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Update 2/3/2009: Discount offer to not return product.

Dell Mini 12

You would think that I could have found a netbook by now, given that I have been looking since last November. These things are obviously selling, since they are among the woes that computer manufacturers have been blaming for their tanking sales.

It took awhile, but I finally had a Dell Mini 12 arrive with Windows XP installed. My impatience with getting this whole process over with (and to have it to take with me to CES) had caused me to order one with Vista. I knew it was a mistake even as I clicked the "Place Order" button, but order it I did.

I managed to disable enough unnecessary services and tray apps to eke out performance that I could live with. And I wasn't worried about boot time, which was minutes long with Vista as others have reported, because it came back from Hibernation and Sleep just fine.

But as I started to load it with the applications I would need for my CES trip, something told me to check when the 21 day return period expired. Of course, that fell right in the middle of CES, so back it went to Dell and I once again took my trusty Fujitsu P7120 with me to Vegas.

The XP version of the Mini 12 was waiting for me when I returned. I ordered the "Obsidian Black" version since I can't see paying extra for any of the color options. The Mini 12 definitely presents a polished (literally and figuratively) appearance and is presentable for work or play. But the glossy black plastic top is a fingerprint magnet and makes the 12 look like crap after even just a little handling. I'm sure the scratches that it would collect with even careful use would make for a well-worn patina in short order.

Maybe mirror surfaces are great for case and skin manufacturers, but they are a stupid (and I don't use that word often) design "feature" for mobile devices. Strangely enough, the bottom surface of the 12 is black matte, with a texture that ensures a good grip.

I ordered the $599 version because at the time (in December) it was the only way that I could get a six-cell battery. The current $599 system now comes with a 80 GB hard drive; mine has only a 60 GB Samsung HS06THB 1.8" (4200 RPM, PATA, 8 MB). Of that 60 GB only 46 GB is available, with the remaining space used for a hidden Dell system restore partition.

If I were going to order the system today, I think I'd opt for the $479 version, which has a 60 GB drive and a 1.33 GHz Intel Atom Z520 instead of the 1.6 GHz Z530 Atom in the $599 system.

Dell spends no money on attractive product packaging, so the 12 arrived in a plain brown shipping box that contained two formed-paper trays and a top tray cover. The small wall-wart style charger, printed Setup Guide and restore disks were in the lower tray and the Mini 12 sat in the upper. Like the Lenovo S10, the 12 didn't come with a slipcase.

The first boot installed XP Home SP3 without incident. The resulting desktop was clean except for an icon taking you to a signup page for online storage (1 GB for free). I removed the default desktop background for Figure 1 and opened the SNB home page so that you can see the expansive screen real estate afforded by the 1280 x 800 screen. I also uninstalled the McAfee Security Center 30 day trial to stop the signup nags.

Dell Mini 12 desktop
Click to enlarge image

Figure 1: Dell Mini 12 desktop

Three Tray apps are installed by default: Wlss, which enables Function key enable / disable of the Bluetooth and Broadcom 802.11b/g radios; Dell Webcam Central, which lets you take pictures and video using the cam and connects to yet another trial / optional subscription deal; and a Bluetooth icon that opens Widcomm Bluetooth management applications.

The Webcam Central application is the best that I have seen bundled with any netbook. It includes face tracking, pan and zoom, video and audio effects and ability to snap photos and record video. From digging through the folders a bit, it looks like the webcam and software come from Creative.

The F3 key has a battery icon, that opens the Battery Meter window in Figure 2. This odd little app doesn't let you change power modes, though. The only option on the Battery Life tab is to disable battery charging until your next boot.

Energy Management app

Figure 2: Energy Management app

I expanded some of the items in Device Manager so that you can see key component details of the 12. Broadcom supplies both the Bluetooth and 802.11b/g radios. But the 10/100 Ethernet NIC is a Realtek RTL8102E. The uncropped version of Figure 3 shows the Intel Z530 Atom CPU and Intel SCH Family USB Host controller.

Mini 12 Devices
Click to enlarge image

Figure 3: Mini 12 Devices

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