It seems we’re into an arms-race with netbooks. Since the Asus eee-PC’s first appeared with bargain-basement specifications and rock-bottom prices, subsequent generations have moved up the scale like sub-compact cars which get larger and pricier as the models develop and mature.
I’ve now reached end-of-life with the old Compaq notebook I regularly carried around for the last four years, so I’ve become a netbook owner – with a twist. I went back through the generations to find a refurbished model as cheap as I could get it. I started looking at the Asus eee 701, available as second-user units for less than $160/£100 warranted, but the performance and the screen no longer cut it for me, startling as they were in 2007. I moved up-scale, but with a budget limit of roughly $300/£200.
My choices resolved to:
- HP Mini 110,1gb ram, 250gb hdd, Windows 7, Grade-A refurbished, 3mth warranty, $280/£175
- Dell Mini 1011, 1gb ram, 160gb hdd, Windows 7, ‘Open-box’, 6mth warranty, $294/£184
These are both Intel Atom N270 machines, one generation earlier than current. I opted for the Dell for the sake of the warranty…
The Dell Inspiron Mini 1011 is an improved version with Windows 7 of the original Dell Inspiron Mini 10v. It’s now nearly two years on from launch, but a capable netbook for netbook-type usage. Let’s keep that in mind.
Dell has somewhat fallen out of favour with friends of mine; specifications, build-quality and service have gone through some wilderness years of late, but lets not forget Dell is a serious mainstream player. Onto the Mini 1011…
It is a very sleek, smart and highly portable package. The ports are all on the sides (they have to be, the battery pack occupies the entire back edge) which is where they should be for practical purposes. There are USB-2.0 ports, VGA-out, wired Ethernet socket, separate headphones and microphone and a multi-reader MMC/SD card slot. Very good.
The 10.1-inch wide-screen display has a 16:9 aspect ratio, is bright (on mains power I think it can be seen from space), sharp has no aliasing or ghosting. At 1024 by 600, the web works without lots of left-right scrolling. However, it’s mid-range in terms of reflectivity and glare, so be prepared to tilt and shift a lot under lights and clean regularly to remove smudges and finger prints off the screen.
The keyboard is easy to use at 92% the size of a traditional laptop keyboard – one reason to go to a decent 10-inch machine. It allows for comfortable typing for long periods the lack of bounce makes it feel a little dead. This keyboard is said to be spill-resistant, but I’m not in a hurry to provide practical proof.
The multi-touch track pad is good; with the multi-track feature the user can use two fingers together or apart simultaneously to quickly and easily scroll through the display. The mouse buttons on the other hand are bad – no, make that appalling. The Mini 1011 doesn’t have regular left and right click mouse buttons instead they are integrated into the track-pad bottom left and right corners. Without absolute precision, button clicks also register as mouse movements, shifting the cursor and virtually guaranteeing that you will miss whatever you were trying to click. It’s very, very frustrating and I’m still not accustomed to it, but I will get there.
The wireless networking is standard 802.1G, care of a Broadcom card. It works well with Windows straight out of the box (other Operating systems a little trickier but more on that another time).
Performance is good for an N270 processor, the 1Gb memory seems fast enough, although Windows 7 lags a little with alt-tabbing between tasks. That said, it’s better than every machine I’ve used with Windows Vista!
Concerning the memory: the 1Gb DDR2 RAM is categorically NOT easily upgrade RAM to 2Gb. The netbook comes with only 1 slot and it is populated by a 1GB memory module, with no access hatch. To remove the 1Gb RAM module and insert a new 2Gb RAM module, you need to disassemble the whole thing! Not for the faint hearted, you need detailed instructions, technical-savvy and no concern for your warranty. I’ll come back to you in six months on that one.
It comes with Dell’s usual variety of service offerings and add-on options including:
- online backup service for data protection called Dell DataSafe Online, basic cloud storage backup solution.
- Dell Support Center to quickly access the Dell service and support website for automated fixes, software upgrades and tools (more on this in another post).
- Dell-Connect Remote Assistance allows Dell experts help diagnose and solve PC problems via an Internet connection (more on this in another post).
- Microsoft Works 9, which does not include MS Word is included in the box and you have the option to upgrade to Microsoft Office Home & Student 2007 edition if needed.
- Counter-limited (25-times) trial of Office 2007 on disk.
- Norton Internet Security trial-ware – I killed this and uninstalled right away.
So far so good… Check back in over the next few weeks for more. AJS
- Light weight
- Keyboard and multi-touch track pad
- Good battery life (more on this in another post once I establish some objective measures over time)
- Reflective display catches glare, smudges and fingerprints
- Track-pad buttons demand an acquired skill – worst feature of this machine
Mini 1011 Netbook Specifications
- Intel Atom N270 Processor for portability (1.60 GHz)
- Genuine Windows 7 Starter edition Operating System
- 1GB Memory
- 160GB Hard Disk Drive
- 10.1″ Wide Screen LED Backlit display (1024 x 600 pixels)
- Intel® Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 950, 251Mb
- Wireless enabled (802.11b/g)
- Built-in Ethernet 10/100BT network interface
- 3 USB ports
- VGA out for external displays and projectors
- Built-in Webcam with microphone
- 5-in-1 Media Card Reader
- Only weighs 1.3Kg
- 6-cell Battery