Dell Inspiron M101z 11.6in notebook
Review It's common to take a shiny new notebook out of the box, judge it to be worthy and then find that some aspect - performance, price or feel - rubs off the polish. Rare are machines like the Dell Inspiron M101z that leave you happy with your initial verdict. Well, almost...
Dell's Inspiron M101z: compact performer
The M101z is one of the small but growing breed of sub-notebooks that aim to provide netbook portability without overly compromising what you'd call a notebook spec. One of the first - and so far still the best - is Acer's Aspire 1810TZ, which I reviewed almost a year ago.
Both machines, and all the others in the class, are based around an 11.6in, 1366 x 768 display and include a standard set of features: three USB ports, VGA, Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, HDMI Port, SD card slot and no optical drive. Sometimes you get Bluetooth, but not here. Hard drives typically come in at 250, 320 or 500GB, memory 2, 3 or 4GB.
The key differentiators are design and performance. Early models mixes Intel dual-core Pentium processors and single-core Celerons, the latter delivering seemingly less horsepower than netbook Atom chips. More recently, vendors have been pulling in AMD processor and graphics technology, and both the Samsung X125 I reviewed recently and the M101z fall into this category.
Ketchup coloured, no less
Again, watch for those irritating single-core parts being slipped into lower-cost SKUs. As I found with the X125, they just don't hack it. It's nice to see the M101z has a dual-core chip - the Athlon II Neo K325 - and if it's only clocked to 1.3GHz, it still pulps the 1.7GHz CPU in the Samsung in Futuremark's PCMark Vantage benchmark suite.
Impressive inside and out
The X125 does rather better in 3DMark 06, its integrated ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200 leaving Intel's integrated graphics far behind, but it's still bested by the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 in the M101z.
No optical drive here...
So much for the internals - the outside is impressive too. The M101z Dell sent in for testing had a rather fetching "tomato red" lid, but you'll pay an extra £19 for that - better to stick with the shiny black standard.
...but there is an HDMI port round this side
Under the lid is the glossy LED-backlit screen and a black calculator-style keyboard that's both solidly underpinned for flex-free typing and surrounded by glossy black plastic. All around it is gun-metal grey plastic that manages to look good in the way that so much mock-aluminium plastic notebook cases don't. It's also free from unnecessary buttons and LEDs. Only the basics - power, hard drive activity and an on-off switch are present.
The keyboard's nice to type on. The action of the trackpad keys is a little flacid, but the pad itself is well sized for a notebook of the M101z's compact dimensions and stands out as little as it needs to from the surrounds wrist rest area.
Longer bars are better
PCMark Vantage Battery Life Test
Battery life in Minutes
Longer bars are better
Single core? No more
Almost all the ports are on either side of the machine - the exception is the rear-facing VGA port. Cheekily, Dell has fitted a 100Mb/s Ethernet port, rather than Gigabit, but that's not uncommon on notebooks of this class.
The sides are thick for a sub-notebook - probably the K325 needs more cooling than some CPUs - but the M101z doesn't feel bulky, and the 56mAh battery is well integrated into the casing. All told, it feels like a solid, small laptop you can carry around all day.
A choice of colours
You might even get a full day's use out of it. The M101z ran for just over three hours in Reg Hardware's intensive test. You'll get double that running real-world workloads, even more if you switch off the Wi-Fi and dim the screen.
The review model is the top-of-the-line M101z. Dell also offers the same unit with 2GB of 800MHz DDR 3 instead of the 4GB here, and a further version, with 2GB and a single-core CPU. Prices run from £379 to £429 to £499. I'd certainly stump up the extra £50 for the second core. My experience of single-core notebooks suggests the one-core M101z won't be as snappy as the one I tested. I'd buy the £429 model and put the extra memory on myself. It'll cost you around £35. The memory is the only readily accessible component, by the way.
The keyboard's good and not all versions come with the decoration
The M101z comes with an SRS Premium sound system that pumps 1.5W of power out of the notebook's two front-facing - but angled down - speakers. I found them a tad muffled, but there's no question it makes for a more bassy, beefier sound.
So does the Dell take the sub-netbook crown away from the Acer? There's no doubt the M101z is the speedier machine, both in general terms and for graphics. The advantage the Acer has is price and and battery life: its retail price is only slightly lower than the Dell's but you can find it online for around £100 less. It runs for more than an hour longer.
Dell's Inspiron M101z delivers a lot of power in a compact, easy-to-carry and rather attractive chassis. ®
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