Dell Inspiron 11z

Dell's CULV offering that we're reviewing today is the Inspiron 11z. One of the nice features of any Dell laptop is that you can customize the parts to a higher degree than most other laptops. The system we received includes an SU4100 CPU with a single 2GB DDR2-667 SO-DIMM. What's that, a single SO-DIMM? Yes, that's correct: Dell limit's the 11z to a single memory chip, with support for up to 4GB. The bigger issue isn't the single-channel interface so much as the pricing. With a single SO-DIMM the 11z is going to be slightly slower than the Acer AS1810T, and it's also going to be more expensive if you choose to go with a 4GB SO-DIMM.


Dell Inspiron 11z Specifications
Processor Intel Pentium SU4100
(2x1.3GHz, 45nm, 2MB L2, 800FSB, 10W)
Celeron 743
(1.3GHz, 45nm, 1MB L2, 800FSB, 10W)
Chipset Intel GS45 + ICH9M
Memory 1x2GB or 1x4GB DDR2-667
Graphics Intel GMA 4500MHD IGP
Display 11.6" LED Glossy 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive(s) 250GB 5400RPM
Optical Drive N/A (USB External optional)
Networking Fast Ethernet (Atheros AR8132 PCI-E)
Dell Wireless or 1397 802.11ABG
Dell Wireless 1520 802.11ABGN
Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR
Audio 2-Channel Realtek ALC272 HD Audio
(2.0 speakers with headphone/microphone jacks)
Battery 3-cell 28Wh
6-Cell, 11.1V, 4840mAh, 56Wh
Front Side None
Left Side 1 x USB 2.0
HDMI
VGA
Heat Exhaust
Ethernet
Right Side Flash Reader (MMC, MS, SD)
Headphone/Microphone
2 x USB 2.0
Power Adapter
Kensington Lock
Back Side None
Operating System Windows Vista Home Basic 32-bit
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Dimensions 11.5" x 8.43" x 0.92-1.75" (WxDxH with 6-cell)
Weight 3.2 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras Webcam
86-Key Keyboard
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
2-year and 3-year extended warranties available
Pricing Available Online starting at $400
Test System: $564 (with current $173 savings)

Most of the other features of the 11z we received are the same as other CULV laptops: GS45 chipset with GMA 4500MHD graphics, 250GB 5400RPM HDD, and an 11.6" 1366x768 LCD. The 11z includes the standard three USB ports, flash memory reader, headphone/microphone jacks, Ethernet, WiFi, and an HDMI output. Unlike some of the other options, there's no VGA port. Like so many laptops we've looked at recently, the Inspiron 11z comes with glossy plastic surfaces and a glossy LCD. The keyboard and the plastic surrounding the keyboard are matte plastic, and we wish Dell would have simply extended that to the rest of the chassis. I have a friend with an Inspiron from a few years back, and frankly the matte plastic chassis and LCD still look better than most current laptops. Want an anti-glare laptop from Dell? You'll need to go with their business Vostro or Latitude lines. On the bright side, the light blue chassis Dell shipped us masks fingerprints and smudges a lot better than darker laptops.

We talked with one manufacturer (not Dell), and their take was that when the first glossy laptops came out, they were different from the matte options and everyone raved about them. Like so many things in life, it wasn't enough for other companies to start offering a few glossy laptops; they had to go all the way and start shipping everything glossy. While glossy laptops look nice in pictures (when staged properly), they just don't weather regular use well. Fingerprints and scratches are very visible, and it's time for a shift back towards matte designs in our opinion. We don't need to get rid of all glossy laptops, mind you; we just want more variety.

As far as build quality goes, the Inspiron 11z is reasonable. You can twist the LCD/cover a bit, but the design as a whole feels plenty durable. The keyboard is definitely one of the better aspects, though here personal preference will play a role. Dell uses flat keys that are nearly full size (with a few exceptions), and the layout works well. It's a little odd that Dell defaults to having the function keys act as special keys (e.g. adjust brightness, volume control, etc.) but you can change the default setting in the BIOS. The difference in keyboard layout and design seems very small compared to the Acer 1810, but the keys don't feel mushy and the spacing and contour of the keys felt better.

While there's plenty to like with the 11z, there is one area that I absolutely can't come to grips with: the touchpad... specifically the integration of the left and right mouse buttons in the corners. I tend to use two hands on touchpads, my left for the buttons and my right for pointing, and with multi-touch I end up with an epic fail on the 11z. Any time I want to click and drag, I usually get "zoom" behavior instead. The large touchpad seems nice but in practice either the drivers or hardware don't work well, so we recommend Dell ditch the button integration. I did try disabling multi-touch to see if that would help, and things were better but ultimately separate buttons would be superior - even without multi-touch, if one finger is on a button there are still plenty of times when using the another finger doesn't work properly. We talked to Dell about this and they are aware of the problems with the current design; it sounds as though the next Inspiron models will go back to a traditional touchpad.

Another complaint for the 11z is that the larger 6-cell battery juts out the bottom (the 3-cell doesn't do this, but you lose roughly half of your potential battery life). It's not the end of the world, but it would be nicer to have a laptop that will lie flat. Finally, the single SO-DIMM slot for memory was a poor choice; you can get 4GB RAM, sure, but it will cost more than 2x2GB on the competition, and we would have preferred DDR3 memory - lower power and better battery life relative to DDR2. Both the use of DDR2 and the single SO-DIMM slot appear to be more of a manufacturing cost consideration as opposed to features that would make a laptop better.

Ultimately, it's going to come down to pricing for most people. Well, pricing and the touchpad. The base configuration of the 11z starts at just $400, but it includes a single core Celeron 743, 2GB RAM, and Vista Home Basic, along with a 3-cell battery. In short, it's not at all impressive. With a moderate configuration (SU4100 CPU, Win7 Home Premium, 2GB RAM, 6-cell battery, and 250GB HDD) the Inspiron 11z will sell for $549 - or $589 with a non-black finish. You can customize other areas as well, and the Design Studio is a nice extra as well for another $45, assuming you want to personalize your laptop a bit. However, if you add in 4GB RAM (an extra $120 charge) the price becomes too high relative to the competition. We put together an Inspiron 11z that roughly matches the Acer 1810TZ with 4GB DDR2, 320GB HDD, and 802.11n WiFi for a total price of $694. For $580, the 1810TZ is the easy choice, and even if price were the same we'd take the Acer design if only because the touchpad was such an issue. Ideally, we'd like the Dell 11z keyboard and palm rest with the 1810T chassis, but while the 1810 keyboard wasn't quite as good it was at least "good enough" - something we can't say of the 11z touchpad.

Acer Aspire Timeline AS1810T Gateway EC5409u
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Still waiting for a review unit. I am also curious to see if Alienware allows overclocking, similar to the ASUS UL series. If they do, and with the GT335M, the m11x is going to be a very speedy machine in many respects. Of course, it's going to cost close to $1000 I imagine, but the features will probably make it worthwhile. Reply
  • synaesthetic - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    There is a BIOS option to overclock the FSB on the M11x. According to the review, the SU7300 was overclocked to 1.6GHz with a respectable boost in performance and a negligible increase in heat (only a degree or two hotter). Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    I could not get past the brand name personally. Many people out there do their best to avoid the "greatness" that is Acer. I am just one of those people.

    Reply
  • clarkn0va - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Maybe my information is just out of date, but my knowledge of the Acer Timelines differs somewhat from the information presented in this article.

    For starters, Jarred is stating that they have plastic covers. I own a 3810T and the cover is brushed aluminum (or a really good fake), thank goodness.

    Secondly, it was my understanding that (at least some of) the TZ models had switchable graphics, enabling the user to switch from Intel to AMD graphics on the fly. Perhaps this isn't offered any more.

    Lastly, and this is not Jarred's mistake, just an unfortunate reality, mine came with an 80GB Intel G1 SSD. This not only improves performance markedly, but should help to extend battery life. I think it's a shame that more desktops and laptops don't include this option.
    Reply
  • AmbroseAthan - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    I was going to comment on this too. There are A LOT of differences within each Timeline series. I know there are 1810T's with aluminum rather then the plastic, and the new Olympic editions are very nice.

    Personally I own the 1810T (black plastic with SU7300) and couldn't be happier with it. It does have some of the problems Jarred listed, but you quickly adjust to the size of the trackpad; I haven't had any issues dragging things around the screen.

    My brother owns the 3810T (Brushed aluminum w/ SU7300), and it is much more polished then the 1810T (blakc plastic). The little extra size really helped Acer make it a much nicer laptop. Even his keyboard is of a different material/style then mine. The touchpad is also different. He got his only a couple weeks after me, and I gladly would have taken the slight extra weight for the updates it had to everything else had I known.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    If I'm not mistaken (and I admit, I might be -- curse Acer and their plethora of SKUs that are all very similar!), the aluminum Timeline models are more expensive than the plastic models. At a price of around $750 to $800, I'd go with the ASUS UL80Vt and get switchable graphics. The Olympic Edition of the 1810 does look very nice, but can anyone confirm that it's truly aluminum? Look at http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">these pictures and it appears to be glossy plastic to me. Still, it's got the right parts and price ($550), if you're okay with the keyboard action. Reply
  • jabber - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    I'm a convert! Since I got my Inspiron 13Z with its 7300 it's been great. Similar grunt to an old P4 2.8Ghz dual core with a Nvidia 105 GPU and 4GB of ram.

    For a small laptop its perfect. Plays games just fine and if I set it to balanced power it can run for 8 hours+ easily.
    Reply
  • tno - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    I hope not to start a flame war or cause any hard feelings or upset on Jarred's part, but I feel it's worth pointing out that this piece could have really used a polish. One of the great things about AT is that the coverage and the writing have always been equally high in quality. Certainly, the occasional typo or awkward sentence would sneak out, but on the whole it could be trusted that the articles read as if they had been reviewed by an editor.

    This article, however, did not feature the typical AT polish; a fact which was evident in the very first sentence:
    "A couple years back, ASUS released the first netbook on an unsuspecting world."

    While a conversational tone is certainly appreciated, the absent 'of' between the second and third word mar this sentence. The opening paragraph continues with several sentences which reach or border on being run-ons; and could easily stand the presence of a few semi-colons. Typos and word misuse ("differentiator" is a specialization mechanism in cell biology, and not a general term for the variable that separates members of a population) litter the first page, and would no doubt have been caught by a copy editor.

    Again, I am absolutely a fan of this site and the wonderful articles produced here. Letting mistakes like these slip past, however, diminish the articles to the level of blog posts and not quality technical journalism. As the number of writers and staffers grow, it becomes harder to enforce high writing standards. If it hasn't been done, perhaps it's time to consider hiring some proof readers?

    tno
    Reply
  • QuietOC - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    Haha, Jarred lifted some of that wording from a sample review I submitted to them: "A few months later ASUS released the original Eee PC on the unsuspecting world market." There's nothing particularly unique about the language. I wouldn't be surprised if I unconsciously borrowed it myself. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    The use or omission of the word "of" in the first sentence is entirely a stylistic preference. "A couple years ago..." or "A couple of years ago..." mean the same thing, with an extra syllable in the latter. As for differentiator:

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Differentiator">differentiator - a person who (or that which) differentiates.

    I am using it as the latter, and it is correct in that sense. Sorry if I view the English language as more fluid than others, but I have no qualms about playing with words as I see fit. I would hope most people are more interested in the technical content than whether or not I follow the MLA guidelines.

    If you really want to complain about my writing style, you'd be far better off saying that I have a bad case of word diarrhea, IMO. I write far more text than I often feel is necessary, but then if I omit certain aspects of a review I always get someone complaining that I "didn't talk about feature xxx". Another potentially valid complaint would be my use of parenthetical comments and phrases set off by dashes--and I'm sure I use dashes incorrectly at times! ;)
    Reply

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