Jan Leow's Press Blog

Dell Inspiron Mini 10v Netbook Review

Recently I just got the Dell Inspiron Mini 10v and some of my friends asked how it was. I have been thinking about getting a netbook for awhile. Sure I got my laptop, the Dell Inspiron 1501 about 2-1/2 years ago. With its big 15.4″ screen it was quite a dead weight to carry around. Although I wanted portability, I also wanted a generous work space on the screen. And of course usually laptops that are bigger are generally cheaper despite the fact that LCD screen space is more. There was a time that bigger screen was more expensive; however in order to cramp more hardware component into smaller spaces meant that notebooks would be more expensive than laptops.

Dell Inspiron Mini 10v Netbook

Commonly most lay people would just refer to any non-desktop computer as laptop or notebook but there is a difference technically, otherwise why they coin up this entire name? Generally laptops are the biggest of all the portable computers, next in line would be the notebooks which are smaller, and then there was the sub-notebook whatever it means, but I believe based on the name to be smaller than notebook. And finally we have the netbook, the smallest incarnation of the portable computer.

Netbook Origins

Originally the netbook was supposed to be designed for school going children and it was to be made as affordable as possible so that the lower income group could hopefully get their hands on one. The idea was to bridge the digital divide and to make as many people as possible to have access to the internet. It would have basic programs, enough to surf the internet, communications like email and messenger and simple wordprocessing.

Intel came up with a CPU, the Atom processor as a low cost CPU processor for the netbook. All in all the netbook should cost under US$300. The netbook was first launched by Asus with its Asus EEE PC running the open source Linux and using a solid state drive with a price tag of about RM1000 that’s about US$300 at current exchange rate.

The strange thing was that road warriors like us starting snapping it up for business use because the netbook size was just real handy, it was light and very portable. After what most business professionals on the road need is usually to write reports, check their emails and surf the internet to get information and not so much for games and entertainment or any heavy duty file manipulation. The netbook was the right fit! However the early models were quite insufficient in terms of data storage, the keyboard was awkward for the large adult hands, and Linux is still not that user-friendly (one day it will be, and it is getting there, but then most people is too familiar with Microsoft Windows).

So the manufacturers like HP, Acer, Dell, Asus started to churn out models with Windows XP and switch back to normal laptop hard disk and put in some extras. Some models have their keyboard redesigned for adult fingers like us. And the price tag kept going up until it hit about RM1800 (US$550) at one time in the mid 2009. The price range of RM1500 (US$440) to RM1800 (US$550) was too expensive for a netbook! Pay a couple hundred more and you can get a proper laptop! So I shelf the idea of getting one until recently.

Netbook price falling

All of sudden the priced started dropping in Oct to Dec 2009 to the current price of RM999 (US$290) by Dell. The market price for other manufacturers are going at about RM1200 (US$350) although there are some still in the denial stage and selling at the higher price. Laptop prices are already falling so which would you get?

Dell Inspiron Mini 10v

After scouring the market, I concluded DELL Inspiron Mini 10v was the cheapest around. Although it did not come with any freebies, it is quite ok for me. The spec are simple:

  • Intel Atom Processor N280 (1.66GHz)
  • Windows 7 starter edition
  • 160GB 5400RPM SATA hard disk
  • 10.1″ WSVGA screen with 1024 x 600 resolution
  • Intel Graphic Media Accelerator 950
  • Intel 945GSE Chipset for its motherboard
  • 3 USB ports, 1 VGA port, 1 SDHC/MMC slot
  • Webcam
  • WIFI and Bluetooth

Placing the order

Although it is simple, it was good enough to get simple work done and with good portability. However the price of RM999 can only be bought online. The DELL shops are priced at RM1199 because the hard drive is 250GB. But if you were to go online and pick the RM999 and upgrade the hard drive from 160GB to 250GB you actually pay RM1121! So when making purchases from Dell do watch out! Sometimes it is better to pick the cheaper model and upgrade to get your savings!

However the listed price of RM999 meant that I can’t get the monthly 0% interest instalment payment. You need minimum of RM1000 to do that. And I noticed putting any of those add-ons, the monthly instalment price don’t match the final price (eg adding the colour option the monthly instalment was RM89 with a final tag of RM1068 which don’t match the full price of RM1051). So finally I got fed up and call them instead of trying to order online. The customer service was rather helpful. In order to meet the bank’s criteria (Maybank and Citibank, FYI), they could add RM1 to the price tag in order to do 0% interest monthly instalment payment. Ok, not too bad, I don’t mind paying the RM1. So my monthly would become RM83.33 though there might be some adjustment in rounding. Still not so bad.

So I put in the order and waited. It was quite a long wait by the way. Could be because the price tag was rather attractive for this Dell Inspiron Mini 10v because it was not like Dell to take 12 days for delivery. Usually it takes about 5-6 days from order to receipt based on my previous order experience.

Upon receiving, I plug it in for charging. In the box, there was nothing else, just the netbook and the charger plus the documentation and software CDs. Well they did say no freebies for this low, low price. Haha. However I’m scratching my head as to how to do a reinstallation if ever I needed to as you know netbook do not have a DVD/CD-ROM drive. Hmmm…

Review of Dell Inspiron Mini 10v

When I took it back home, I gave it a quick spin and installed some of my favourite software. I noticed that it was quite slow in the boot up. Of course this was to be expected. But I didn’t realise that the CPU, the Atom Processor N280 although dual-core is not very powerful.

Dell Inspiron Mini 10v Windows Experience Index Score

Running the Windows Experience Index I got a base score of 2.1 from the Graphics subscore. In fact the Processor subscore was not too good either at 2.3 and that’s what giving the slower speed. And of course with a 1GB SDRAM memory you can’t expect too much out in terms of processing power. You can’t upgrade the memory either so you are pretty much stuck with 1GB SDRAM.

The booting process was slow. Program starting was slow. Although when you are surfing it was not too bad, just the starting up of the browser. Should use Google Chrome for faster browser startup but I like Flock, the Firefox variant because of the add-ons extensions that I can use.

The keyboard size was ok, build for adult fingers and the touch pad was not too bad although a mouse would be good for more precise point-and-click.

Running on power outlet, the Dell Inspiron Mini 10v do get kinda hot at the bottom. So raising it up with a book or something would be good idea to keep it cool. Perhaps a mini portable cooling fan but that would mean carrying more equipment if your idea was to go as light as possible on your road warrior trips.

The Windows 7 started edition is really basic. You can’t customize the Windows much. In fact I couldn’t even personalize the desktop background! Took me a long while to figure that out! I also wanted to speed up the PC by reducing certain fluff like menu animation and etc, but there were no such settings! I may have to get a third party add-on to do that I suppose.

Despite the small size the screen resolution of 1024 x 600 was quite adequate. I think writing articles and email messages shouldn’t be a problem here. For graphic manipulation, the screen is a tad small, but that’s what you get for very convenient portability. Power wise it has about 2 hours of running time, but you will still need to bring along the charger.

So what’s the verdict? Overall the small size of Dell Inspiron Mini 10v netbook makes it very convenient to carry around although the less powerful processor meant that you have to wait a little longer for program start-ups and for number scrunching.

[update 28/1/2010]
I’ve been carrying along to work just to have a feel of the weight. Although it made my bag a little heavier it was not that much heavier like carrying a dead weight laptop around! I didn’t bring along my charger, besides it was just for play-play for now since I have a desktop in my office. So the two hours battery was quite ok. However if on say an outstation trip or in the shopping mall or something it is not going to last. Besides the battery lifespan will deteriorate as it age (like my Dell Inspiron 1501 battery is not as lasting as before).

I also bought a Case-Logic netbook sleeve to protect my investment. It went for RM48 but there was a promotion where a RM10 Parkson voucher was given for the purchase. So in actual, I only paid RM38 for it. Not too bad.

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