As far as Fn functions go, the XPi CD M166ST has the usual assortment: an embedded numeric keypad, brightness and volume controls, a CRT/LCD toggle, and a suspend mode key. Dell opted to use LED's for the system status indicators such as power on, hard disk read/write, caps lock, low battery, and battery charging. They're located along the lower right edge of the display hinge and were easily visible in both bright and dim light.LINKS
One function I particularly appreciate was the system status key - F3. It displays important information such as which power management modes are enabled, how much RAM is installed, and how much battery power you have left.
When it comes to moving the cursor, the trackball quickly won me over. It turns out it's not just an old-fashioned mechanical trackball, but rather an optical trackball. That makes it fast, precise, and durable - something you can't say about a lot of touchpads and pointing sticks. Another plus is that even though the trackball itself is the size of a marble, the mouse buttons verge on huge. There ain't no way you can miss these suckers, yet they don't get in the way and they don't cause any unexpected mischief.
Sights and sounds
The XPi CD's 12.1" active-matrix display is no less impressive than its keyboard. Evenness of illumination is above average, particularly as it applies to viewing angle. Where some screens only look their best when your eyes are at a certain "sweet spot," the XPi CD is more forgiving. This means you can run a presentation for two clients seated side-by-side in front of the display and both will be able to see it equally well.
Screen brightness is average. It looks great in average room light, but is rather dim when you're outdoors in bright shade or seated next to a big window. There are 7 steps from minimum to maximum brightness.
The XPi CD can display 24-bit photo-realistic color, but only at a display setting of 640 x 480 pixels. The highest color resolution you can get at highter resolution is 16-bit (65,000 colors). More important is the fact that the M166ST has a 128-bit video graphics accelerator and supports MPEG video compression and playback. This combined with its 166MHz MMX processor, makes running video clips and graphics-intensive presentations a pleasure rather than a source of embarrassment.
Sound quality is about what you'd expect from a portable computer with tiny speakers: crisp clear highs, weak midrange, and practically non-existent bass. The maximum volume is similarly limited, and I noticed a slight reverb effect from Dell's "spatialized sound." Its 4 speakers, by the way, are on either side and 2 others hidden below the display hinge.
Connecting externally powered speakers makes a noticeable improvement in both volume and fidelity without affecting the reverb. Overall, you won't mistake the sound from the XPi CD for a high-quality stereo system, but it's more than adequate for multimedia use.
The XPi CD has the standard assortment of ports. On the rear you'll find a serial connector, parallel connector, PS/2 port, external monitor connector, IrDA infrared serial port, and a port replicator. For added convenience there's a second IrDA port on the front of the unit, an extremely useful feature if, you're going to be using the notebook in conjunction with a PDA or handheld computer. On the left side you'll find two Type II PC Card slots and connectors for an external microphone, a small internal mike is built-in, external speakers, and headphones. Dell opted to leave the card slots uncovered but protected by two "dummy" cards. This eliminates the often flimsy slot door and provides easier access, but you have to be a bit more careful when you're around dust and liquids.
It's important to note that in general the XPi CD uses the highest performance interfaces available. The parallel port therefore supports both the EPP (enhanced parallel port) and ECP (extended capabilities port) protocols. Similarly, the PC Card slots support the new 32-bit CardBus PC Card standard and the hard drive bus uses the Enhanced IDE, interface.
If you haven't already guessed by now, the Dell Latitude XPi CD MI66T's performance is as solid as its construction. From multimedia design and presentation to database and project management, the XPi CD moves quickly and efficiently. It's easy to overlook the fact that performance on this level doesn't happen by accident; it requires clever engineering, and Dell's engineers deserve both credit and praise for this.
Also keep in mind that the XPi CD's performance can only improve as more applications are written specifically for MMX processors.
I'm also happy to report that this speed and power did not come at the expense of battery life. Multimedia laptops with large active-matrix screens and fast processors are notorious for sucking a battery dry in little more than an hour. Not so with the XPi CD. I got roughly two hours per charge, even with the battery power-management software shut off. And about four hours with it on.
Recharge times are swift: 1.5 hours when the computer is off, or 2.5 hours while the computer is on. Of course, this means you'll still need a second battery if you plan to work during a coast-to-coast flight, but with the XPi CD's "hot swap" feature you can swap batteries while the computer is in suspend mode.
Another plus in the performance column is Dell's service and technical support. Its printed owner's manual and online user's guide are both outstanding. If that isn't enough, technical support is available world-wide and in most cases 24 hours a day, seven days a week via fax, World Wide Web, e-mail, BBS, and even the humble telephone.
I can report from personal experience that Dell's support personnel are knowledgeable and well trained. The Dell Latitude XPi CD M166ST comes with a three-year warranty, and Dell diagnostics software. Since Dell sells direct, you can add whatever extra features and software you like. As for the prejudices I mentioned earlier, it's still true that the XPi CD's weight, thickness, and price are a bit heftier than some of its competitors, and you, like I, may initially be put off by this (but bear in mind you have the CD ROM drive and Floppy Drive both built in, making it very slightly thicker and heavier, but look what a great trade-off. Sure it's costs more than some cheapies, but look at the scores of hidden features that only come with the Dell. You get what you're paying for).
But after you factor in its high quality, performance, and tech support, you may discover that the XPi CD M166ST is that rare type of laptop - the type that takes a load off your mind as well as your desk.
Dell Latitude XPi CD M166ST, $4599 (retail) as tested...
166 MHz Pentium MMX CPU (Central Processing Unit or brain)
64 MB EDO RAM (Random Access Memory) (80 MB maximum RAM)
256 KB pipeline burst cache
3 GB HDD (Hard Disk Drive)
1,44 MB FDD (Floppy Disk Drive)
12.1" SVGA TFT screen with 128-bit graphics accelerator
16-bit stereo sound with speakers and microphone
11 x 9 x 2.48 inches
7.3 lbs. with battery.
Dell Latitude XPi CD MMX Unofficial Information Center
Everything Technical You Could Ever Want To Know About The Dell Latitude XPi CD
For $5.00 or more I will Email you the zipped up files & drivers necessary to make a boot-up & installation floppy, with exact easy to follow directions on how to reinstall Windows 98 SE from scratch - just the way Dell factory would do it.