Every penny counts in the cost-competitive netbook market, which is why Dell’s Inspiron Mini 10 with the Broadcom Crystal HD video accelerator is so interesting. For $409—$40 more than the cheapest Mini 10 configuration—consumers get a 1366 x 768-pixel screen and the ability to stream high-definition videos better than they would on a regular netbook. Coupled with an updated design and Intel’s new Atom N450 processor, there’s a lot to like about this version of the Mini 10. However, the capabilities of Broadcom’s chip are limited, and the Mini 10 doesn’t offer the best ergonomics. So should you take the plunge or save your money for something better?
Editors’ Note: Portions of this review have been taken from the review of the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 (Pine Trail).
Dell’s new Inspiron Mini 10 is a fairly dramatic departure from its predecessor. This netbook sports a wedge-shaped design with a lid that sits on top of the deck instead of dropping down behind the body. When closed, the rear of the deck is exposed, bringing to mind the design of Dell’s original high-priced Adamo. The black deck is also imprinted with a crosshatch pattern that adds a nice texture. At 10.5 x 7.7 x 1.3 inches, the Mini 10 is a shade larger than both the Toshiba mini NB305 and the older Mini 10 (10.3 x 7.2 x 1.3 inches). Weighing an even 3 pounds, this model is also slightly heavier than the netbook norm of 2.8 pounds.
Despite its glossy finish, the white plastic shell of our Mini 10 hid fingerprints well. Other color options include black, blue, green, pink, purple, and red. Users also have the option to select one of more than 200 different lids from the Dell Design Studio, ranging from a New York Yankees pattern to artists’ designs and lipstick colors. Personalization doesn’t come cheap however; these options cost $85.
After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes at full screen, the Mini 10 got toasty. The touchpad measured 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the space between the G and H keys was 100 degrees, and the center of the underside measured 112 degrees; we consider anything higher than 100 degrees to be unpleasant.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The style of the Mini 10’s keyboard has also changed. Instead of being completely flat, the keys are now terraced so that the top is smaller than the base, but still wide enough for us to type comfortably for extended stretches. Some may prefer the Toshiba mini NB305’s metal island-style keyboard because it has more space in between the keys, but the Mini 10 beats that system when it comes to its more solid feedback.
Unfortunately, Dell kept its touchpad with integrated mouse buttons. On the plus side, this allowed the company to keep the Mini 10’s touchpad large at 3 x 1.4 inches. However, the buttons are quite small. Since the last Mini 10 (and 11z), Dell has switched from an Elantech to a Synaptics driver, and no longer supports multitouch gestures such as rotating, two-finger scrolling, and pinching to zoom. This may be a good thing, since those gestures were tricky to use on the previous Mini 10’s. For example, the cursor would sometimes move before we clicked down, which was annoying. Overall, we prefer larger touchpads with discrete touchpad buttons, which is exactly what you’ll find on such systems as the Toshiba mini NB305.
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Display and Audio
The Mini 10’s 10.1-inch display has a resolution of 1366 x 768, higher than the standard 1024 x 768. This made it easier to view more text, web pages, and the like on its smaller screen, yet it wasn’t so small that we had to squint. Viewing angles were adequate; while we could see the screen clearly from nearly 180 degrees horizontally, images washed out quickly when we tilted the screen past its optimal viewing angle: about 15 degrees past vertical.
The speakers on the Mini 10 were positively booming—for a netbook, that is—when playing Arcade Fire’s “Keep the Car Running.” While quality was slightly echo-y and the bass was a little weak, we liked that we could tweak the settings using the Realtek HD Audio Manager.
Ports and Webcam
On its left side, the Mini 10 has two USB ports, a VGA port, and a 3-in-1 memory card reader. On the right is Ethernet, a third USB, and headphone and mic ports. Absent is an HDMI port, but we have a feeling it was left off in order to manage consumers’ expectations about what the Broadcom chip can and can’t do.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam on the Mini 10 offered acceptable colors; our face was just a bit washed out. Dell’s Webcam Central utility allowed us to adjust color, gamma, and backlight settings to achieve the best quality. Additionally, this netbook has a face tracking feature that was fairly responsive when we moved our mug around in front of the screen. The Mini 10’s microphone picked up our voice well when we used the system to make Skype calls.
Click to enlargeThe Dell Mini 10’s performance fell squarely in the middle range of netbooks. Its 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and 1GB of RAM combined to produce a score of 1,412 in PCMark05; that’s just 40 points below the netbook category average, but about 50 points higher than the HP Mini 210. Its Geekbench score of 910 is about 70 points higher than the netbook average and equal to the HP Mini 210, but about 15 points lower than the Toshiba mini NB305-N410.
The 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive booted to Windows 7 Starter Edition in a slow 1 minute and 27 seconds, nearly half a minute longer than the average netbook; we attribute this lag to the loading of McAfee antivirus software and the Dell Dock. The Mini 10 copied a 4.97GB folder of multimedia files at a rate of 18.8 MBps, which is 2 MBps faster than the netbook average but a bit slower than the Acer Aspire One 532h (22.4 MBps) and ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P (26.4 MBps).
When transcoding a 114MB MPEG-4 file to AVI using Oxelon Media Converter, the Mini 10 took 6 minutes and 11 seconds. That showing is a few seconds faster than the HP Mini 210, 25 seconds slower than the Aspire One 532h, and around 10 seconds slower than the mini NB305.
Video Performance (Broadcom Accelerator)
As mentioned above, this version of the Mini 10 comes with the Broadcom Crystal HD Enhanced Media Accelerator, which is designed to help netbooks better play video. Performance, however, was mixed; we downloaded and played two Avatar trailers from Apple’s QuickTime database (one at 720p and another at 1080p), and the Magic of Flight, a WMV file from Microsoft’s HD Content Showcase. At 720p, there wasn’t much difference between the Broadcom and non-Broadcom equipped Inspiron Mini 10, but once we went up to 1080p, the delta became much more pronounced. Regardless, the better Mini 10 sill paled in comparison to Nvidia-Ion powered netbooks, such as the HP Mini 311.
Video Playback Frame Rates (Frames Per Second)
Magic of Flight (WMV at 1080p)
HP Mini 311
Mini 10 (Pine Trail)
Mini 10 (Broadcom)
The Broadcom chip is also supposed to improve frame rates when streaming videos over the web. After upgrading to Flash 10.1 (Beta 3), we noticed an increase of about 7 frames per second, but video was still less than ideal. When we streamed 720p trailers for Avatar and Star Trek from YouTube, we got an average frame rate of 17 fps—about equal to the HP Mini 210. Those figures aren’t terrible, but they’re lower than Ion-powered netbooks, which averaged about 24 fps. When we streamed those same clips at 1080p, the Dell Mini 10 also saw an average speed of 14 to 16 fps. However, it should be noted that Flash 10.1 is still a work in progress, and we expect it to improve as its official release date nears.
Graphics and Gaming
Don’t expect to game on Broadcom systems the way you would on an Ion netbook. The Dell Mini 10 performed essentially the same as the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P on our World of Warcraft benchmark.
World of Warcraft (Frames Per Second)
800 x 600
1366 x 768
HP Mini 311
Dell Mini 10
ASUS Eee PC 1005PE
The Mini 10’s 3DMark06 score of 153 was nearly equal to that of the HP Mini 210 and mini NB305, but well south of the netbook average of 222, which includes Nvidia Ion systems.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
This configuration of the Mini 10 lasted 7 hours and 51 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test (web surfing via Wi-Fi). While that’s about an hour and a half longer than the six-cell netbook average, it’s about 1:10 less than the Dell Mini 10 without Broadcom’s chip. Then again, the HP Mini 210 with the Broadcom chip lasted just 6:37.
The Dell Wireless 1397 WLAN Mini-Card in the Mini 10 notched decent speeds in our wireless tests. At 15 feet from our access point, the 802.11b/g card saw throughput of 20.5 Mbps, which was a little under the average (21 Mbps); at 50 feet, its speed of 17 Mbps was a hair below average (17.3 Mbps).
Click to enlargeWithout the Broadcom chip, high-def display, and color lid, the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 costs $369. Like Dell’s other solid color options, the Project RED lid on the Mini 10 added $40 to the total price (Design Studio lids add $85). The Crystal HD Broadcom Media Accelerator and high-def 1366 x 768 screen tack on an extra $40.
Users can also add built-in mobile broadband (AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon Wireless) for $125. Less expensive options include Windows XP Home and a 160GB hard drive for $299, and Windows 7 Starter Edition and a 160GB hard drive for $329.
Dell also offers preconfigured Mini 10 models that include Media HD, HDTV, and GPS. All include a high-res, 1366 x 768 display with the Broadcom Crystal HD Media Accelerator and SRS Surround Sound, and the latter two include a built-in digital TV tuner or GPS with location aware services. These models start at $425.
Software and Warranty
The Mini 10 comes with the Dell Dock, a customizable panel that sits on the top of the screen and allows quick access to various programs and utilities. It’s easier than digging through the Start menu, and we appreciate having the oversized icons on the dock (especially on a 10-inch screen), even though you can pin programs to the taskbar. Other software includes McAfee SecurityCenter and Microsoft Works.
Dell covers the Mini 10 with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support. To see how Dell fared in our Tech Support Showdown, click here.
The addition of the Broadcom Crystal HD Media Accelerator chip and a high-def screen for $40 makes the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 a solid choice for those who want increased performance with their netbooks. Even though this system costs $20 more than a similarly configured HP Mini 210, you get much better battery life. However, the Mini 10’s integrated touchpad buttons and excess heat give us pause. If you don’t need the extra graphics muscle, the ASUS Eee PC 1001P offers comparable performance and 30 minutes more endurance for $110 less. Others may want to wait for Nvidia Ion 2 netbooks like the Acer Aspire One 532g to come to market, as this system’s automatic switchable graphics promise better HD video playback and enhanced gameplay—without sacrificing battery life.