Dell Inspiron 11z review

The Dell Inspiron 11z is a thin and light laptop with an 11.6 inch display. It’s a bit larger than Dell’s Inspiron Mini netbook line, and it comes with an Intel CULV processor, which provides more power than the Atom chips found in Dell’s netbooks. But the Inspiron 11z is still portable, cheap, and a little slow compared with many of the company’s larger laptops.

The laptop comes with a variety of configuration options. Dell sent me a review unit with a 1.3GHz dual core Intel Pentium SU4100 processor, Windows 7 Home Premium, a 250GB hard drive, 2GB of RAM, and a 6 cell battery. This configuration sells for $544 (or actually, $584, since this model has a $40 jade green lid), but the base model is available for just $379.

Of course, to get the lower price, you’ll have to settle for a 3 cell battery, single core processor, smaller hard drive, and Windows Vista.

Design

The Dell Inspiron 11z looks virtually identical to the Inspiron Mini 10v netbook. The main difference is that the 11z sports an 11.6 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display while the Mini 10v has a smaller 10.1 inch, 1024 x 600 screen. Along with the larger screen, you also get a larger computer chassis, a wider touchpad, and a full sized keyboard. The larger model also has an HDMI port.

Left: Inspiron 11z / Right: Insprion Mini 10v

Overall, the Inspiron 11z has the same simple look as its little sibling. There’s only a single status LED, for example. The black plastic around the keyboard has a matte feel while the silver colored palm rest is shiny (although it doesn’t attract fingerprints.

The base model comes with a black lid. For about $40 more you can get a pink, green, blue, red, purple, or white lid. Or you can use the Dell Design Studio to choose from more than 200 case designs.

Around the sides of the computer you’ll find the usual array of ports including 3 USB ports, mic and headphone jacks, a memory card reader, Ethernet jack, and HDMI port.

There are no access panels on the bottom of the laptop, which means if you want to upgrade the RAM or hard drive, you’re going to have to disassemble the PC and perform some minor surgery. Fortunately the base model ships with 2GB of RAM. But if you think you might want more memory, it might be a good idea to order it when you purchase the computer if you’re not comfortable opening up your PC case.

The Dell Inspiron 11z is designed so that a 3 cell battery will sit flush with the base of the laptop. The 6 cell battery, on the other hand, sticks out like 3 or 4 sore thumbs.

With a 3 cell battery, the laptop is just under an inch thick. But a 6 cell battery adds almost an inch to the height of the laptop in the rear. That causes the keyboard to tilt at an almost-but-not-quite uncomfortable angle. While it’s fairly common for PC makers to add a little tilt to the keyboard, I don’t think I’ve ever used a PC with a keyboard angled quite as sharply as the one on the Dell Inspiron 11z.

On the bright side, because the battery juts straight down, it doesn’t add any space to the back of the laptop. And that allows the screen to open a little wider than the screens on many laptops.

Keyboard and TouchPad

The Dell Inspiron 11z’s touchpad is pretty much the same one used on the Inspiron Mini 10v, but bigger. You would have thought Dell could have used that extra space to place right and left buttons below the touchpad instead of integrating them into the touch area. But they didn’t. And so find this touchpad just as frustrating to use as the one on Dell’s 10 inch netbook.

The idea is that Dell can provide a larger touch surface by using integrated buttons. But this means that in order to click, you need to move your finger to the lower right or left portion of the touchpad and press down. It also means that you have to be very careful not to move the finger you’re using to click, lest you should accidentally move the cursor.

The touchpad does support multitouch gestures such as two-finger scrolling and pinching to zoom.

While the touchpad is an acquired taste (and I do know some people that actually like this style of touchpad), the keyboard is quite nice.

The keys are reasonably sized and very responsive. I didn’t notice much flex in the keyboard, and there’s room for not only full shift keys on the left and right sides, but also a dedicated set of buttons for Home, PgUp, PgDn, and End.

The Fn and arrow keys on the Inspiron Mini 10v were half-sized, but the 11z provides full sized versions of these keys.

Performance

While the bade model of this laptop is available with a single core 1.3GHz Intel Celeron 743 CULV processor, the version I tested had a dual core Intel Pentium SU4100 CPU. I was particularly interested in testing this model because it’s the first laptop I’ve used with that processor.

As it turns out, it performs pretty much exactly as I would have expected. In a series of benchmarks, the Inspiron 11z fell somewhere between a notebook with an Intel Celeron SU2300 CULV processor and one with a more powerful Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 CPU. But to be honest, the performance gap wasn’t that big.

For instance, I tested an Acer Aspire 1410 with an SU2300 CPU, an Asus UL20A with an SU7300 processor, and the Inspiron 11z with the SU4100 CPU. All three models were running Windows 7Home Premium, allowing me to compare their Windows Experience Index scores.

The Acer laptop got a 3.9 CPU subscore, while the Dell hit 4.0 and the Asus UL20A notched a 4.1.

But what does that mean in real-world performance?

I ran my standard set of benchmarks on all three computers. This involves transcoding a 4:34 video using VirtualDub, transcoding a 13:24 audio clip using WinLAME, and copying and zipping a 478MB folder containing 2186 files.

The two tasks that rely most heavily on the CPU are the audio and video transcoding jobs. As the chart shows, the computers lined up in predictable order. The Asus UL20A completed each task the fastest, while the Acer Aspire 1410 was the slowest. The Dell Inspiron 11z was in the middle. But again, the differences weren’t that great.

I’m not sure why the Dell laptop performed so poorly on the folder copy and folder zip tests. My guess was that the hard drive might be a bit slower, but Windows gives the HDD a score of 5.5, which is pretty respectable.

I’ve started running additional benchmarks recently. While I don’t have results for the Acer Aspire 1410, I can compare the Dell Inspiron 11z with the Asus UL20A.

This first chart shows how long it takes to open two of the slowest-loading applications I use on a regular basis: GIMP and OpenOffice.org.

The Dell Inspiron 11z wasn’t quite as fast as the Asus UL20A, but these times are pretty respectable. For comparison’s sake, it took 33 seconds to open GIMP on an HP Mini 311 with an Intel Atom processor. OpenOffice.org took 23 seconds to open on that laptop.

I also had no problem surfing the web with multiple browser tabs open. And thanks to the integrated GMA 4500MHD graphics, the Dell Inspiron 11z was capable of handling 720p and 1080p HD video playback. That includes Flash video as long as you have Adobe Flash Player 10.1 installed. I was able to stream HD video from vimeo.com/hd without any noticeable stuttering.

Finally, I ran a series of third party benchmarks, including PassMark PerformanceTest, Cinebench, and 3DMark06. For comparison’s sake, I’m also including the HP Mini 311 here. While the HP laptop has an Intel Atom N270 processor, it also has NVIDIA ION graphics. That helps it trounce the CULV-powered notebooks in 3D graphics tests, although the HP loses hands down when it comes to CPU-intensive tests.

In all of the charts that follow, higher scores are better.

The HP Mini 311 came out ahead in the OpenGL 3D graphics test, but its Atom N270 CPU wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the other two laptops when it came to rendering high quality images.

The PassMark PerformanceTest 7 benchmark also includes a 3D graphics test, but it consistently seems to give computers with integrated graphics higher scores than those with dedicated graphics such as NVIDIA ION. So I’m going to stop paying attention to that test. In fact, I may just drop PassMark PerformanceTest altogether.

The final test really shows where the HP Mini 311 with NVIDIA ION graphics has the edge: 3D graphics performance. But I was surprised to see that while the Dell Inspiron 11z and Asus UL20A notch similar scores in the CPU section of the 3DMark06 benchmark, the UL0A comes out quite a bit ahead of the Dell notebook in the overall scores. That’s despite the fact that they both feature the same GMA4500MHD graphics. Perhaps whatever factors were affecting the folder copy and zip tests also come into play here.

Overall, the Dell Inspiron 11z performs reasonably well for a thin and light computer. Sure, a PC with a faster SU7300 processor such as the Asus UL20A is going to be a bit faster. But for day to day use, you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference.

Battery

While the 6 cell battery is ugly and gives the keyboard a bit more tilt than I’d like, it does run for a reasonably long time. I was able to get about 5 hours and 40 minutes of run time.

If you pick up this laptop with a 3 cell battery, you can probably cut that run time in half. So if battery life matters to you, I’d suggest going with the higher capacity battery.

You could probably also eke out a little extra run time if you opt for the single core Intel Celeron 743 processor instead of the dual core Pentium SU4100. But you’ll probably also take a performance hit.

Software

The Dell Inspiron 11z ships with Windows 7 Home Premium and all the goodies that come with it including Aero Desktop effects, Windows Media Center functionality, and the new and mostly improved Windows taskbar and start menu. The computer also comes bundled with Microsoft Works, a trial version of McAfee Security, and a number of Dell applications.

Some, such as the Dell DataSafe local backup utility actually might come in handy. Others, such as the Dell Dock can be annoying as all get out.

I have no idea why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to place a docking application near the edge of the screen where it will pop up every time you move your mouse in that direction. I can’t count the number of times I tried to click on the top of an application window only to bring up the Dell Dock instead.

That said, you can change the location of the dock by tweaking the settings. And as dock-style application launchers go, the Dell Dock is reasonably good. You can add or remove shortcuts, for example, by dragging and dropping. You can also just uninstall the Dell Dock if you don’t like it.

Verdict

Like a netbook, the Dell Inspiron 11z is aimed at the sweet spot between price, performance, and portability. But it’s aimed a little higher than a netbook. It’s larger and more expensive, but it offers significantly better performance for everyday tasks such as watching HD video and for less common tasks like transcoding video.

While most people wouldn’t pick up a netbook as a primary machine, if you don’t need a blazing fast processor, the Dell Inspiron 11z with a dual core Pentium SU4100 could in fact function as a primary computer. Its high resolution display features plenty of space to display web pages, HD movies, and other content. And the CPU offers respectable performance.

On the other hand, this laptop has a rather unattractive battery, and one of the worst touchpads I’ve ever used. And while the base model with a single core Celeron processor starts at $379, once you add the $75 dual core CPU option, $35 6 cell battery and $30 Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade, the price starts to approach more expensive laptops such as the Acer Aspire 1810TZ or Asus UL20A.

  • MonkeyKing1969

    That battery is a deal breaker. A total unmitigated disaster in design and portability. Call it a handle, call it a ergonomic tilt for the keyboARD….both lies…that is just horrible design and the fact they don't show that to you shows even Dell is embarassed by what they wrought.

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  • hayden0103

    Don't bash the battery, it is actually a very good handle (at least for my mini 10v).

  • http://liliputing.com Brad Linder

    Yeah, I actually find the Mini 10v handle/battery to work much better than
    the 11z battery though. It's a bit harder to grip on the larger, heavier
    laptop.

  • michael

    I wanted to buy this last month until I saw it real life. The battery pertrudes like 2 to 3 inches and it is the ugliest thing I have ever seen on a machine.

    It is a total failure.

    Dell doesn't realise that not only performance, people are into aesthetics as well?

  • michael

    For such an ugly battery, one should get 10 hrs battery life. 5 hours is a joke. Nearly all machine now give over 8 hrs battery yet they have a flat battery.

  • gman

    Let the CULV vs. netbook battle begin. Get a premium netbook with great graphics, or you can get a single core, lousy battery life, etc. Sure the CULV's will compete at a price point similar to ION netbooks but of course as you point out, you get nothing for the entry model. So you can have a pretend laptop which essentially sucks, or you can get a good performing top of the line netbook. I love Dell and others who advertise a price and market it that way, but when you get to the nuts and bolts, you realize you get nothing for the advertised price. Add this and add that and you might get a decent laptop. BTW, Intel is the only reason the Atom can't reach speeds similar to the CULV. We all know that the only thing holding back netbooks is in fact, the monopoly. I insist the majority of people interested in a netbook style computer would give up their left nut to have gaming abilities over a slightly faster processor with crappy gaming/video capabilities. Sad for Nvidia that Intel have such a monopoly.

  • KitchenCookiesRock

    I have a dv2, and it is quite nice – intel isn't “holding back” the netbook market, the desire for cheap computers is holding back the netbook market. I have an n10j, and although the atom isn't great, it does the job, and the videocard pulls its weight for video… I've got a ul30 on order, and that CULV isn't expensive, nor is it slow – I don't really get what you're saying. They all fill a niche, whether you want price, performance or style – You can get it in a small package.

    Now, if you want price, performance AND style, expect to pay out large, in battery life if not in cash.

  • gman

    I think what I'm saying is that you can't get a CULV with graphic/video abilities as you can with premium/ION netbook. I guess I can't grasp how a faster processor is more desirable than a netbook with ION. Doesn't make sense to me at all. I just think that CULV as it is now, is a netbook wannabee. You can get your dual core processor, but you aren't getting ION netbook type graphics/video. Well you might, but then you are getting more expensive. See my point? A netbook is a true secondary computer. I see CULV as wanting to be that secondary computer, but not being able to pull it off without getting expensive. See, the Intel giant is protecting the interests of the Dell's of the world. Keep the speed of the netbook/Atom slow, then people will have to just up to the higher profit margin CULV computers. Such a scam.

  • John

    This is so sad that such a big company would design an ok looking laptop with a stupid protruding battery. What on earth were they thinking? This is such an embarrassment when you look around and see nice looking laptops from Sony, HP and the mighty Apple. If Steve Jobs ever sees this piece of trash it would send him to the hospital.

    Why would some one designed such a trash?

  • Sophie

    Hate the battery. Looks awful. Cmon Dell. Even I think it is stupid looking and I am a girl.

  • Hendy Purnomo

    someone that design this computer better get fired! Its 2010 and if most of the big companies can hide it,why cant dell do the same?there can be only one reason, dell have bad R&D,seriously I dont know what they think!

  • Michael

    I guess for the culv market, and even the netbook N280 market, Dell is definitely out.

    The old players, HP, Acer, Asus, Samsung and Lenovo is still King. I just bought a Lenovo U150, not bad at all in terms of looks.

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  • KitchenCookiesRock

    I don't get your point at all. You're being unrealistic.

    There are 5 options here:
    Cheap Atom+GMA945 (or pinetrail): Cheap and slow, but good enough for 95% of the population
    Atom+Nvidia: Slow, but with Graphics (some games)
    CULV+intel graphics: Powerful enough for office work without the weakness of an atom (better performance in everything but games)
    CULV+Nvidia: A little more expensive, but hey – You're buying a CULV AND a graphics card (which means you're getting a powerhouse relative to the size)
    AMD NEOx2: Better than an atom and many CULVs, not as good as a top end CULV … and has great graphics.

    What are we missing? The super cheap, super fast, super small portable computer? Well, we're all missing that. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a $100 computer that would play crisis? It would be nice. Will it happen? Maybe in 10 years. At which point, you'll still be complaining.

  • gman

    I think you're missing my point. I'm speaking about price points. CULV+Nvidia? Did I miss something? What models offer that?

    It boils down to this. Makers don't like netbook because of the low margin. So, how can a CULV with Nvidia (or good graphics ability) be priced at a point similar to netbooks? That would cause them the same fits as they have with netbooks. Netbooks are bad news for the makers. If you could get a CULV with graphics and be paying about the same as a netbook (Atom) then they are faced with double jeopardy. Get it?

    Lastly, I completely disagree with 95% of the population thinks pinetrail *barf* with gma945 is good enough. Maybe for the ignorant, but that's about to change. Pehaps people are unaware of gaming abilities on netbooks, but that will change with CES. It doesn't help that the makers really don't want more ION netbooks to come out. You will never convince me that netbook users don't want gaming and video abilities in their netbooks. You might and a few real geeks might, but you are by far in the minority. Have you checked the gaming industry lately? Seems kinda popular.

    In summary, there aren't CULV computers that compare at a price point as the ION netbooks. Ultimately who gives a damn about double core when you can't play games or good videos. If you can get that in a CULV then you are breaking the bank to get. The best option is to buy an ION netbook. EOM.

  • KitchenCookiesRock

    Yeah… you're right. The fast, powerful (ish) computers should cost the same as the underpowered cheap ones.

    MY mistake, and I apologize.

    Also, Asus UL30VT, UL80VT both have nvidia+CULV. I guess if you were actually knowledgeable about atom vs. culv you'd have known that …

    Also, “play good video” and “games” are only 2 things people do with their computers. People also do “work”. If you want a gaming computer, be prepared to pay for it. If you want a super small, super capable one at the price of an ION system … get a clue.

  • KitchenCookiesRock

    Ummm … the chipset they use with CULV is capable of accelerating 1080i … so I guess the only thing you can't do with your $400 CULV computer is play games that barely work on a $1000 ultraportable.

  • KitchenCookiesRock

    “You will never convince me that netbook users don't want gaming and video abilities in their netbooks. “

    I never said that. I said that it's unrealistic to assume top of the line gaming capabilities on a cheap, $300 netbook.

    So you say you want a super cheap, rather powerful and superskinny ultraslim netbook with 24 hours of battery life. I want a million dollars. Both are just as likely to happen, only I'm not complaining about it.

  • gman

    I know I said EOM, but…

    Okay, you are missing my point. Nvidia + CULV at what price point? That is my point. You want to pay that kind of price for a secondary computer? No thanks.

    CULV cannot be at the same price point as netbooks. The industry wanted the CULV so that they can make more profit. To MOVE PEOPLE AWAY FROM NETBOOKS. Therefore, why would they offer up a CULV + ION at a similar price point? If they do, then they are falling on their own swords. They are smarter than that. If you want to believe that CULV is great, that's fine. If you find one closely priced as a ION netbook, then expect to be getting a heavier or less portable computer. It it was a low price, I'd instantly question what's under the hood.

    The reality is, people want a computer for the cheapest price, that can do the most useful things. Throw in portability and you have a netbook. Yes you can pay more for a CULV and get more, but then you don't get the cheapest price. You get a lousy computer whereas the end price point of netbooks provides a more useful computer. At the low end of the CULV segment, you are getting rubbish like Dell is peddling here.

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  • KitchenCookiesRock

    Wow. You've summed up the entire industry … in fact, almost EVERY industry. I believe it is the principle of “You get what you pay for”.

  • ninetynine

    I like CULV's (UL30vt for $800 is good enough to be a primary computer IMO) and think that even the low end CULV with MHD4500 satisfies 90% of the current market because most people do not play video games on 10″ screens and expect netbooks to be able to run it.

    But I agree that Intel is intentionally maintaining an unnecessary gap between CULVs and Atoms to maintain profit margins. I think this is obvious with the Pinetrails. If they wanted to they could go ahead and redefine the performance level people expect from their netbooks but that's not exactly beneficial to them right now. They would rather milk the market with incremental increases because they have no pressure from AMDs hot, middle of the road performance, low battery life alternatives.

  • gman

    Sorry to interject, but aren't the PSP and Nintendo DS quite popular? How about cell phone or smartphone gaming? A 10″ screen is heaven in comparison. Not sure why so many people here are oblivious to the real world and the fact that most of the younger generation want to be able to game on their mobile computer or mobile devices. Watch video, play games, and surf the internet. That's the netbook market. Old people can't type on small keyboards and can't view small screens without straining or changing their eye glasses.

    • Romeolou

      Hey! I resemble that remark !!

  • ninetynine

    If by the 'younger generation' you mean the small percentage of the market that wants to play videogames on a PC as opposed to use it for internet, school or social internet and not to mention the imposing console market that dominates PC gaming.

    What about the DS and PSP? Lets not making senseless comparisons. Those are independent game consoles that are designed to be handheld portable gaming devices with their own dedicated game designers; no one is developing games to be played on netbooks.

    I'm not trying to differentiate between the young generation and the old one, I'm trying to say there are people who want to game and those who don't care in the consumer market and I think most people don't care. But also those people don't really stumble onto tech blogs and debate about it so it's hard to tell

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  • Superman

    Dell realizes that some things are more important than looks, like performance/price ratio.

  • ninetynine

    GREAT deal goin down on Amazon, su4100, 4gb, 250gb $475. $195 less than configuring it from Dell.

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  • premjith

    i think Dell is the strong brand compare to others,why they are not concentrating on batterys,so many are womdering about this…

  • premjith

    Dell is best brand but what about battery life..?

    • Gordiasz

      Simple work with MS Office allow for maximum 2,5h

  • http://twitter.com/srisha_16 Siree

    is the product still in stock?

  • Elyse

    Could I ask your opinion on what sort of netbook would be the best go for a uni student?… I wanted something nice looking which isn't too slow and with a good keyboard and something that suits a student who needs to type etc? The reviews state all the pros and cons of each but there are such differences that its hard to pick the right one for me… any thoughts would be great? Everyone seems to have their own opinions and I've never bought a computer before… I was looking at the Dell mini 10 or 11z but am not so sure after the reviews I have read?

  • Elyse

    Could I ask your opinion on what sort of netbook would be the best go for a uni student?… I wanted something nice looking which isn't too slow and with a good keyboard and something that suits a student who needs to type etc? The reviews state all the pros and cons of each but there are such differences that its hard to pick the right one for me… any thoughts would be great? Everyone seems to have their own opinions and I've never bought a computer before… I was looking at the Dell mini 10 or 11z but am not so sure after the reviews I have read?

  • http://www.laptopbatteriesinc.co.uk/dell-latitude-c400-series-laptop-battery-p-2084.html dell laptop batteries

    Get a premium netbook with great graphics, or you can get a single core, lousy battery life, etc. Sure the CULV's will compete at a price point similar to ION netbooks but of course as you point out, you get nothing for the entry model.

  • http://www.laptopbatteriesinc.com/ mylaptopbattery

    Dell is a famous laptop brand ,It is in good quality

  • ShillMonkey

    someone got fired, apparently, because this “old” laptop is being reborn and released to Sprint customers with 3G/4G data access built-in. The unit Sprint offers has the core i3 processor.