Expansion: More than a MacBook Air

Even today, whenever I pull out my MacBook Air I still get people amazed at how small it is, but it's the thinness that gets them - the footprint of the notebook is no different than your standard MacBook. Hold a netbook up to it and the MacBook Air starts to look rather large:


Apple MacBook Air (on bottom) vs. Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (on top)

You give up the thin profile of the Air, but you get something that's more comfortable to carry around (despite being more of a pain to type on). A side effect of the thicker chassis is that there's actually room for some expansion on the Mini. You get three USB ports, a 4-in-1 card reader (SD/SDHC/MMC/MS), VGA out and built in 10/100 Ethernet.

Unfortunately there's no room for an optical drive, and while Dell offers an external one you're better off saving the money and using the network or USB drives to get data on/off the machine. The hardware is fast enough to watch DVDs, but there's no hardware H.264 acceleration so most high resolution/high bitrate HD content (720p/1080p) is out of the question.

Below is a quick spec comparison between the Eee PC 901 and the Inspiron Mini, as well as the MacBook Air just for kicks.

  ASUS Eee PC 901 Dell Inspiron Mini 9 MacBook Air
Dimensions H: 1.5"
W: 8.9"
D: 6.9"
H: 1.07 - 1.25"
W: 9.13"
D: 6.77"
H: 0.16-0.76"
W: 12.8"
D: 8.94"
Weight 2.5 lbs 2.28 lbs 3.0 lbs
Screen Size/Resolution 8.9" / 1024 x 600 8.9" / 1024 x 600 13.3" / 1280 x 800
CPU Intel Atom N270 - 1.6GHz (45nm Diamondville) Intel Atom N270 - 1.6GHz (45nm Diamondville) Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6 - 1.8GHz (65nm Merom)
GPU Intel GMA 950 Intel GMA 950 Intel GMA X3100 (144MB UMA)
Memory 1GB or 2GB DDR2-533 512MB or 1GB DDR2-533 2GB DDR2-667 (fixed)
HDD 4GB on board SSD + 8GB (XP) or 16GB (Linux) removable SSD 4GB (Linux only), 8GB or 16GB SSD 80GB 1.8" HDD
or 64GB 1.8" SSD
Optical Drive Optional External USB Optional External USB Optional External USB SuperDrive
Networking 802.11b/g/n
10/100 Ethernet
802.11b/g
10/100 Ethernet
802.11a/b/g/n
Built in Camera Yes Optional Yes
Battery 48WHr 32WHr 37WHr
Price $599 $349 $1799
Build Quality, Oh Sweet Build Quality Innovation at the Keyboard Level
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  • jrinco11 - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    for those interested in how it is w/XP, I wrote a bit about it here http://www.jrin.net/2008_09_25/dell-inspiron-mini-...">http://www.jrin.net/2008_09_25/dell-inspiron-mini-...

    in my opinion, it matches the acer aspire one except for it's better battery life and webcam (in low light), but the keyboard layout kinda sucks
    Reply
  • goobersnotch - Tuesday, September 23, 2008 - link

    I got my inspiron mini yesterday. 16 gig ssd version. it had 1 gig of ram but i swapped in a 1 gig ram stick (should've ordered 512 megs and saved $25). with webcam and bluetooth it came to $430 after an employee discount coupon.

    my thoughts? i love the system. it is a lot faster than the acer aspire one that i played around with at circuit city (but granted that was the low end 4 gig ssd linux version). it takes 20 seconds to boot up and comes out of sleep mode in 3-4 seconds. the acer takes 30 seconds to come out of sleep mode (and on linux no less).

    The keyboard? well due to the strange way i type, typing letters on my left hand is flawless, words that primarily rest on the left side i type fast and without typoes. right hand side on the other hand is a disaster. i have trouble getting used to anything that requires the right pinky other than the enter key. and i have trouble hitting the o and p keys. i hate where the ' key as well, as i have to pause and consciously find it in order to use it.

    however i feel like i can get used to it. after all, i'm not using this thing for anything other than web browsing, including working on docs in google docs. the hard drive space is a nonfactor, i still have 11 gigs out of 16 free and i don't see myself using much more since any local docs/images/music/etc that i download i am putting on a 16 gig sd card and most of my important docs are online on my box.net storage acct and in google docs. and my email is done in gmail because its way more convenient than using a local email client.

    no 3g? well I didn't want to pay $50 a month for slow internet anywhere, anyway. there's tons of wireless hotspots in austin.

    I would also recommend that anyone who gets a mini to put 2 gigs of ram in there, as it seems to considerably help in the # of apps you can run, or browser windows you can open.

    Overall, i love this system and dont regret paying extra for it when i could have gotten a cheaper, but inferior, acer aspire or asus eeepc.
    Reply
  • goobersnotch - Tuesday, September 23, 2008 - link

    whoops, in the first sentence, meant to say that i swapped a 2 gig ram stick in. it was only $46 from crucial.com

    Reply
  • DeadpanScience - Saturday, September 13, 2008 - link

    I't looks really nice. 8.9 inch screen, LED backlighting, convertible tablet mode, all for $699. Plus none of the reviews from laptop mag/umpcportal have really gone in-depth with their reviews. Give me some numbers please! Reply
  • J Beck - Sunday, September 07, 2008 - link

    Nice review, well done!! As others suggested, you ought to look at the Acer Aspire One. I have the Atom processor, XP, 120GB HDD, 1GB "150" model, for the same $349. It is killer. The only limitation is battery life as I have the 3 cell version and get only about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. But, I rarely use it "unplugged" anyway and a 6 cell battery is available. It lacks built-in Bluetooth, but a tiny Kensington Bluetooth usb dongle took care of that and with 3 usb ports, no worries.

    I can touch type very easily with no adjustment or learning curve and I am 6' with fairly large hands. The keys are all in the right places (it has regular punctuation and "F" keys and with great key sizes (especially the right hand "enter" and "shift" keys being larger as with full size keyboards). The touchpad has this amazing function. In addition to scrolling (along the right edge of the touchpad), you can zoom using touch strokes like the iPhone and Mac Air.

    The 120GB drive makes this really usable for the long run. I can't imagine 4GB, 8GB or even 16GB. My iTunes library alone would almost use any of those that. The screen is a backlit LED screen and it is super at the same resolution as the Dell. The build is as good as my newly acquired Dell XPS M1330.

    I thought this was going to be a toy or for really occasional use as this review sort of suggests the netbook category "must be". But, when I started using it, I found I can put everything I do on it and virtually carry my office anywhere around my house, my office or, for that matter around the world. The 120GB (with 2 memory card slots to boot!!) allows me to do that and not worry about a connection to the web or the security issues of "Cloud computing".

    Reply
  • kenbx84 - Friday, September 12, 2008 - link

    Sorry but this review is all wrong on prices. EEE PC 901 is now $499 with more bells and whistles and the EEE PC 1000H is $449 now with a lot better specs. Reply
  • ed21x - Sunday, September 07, 2008 - link

    With the Dell, you don't have a 1.3 mp camera, bluetooth, upgradeable SSD, or 6 cell battery that comes standard on the Asus. Once you upgrade all those options on the Dell, the prices come out to about the same. Add in $50, and you can step up to a 10'' screen and larger keyboard (Asus 1000H) which is a much better deal, and makes more sense, as that extra inch really makes the keyboard feel like a fullsize. I think comparing the prices of a low-spec'ed Dell to a full-spec'ed Asus is definitely biasing against the Asus. Reply
  • Igor37 - Wednesday, September 10, 2008 - link

    ed21x wrote: "With the Dell, you don't have a 1.3 mp camera, bluetooth, upgradeable SSD, or 6 cell battery that comes standard on the Asus. Once you upgrade all those options on the Dell, the prices come out to about the same."

    Personally, I like having the option, since I don't need Bluetooth or the camera, and could care less about upgrading the RAM or having a larger battery.
    Reply
  • Pixy - Friday, September 05, 2008 - link

    Despite the recent improvement I still like the design of the HP Mini-Note.

    I am still waiting for the Netbook market to mature before I casting aside my Sony SZ. Hopefully the internal hardware will improve enough for a fanless version which produces little heat to come out soon. Two things I hate most about laptops: heat and noise!

    I wonder whether Nvidia could have an advantage here because of their CUDA concept. Basically, it would create a Netbook with superb graphics capabilities and is able to run simple program, which is what the average consumer needs anyway.

    Intel and VIA, hurry up with the new chips. AMD... keep trying... and hopefully you can surprise me.
    Reply
  • weihlmus - Friday, September 05, 2008 - link

    dell already tried the fanless approach on the latitude X1 and for all the whole system was only using 10W or so (no battery) according to my power meter it still got feindishly hot after a few hours use - theres nothing worse than trying to type on a small format laptop with sweaty fingers!

    also when reviewing netbooks can you compare the power adapters? its one think having a 1 kilo netbook but then having the best part of a kilo of power adapter and leads to carry around is another... sureley the atom laptops can run from a wall wart not a standard 60W laptop power pack?!
    Reply

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