Dell tries bringing netbooks upscale and succeeds in some ways. (March 8th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Dell
Price: $399 (base), $449 (with 1.6GHz Atom)
- Excellent keyboard and trackpad.
- Pleasing visual design and display.
- HDMi video output.
- Great Wi-Fi reception (at least on 802.11n).
- 160GB hard drive standard.
- 2GB RAM and HD screen options coming.
- Lid personalization a nice touch.
- Short 2.5-hour battery life; no 6-cell option yet.
- Trackpad doesn't work perfectly for multi-touch.
- Hampered by typical netbook specs; rivals have an edge.
- No accessible RAM slot or option for 2GB on initial models.
Normally, we would run a small set of objective tests to give a rough gauge of relative performance. For the Mini 10, though, there's not much point. Courtesy of Microsoft's artificial limits on memory, processors and storage for systems still running Windows XP, the system has almost exactly the same specifications as most netbooks: 1GB of RAM, an Intel Atom processor, and a 160GB hard drive. While the base Mini 10 is actually slightly underpowered (a 1.33GHz Atom instead of the more common 1.6GHz part), the difference isn't enough to change behavior in practical circumstances. Our test unit came with a 1.6GHz processor.
These effectively dictate that performance will be about as good as any other netbook, and that means mostly the basics. Speed here is fast enough for browsing, instant messaging and music playback. It will play video, but only standard definition and without full hardware acceleration to remove blockiness or other artifacts. HD video at 720p or higher simply isn't an option, which again diminishes the value of the HDMI output, and gaming is of course ruled out without adequate 3D acceleration.
It's important to stress that these aren't necessarily roadblocks. If your intent is to open the system for to check e-mail or to update your social networks, it's perfect. But this isn't a media hub, and without the option for 2GB of memory, running multiple or memory-intensive apps is still difficult.
Not all the performance characteristics are bleak, however. The hard drive's 5,400RPM spin speed means that software loads in a reasonable timeframe, and the wireless reception is uncannily strong. Surprisingly, we've managed early access to 802.11n Wi-Fi, too: although it's not slated to arrive as an option until the end of March, according to Dell, our Mini 10 could reach our 802.11n router at 270Mbps a dozen feet away -- near the practical peak of the much faster wireless standard. Normal models will come with 802.11g, which is certainly more pedestrian but reasonable for this class of computer.
Dell regrettably doesn't escape the common netbook pitfall of short battery life. In current trim, the Mini 10 is only available with a small 3-cell battery, and that's reflected in the practical runtime. Regardless of the power settings, our Mini 10 netted about 2.5 hours of battery life while performing typical web browsing and with the LCD brightness at about one third (which is still quite visible in most moderate-light environments). It's not uncommon for netbooks to have this kind of lifetime, but there are netbooks like the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE and MSI Wind that manage more without significant changes in hardware.
Moreover, Dell doesn't yet have an extended-capacity battery. Echoing the RAM limit, there's no 6-cell battery choice on launch. The only choice for a long workday or a plane trip is to buy a second 3-cell pack and swap batteries at the right time.