At first glance, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, Dell's entry into the mini-notebook category, looks like what you might get if you left a notebook from Dell's full-size Studio line of laptops in the dryer too long.

But the sub-£300 Dell Inspiron Mini 9 carries a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU, 1GB of RAM, and a solid-state drive, making it a good starter machine for basic computing at a reasonable price.

Our test configuration, priced at £299, includes Windows XP Home and an 8GB solid-state drive; a 4GB version of the Mini 9 will ship with Linux Ubuntu 8.04 and cost £269. The 8GB drive doesn't leave you much open space once the operating system and the preinstalled software (which includes Microsoft Works) are accommodated.

You can upgrade to a 16GB drive.

One feature that is missing in the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is an additional SD slot to allow users to insert a second SD Card, format it, and use it as another hard disk.

Working without two SD Card slots, we found that our WorldBench 6 test suite required more space than the Inspiron Mini 9's drive could spare. Since we couldn't run our benchmark tests on the Mini 9, we can't directly compare its performance with that of competing mini-notebooks.

We do know that the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 loads Windows in about 30 seconds and fires up Microsoft Works in 8 seconds. Also, it can copy more than an album's worth of music (77MB) in about 7 seconds. In short, it falls in line with what we've seen from other mini-notebooks packing an Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, and Windows. We'll update this review when we obtain more-precise performance results.

The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 performed well in our battery life tests. Its four-cell battery ran for about 3 hours, 34 minutes - far better than the three-cell battery of the MSI Wind, for instance, which lasted just 2 hours, 24 minutes.

As its name suggests, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is tiny. It measures 27x232x172mm - barely enough room to accommodate the 8.9in screen - and weighs just over 1kg.

NEXT PAGE: screen, keyboard and other features

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At first glance, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, Dell's entry into the mini-notebook category, looks like what you might get if you left a notebook from Dell's full-size Studio line of laptops in the dryer too long.

The glossy 1024-by-600-resolution display looks reasonably sharp and reproduces colour extremely well. Unfortunately, if you don't view it from precisely the right angle, the screen looks a little dim. You can adjust the angle, but you may still find yourself contorting into ergonomic stress positions in order to get an optimal view.

All of the alphanumeric keys on the Dell Inspiron Mini 9's keyboard are large enough to make cranking out a document easy. But everything else either gets scrunched (as the Tab, Shift, and Caps Lock keys do) or assigned to an unfamiliar location. For instance, the apostrophe key slides down to a spot by the space bar, and the function keys disappear altogether, replaced by combos.

An empty bit of real estate lies between the keyboard and the edge nearest the display, but Dell chose not to fill it with shortcut keys. That said, if you can retrain your brain to know where a couple of wayward buttons are positioned, you'll find that the keyboard is quite good. Similarly, the mousepad is set to just the right sensitivity, and the buttons are firmly in place.

The Dell Inspiron Mini 9's front-mounted speaker, located just below the display, came across as a little hollow. In this department, the Mini 9 falls behind Asus's Eee 1000H 80G XP.

The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is otherwise packed with the usual arsenal of current mini-notebook specs: 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA out, an ethernet jack, an SD Card slot, and headphone and mic jacks. Our test model had Bluetooth and a 1.3Mp webcam.

The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 includes two handy additions that make it stand above the competition. First, accessible through the Start menu, is Dell's Support Center - a one-stop app for system information and performance tweaking. When you're online the Support Center also serves as a glorified link hub to different parts of Dell's support site for manuals, patches, and quick fixes. Second is a free, base-level account (good for 2GB of storage) with Box.Net's online file storage service.

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Dell Inspiron Mini 9: Specs

  • Windows XP Home SP3
  • Intel Atom (1.6GHz, 512KB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB)
  • 1GB DDR2 SDRAM
  • Intel 965PM/GM Express Chipset
  • Intel Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 950
  • 8.9in LED display (1024X600)
  • hard drives - up to 16GB configured with a Solid State drive
  • integrated 10/100 LAN (RJ45)
  • 15-pin VGA video connector
  • audio jacks (1-line out, 1 mic-in)
  • 3-in-1 Media Card Reader
  • AC adaptor connector
  • integrated 1.3mp webcam
  • 802.11g
  • Bluetooth
  • 232mm x 27.2mm x 31.7mm
  • 1kg
  • Windows XP Home SP3
  • Intel Atom (1.6GHz, 512KB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB)
  • 1GB DDR2 SDRAM
  • Intel 965PM/GM Express Chipset
  • Intel Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 950
  • 8.9in LED display (1024X600)
  • hard drives - up to 16GB configured with a Solid State drive
  • integrated 10/100 LAN (RJ45)
  • 15-pin VGA video connector
  • audio jacks (1-line out, 1 mic-in)
  • 3-in-1 Media Card Reader
  • AC adaptor connector
  • integrated 1.3mp webcam
  • 802.11g
  • Bluetooth
  • 232mm x 27.2mm x 31.7mm
  • 1kg

OUR VERDICT

Dell has crafted a solid mini-laptop that's good for kids and has plenty to offer anyone looking for an on-the-go system. The Dell Inspiron Mini 9isn't perfect, but it does offer a terrific design and a good price. Dell's first venture into the world of mini-notebooks has produced a worthy competitor.

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