Considering I have had my laptop for over 5 years it seems a little redundant to use my usual format of initial thoughts and later observations, so I will give an overall account of my experience with the Dell 9400. I will however say that my initial impression of the 9400 was "wow that's a big laptop and boy is it heavy!". I should probably qualify that statement by describing my expectations of the 9400 when I bought it. I don't use desktops much these days so for me a laptop really needs to function as a portable desktop. As long as it can fit in a bag and is pretty powerful it will suit my purposes.
The 9400 when I purchased it was one of the most powerful laptops available, the fact that I am still using it five years later and it is still a capable machine is a good indication that it was a good choice. I have over time upgraded to a larger hard drive and added some more memory, but in general the machine is still the central element of my creative work. My biggest issue with Dell computers is the very poor quality of sound cards that they use. The integrated soundcard on the 9400 is absolutely awful. It does produce sound obviously but it also generates random noise bursts and generally struggles with anything other than basic playback. This might seem an odd choice for someone who is working primarily in sound, but I have never used the on-board sound card to record or transfer sound information. I transfer all files directly from digital storage devices onto the laptop, so the soundcard is just a reference device. If I can hear what the sounds sound like I can do my work. I would strongly recommend to Dell however that they really pay some more attention to their choice of sound cards and drivers.
CPU: Intel Core Duo 2.16 GHz
Memory: 1 Gig Ram
Hardrive: 100 gig 4300 rpm HD
Graphics card: Nvidia Geforce Go 7800 256 meg
Media access: SD card reader / DVD RW drive
Inputs: 6 USB inputs / 1 Firewire / 1 microphone
Outputs: SVideo / VGA
For me the best reason to purchase a Dell machine is the service they provide afterwards. In the five years I have owned the 9400 I have had a couple of issues with it, in every instance Dell were fast and efficient with dealing with these issues. Even when I was living in a remote country town 700 km north of Tokyo, Dell sent a technician out to where I was living within 48 hours and fixed my machine. As someone who works with and relies on their PC this is critically important. I am aware of friends who have had to send faulty machines from other manufacturers off for 6 to 8 weeks for repairs to be done. This should never be an acceptable situation for any equipment fault, but for a work machine in my mind it instantly removes them as a viable option.
The Dell 9400 might not be the prettiest piece of equipment available, or the most powerful, but I do not buy equipment to look good, I buy it as a tool to help me create audio. As long as Dell continue to provide a good level of service and create powerful machines that are good value for money I will continue to look at Dell first. I will hopefully be upgrading to a new machine sometime this year, so I will be interested to see what is currently available. I recommend you are careful with it in hot climates though. the 9400 can get very hot, I would not recommend using it without good air circulation on extremely hot days because it can overheat the machine if you are really pushing its capabilities.
Dells are generally very good value for money
Still a useful piece of equipment after 5 years
Excellent technical support
Awful Sound card
Can get very hot