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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  • diego10arg - Monday, March 15, 2010 - link

    Hi all,

    I am trying to upgrade my Atom 270N netbook and my primary and only concern is FullHD Playback through HDMI. I will be using an external harddrive for backup and storage purposes, so HD does not matter.

    After looking for a while I found several laptops with Celeron ULV 723, Athlon Neo MV-40, SU4100 and SU7300.

    So far I got this prices (I live in Argentina, prices are in USD)
    . MSI Wind 210-050AR, Athlon Neo MV-40, 2GB RAM, HD250Gb > 609 USD
    . MSI X340-241AR, Celeron ULV 723 1.2Ghz, 2GB RAM, HD320Gb > 699 USD
    . Dell Inspiron 11z, ULV SU4100, 2Gb RAM, HD160Gb > 709 USD
    . ASUS AU UL30A-QX050D, ULV SU7300, 4Gb RAM, HD320GB > 915 USD

    What differences are between CULV 723 and SU4100?
    What would you buy? Why?


    Thanks all!

    Regards,
    DiEGO
    Reply
  • Daeros - Monday, March 01, 2010 - link

    Any word on how something like the 1201n will perform with the new GPU-accelerated versions of Firefox and IE? I feel the current-gen Intel graphics are just unacceptable, so the Ion and AMD laptops are more attractive, but I don't want to feel like I'm trapped in molasses when I browse the interwebs. Reply
  • fwacct4 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    I would like to see noise levels tested for laptops. The thing with desktops is that you can actually hide them some place where noise doesn't bother people, but laptops are always right in front of you, and some laptops have a very annoying high-pitch noise that is noticeable because they are so close to the user.

    I'm sure there are a lot of people interested in having quiet laptops, so I hope that noise level can be compared among laptops as well, and especially with CULV processors which are low voltage, there is an opportunity to present a particular model as being particularly quiet, which would really be a selling point for some.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    All of the CULV laptops tend to run very quiet, to the point where my SPL meter has trouble detecting the noise level over the background noise in the room (around 30dB). Even under a heavy stress test like CINEBENCH, the fans rarely reach a level that I would consider distracting (so typically under 35dB). When you're not running a stress test, the fans are often stopped. Out of the three, the Gateway EC5409u seems to be a bit quieter, likely because it's larger and has even more room inside to dissipate heat, but the others weren't loud by any stretch. Reply
  • viewwin - Tuesday, February 09, 2010 - link

    I would like to see the next version of Ion mixed with a CULV CPU for a decently powerful HTPC. Reply
  • acron1 - Tuesday, February 09, 2010 - link

    A couple of weeks ago I was looking to replace my Toshiba NB205 with something small but with a bit more punch. I ended up with the Toshiba Satellite T115D-S1125 primarily because of the HD3200 graphics. I knew that in terms of battery life the Intel based solutions are better choices but I wanted the extra graphics power available from ATI. Battery life while browsing the web, some flash and email is just over 5 hours... Reply
  • Hrel - Saturday, February 06, 2010 - link

    I'm still waiting for a CULV laptop with a screen of AT LEAST 1600x900 and a dedicated GPU that's about equivalent to the GT240 from Nvidia; I'd prefer it be from Nvidia but since I want DX11 AMD will do fine; the 5series really steps it up. Asus has what I agree is the best CULV laptop, I just want the CPU overclocked to 2GHz, a screen with a resolution of 1600x900 and a GPU about as powerful as a GT240 for 1000 bucks or less. That's totally reasonable. And I want it NOW! 15" chassis too, btw. Reply
  • Schugy - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    I don't think that I care about the time I can wait in front of my Netbook but I need to know whether the battery can encode xxx thousand frames to complete the task. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 05, 2010 - link

    In that case, FPS is a more useful figure than the time taken, since you don't know how many frames are in the video we choose to test. (For reference, we use a 1080p MPEG2 video for the DivX test with 719 frames.) You would also need to know how long the battery lasts under a heavier CPU load, which I haven't shown here. If you look at the "100% CPU power draw" figure and divide the battery capacity by that amount, you can get an estimate... but the power settings will definitely come into play.

    Let's see if I can help: a 90 minute DVD as an example encoded into DivX would require the encoding of approximately 162000 frames. Now our test results show 5.14 FPS, but that's a far more complex 1080p encode. DVD quality should be a lot faster. A quick test of a 3978 frame chapter of a DVD yields an encode rate of 43.71 FPS (91.0 seconds) on the Gateway EC5409u. That means for a 90 minute 30 FPS DVD (like my test video), you'd need at least 61.77 minutes of battery life. I don't even need to run a test to say that it wouldn't be a problem for CULV on that sort of encode. Atom N450 would still take about 40~50% longer, but again that's not a problem.

    Then again, the default settings result in a low quality encode. If you do a 2-pass DivX encode targeting better quality, total time required increases over two-fold. I just tried it out and the EC5409u managed to encode the same 3987 frame DVD chapter in 237s, or 16.83 FPS. That means roughly 2.7 hours for a 90 minute DVD, or over 3.5 hours for a two hour DVD encode. If that's what you're trying to do, it's unlikely you'll manage the entire encode while on battery.
    Reply
  • buzznut - Thursday, February 04, 2010 - link

    I have the 8200M chipset, I really wouldn't recommend it for gaming. As the article suggests, a discrete graphics option would be better. I think the chipsets that allow the discrete card to turn off when not needed to save battery life are the best options.
    My laptop has a 2.1 Ghz dual core and 4 gigs of ram, with 4 gigs ready boost. It can't game very well, its heavy and the battery life is atrocious. It gets quite hot while watching video, probably the cpu while using flash, and struggles with hidef.

    Given today's options, I would not have gone with the notebook I currently have, as it is too big to carry with the addition of my enormous and heavy chem and bio books. Why drag it along when the battery will die after 2 hours? Most days it sits on a bed side table. I think I would go for a culv with the switchable chipset I mentioned. I am quite jealous of my wife's netbook and 8 hour battery life.

    Nice article, it would be nice to visit again in 6 months to see how the mobile market changes.
    Reply

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