Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 is among the smaller of the mini laptop or netbook designs, but feels better constructed than many others. The small keyboard and 8.9in display mean this is laptop is probably best reserved for mobile work, but we had no problems using this as we would other Windows laptops.
Dell's Inspiron Mini 9 is a lightweight mini laptop that crams a Windows PC into a tiny package that can be carried almost anywhere.
However, because of factors such as its small size, the Inspiron Mini is best regarded as a companion to a desktop PC or for users whose computing needs are light.
Available now, the Inspiron Mini is at the smaller end of the mini laptop or netbook spectrum, roughly the same size and weight as the Asus Eee PC 900 and smaller than HP's rival 2133 Mini-Note PC.
Coming from Dell, this model is likely to attract more interest from business buyers, and seems to exhibit a higher level of build quality than some mini laptops we have seen. It has a fairly clean design and, at just over a kilogram, is easy to carry around.
However, businesses should be aware that the Inspiron Mini, like others of this type, ships with either Linux or Windows XP Home edition. The latter cannot be joined to a corporate Active Directory network domain, unless the system is upgraded to XP Professional.
We looked at the Windows version of the Inspiron, and found it reasonably responsive. Its performance as measured by benchmarks is not good, but this is a secondary consideration for such a portable system as this, and we found it perfectly acceptable for running productivity tools, browsing the web and accessing email.
The Inspiron Mini 9 is based on Intel's 1.6GHz Atom processor and ships with 1Gb of memory and either a 16GB Flash solid state drive (SSD) with Windows, or an 8GB Flash SSD for the Linux version. It has a four-cell 32WHr lithium-ion battery pack that can be removed from the system by sliding two catches.
To the left side of its sloping wedge-shaped case is the power connector, two USB ports and a Flash memory slot that takes SD Card, Memory Stick Pro and Multimedia Card Flash storage. The right side has an Ethernet port, VGA output, a third USB port and audio jack sockets.
To test performance, we used the Winstone 2004 benchmark suite, which is now somewhat old, but with which we have tested many Windows XP systems. This returned a score of 7.8, which is low for a laptop and lower even than systems such as OQO's model e2 ultra-mobile PC.
Battery life is perhaps more important than performance on a device like this, and the Inspiron Mini 9 is largely in line with other mini laptops at lasting for just a few hours.
Using the Battery Eater test tool, we found it lasted for two hours and 39 minutes when simulating productivity use, and around three hours and 29 minutes when in 'reader' mode, simulating the user simply viewing information.
In use, we found the Inspiron's keyboard reasonably good for typing, although many of the keys are smaller than on a standard laptop, such as the right hand shift key, the cursor (arrow) keys and the return key. The row of function keys on a normal PC are also missing.
The system's 8.9in display is clear and easy to read, but because of its hinge design the screen points more towards your chest than your face if you use the Inspiron placed on your lap. It seems to have been designed to give an optimal view when sitting on a desk.
We also found its 1024 x 600 resolution a little cramped for accessing some web-based applications, but this did not cause us any real problems.
One issue did we did encounter is with the Inspiron's 802.11g Wi-Fi adapter. We were unable to get a wireless connection, and Windows reported that it could not find any wireless networks within range.
We eventually discovered that we had to turn on Wi-Fi using a wireless select switch application that for some reason was not loaded into the notification area at startup, but was instead hidden away in the menus.
Dell ships the system somewhat cluttered with tools and utilities. As well as McAfee Security Center, Dell's WebCam Central, Dell Video Chat and Google Desktop Search all load at boot-time.
The Inspiron Mini 9 also includes a copy of Microsoft's Works basic productivity suite.