Unless you’re living under a rock, (or new to the netbook space), you know that Dell is expected to announce a low cost ultraportable laptop any day now. Many folks expected the company to to launch the Inspiron Mini yesterday, but instead Dell announced a business-class laptop that it claims can get up to 19 hours of battery life. Pretty cool, but not the $299 laptop I was hoping to see.

I’m still hopeful that Dell will announce something in the next few days. It’s in the company’s best interest to release a product in time for the back to school shopping rush. But it’s already getting a little late to cater to the college-bound crowd. My guess is that the Intel Atom shortage and/or other technical issues may have caused Dell to miss its intended ship date. I hope I’m wrong, but several sources have indicated that Dell planned to ship its netbook in August, and the month is already nearly half over.

With so many other ultraportables flooding the market, why does anyone care about Dell’s entry? There are at least two reasons. The first is that Dell could charge as little as $299 for the Inspiron Mini, making it the cheapest laptop around with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU. And shoppers love a bargain. But I’m hoping Dell will bring something else to the table that’s been sorely missing from the current netbook lineup: customization.

At $299, I don’t expect the basic configuration of the Inspiron Mini to be powerful. It will likely sport 512MB of RAM and the same slow SSD that you find in the Acer Aspire One, which makes Windows XP run pretty slowly. It might give the Aspire One a run for the money in the low-end space. But this version won’t hold a candle to the MSI Wind or Eee PC 901 in terms of performance.

But unlike Acer, MSI, and most other computer makers in this space, Dell typically lets users customize their orders. Want more RAM? Just check a box on the website and pay a few more bucks. Want to upgrade your SSD or swap it out for a hard drive? Check another box. I’m guessing that for $100 – $200, you can trick out your Inspiron Mini to make it a true Eee PC killer.

Right now, Acer, Asus, MSI, and even HP (a company that typically does allow users to customize their orders) are offering only preconfigured netbooks. If you want an Eee PC with a 7 inch screen and a 40GB SSD, you’re out of luck. Dell could be the first mini-notebook maker to offer the chance to mix and match netbook parts to your heart’s content. You know, if the company ever gets around to releasing the thing.

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11 replies on “Why the Dell Inspiron Mini matters”

  1. Hi, I also was waiting anxiously. I have never liked Dell, it’s products or it’s founder. However, this was the first time I would likely have given them a chance by buying it’s products. Instead, I simply received confirmation that they don’t have their act together. If they are ready to get this thing out this month, for the school crowd, an announcement should already have come. I’d say the current, big problems with Inspiron orders being delayed is also a clue. They blew it…..again.

  2. For a company looking to do whatever it can to raise its stock price they sure missed the boat when it comes to a Netbook. Their Brand recognition along would have enabled them to sell tons of these for the back to school crowd. If I was a stock holder I wouldn’t be very happy that Dell missed a golden opportunity to put some needed money to the bottom line.
    Appears that nothing much has changed with Micheal Dells return, they still do not have any idea what’s hot or how to get products out as quickly as other pc distributors..

  3. I waited for the press conference before buying the netbooks this week.

    Dell balked, I walked.

    So instead I got 2 Acer One for the kids for school. Love them.
    One will get the Ubuntu Netbook Remix while the other one will stay as is with Linpus Lite which is a breeze to learn. Anyone who claims that it takes more than 2mins to figure out where everything is has to be a moron.
    Downside is the 2hr battery life.

    I know I will regret it when Dell finally comes out with their E Netbook but there is this little thing called back to school which is happening right now.
    Maybe someone should tell Dell about it.

    The Acer One is sold out at almost every Staples in our city/suburbs. The 349$ didnt hurt it.

  4. If the “leaked” slide presentation is to be believed, the Dell netbooks will have limited configurability, including colors. Indeed, I would not be surprised if there will be only a handful of preconfigured models along the lines of Asus. On the “Configuration Options” slide, it shows 1 option for the Classic, 3 color options for the Video and 1 option for the Video+. For the Slim series, it shows 1 Slim and 2 Slim+ options. The chart lists the available accessories for each model, but no configuration options such as memory choices or upgrades or different storage options/capacities. So, likely a total of 8 preconfigured models.

  5. this is too cheap a machine for options. that kind of choice just adds cost, and this is part of the dreaded race to the bottom. i just don’t see it happening.

  6. Thanks for the reminder. Since Dell didn’t announce the netbook yesterday I was all ready to go ASUS instead, but customization is a big factor in Dell’s favor. The ASUS I’d go for would have been the 900A, so I’ll still be waiting a bit more in either case for US availability.

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