A Review of My Dell Mini

My Dell Mini, 5 Days LaterSo, it’s been about 5 days now with my Dell Mini Inspiron 910 netbook, and I thought it would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on it so far.

Before I get into all the techie stuff and possibly lose some of you, I will say that, overall, I’m rather pleased with it and don’t have any regrets buying one for myself and one for Cindy.  It’s a fun little thing to have around and be able to use whenever, wherever you’d like, even if it does take a little getting used to.
First Impressions
The first thing you notice is really how small this thing is.  Everything from the keyboard to the track pad and even the mini power button makes my hands seem that much bigger.  While the laptop, er… netbook, features a Qwerty-style keyboard with the letter keys being full sized, much of everything else is either relocated or slimmed down to fit the smaller form factor.  The screen, however, seems very bright and large (relative to the keyboard anyway) and that gives it a good balance.
I’m just starting to get used to typing with the Mini, this being the second full blog post I’m writing soley with this machine.  It probably wouldn’t be taking me so long to adjust if I didn’t have to switch machines all the time.  I probably spend about 14 hours a day at a keyboard of some sort, which includes home, work, my other Dell laptop and even my cellphone keyboard. Sounds depressing, I know.  Anyway, I have somewhat of a modified typing style already with just the letter keys on the Mini, so all that’s left to get the hang of is the different location for the puncation keys and such.
What I’m Using It For
So one good question is, why do you need one?  Well, I can’t say that you really need one, but my intended uses stem around being ultra portable and Johnny-on-the-spot whenever I want to share something online.  Blogging anytime, anywhere has really been my new motto/goal, but I also like having all my photos with me at all times (via a portable hard drive) to bring up, flip through, or show off whenever necessary.  I haven’t decided to use it as an email client yet, but the option is there should I choose to.
Also, since I have also made a point to do more with my photography and work on shortening the gap between taking photos and uploading them (which historically has been embarrassing), having my Sprint Mobile Broadband modem and my Mini, with it’s built in SD card reader, is the perfect size to throw in my camera bag and upload photos from anywhere.  It’s going to be pretty handy come February when we go back to Maui, that’s for sure.
Back to the Numbers
Okay, so the real deal (or not) with the Mini is about the specs for all you fellow geeks out there (or geeks by association).  The Dell Mini tops out at only 1GB of RAM, which is sort of okay considering it comes with Windows XP and not Vista.  But it turns out that the 1GB limit is an artifical one imposed by Microsoft to allow Dell and other PC makers to keep costs down by selling XP and not requiring them to install Vista on these guys.  I, like many other Dell Mini owners, went out and bought our own 2GB RAM chips and are much happier.
The next thing to consider is the hard drive, which isn’t really a hard drive.  Anyway, I maxed both of ours out at 16GB, which seems like Dell’s limit just to keep the price competitive.  As mentioned above about the RAM, there are others out there dishing out more $$$ to buy larger 32GB and even 64GB drives to squeeze into their Mini’s.  That might not seem like a lot, compared to the fact that my portable hard drive I mentioned earlier has 250GB of storage.
The reason is that these are SSD, or Solid State Drives.  They don’t have all the moving parts like normal desktop and laptop hard drives have, yet they’re not quite like giant flash drives either. They’re somewhere in between, and while they can often be a smaller and cheaper alternative for these types of netbooks, you don’t necessarily see the high performance that you would on the latest laptop hard drives.  But a positive trade off is that since there are no moving parts, the thing is absolutely silent.  No spinning discs or obnoxious cooling fan whizzing constantly.  Nice, peaceful silence.
More Numbers
So one of the things I found out by around day 3 was that might Mini was a little slower than it could be because the files on it were compressed and indexed, to features that Dell was nice enough to enable by default right out of the factory.  Since I’m not looking to use this for a lot of storage, using the compression to save space wasn’t that big of a concern.  And since I don’t intend to store files on it, why would I need to index it for faster searching?  It really just depends on how you use intend to use it.
So, that said, uncompressed and with everything else I absolutely need installed, I have about 6.43GB left out of a usable 14.3GB.  I would love to post a few screenshots of what’s installed, but I haven’t chosen an image editor for my Mini yet. :)
With just a few tabs open in Google Chrome (more on that in a minute) and Symantec Anti-Virus running in the background, my Mini is utilizing about 720MB of RAM, hence the need for the 2GB total.  I do have IE 7, Firefox 3, and Google Chrome installed on this machine, but from testing out each individually, I’ve been finding that Chrome not only takes up the least amount of screen real estate, it doesn’t have as large of a memory footprint for my use of it.  Even with menus hidden and small icons in IE and FF, Chrome just feels lighter.  Oh, and I have the taskbar set to Auto-hide, which helps, too.
Other Software
Even though the Mini is running XP, I was still able to download and use the Windows Live Photo Gallery, which I’ve gotten used to in Vista.  I like the way it arranges photos for you, lets you tag them, and gives you the option to browse by dates you took your photos.  I installed Google Picasa to compare, and while I didn’t use it very long, I couldn’t find a way to browse and group by date taken.  Bummer.  
Some of the new features in version 3 looked really cool, too, but even after I let it index and catalog all the photos on my portable drive, it still stole over 400MB of storage as compared to just over 45MB for Windows Live.  Score one for Microsoft over Google (how often do you get to say that?).  I also am running JDiskReport by jgoodies.com.  I’ve used this for years to keep track of how much space is being used by what on my different machines, and when you only have 14GB usuable on your Mini, you start to get anal about it. 
As far as AV goes, I mentioned I’m running Symantec AntiVirus, not the entire Norton Suite.  I had started with AVG since it was free, but it was just a memory hog and was monitoring too much web traffic and eating bandwidth left and right.  Since we have Comcast, we’re entitled to McAfee as well, which I installed on Cindy’s Mini to see how they compare.
That’s really it.  Looking through my Programs menu, I just realized that Windows Movie Maker is still installed (by default), which makes me wonder how you could possibly use that on this guy.  Anyway…
A Little Community
I wouldn’t been as up-to-speed on my Mini if it wasn’t for a nice little site called MyDellMini.  It features a nice blog and a great forum with Mini owners from both the US and the UK (they have slightly better Mini’s there) with great advice, mods, upgrades and yes, even issues, that have been an invaluable resource both this past week and even the weeks before my Mini arrived.  Be sure to check it out if you have a Mini or are considering one.  
How to Get One
There are a few different ways to go about getting a Mini; one that took 6 weeks for mine, and one that took 3 days for Cindy’s.  It’s a long story, so I’ll save that for another post (or you can learn more at the MyDellMini forum, they love to talk about it there).  There is a buzz that Dell’s going to have a $299 Mini sale on Black Friday, but while the price sounds great, I’d have to speculate that the you’d might be at risk for not getting it before the holidays.
A Disclaimer?
Some part of me thinks I should be posting a certain disclaimer with this review, but I don’t necessarily like to advertise that fact, so let’s go without it for now and see where it goes, shall we?  If you happen to know what I’m referring to, please fight the urge to blab it out.  Many thanks.
So that’s really it.  I covered a lot of ground for only having my Mini for 5 days now, and once I get a little more time, I plan to revisit this review and add a few screenshots and links, as well as giving a few more details as I get more use and spend more time with my Mini.
Thanks for reading :)

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