Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/30/review_laptop_dell_inspiron_mini_10/

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

Hi-res display netbook, anyone?

By Alun Taylor

Posted in Laptops, 30th July 2009 12:36 GMT

Review Dell's cheap and cheerful Mini 10v is a firm favourite here at Vulture Central but some potential customers are doubtless more interested in capability and functionality rather than absolute economy. So, with that in mind, we thought it wise to take a quick gander at the top end of Dell's netbook offering, the Mini 10 complete with all the trimmings, almost.

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

Dell's Inspiron Mini 10

Externally, the only difference between the 10 and the 10v is the flush fitting screen cover. Aesthetically it makes little difference but it does mean that wiping the screen clean is easier so for that reason alone we will count it as an improvement. Everything else – the size, the weight, the keyboard, the daft sticky-out SD card slot, the rather bulbous 6-cell battery housing, the one piece track pad and click bar, the lack of easy access to the memory slot – is identical to the 10v so we won't bother repeating ourselves, just take a shufti at the 10v write up.

It's only inside that things start to differ. The Mini 10 is available with Intel's low power Z series Atom processor rather than the N series used in the 10v. To be precise, you can have your Mini 10 with either a 1.33GHz Z520 or a 1.6GHz Z530 chip. Both come with a 533MHz FSB, 512KB L2 cache and 1GB of DDR 2 memory and the only operating system on offer is Windows XP. As you would expect, the graphics are handled by the integrated Intel GMA 500.

Wireless connectivity supports 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. As with the 10v, to upgrade to 802.11n you’ll need to cough up an extra tenner. On the plus side the 10 ships with Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, as standard. The only hard drive on offer is a 160GB 5,400RPM SATA HDD – even though the technical spec on the Dell web site lists a 250GB unit as an option, this doesn't appear when you come to 'build' your machine.

The first and obvious difference between the 10 and the 10v – and just about any other netbook for that matter – is the screen resolution. Take one look at the Mini 10's 10.1in screen and its pretty obvious you are not in Kansas any more, because at 1366 x 768 the Mini 10's screen has the same glorious resolution and perfect 16:9 ratio as Dell's current grown up Inspiron 15 range and is equally bright, crisp and colourful.

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

The 10.1in screen delivers a vibrant, high resolution, 16:9 image

Not only does the higher than the netbook norm resolution mean you get to see web pages in their entirety – which, as a benefit, speaks for itself – but it also renders video with a clarity you just don't get on 1024x600 – or 1024x576 in Dell's case – machines.

Having such a high resolution on such a small screen is not all beer and skittles though, and if your eyesight is less than perfect you could develop a bit of a squint when using the Mini 10. The text in application menus, tool bars and address bars is often rather too small for comfort, especially when using the machine on the lap rather than on a desk. The same is true for the desktop text size, but at least you can increase the size of that.

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

Web browsing at the 1366 x 768 resolution

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

Typical netbook browsing area at 1024 x 600 taken from a Samsung model

If you do find yourself going boss-eyed the screen can be set to 1024x768 or lower but that gives everything the look of having been squashed up so it's not something we would recommend. Before we leave matters screen related we should mention that when we ran Ubuntu 9.04 from a live disc on the Mini 10. However, the system wouldn't recognise the monitor type and would only operate the screen at 1024x768. Customers in the US can buy the Mini 10 with Ubuntu 8.04 pre-installed and still opt for the HD screen, so a fix may well appear down the line.

Beyond the standard Dell Mini array of three USB ports and a VGA output the Mini 10 also comes with an HDMI port. This makes hooking up the 10 to a suitable TV a cinch – just connect it up with an HDMI cable, select the relevant video output settings and bingo, sound and video through your telly and home cinema system.

Indeed, this turns the 10 into quite a handy little part time lounge PC for watching video or browsing the web on the TV, especially if you invest in a wireless keyboard. You will need to make sure you have a spare HDMI cable though, as Dell don't supply one.

Another less than common feature of the Mini 10 is the built in digital TV tuner. Unfortunately our review machine didn't have it fitted, but we have seen it in operation at a Dell presentation. From what we saw, it did a decent job of turning the 10 into a small telly – at least in an area with decent Freeview reception.

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

HDMI and a built-in TV tuner, so we're told

Dell ship the TV-tuner equipped Mini 10 with an MCX antenna array that has two telescopic aerials. The MCX cable plugs into a slot next to the SD card slot on the right hand side of the machine – plus an MCX-to-coaxial adaptor and a couple of clips to hold the antenna in place. Judging by comments on the web, early customers didn't actually get any of the external TV kit. Dell has informed us that has now been rectified, but if you still don't get your TV antenna just give Dell a call and it will be posted to you.

Our review machine was fitted with the 1.6GHz processor and the optional six-cell 5040mAh battery. Despite its more efficient CPU, when it came to the battery test, the 10 only just managed to beat the 10v. Lasting for 315 minutes while looping a standard def H.264 video at full screen with the volume turned up and with Wi-Fi radio on via VLC.

Video Playback Battery Life Results

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

Battery life in minutes
Longer bars are better

That's an improvement of seven whole minutes over the 10v though five and a quarter hours of continuous full screen video playback is still not be sniffed at. With the screen brightness turned down low and the Wi-Fi off the majority of the time the 10 managed a not unimpressive 9 hours before the lights went out – half an hour more the 10v achieved.

The performance of the Mini 10 sits towards the lower end of the netbook scale – not surprisingly for a Silverthorne powered machine. Yet, despite the PCMark05 numbers being toward the bottom of the heap, the 10 never felt noticeably slower in day-to-day use than our N270 powered Mini 10v or even the Samsung N120 and N110 machines we had on test, recently.

PCMark05 Results
CPU

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

Longer bars are better

Memory

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

Longer bars are better

HDD

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

Longer bars are better

The Mini 10 managed to chomp its way through the Gimp Gaussian Blur test in an average of 5.7 seconds. This again is nothing to write home about being slower than the Dell Mini 9, 10v and 12, the last of which uses the same processor as the 10. When it comes to video playback, if your files are around 1280x720 or below you won't have a problem. 720p WMV, AVI and H.264 files all played back at full screen with no drama. However, 1080p AVI and also 720p MKV files were prone to frame drop and stalling, even when playing in-window. Needless to say 1080p H.264 files were a complete non-starter.

The Mini 10 starts at £299 but, if you begin to add in the goodies, that figure soon begins to head skyward. For starters, selecting the Z530 1.6GHz chip rather than the 1.33GHz Z520 will cost you an extra £20. The HD screen will set you back another £20, while the built-in TV tuner will cost you a further £30. If you want the 6-cell battery, that will be an extra £45. That all ends up at a grand total of £414.

Dell Inspiron Mini 10

The more colourful options cost extra

Now that's a lot for a netbook – it would be daft to claim otherwise – but you do get a fair amount of kit for your money. The HDMI slot turns the Mini 10 into a handy front room PC to hook up to you TV – a role helped by the 10's silent fan-less running – while the high resolution screen and TV tuner lets the Mini 10 do things other netbooks can only dream about.

And if you do fancy a netbook with a hi-res screen, the Mini 10 doesn't face much in the way of competition. The Sony Vaio P-Series has a higher resolution display, but is a lot, lot more expensive, while the 1366x768 version of the HP Mini 2140 has yet to make an appearance. So, the Mini 10 currently leads a field of one.

Verdict

The Dell Inspiron Mini 10 is the polar opposite of the 10v. While the latter is designed to be a cheap as possible in the name of robust portable computing, the goal of the 10 proper is to be more a jack of all trades. Like all the current crop of Atom netbooks though, the lack of a decent GPU is an annoyance and, in this case, the HDMI port brings that annoyance into somewhat sharper relief. ®

Bootnote

At some point in the not too distant – but Dell UK isn't saying exactly when, even though buyers in the US can specify it now – the Mini 10 will also be available with a built-in GPS receiver. The US cost is $70 (£43/€50), but it's only an option on machines with the HD screen.

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