inspiron 8600 system running with OS/2 Warp v4.52 (CP2).

4. System Set-Up and Installing OS/2 Convenience Pack 2 (Warp 4.52)

4.1. General
When I finally received the package from Dell everything was in order. No damages or anything missing. What I really like with Dell is that they ship along a bunch of CDs with drivers, CDs with additional Windows software, etc. So everything comes along that you need to re-install the system, no need to call for extra CD to full fill this task... as with lots of other vendors.

I ordered this system without any kind of external 3.5" diskette drive due to the fact that I already had one from the last time I ordered a Dell laptop (actually it's a re-branded Teac USB-drive). So my first thought was to create the installations diskettes for OS/2 and I was sort of thinking about the problem getting the USB-support to work from the installations diskettes. But, just for the fun of it I thought about trying out to boot on the installation CD to see what would happened. Well, as it turned out OS/2 booted up without any problem. Actually this was a surprise, since I didn't expect this at all, since I didn't have this kind of luck with the other Dell system (Inspiron 1100) that we have in the household. So next step was to remove the hidden Dell Utility partition on the hard drive that takes around 50MB and create the needed partition to install OS/2.


In my case when it comes to create and build up system I usually wants to spread out the partition on different hard drives to speed up the disk access and spread out the risk if a hard drive would crash. Problem is that in a laptop there is usually only one disk to play around with and to gain maximum disk speed it would also be the smartest to create one large partition. Problem is that I really hate that thought and I want to keep the way I have handled partition. Based on this I created one 500MB boot partition using HPFS, reason for this small size is that I only install the OS and a few system tools that I need. But it's also about being able to make a fast and easy backup routine and being able to get it on to an easy media. In my case it's using CD-R or CD-RWs. Next I always creates a partition for installation of application so around 10GB usually takes care of this without any problem. I mean how many of you would actually be able to fill up 10GB of application under OS/2? That would be if you use huge Lotus Notes databases or replicating down lots of information. Anyway, what I usually like to have is also a partition specific for the user data, so around 5-10GB should make the deal here. The rest of the space will be used to install Linux.

Based on above I installed OS/2 Convenience Pack 2 it worked as charm, no problem here at all. So I actually have to admit this has been one of the easiest installations of OS/2 so far on any kind of system. Main reason for this was mainly due to the fact that I never needed any kind of installation diskettes.
Question was if it would continue as smooth with the rest of the installation?

4.2. Installing Device Drivers
As most other people tend to do when installing a new system, is to download and collect together all the needed drivers. So in my case I saw to that I had all I needed burned out on a CD. And here is of course Hobbes, IBM OS/2 Device Driver Pak Online and IBM Software Choice usually great resources of gathering together needed drivers. A good thing is always also to create a list with the different hardware in the system that you need drivers for and cross of along the way when you have what you need to get the system to run.

4.3. Sound
Based on postings and articles regarding SigmaTel I knew that the UniAudio Driver would do the work to get some sounds out if the box. Only problem that I ran into was that I was not able change audio control, so when the system booted up for the first time with audio enabled and using the standard system sounds; it chocked everybody! Using Lesha's universal pm mixer LBMix did the trick to take charge over the audio. Regarding testing the sounds quality; well I don't bother since it is after all a laptop and not a HiFi equipment. But, I guess that the sound is actually great on this system since it offers digital output as well. And at maximum I play MP3 under OS/2 and maybe once a while I receive some kind of mpeg2 or animation where I would need some kind of sounds support. Since I'm using the UniAudio there is no support for midi files, but TiMidity tool to play MIDI and Module (.MOD) files will take care of this for you. It does it by software emulation without depending on any hardware MIDI support your soundcard might have. Sound quality can be much higher because it limited by your CPU's power and memory rather then your soundcard's power and memory.


4.4. Video
Since I have earlier used the SciTech SNAP Graphics 2.1.3 I didn't expect to run into any problem since SNAP supports the nVidia GeForce 5200 GO. But since it's the mobile chip from nVidia there will not be any kind of accelerated graphics support. I can live with that, but okay it would be really nice to get the proper support. But according to SciTech it is all about having the proper hardware to test on and they don't have any nVidia 5200 GO chip to test on and this is due to that you will only find this kind of graphics chips in. laptops.
I doubt that there are many of us users that would like to lend out our laptop for a few months to SciTech. One idea would be to sponsor SciTech with the hardware needed to develop full support for the mobile nVidia chips. The only flaw for me under OS/2 is that the SNAP drivers do not support TFT widescreens so instead of getting the expected 1680x1050 resolution I only get 1400x1050 resolution. As well since I'm running in un-accelerated mode I only get 64k colours. But, overall I'm okay with the result. I'm able to run my favourite OS.

4.5. Modem
Well, I didn't even bother to think about the modem since I absolutely no use for the modem feature. And if I should have the need it would be for the possibility of being able to send fax and I can't really remember when was the last time I had the need of sending a fax.

4.6. Pointing Devices
The TrackPoint pointing device and the touch pad seem to work fine as well. The two buttons under touch pad works fine, but when it comes to the two additional buttons for the TrackPoint Dell has missed out the IBM quality. They are a bit tricky to get used to and one tends to use the buttons under the touch pad instead. But, finding a system that offers the feature of the TrackPoint was one demand from my side. I really hate the touch pad since I got used of using the TrackPoint from using ThinkPad’s and as well Compaq Armada that also offered this feature (earlier the did at least).


4.7. Networking
Here I actually made a little mistake regarding checking out the NIC support. Well, I knew that there were drivers around for the BroadCom NICs but I missed out that the system uses the BCM4401 instead of the BCM57xx series as I thought. Well, can't get it all and when it comes to the Intel Pro Wireless 2100 Mini PCI Card I knew that there was no support for this card either. But, then again there is more or less no support either on any other platform except for Windows of course and even Linux has rather bad support as well. What could be done is to exchange the Intel mini-pci card with either card from IBM or any other vendor who provides with drivers that works.

Photo of the Intel Pro Wireless 2100 Mini PCI Card.


The idea is to give it a try with LinkSys WPC-11 wireless card as well to see if I can get it to work or not - who knows - I might get lucky here since there are drivers under development for the LinkSys card (still beta).


4.8. PCMCIA Socket Services
Dell provides me with one CardBus socket, two would be better. But to be honest I can't really figure out anything else that I would like to install on the system. The Texas Instruments PCI4510 PC card CardBus Controller is used here to provide me with one type I/II PC Card slot and PCMCIA connectivity. I started of testing with IBM's PC Card 8.0 (CardBus) Card and Socket Support, but it didn't do the trick for me to kick some serious life into the LinkSys WPC-11 wireless card. The card was powered up and the system was still not able to find NIC. Testing Daniela Engert's latest replacement drivers for IBM's Socket Service didn't do the trick either. The driver covers the TI4510 chip but has actually not been fully implemented (vendor and device ids are accepted). Based on this there was 3rd vendor of Socket Service drivers and this was APSoft (German company). So based on the recommendation regarding the APSoft Socket Service Driver I ordered this and installed it on the system and now I have a working CardBus.


4.9. USB Support
Regarding USB I have so far verified that my EPSON Perfection 2400 Photo scanner works without any problem under OS/2 using TAME/2. Since the most system today don't have 3.5" diskette drive I earlier used CD-RW's to move file between systems or uploaded the file to my central fileserver. But most of the times now I use s a SanDisk Cruzer mini 256MB USB memory. This works fine as long that I stick with FAT-16 file system. As well there is no problem to plug in or unplug the USB memory or the 3.5" diskette drive on the fly. The system finds it and mount both of the devices without any problem.

5. Advanced Power Management

5.1. System Battery Monitoring
The system battery monitor within OS/2 did not work as expected. And I don't know if there is any kind of replacements software to be used instead of IBM's own. Minor flaw if you ask me and nothing that really bothers me. To be mentioned is that the Intel® Pentium® M processor also offers Enhanced Speedstep that OS2 supports by Speedstep drivers. The energy-saving technology "Enhanced Speedstep" is the practical implementation of the inherent physical laws described above: the Pentium 4-M can be switched between two power states in real time depending on the processor throughput needed by an application. In Maximum Performance mode, the CPU runs at maximum speed and at a higher core voltage of 1.3 V; in Battery Optimized mode, the core frequency for all Pentium 4-M models is 1.2 GHz and the voltage is lowered to 1.2 V. While energy consumption is lowest for the Pentium 4 in its Deep Sleep Status processor mode, the Pentium 4-M has an additional sleep mode that uses even less energy, the Deeper Sleep mode. In this mode, the CPU operates on a voltage of just 1.0 V; the processor clock speed, as in Deep Sleep mode, is no longer relevant. The switch from Deep to Deeper Sleep is made within a few hundred microseconds. This enables the CPU to use even brief times of inactivity - for example, the time between two keystrokes - to switch to this mode and save energy.

5.2. Standby and Suspend Issues
As far as I can figure out the standby doesn't work, but then again I haven't really tried since the system usually is always "on". I use it as my regular workstation at home, so even if I could set any option regaring power safe I would disable all features.

6. Installing Applications
Now days I more or less have an installation protocol on what to install. There are always a lot of applications that I directly install and then I usually install applications and utilities when needed. But, the basic needed software that I have installed, such as EMX lib, WarpIN, XWorkplace, worked us supposed and haven't given me any problem at all. And why should there after all be any problem?

7. The Bottom Line
The Dell Inspiron 8600 is examples of that there are still laptops available from other vendors than IBM that can be proper used using OS/2. Dell officially only supports Microsoft Windows, so if I was a totally Linux geek I would still have some problem to find the perfect laptop when it comes to get 100% support. The two biggest flaws with this system without any doubt is the lack of driver support for the BroadCom BCM4401 10/100MB NIC and Intel Intel's PRO/Wireless 2100 MiniPCI wireless NIC. But this was something that I knew when I bought this system. Next to this it would be the lack of the proper support for the nVidia and widescreen support when using the SNAP drivers. Also here this was something that I knew before that I bought this system. But, since I really wanted a system with widescreen I took this into my summary when I picked the system. I run multiply OS on the laptop I need think about the other OS need to run.
One of my big fears regarding this system was actually the CPU resources - could actually an Intel® Pentium® M processor at 1.4GHz deliver what was needed? Intel® Pentium® M processor which includes an L2-cache of 1MB gave me a pleasant surprise when it came to deliver the power! Compared to my other desktop system that has an Intel Pentium 4 HT 2.66GHz I cannot tell any difference when working with the system. For example when running SETI@Home under Windows XP there is almost no difference in speed to calculate the downloaded data. So my fear about a mobile system that would feel a bit slow was far from true.

Also installing the extra memory is really easy to do your self. Here is a photo of how it looks like on the Inspiron 8600.


Also installing a new disk is no problem either, just one screw and your are set to change it.


When it comes to the price the Dell Inspiron 8600 that I picked is an average system from Dell. Nothing more or less. Compared with other vendors such as Acer, HP Compaq and Fujutsi, Dell has a price that is highly competitive. Compared with IBM the price would almost be the double of getting similar features as from Dell. In my case I was not prepared to cash up that much more to get a system that would actually give me less. If I bought the system to be used within a business where I travelled a lot - well then there would not be any doubt of what system to get: IBM ThinkPad.
If one needs extended battery time Dell offers a secondary battery that goes into the Modular Bay where one usually keeps the DVD-ROM. The battery time extends to an overall battery life of notebook of 7 hours.

Dell has been voted "Best Notebook Company" by the readers of Personal Computer World Magazine, November 2003. And I tend to agree that Dell currently has some of the best laptops when it comes to value for the money. Dell has found there own look and feeling when it comes to designing the system such as the Dell Inspiron 8600. Lots of the other vendors tend to copy Apples design, which I really dislike. Also the system is overall really silent, I usually can't hear the hard drive working. It's not often one hears the CPU-fan, but when you do it is still at an acceptable noise level.

Product Completeness: 5/6
Product Availability: 6/6
Price: 6/6
Hardware quality (modern, complete): 6/6
Weight: 3/6
Battery Lifetime: 4/6
OS/2 and eCS Compatibility: 4/6
Speed: 5/6
Design: 4/6
Quality (chock resistance, housing): 4/6
Manufacturer Support: 4/6
Overall Price / Quality Ratio: 6/6

8. References

Kim Haverblad.

There are some comments to this article in the old forum and it can be found here - but for new comments, please use the new comment feature.


Who's Online

We have 112 guests and no members online

Social Media

Follow us also at:

Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

 Google Plus-  github icon


Like Us

Artie v1 0