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Is Dell's Inspiron Zino HD a Mac Mini killer?

We take a look at the Dell Inspiron Zino HD.

We would never suggest that Dell's efficiency-minded Inspiron Zino HD can compete with a Mac Mini for productivity. As our lab testing shows, even an Inspiron Zino HD with an upgraded CPU delivers only about half the performance of Apple's most affordable Mac Mini. If it's general speed you want, you'd be wise to look at a more traditional desktop design, which frees you from the thermal constraints that come with a small chassis.

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We're far more interested, however, in how well these little desktops fit into your living room. The Dell, with its HDMI port, makes it simple to pair it with an HDTV. Apple's stubborn disdain of HDMI in favor of DVI, mini DisplayPort, and a nest of adapters makes bringing the Mac Mini into the living room more complicated, and more expensive.

As we found in our review of the Zino, there's more to living room computing than simply having the right outputs. Our $468 Zion review unit and its integrated ATI video chip wasn't quite up to the task of playing back 1080p video. And though it handled Netflix streaming reasonably well, it had trouble with Hulu. The good news is that for an additional $75 you can add a discrete video chip to the Dell, which would likely smooth out its video hang-ups. That would bring the price up to about $545, still $50 less than the Mac Mini. Advantage: Dell.

Dell has received some rightful criticism since the Zino's November 2009 launch for long ship times, and for removing the once promised Blu-ray upgrade option. Dell says that the order delay issues seem to be resolving themselves (Dell.com estimates a relatively reasonable three-week wait for our review config), and it expects to add Blu-ray back to the Zino's options list in the beginning of February. Read our full Zino review for the all of the Zino's various quirks and features, but let it be known here that we believe with the right configuration, this little Dell will surpass the Mac Mini as an affordable living room PC.