capsule review

Dell Inspiron Zino HD: Attractive Multimedia Mini-PC Delivers Good Performance

At a Glance
  • Dell Inspiron Zino HD

    PCWorld Rating

    The Inspiron Zino HD provides impressive connectivity and performance in a colorful and compact enclosure.

The ideal home-theater PC is capable of dishing out high-definition media, while remaining unobtrusive--qualities the Dell Inspiron Zino HD excels at. The miniscule 8-by-8-inch shell will fit about anywhere you can think of, is whisper-quiet, and can hook up to your HDTV or computer monitor using its HDMI or VGA connections. It also has two eSATA ports and four USB slots (perfect for connecting external hard drives full of media), and a multiformat media card reader makes it convenient to view photos on the big screen.

The Zino HD starts at $250 and scales up to specs that include a 1TB hard disk. The $557 (as of February 1, 2010) configuration we tested had Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, 802.11n Wi-Fi (important for streaming HD video), 320GB of storage, and 3GB of DDR2 memory.

While most of the minidesktops we see use some variant of Intel’s Atom processor lineup, Dell has gone with a dual-core, 1.5-GHz AMD Athlon 3250e CPU. And what a difference this makes. The Inspiron Zino HD scored 59 in our WorldBench 6 test suite, placing it among the best-performing mini-PCs we've tested. It's only when you spend a couple of hundred dollars more that the Zino HD is outperformed by mini-PCs like the $750 Viewsonic VOT530 (which scored 90), or the slightly larger $900 HP Compaq 6005 Pro Small Form Factor PC (128).

The Zino HD's ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200 graphics make it far from a gaming machine, but most compact PCs aren't designed to tackle anything more complicated than flash in a browser, anyway. You'll be using it to consume content, and the Zino HD will handle high-definition media just fine, whether you're streaming from Hulu or watching DVDs.

The rear of the system delivers a good amount of connectivity for its size--easily greater in its variety than what you’d typically find on a traditional value desktop--and includes two USB slots, one gigabit ethernet port, an HDMI output, two eSATA ports, and a VGA connection. We see the point Dell makes by supporting legacy VGA on its system, given the raw compatibility between DVI and HDMI. Still, isn’t it time we leave this connector in the dust for conventional displays?

The front of the Zino HD is a tad anemic, supporting only two USB ports and a single multiformat card reader. Once you’ve plugged in your mouse and keyboard (which are not included), you’re down to a scant two USB ports on the entire rig! We did say variety, however, not a raw amount.

As expected, you can’t upgrade a single part of the Zino HD, save for its colorful top, a unique little touch that Dell’s built into its mini-PC. If you can somehow get your hands on another Zino HD cover (we didn’t see any in the box), you can swap among ten colorful designs. Given this system’s sheer portability, you’ll likely want to have a few on hand to match the color scheme of whatever room you move this system to (or bookshelf you stick it on).

Ultimately, the compact, portable size of the Inspiron Zino HD is its most compelling feature--even beyond its fast speeds and strong variety of ports for its size. The Value PC category is littered with midtower desktops that destroy the Zino HD in power and functionality, but Dell's mini taps their best features and compresses them into a frame the size of a power supply. In short, the Zino HD comes pretty close to letting you touch the cloud.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The Inspiron Zino HD provides impressive connectivity and performance in a colorful and compact enclosure.

    Pros

    • Good performance for its size
    • Slick design

    Cons

    • Priced similar to more-equipped value tower PCs
    • No upgradability
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