Dell Inspiron Zino HD Review

by Reads (21,849)

Overview

  • Pros

    • Small, sleek, sexy
    • Almost zero bloatware
    • Quiet, cool, versatile
    • Surprisingly expandable
  • Cons

    • Dell still offering Vista Basic
    • Weaker CPU

Dell’s no stranger to the idea of small form factor computers. They’ve offered slim desktops for years, and last year they introduced the interesting bamboo-covered Studio Hybrid desktop. The Zino isn’t quite as out there as the Studio Hybrid with its rounded square shape and brightly colored lid, but it definitely has its advantages. Read on for our full review.

Specifications

  • Processor: AMD Athlon X2 3250e @ 1.5GHz (1MB L2 cache)
  • Memory: 3GB DDR2 SDRAM
  • Hard drive: 320GB SATA @ 7200RPM
  • Optical drive: 8x tray-loading DVD+/-RW
  • Sound: Integrated 2.1 audio
  • Video card: Integrated ATI Radeon HD3200
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet
  • Wireless networking: 802.11b/g/n
  • Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • Dimensions: 7.8 x 3.4 x 7.8 inches (WxHxD)
  • Warranty: 1 year limited warranty

Prices for the Inspiron Zino HD start at $249. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for this configuration is $454.

Build and Design
Obviously the most noticeable aspect of the new Zino HD is the design. It’s roughly the same size as the aforementioned Studio Hybrid, but the styling is less aggressive – which also means it’ll likely appeal to a much broader audience. The unit itself is largely comprised of a black plastic body with a black base and colored top.

 

Dell has made a big push in the last couple of years toward the individualization of their products; one of the easiest ways of accomplishing this task is to let the user have some degree of customization over the products they order. A button in the back of the machine lets users quickly and easily pop the lid off of the computer and swap it out for another color.

The Zino HD comes with a base black top but for an additional fee, you can choose a new lid from a limited list of other colors. Solid colors, like blue, red, purple, green, pink and orange all raise the cost of the Zino by fifteen dollars, while patterned options like ‘Green Scatter’, ‘Red Swirls’ and ‘Blue Lines’ all cost an extra thirty.

The Zino occupies an interesting position in Dell’s lineup – it has a premium look and feel but as part of the Inspiron line of products, Dell considers it to be more of a value-oriented machine. The price enforces that attitude—at $250 starting, it’s a pretty affordable little box. Surprisingly, the build quality is solid. The build and general feel of a computer is often one of the first things to get tossed out the window when it comes to bringing the price down a few notches, and it’s a very pleasant surprise that it didn’t happen here.

Given its general size and shape, a lot of people like to draw comparisons between the Dell Inspiron Zino HD and Apple’s Mac Mini. It’s a fair review, all things considered, even though the two really sort of target two different segments of the market. To be frank, the Zino HD loses to the Mini in a number of areas—processor, build quality, size and design.

The Mini is smaller, sleeker and more stylish; its aluminum frame is better at holding up to damage. It also has a (terrible) built-in speaker. Still, that doesn’t mean that you should rush out and buy a Mac Mini, as Dell’s Zino HD still has a number of features that stand out. Its cheaper, to start, both at its base price and when fully kitted out (it still has a weaker processor, though, unfortunately). In addition, the Zino is far more friendly to tinkerers since it’s easy to disassemble and upgrade, from storage space to memory to even the processor itself.

Inputs and Expansion
Even though it’s small, the Dell Zino HD does pretty well when it comes to its range of ports and expansion opportunities. The front of the machine is sparse for a typical Dell, with the glossy black finish almost hiding what openings there are. There’s the tray-loading optical drive near the top, although it’s limited in scope to an 8X DVD+/-RW burner. There’s no Blu-ray available, here. A slot-loading drive would look so much nicer, but they’re also louder and more expensive. Beneath the optical drive are two USB2.0 ports, an SD card reader and a headphone jack.

The lion’s share of ports and inputs are unsurprisingly found on the back, with two more USB2.0 ports, two eSATA ports, line out and microphone audio jacks, HDMI and VGA out, Gigabit Ethernet and a DC power jack. It’s nice to see both analog and digital video connections, considering the Inspiron Zino HD would do well as a media center type of PC; in a similar vein, the surprising dual eSATA ports would serve end users well should they want to use the Zino as some kind of home or file server.

Inside, Dell has made upgrading the Zino HD’s RAM really simple. All it takes is a couple of screws off the bottom of the machine, and the slots for the RAM are immediately available for swapping out or upgrading. That’s definitely a big change from some other ultra small form factor desktops. The rest of the machine is available for upgrading, too, though it takes a little effort. Screws underneath the lid pop out to reveal a compact but navigable interior.

If you take everything out, you’ll find a traditional 3.5-inch desktop drive, which means a lot of storage space can be crammed inside. Perhaps most surprisingly, however, is the fashion in which the CPU is socketed into the motherboard. There’s no solder and no real restrictions which means, if you feel up to it, you can open up a Zino and replace one of the anemic default CPU options with a stronger version. Stay tuned for our video later this week on how to upgrade your Dell Inspiron Zino HD.


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