By March 9, 2009

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 review

The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is another in the current flood of ‘NetBooks’ that we have seen since the first Asus EeePC, so how does it fair in the current marketplace.


The Dell Inspiron Mini 9


What’s in the box?

Inspiron Mini 9
Recovery CD’s

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Specification:

Processors Intel®  AtomTM  Processor (1.6GHz, 512KB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB)
Operating System Genuine Windows®  XP Home Edition SP3
Ubuntu Linux 8.04 with custom Dell interface
Memory 1GB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Chipset Intel®  945PM / GS Express Chipset
Graphics Intel®  Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator 950
LCD Display Glossy 8.9 inch LED display (1024X600)
Hard Drives Up to 16GB configured with a Solid State drive.
Optical Drives No optical drive available.
Ports USB 2.0 (3)
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 adapter connector
Power 4-cell 32WHr Li-Ion Battery
Camera Integrated 1.3MP webcam
Wireless 802.11g mini-card
Bluetooth®  Internal (2.0) mini-card

Dimensions & Weight

Width: 9.13" (232mm)

Height: 1.07" (27.2mm) front / 1.25" (31.7mm) back

Depth: 6.77" (172mm)

Weight: Starting weight of 2.28 lbs. (1.035 kg)1(8.9" display, 4 cell battery). Weights will vary depending on configurations and manufacturing variability.



An External tour

Nothing much to see apart from the status LED’s on the left – these are white LED’s and whilst I found them a little distracting, it wasn’t too bad.


Right Side
From left to right we have Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack, USB port, VGA out and Ethernet.


Nothing to see here apart from the back of the battery


Left Side
From left to right we have Kensington locking point, power port, 2 USB ports and a 3-in-1 card reader.


A fairly standard looking though slightly compressed keyboard layout, touchpad with mouse buttons, and a main power button.
At the top of the screen is a webcam and mic for web conferencing.




– Small and light
– This also applies to the power adapter
– Feels solid and well built

– Default cover attracts fingerprints – can’t speak for other styles
– Glossy monitor
– Monitor view angle
– Desktop resize on every boot
– No F11 or F12
– Keyboard layout is going to take a little getting used to
– Gets a bit warm
– Collect and return warranty only


As you unpack it, you realise that the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is a petite thing, surprisingly so if you’ve never handled a NetBook before – it looks for all the world like a laptop that’s shrunk after being washed on too high a heat.

The top cover is offered in a number of styles and colours on the Dell website – this one is decked out in the default piano black (which attracts fingerprints like you wouldn’t believe).

The Mini 9 is offered in both Linux and Windows XP flavours, with a mixture of hard drive sizes – this particular one came with Windows XP SP3 pre-installed on it’s 8GB drive, with the faster option graphics card (the Intel 945 Express).

As I first opened it up, I was impressed by how solid the construction felt – it felt like it could take life on the road quite easily.

The first boot was fast enough (sorry I didn’t time it), but the fact that I didn’t get frustrated by it is praise enough 😀

As it loads up it’s default programs at startup one of them is for the built in webcam, and it flashes the built in white led ‘light’ for a moment as it tests the hardware. Personally I found this a little disconcerting for my level of paranoia, so that soon got disabled so it would only think about using the camera when I wanted to.

The Mini 9 has an 8.9" 1024×600 wide screen LED monitor, which like so many laptops coming out at the moment, has a Glossy finish. I know that they say it helps with colour reproduction and deeper blacks, but personally I always find them far too shiny, especially outdoors – and for a device that’s designed to be taken on the go I find this a little frustrating. I know there are some people however who prefer the gloss finish, so I get’s it’s a question of preference.

One quirk I found during bootup is that the current drivers (or maybe Windows itself) seems to think that the monitor is 800×600 until Windows is finished loading, at which point it corrects itself to 1024×600. Whilst this doesn’t seem like that big a deal it does mean that Windows reorganises the icons on your desktop every boot. I’m sure that this is something that can be fixed with future drivers, but for the moment it was frustrating to have to work out where you new icons had been placed every time you reboot the machine.

This Mini 9 shipped with anti-virus installed and was pretty up to date on the windows update side of things (at time of arrival), so out of the box you at least have a fighting chance of keeping your system safe.

As the primary use of a NetBook is browsing the web I thought I connect and see how the Mini 9 handled it. After connecting with the wifi I was soon browsing the web.

At this point I started to realise that 1024×600 is not a lot of real-estate for a monitor, you really want to be able to minimise toolbars and the like, and when web browsing on smaller monitors I usually prefer to go to full-screen mode by pressing F11.


There’s no F11 on the keyboard.

At this point I’ll digress for a moment. Please bear with me.

The Mini 9 keyboard (and this is the UK keyboard I’m talking about) has a number of quirks, and one of them is that there is not F11 or F12. Another is that the F keys they do have (F1-F10) are placed over the middle rows of keys on the keyboard.

Additionally, the > and . key has been squashed horizontally, the backslash is now on the right hand side of the keyboard, as is the ` key.

What all this means is that you have to get used to the keyboard not only being more compact than normal, but also to the fact that some keys aren’t where you’d expect them to be and some are missing completely.

Fortunately the browser I was using (Firefox) has a menu option to allow me to go in and out of full-screen mode, not ideal, but at least the option is there. I’m not sure what people with apps that require F11 or F12 are supposed to do if there is no menu alternative.

Anyway back to the web browsing.

Once I’d gone into fullscreen mode the browsing experience was much more pleasant. Though still compact, at least now I could read long paragraphs in one screen and in general it was a lot more enjoyable – I can easily imagine people sitting out in a cafe in the summer checking news and blogging etc.

So now onto something slightly more processor intensive – music and video.

Every mp3 I threw at it was easily handled, nice smooth playback, so onto video.

I downloaded my preferred video player (MPlayerC) and some video codecs (ffdshow), stuck a copy of a converted DVD onto a memory stick (remember the Mini 9 has no optical drive), and started it up. Perfect playback first time, increased to full-screen and it continued to run smooth as butter. I could certainly see people using this to watch their converted DVD’s on the commute in the mornings.

One thing I’ve not mentioned up until now is the trackpad.

The trackpad is in it’s traditional place below the keyboard and it appears a though it’s sort of carved into the surface (there is no obvious edge between the two surfaces, just a slight bevel to recess the trackpad). It is very responsive, and whilst you have to get used to it’s petite size, it functions as you’d expect. When I was sitting down for a longer period with the Mini 9 I’d connect an external mouse for comfort, but the pad is perfectly functional, if a little small, for your on the go needs.

Having had web browsing, mp3 and video handling all pass with flying colours I thought I’d try something else that I’d likely use the Mini 9 for – image editing.

I installed my favourite art package and had a quick play with some existing images I had. And here we had the first real signs of the fact that we were dealing with a mobile processor. Things got slow and in some operations very slow. In the end I decided that whilst it was capable of getting there eventually, I couldn’t see myself using it at those speeds, so I dropped back out and crossed image editing of my list of things the Mini 9 can do easily.

I then started up an Office document (albeit I was using OpenOffice) and as long as I wasn’t trying to do anything too complex things were fine, though sometimes it took a moment or two to think about complex pages when moving around the document. Presentations where much the same story, simple stuff was fine, but if you got too complicated things started to slow down.

Like when web browsing, the other thing that was obvious in the other packages was that you had to be very selective about which toolbars you wanted on the screen all the time – the screen’s resolution meant that you’d want to have the bare minimum on the screen whilst you worked so that you could see more of your work space.

One thing that has to be said about the Atom chipset that these new NetBooks use is that that are very quiet – and I do mean very. If you are really making it work for long periods of time then the little fan will kick in to cool the CPU down a bit, but even when it’s on the fan is not that loud or annoying.

That said, after using the Mini 9 for a while, I was surprised by how warm the base was getting – warm enough that I’d place something between it and me when using it on my lap.

One other thing that I did come across when getting the review together is that the Dell warranty is Collect and Return only. Meaning that your Mini 9 has to go back to Dell if there is a problem, no on-site repairs. Again it’s a personal thing as to how much of a deal-breaker that is.



In general the term NetBook says it all really – these devices are intended, and best used, for browsing the web, playing music or watching videos.

Whilst the above review might come across as lots of negatives, they are mostly personal preferences not major problems. The only thing I’d say was a big annoyance was the lack of F11 and F12 keys. No matter the arrangement, they should be there somewhere.

If you can adapt to the compact nature (and layout) of the keyboard and full-screen your favourite web browser, then the Mini 9 is a solidly built device that I can see lots of people carrying around in the future.


Review by: Iain

Posted in: Reviews

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