Review: Dell Inspiron M101z

 
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Published: September 30, 2010 11:00 PM
By Fabien Pionneau
Translated by: Jack Sims
At the time of writing, three versions of the Dell Inspiron M101z are available on the Dell UK site. The differences with the version tested here and details of the second and third models are outlined below:

  • Dell Inspiron M101z (N00M1Z04): the version tested here.
  • Dell Inspiron M101z (N00M1Z03): 2 GB of RAM, slower 250 GB hard drive (5400 tr/min).
  • Dell Inspiron M101z (N00M1Z01): single core AMD Athlon II Neo K125 processor, 2 GB of RAM, slower 250 GB hard drive (5400 tr/min).

  • The second configuration is therefore likely to be less responsive than the version tested. That said, for office doc and internet use only, it'll be fine. The single core processor version (N00M1Z01) is however likely to offer much less ease-of-use for multitasking - not much better than most current netbooks.



Somewhere between a netbook and an ultra-portable laptop, the Dell Inspiron M101z is according to Dell, "perfect for home or on the go with the performance of a laptop and the portability of a netbook". It comes with the AMD Vision platform, with Dell not hesitating to term it "a little marvel"... oh yeah!

Handling, design and build: too glossy but good ease-of-use

While the all-glossy fashion seems finally to be changing - we aren't sorry about this one bit - Dell has decided to splash it on all over the place. Hood, screen surround and the keyboard are all in glossy black plastic, which of course picks up dust and fingermarks very quickly. The wrist rest uses much nicer silver plastic and picks up less marks and dust. Although it doesn't go unnoticed, the overall impression is nice. The finish is also very good and the machine looks robust. It's a shame that the base of the screen doesn't pivot behind the chassis as this would have reduced the amount of visible plastic at the bottom. As a result, although the M101z isn't especially bigger than other 11.6-inch models, it does look quite a bit bigger.

Dell Inspiron M101z keyboard

The wide keys (15.5 x 14.5 mm) on the keyboard are well spaced, which gives comfortable keying. Keying is also rapid and quiet thanks to the suppleness of the keys. Only the arrow keys are reduced in size.

The touchpad (multi-touch) is a good size (74 x 38 mm). A similar plastic is used as on the wrist rest and is slightly inset, which marks it out nicely. In spite of the rather glossy and smooth coating, the glide is not subject to finger sticking. It's fluid, precise and nice to use.

Dell Inspiron M101z webcamThe webcam gives a good enough image, with natural colours and acceptable contrast. It does however lack fluidity. Overall, it's fine for standard use in instant messaging.

The fan noise is often a problem with laptops that are equipped with AMD processors. On Intel models heat dispersal is often better. That said, the new Athlon IIs have progressed on this point and the M101z doesn't suffer from too much overheating. The fan can be heard but remains discrete in office doc processing with some acceleration in more demanding tasks. The M101z then becomes noisier though never turns into a real turbine, never becoming unreasonable.

Connectivity is standard, no surprises: 3 USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI, a VGA, a headphones and a mic socket, an RJ45 and an anti-theft. Wi-Fi b/g/n is of course included, along with Bluetooth 3.0.

A small panel opens under the PC to give access to the RAM. Apart from that and the removable battery, there's no access to any of the other components.

Dell Inspiron M101z Dell Inspiron M101z
Dell Inspiron M101z from above

Headphones, mic, 2 USB 2.0s, power supply

Dell Inspiron M101z Dell Inspiron M101z touchpad
RJ45, HDMI, USB 2.0, memory card reader

Touchpad and clicks


Processing: a dual core processor for fluidity, though not performance
Windows 7 index: 3,7. Details: CPU 3.9 - Memory 5.7 - Graphics 3.7 - Gaming graphics 5.0 - Main hard drive 5.9.

The Dell Inspiron M101z that we received (version N00M1Z04) is equipped with a dual core AMD Athlon II Neo K325. This is a low energy consumption model resembling the Intel CULV platform. This CPU actually pleasantly surprised us as it isn't far off the level of performance you get with an Intel Pentium Dual-Core SU4100. A little bit down, yes, but quite a bit cheaper too and it gives plenty for office doc and internet usage, as well as for viewing photos and video. It can also handle heavier operations such as retouching photos and video editing, as long as you're patient (it takes 2 to 3 times longer than on a standard laptop).

Our test protocol is now based on the one used for processors. The index on this model is 41, compared to 100 for our reference machine, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400). On average, the M101z (N00M1Z04) is around twice as rapid as a netbook based on the Atom N450, which scores 19 on the index - you can expect the N00M1Z01 to fall somewhere in between.

Windows 7 Starter starts up in 40 seconds (to desktop), then needs 18 seconds more to load the main programmes. It turns off in 12 seconds.

You can play HD 1080p (Blu-Ray equivalent)no problem on this machine We advise the use of the video playback capacities of the integrated graphics solution. This hardware acceleration allows you to decode Full HD 1080p videos without occupying the processor, which is then freed up for other tasks.

3D gaming: a few old titles no more

Don't be fooled by the fact that the name of the graphics solution begins with words ATI Mobility Radeon HD. The HD 4225 is in fact a graphics circuit integrated into the motherboard and with greatly limited 3D performance. Although video is managed perfectly well, you can't say the same for 3D games. You have to make do with relatively old titles or 2D. More recent games won't be fluid for the most part, even with settings at a minimum, with the exception of certain strategy or adventure games such as The Sims for example.

Audio: headphones or nothing

Thankfully we always have our headphones to hand! The audio that comes out of the M101z's speakers is just about ok for your Windows OS sound effects, nothing more. For music or films, you soon come up against the usual problems with such speakers: predominant treble, no bass and no depth of sound. Best to avoid the "SRS Premium Sound" processing, which only makes the sound worse. The headphones out is however good, with no hiss.

Mobility, battery life: fine but insufficient for an ultra

Battery life isn't a strong point it would seem on laptops equipped with AMD processors. Indeed, the Dell Inspiron M101z will only give you 3 hours of video playback (Wi-fi deactivated, headphones plugged in and brightness at 100 cd/m²). Sure, for a laptop this would be fine, but for an ultra that is positioning itself oppositie models which often give from between 4 to 6 hours for the same usage, this is a bit low!

From the point of view of size, the M101z with charger (105 x 45 x 28 mm) is easy enough to carry around though slightly larger than a netbook.
3/5 Dell Inspiron M101z DigitalVersus 2010-10-01 00:00:00

Pros

  • Wide comfortable keyboard
  • Plays HD video
  • Good responsiveness for office docs

Cons

  • Glossy low contrast panel
  • Insufficient battery life for an ultra-portable
  • A lot of glossy plastic

Conclusion

Dell has chosen to put its faith in the AMD Vision platform for the conception of an ultra that is both economical and with sufficiently high performance for office doc and internet usage. While they have succeeded in doing this, battery life is too limited for this type of machine.

OUR SCORE 3/5
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