Dell Inspiron Mini 12 Arrives: Sleek but Slow

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This morning the stork dropped off one of the most highly-anticipated netbooks of the year. Everyone wanted to see and touch the Inspiron Mini 12 because it's the first netbook with a 12-inch display. How good was the keyboard? How bright was the display? How fast did it boot?

We have been playing around with the Mini 12 since it arrived and have lots to say about the new slim notebook. We will be posting our full review of the system in the next day or two, but to tide you over here are our initial thoughts and a first video hands-on.

Slim Design
Just like our first time seeing the Mini 12 a few months ago, the black glossy netbook reminds us more of a ultraportable, like the Voodoo Envy or Lenovo x300, than a 8.9 or 10-inch netbook. Less than an inch thick it is really slim and when placed next to a Toshiba R500 it was thinner, but longer. That slimness pays off in weight; on the scale the Mini 12 weighed in at less than 3 pounds with the 3-cell battery (we also have a 6-cell battery). The six-cell brings the Mini 12 to an even 3 pounds. Not bad at all.

Under the lid, the Mini 12 looks at lot like its younger brother,, the Mini 9. The matte keyboard feel is the same and a silver glossy coating covers the pad and palm rest. Because of the expanded screen real estate, Dell packs a 91 percent full size keyboard which is comfortable for touch typists and way better than the layout on the Mini 9. There is a row of function keys and there is a near full sized Shift key placed where it belongs: to the left of the up arrow. Nevertheless, we would have like to see Dell extend the layout to the edges. The touchpad is also roomy, with a nice gritty feel, and there are dedicated right and left click mouse buttons underneath.

Large, Glossy Screen
Striking a clear difference between the Dell MIni 12 and the other netbooks on the market is its 1280 x 800 resolution 12-inch screen. The wide display makes allows for more work space, and we liked being able to place two browser windows side by side. While the glossy screen is vivid and colors on the desktop popped, the LCD was a bit dim even when cranked up to full brightness.

Sluggish Performance

The Dell Mini 12 is also differentiates itself from other netbooks by not packing the usual 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 processor. Instead our configuration has a 1.6GHz  Atom Z530 Silverthorne-class processor. The processor, along with 1GB of RAM (which is not upgradeable) power the Microsoft Windows Vista basic Mini 12.  For storage, it has a 1.8-inch 60GB hard drive operating at a sluggish 4,200 rpm over a PATA interface.

Our initial impressions of the netbook is that it isn't as peppy as most others. For instance, it took over 2 minutes to get the the Vista desktop and over 4 minutes before all of the preinstalled programs, including the Dell Dock, loaded. We think there are probably ways to decrease the time by removing or changing some of the software (ex: the Mcafee and Google Desktop applications) and tweaking some Vista settings, but ultimately you have to have a virus shield and some favorite apps. Every app that came preinstalled on the system is useful; there's no crapware here.

Check out the video below to see it boot for yourself.


We're curious to see if the system boots faster under Windows XP or another OS.

Additionally, the Vista Basic OS can hang while running a few programs simultaneously. We aren't the first to say this either.

With that said, we like that Dell has included its Apple-like Dell Dock on top of Vista for shortcuts to your favorite applications. In addition, once we were loaded the browser it was smooth sailing and pages loaded quickly.

We will be spending more time with the Dell Mini 12 over the next few days and will run our benchmarks and battery tests. However, we will be honest and say we are a bit let down by its performance thus far. We love the slimness and inclusion of a larger screen on a netbook, but not if it costs performance points.

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  • jetpeach Says:

    This is now available with Ubuntu! For $499, this is an amazing deal. The reviews say the battery lasts longer with Ubuntu, and the OS is much more zippy.

  • Disappointed So Bad Says:

    This netbook or notebook or watever is just perfect in terms of size. I really like its slim design and weight too. I believe that it is atom processor that makes vista os slow, rather than 1gig ram. And it is just so stupid, unbelievable, and disappointing that dell actually made it vista on atom processor with ram that's not upgradable. This has gotta be a joke. What were they thinking??? I just can't believe they did this... Who would ever want a computer that performs like 90's old IBM in 2008? Trust me, I've seen how it performs on Youtube....IT IS EFFING SLOW!!!!! I was so happy to see this thing but then vista and 1gig un-upgradable ram just makes me just turn away. People would never buy this if they knew how sluggish this crap performs. Dell, please make it XP with upgradable ram so it has a good speed like computers these days...

    Then I'll buy it, people are going to buy it.

  • Says:

    all of these suck

  • oivo Says:

    I'd like to know if the Dell Inspiron Mini 12 doesn't have a fan like the Dell Inspiron Mini 9?

  • anon Says:

    On the poor performing graphics tests...did you set the resolution to 1280x800? Comparing a graphics benchmark at 1280x800 versus 1024x600 is hardly a fair comparison...

  • pratfall Says:

    I believe Microsoft extended the OEM license for XP only to devices with 10" screens and less, which could explain why this laptop is cursed with Vista. I'd love to see a 2GB RAM/SSD/Linux version of this laptop...

  • f² Says:

    Can you tell us if Dell included a 3g adapter on this 12-inch netbook? And if there is a chance to change the (small) HD?!

  • animatt Says:

    I believe the1.8 inch actually has performance in the middle of the netbook ssd segment. SO it is not terribly fast as non of the standard ssd cards are terribly quick.

    But I guess we will have to wait on reall numbers.

    Also think they went with the 1.8" because they felt Vista was there only option. With Vista and another large program Office. You are at 10+ gb. With that I doubt people would be happy with a 16gb ssd Being size what it is on this machine they were probably hard pressed to put 2 different ssd's in there to get 20gb something like ASUS. Being that ASUS did not use Vista it go away with using a fairly fast ssd. But small with vista there would need to be atleast a fast 16gb ssd.
    Being that 2 ssd's would probably not fit, that would mean a 32gb and for that to have any kind of speed $$$$.

  • Hayden Says:

    I would rather have the mini 9 (which, if it is generally similar to other nine inch netbooks, has a terrible keyboard and minimal storage space) with a 30 second boot instead of a larger screen, keyboard and storageful mini 12 with a four minute boot time. FOUR MINUTES! That's...bad, to put it lightly. And I know bad. My desktop rig doesn't even have a dual-core processor, and I haven't been able to weed out all the crapware. I guess the boot time is about 3 minutes.

  • Fanfoot Says:

    Not interested in this device per se, as the screen is too big to call this a netbook.

    However, I am very interested in the Z series Atom's and the Poulsbo chipset. Problem is we can't really tell how well those perform vs. the existing chips from looking at this machine. As you say, downgrading to XP if you can get drivers for everything will be an interesting thing to try, but with the slow hard drive (are there 1.8" PATA SSDs you can swap in?) and the larger screen (run a battery test with the screen off?) it'll be hard to compare.

    I guess we'll just have to wait for a Poulsbo-based 10" netbook to know better.

  • animatt Says:

    As for non upgradeable ram.

    You know dell is going for slim with this device. All is soldered onboard to save space.

    As for vista over xp, well I think that is purely a driver related question. I personally will still upgrade to XP or linux and wait for drivers than run Vista.

    How much ram do people need? THis is supposed to be a mobile internet type device. It does do alot of other things but in general it is not tailored to do heavy lifting . things like photoshop etc. So if it is already limited with the cpu not up to the task of heavy lifting why put in tons of ram.
    If used as a little multitasking machine. Writing, and surfing the web, old games etc. I doubt many people would have a problem with 1 gb of ram. Just get ride of the bundle junk software occupying the ram.

    The system is only as strong as the weakest link. I think dell did a fair job at keeping all levels fairly equal.
    While most system may come with substandard ram amount based on the cpu. That is why the upgrade feels so strong. Kind of leveling an imbalance to begin with. Dell really does not have the imbalance. It is semi weak in all areas. SO to me appears to me it either fits your usage very good or almost not at all. Not a little upgrading will change that.

    The area where it is really strong is that you should be able to average around 9.5watts during normal usage, while is incredibly low especially with an lcd screen that size.
    I think most of the design went into using as little power as possible and having the device thin as possible. I personally find those 2 things very important. I know I am not the norm, but I think there is a fair group of people this laptop will serve

  • jp98 Says:

    The mini 12 uses the Atom Z530 and the Poulsbo chipset instead of the Atom N270 and the 945GSE chipset. The difference being using the Z530/Poulsbo combo will not require a fan as it consumes very low power . So the mini 12 will have no moving parts excepts the hard drive, and if Dell replaces it with an SSD then it will not have any moving parts at all. And the 1GB limitation comes with the Poulsbo chipset not Dell. IMHO at 10.5 inch it would have been much better size wise. Better to wait for the Ubuntu version.

  • cunni Says:

    The sluggish performance is due to the slow 1,8'' 4200 rpm drive.... Same story with the x40/x41 ibm thinkpad series.

  • Kris Tuttle Says:

    Sounds like a mistake to me. If you're going "mini" you should be running XP or Linux. A big OS with a fancy GUI needs more CPU and memory. Doesn't matter how "cool" it looks. I think the mini-9 sounds like a real winner but the 12 doesn't make sense.

  • Dacker Says:

    Non-upgradable RAM? Dumb, dumb, dumb!That's inexcusable....

    Adding RAM is the fastest and cheapest way to increase the performance of a PC. That fact alone is enough for me to look elsewhere.

  • File in a Box Says:

    I was so much looking forward to this little machine, how disappointing that it is so slow and that you cannot upgrade the memory (what?!).

    I guess I will still be buying it because I much prefer a 12 inch screen over 8.9 inch, but it is a bummer that this netbook is so slow. Let's hope a downgrade to a trimmed version of XP helps.

    By the way, I am not so sure that it is absolutely necessary to have anti-virus software installed. I have been running without it for a long time (using a limited account) and never had any virus infections.

  • Vance Says:

    Wow, four minutes to a usable system. If Dell weren't so in the pocket of Microsoft, this might actually be a decent product.

    I'm keeping an eye out for the MIE edition of the HP Mini 1000. That might actually be operationally mobile instead of just physically mobile.

    Way to drop the ball, Dell.

  • Forone Says:

    Doesn't look like a "netbook" at all, but a low powered lightweight an attractive size for someone who actually needs to type. Silly to run Vista on that configuration, if RAM can't be increased, and that's a very small, slow HDD. Looks like a hurry to get this on the market this fall, and version 2 will have better guts.

  • NeoteriX Says:

    I think it's mildly embarrassing for a 12" netbook/laptop to have a smaller and more inconvenient keyboard than a 10" netbook. The fact that the punctuation keys are smaller than the rest is an instant no-go for me, which is a shame, because I think the 12" screensize is the sweet spot for me.

  • subnotes Says:

    On the first picture Mini looks a lot like Macbook Air

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