My Dell Inspiron Mini 9

On January 1st, I decided to order a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook. I had been reading a lot about netbooks, and was in the market for something smaller to carry around. My aging Toshiba M200 Tablet PC is fairly small and light, but it’s still quite big compared to a netbook. I went on the Dell site, customized my order, and waited for my new netbook to arrive.

And waited, and waited.

After my original ship date of January 21st was delayed, I tried to be patient. When I called for an update mid-February, I learned that my order was going to be cancelled and re-entered because of a software conflict with Adobe. I told Dell to forget it, and I cancelled my order completely. I then hopped on the Future Shop site, and ordered the same computer (minus the integrated Bluetooth) for about $100 less. It arrived a week later.

My Mini 9 has the integrated webcam, is black, and runs Windows XP. I upgraded the RAM to 2 GB, and the hard drive to 32 GB (the Mini 9 uses an SSD). Even with the extra components and shipping, the total price was only about $500.

I’ve been using it for a little over a month now, and I really like it. In no particular order, these are my favorite things about it:

  • Small and light. The main reasons for getting a netbook, obviously!
  • Clean, solid design. So many netbooks have a big gap between the screen and keyboard, and that just drives me nuts. The Mini 9 is solid with smooth, rounded edges.
  • Quiet and cool. Partly because of the SSD, the Mini 9 doesn’t have a fan. It runs extremely cool, and never makes any noise.
  • It’s fast! Resume from standby, boot up, shutdown, etc. are all fairly quick. The only slowness is from some applications that don’t work well with SSDs, such as Outlook.

Nothing is perfect – here are the things I don’t like about it:

  • The battery life is pretty good at about four hours, but I wish it were much longer.
  • The keyboard is small and hard to get used to. I still have to hunt for the quote key, located at the very bottom. I often close windows by accident when I try to type an exclamation point and hit the Esc key instead. There are no F11 or F12 keys or functions. If I could redesign the keyboard, I’d get rid of CAPS Lock and the context-menu button, would move the quote key to it’s proper place, and would give the right Shift key more space.
  • There are two LEDs on the front, one with the power icon and one with a battery with a lightning bolt in it. The battery light only comes on when the device is dangerously low on power…I’d rather it lit up when the battery was recharging too.
  • It has an external display port, but the resolution it outputs is pretty weak.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my Mini 9. It was relatively inexpensive, comes with me almost everywhere, and works perfectly for surfing, checking email, blogging, and Twittering.

Netbooks are trendy

dell inspiron mini What kind of computer do you use? Most of my work is done at a desktop or workstation; a tower attached to three monitors. The rest of the time I’m using either my laptop or tablet. I’ve also got a little Sony UMPC but it doesn’t get used much. It was kinda cool for a while, but it’s not all that fast. And once I got my iPod touch, that pretty much fulfilled my small device needs.

My favorite to use is probably my tablet, even though it’s the slowest of the bunch. I think I like it mostly because of the form factor – it’s pretty small for a laptop (at 12 inches) but large enough that I don’t sacrifice a keyboard or full operating system.

A couple years from now though, my tablet might seem rather large thanks to the netbook trend. What’s a netbook? From Wikipedia:

A netbook is a small to medium sized, light-weight, low-cost, energy-efficient laptop, generally optimized for internet based services such as web browsing and e-mailing. Netbooks are also sometimes, but rarely referred to as a sub-subnotebook.

The form factor of a netbook is smaller than that of a notebook and they are very light in weight (usually 2 to 3 pounds). Common features include a small screen (usually around 7-inches to 10-inches diagonal), wireless connectivity, but no optical disc drive, and a smaller sized keyboard (usually 80 percent to 95 percent of normal size). There is also a trend of using solid-state drives instead of traditional hard disk drives.

Maybe it’s just me, but every second article on technology these days seems to mention netbooks! The blogosphere made a big deal this week out of the fact that Windows boss Steven Sinofsky demonstrated Windows 7 running on a netbook. And today, PC World declares that netbooks will soon cost just $99:

Subnotebooks like the Asus Eee PC, the Dell Mini 9 and the HP 2133 Mini-note will soon cost as little as $99. The catch? You’ll need to commit to a two-year mobile broadband contract. The low cost will come courtesy of a subsidy identical to the one you already get with your cell phone.

A monthly service fee for mobile broadband doesn’t appeal to me at all, but a $99 netbook certainly does. Heck, I’m already tempted by the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 (pictured above) and it’s nearly $500! If the cost of components fell enough so that a netbook was about half that price, I’d have no hesitations about picking one up and I doubt anyone else would either.

Netbooks are definitely trendy, but I think this is one trend that will last. A small device to check email, read and post blogs, and update Twitter is something that appeals to lots of people. Okay maybe not that last part 🙂

Blast from the past: hard drives

The computer industry changes so rapidly that it’s easy to forget about the hardware and devices we had just a few years ago. I’ve been cleaning up the office, getting rid of some junk that we’ve had lying around for years, and I’m amazed at some of the hardware I’ve found. Hard drives best demonstrate the difference between then and now – they’ve had the same form factor for years, but the capacities are vastly different.

For instance, the hard drive from an old Toshiba T4900CT laptop is only 810 MB! Technically that’s 770 MB I believe, yes megabytes. I don’t know why I’ve kept this laptop for so long, it hasn’t worked for years. I guess I’m a bit of a digital pack rat. It was the first laptop I ever used. My family used it at the pet store back in Inuvik when I was a kid, and it worked great. I even took it on a field trip back in high school (Dickson reminded me that we played Grand Theft Auto on the bus).

I found this description on the Toshiba Europe site:

The T4900CT and its 75 MHz Pentium processor will give you such speed and power when you’re out on the road that you’ll really move along the data super-highway. Back in the office, there’s hardly a desktop that can keep up with it.

How times have changed! Not only does it weigh about 15 pounds, but it’s a good four inches thick! The last thing that processor makes me think of is speed and power.

Here are a few photos I took tonight: the 810 MB hard drive, a 9.1 GB SCSI hard drive, and a 20.5 GB IDE hard drive.

810 MB hard drive 9.1 GB hard drive 20.5 GB hard drive

I wouldn’t consider buying anything smaller than a 300 GB SATA II hard drive now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that seems tiny in a couple years. Hard to imagine that a hard drive with only 770 MB was ever actually usable!

Coming Soon: Dell Tablet PC

Post ImageAs you may know, I am a big fan of the Tablet PC. I’ve had a Toshiba Portege for a few years now, and before that I had the first Compaq model. Unfortunately, most people still buy regular laptops. I think there are two reasons for that:

  • Tablet PC’s are a little more expensive than regular laptop computers.
  • Computer stores don’t showcase tablets, so not as many people know about them.

Both of those things might change in the near future! According to a post on Dell’s blog today, the rumored Latitude Tablet PC is real. There’s a short video with a few details. I think there’s hope that Dell’s tablet will be cheaper than the competition, taking care of point #1. And as for point #2, I imagine the tablet will be included in Dell’s mailouts, which are kind of like the old AOL disks – everyone gets them!

Elsewhere in the world of Dell today: some really nice LCD monitor technology and design.

Read: Direct2Dell

Largest Consumer Electronics Recall Ever

Post ImageThis is one record you don’t want to be setting. Dell has announced what the Consumer Product Safety Commission is calling “the largest safety recall in the history of the consumer electronics industry.” That’s right, 4.1 million laptop batteries installed in Dell machines between April 2004 and July 18th, 2006. Is yours one of them?

Dell’s press release states the recall covers the following machines, so be aware! Dell Latitude D410, D500, D505, D510, D520, D600, D610, D620, D800, D810; Inspiron 6000, 8500, 8600, 9100, 9200, 9300, 500m, 510m, 600m, 6400, E1505, 700m, 710m, 9400, E1705; and Dell Precision M20, M60, M70 and M90 mobile workstations; and XPS, XPS Gen2, XPS M170 and XPS M1710. Also, you’re to go here, and to pop that batt post haste.

Even worse – the batteries were made by Sony, not Dell, which means other laptops might also be at risk if they too use Sony batteries (creative sabotage?). I’m pretty confident my Toshiba is safe. Keep an eye on this story!

I wonder what they do with the returned batteries? I think they should put them all in a big pile and explode it. That would make a great video! They could use it as a PR stunt of some sort. Though I’m sure the environmentalists would have a field day. Oh well.

Read: Engadget

Laptop data worth millions

Symantec released a report today containing research that attempts to determine how much the content on a typical laptop is worth. Even if the numbers haven’t been seen before, the lessons are not new – back up your data and be cautious when it comes to security.

[The report] suggests that an ordinary notebook holds content valued at 550,000 pounds ($972,000), and that some could store as much as 5 million pounds–or $8.8 million–in commercially sensitive data and intellectual property.

The same research, commissioned by Symantec, shows that only 42 percent of companies automatically back up employees’ e-mails, where much of this critical data is stored, and 45 percent leave it to the individual to do so.

I wonder how they came to those valuations, because I’d be interested in determining how much my content is worth. Not for any real reason I suppose, just curiousity.

Read: CNET News.com

Hand-crank powered laptop

Post ImageThere are some very creative and serious efforts underway to bridge the so-called “digital divide.” One such effort is a hand-cranked laptop developed at MIT that will hopefully be available to schoolchildren in poorer countries a year from now:

In principle, the project seems simple: Design a laptop with built-in wireless and minimal power consumption, find manufacturers willing to build it for about $100, convince governments to buy it in quantities of at least 1 million as an initial order, and give it to schoolchildren to keep as their own property. (The goal is tens of millions produced and distributed within two years.)

But negotiating with governments has proved to be strenuous–Negroponte called it “very hard”–and the price quotes to build the machine remain closer to $110 than $100. “We’re not even going to promise they’re $100,” he said. “They may be $115. What we’re promising is that the price will float down.”

There are other concerns that must be overcome as well, such as the desire to resell the laptops. I hope it works out though, because it’s a very interesting project that would likely make a real difference. There are roughly six governments that have shown great interest thus far, including Brazil and Thailand.

Read: CNET News.com

Trading textbooks for laptops

Post ImageIn case you missed it, we’re in the year 2005 now, and I don’t know about you but I expected far more schools to have laptops by now:

An Arizona high school is set to become one of the first ebook-only schools, as it preps to hand out laptops to 350 students this fall. The cost for the laptops at Vail High School will be about $850 per student, compared to about $600 for textbooks. The school plans to supplement electronic versions of traditional textbooks with online articles assigned by teachers.

I like the idea of using computers in school for more than just “computer class” or research in the library. Seems to me that Tablet PC’s would be better suited for a classroom environment, but maybe the price is still a little prohibitive.

Read: Engadget