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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.