Like the Sony Vaio P-series, the Inspiron Mini 12 utilises technology designed for Mobile Internet Devices and Ultra Mobile PCs in order to achieve its incredibly sleek dimensions. The Atom Z520 processor runs at just 1.33GHz and uses about a third of the power of the more popular Atom N270 on average.
The System Controller Hub, US15W, is a single chip combining Intel’s GMA500 graphics core with HD audio and fairly basic I/O capabilities including eight USB 2.0 ports, two PCI-Express lanes and a PATA port. It also sports a very low thermal design power – the combined TDP of the Z520 and US15W is just 4.3W compared to the 11.8W TDP for the more prevalent N270, 945GSE and ICH7 combination.
This has a big impact on the amount of heat generated by the machine and as a result there’s very little in the way of venting. There’s just a single grill on the back of the machine and, as with the Sony Vaio VGN-P11Z/R, there are no fans.
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The glossy black lid looks impressive, but it picks up fingerprints and smudges almost effortlessly – the same can be said about the lid on Samsung’s NC10, though. The rest of the Dell's chassis also happens to be a serious candidate for fingerprints, but the fingerprints are less pronounced on the glossy silver plastic finish and so it’s less of an issue. While we’re on the topic of aesthetics, we have to say it’s not the most pleasant looking notebook or netbook we’ve ever seen – in the flesh, it’s actually a bit of a minger, even factoring in its incredibly svelte dimensions.
We can’t fault the Mini 12’s build quality, though – it’s surprisingly solid when you consider its sub-£330 retail price in its cheapest configuration. Picking the Mini 12 up by its corner shows no serious signs of creek and the screen’s hinges are stiff enough for the machine to not suffer from screen wobble while on the train home, but they’re also fluid enough to effortlessly open and close the lid.
Speaking of the screen, Dell has incorporated a 12.1 inch transreflective (or glossy) display with a 1,280 x 800 native pixel grid into the Mini 12. The increased desktop real estate is sure to appease those of you who find the 1,024 x 600 native resolution used on most netbooks too cramped, but the glossy finish is sure to divide everyone else – and there’s no option for a matte finish.
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While some transreflective displays can work incredibly well and can not only improve colour vibrancy, but also improve image quality in general, the glossy coating on the Mini 12’s display unfortunately doesn’t fit into that category. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for this – it could be the fact that the TN panel Dell has used has exceedingly poor viewing angles, but equally it could just be that it reflects more light than most. For example, sitting in front of the windows in our office (with the venetian blinds either up or down), resulted in a lot of glare – we had the choice of streaky glare from where the light comes through the blinds or something more akin to flash glare from a camera.
As a result, we couldn’t get comfortable with the screen’s orientation – we found ourselves constantly adjusting the screen to compensate for the poor viewing angles and overly reflective glossy coating. It’s a pretty frustrating drawback of the Inspiron and one that makes the machine less than joyous to use, but it’s not the only drawback.