Dell Inspiron Mini 10v – Part 1

After my HP tx2000 notebook started giving up on me, I started looking for something better. I have desktop machines at office and at home and mostly use the notebook for travel for stuff like email, browsing, blogging, etc. However, I do need a bunch of CAD systems to run properly on the laptop when I need to demo my products. I hardly do any coding, drafting or modeling on my laptop. But I still need Visual Studio 6.0, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2008 installed on it so that if needed, I could quickly fix a bug or do a quick customization of one of my products. That’s why I bought the HP tx2000 notebook and added extra RAM, just in case.

However, the problem with the HP tx2000 was that in spite of it being a “small” laptop (12.1″), I still needed to carry an full sized laptop bag to lug it around. I needed to put the extra 6-cell battery because the normal one died in an hour, the charger, mouse and all. I wanted something convenient to carry around and yet be able to do the kind of stuff that could do on a normal laptop.

So I decided to take a look at these things called “netbooks”, also known as mini-notebooks or ultra portables (more information on this Wikipedia page). The same page also says:

By mid 2009, when comparing a Dell netbook to a Dell notebook, CNET noted “the specs are so similar that the average shopper would likely be confused as to why one is better than the other,” noting “the only conclusion is that there really is no distinction between the devices.”

Here I am assuming that the “average shopper” is someone who wants to use his laptop to run Microsoft Outlook (or whatever email program that he uses) to check his email while traveling, not run a MCAD system like SolidWorks, let alone use Visual Studio to compile and build something like a SolidWorks add-in. So I realized that I was in no way an average shopper.

But nevertheless, I dug deeper and asked around a bit (Bob McNeel thought that it looked like a “teenage girl’s computer”). Finally I decided to visit a few dealers in my city to actually see if my long fingers could manage to find the keys because these things are extremely small. I tried a few netbooks. Basically all have more or less the same configuration. All use the Intel Atom processor specifically designed for things like netbooks. All came with 1 GB RAM, which is obviously not sufficient for a high-end engineering application.

I particularly liked the Dell Inspiron Mini 10v, mainly because its keyboard was spread end-to-end without leaving any margin from the edges. So typing on this thing was not that difficult. There is also another more important reason. It came with Windows XP Home Edition. That would save me the trouble of trashing Vista or 7 that the others came with. I absolutely needed XP because because earlier versions of Visual Studio work well on it. Vista complains a lot and I believe Windows 7 will not let them run at all. Also it meant that the netbook would also come with all the drivers for XP and I would not need to go hunting on the internet for old drivers or searching for workarounds.

Everything seemed perfect. So I bought a cute little black piece for Rs. 19,000 (about $415) and hoped that it was going to be money well spent. Whether it was or not is precisely the subject of the next parts of this series.