Dell Inspiron Zino HD (AMD Phenom II X4) review: Dell Inspiron Zino HD (AMD Phenom II X4)

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MSRP: $749.99

The Good Blu-ray, wireless networking, and HDMI make this tiny PC ideal for serving up living-room content; streams online HD video flawlessly; can play forgiving 3D games thanks to discrete graphics card.

The Bad Comparably slow productivity performance; upgradable slim-tower competition offers more potential and faster performance for a lower price.

The Bottom Line With its thoughtful features, Dell's charming little Inspiron Zino HD is perfectly suited to serve up HD content to your living room. We wish it had more general computing speed, and design purists will find the Mac Mini more sophisticated, but on balance we recommend it, especially to more casual home theater PC enthusiasts.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Support 7

Dell's new $750 Inspiron Zino HD features beefier specs than the model we saw previously, and with a Blu-ray drive and upgraded graphics power this is now an especially capable living-room PC. Despite its bolstered features, the Zino's slow computing performance makes it look expensive compared with a Mac Mini or competing Windows-based living-room PCs. We can recommend the Zino if you're looking for a small Windows-based PC with a Blu-ray drive to serve up content to your living room with little setup hassle. If you want computing performance over living-room capability, or if you're comfortable making hardware upgrades to an existing system, you can find better value in other small computers in the same price range.

Dell offers the Zino in a variety of configurations, from the $300 baseline model all the way up to this $750 build. Dell dubs the $750 version the "Ultimate Entertainment" model on its Web site, and it's your only option if you want a Zino with a Blu-ray drive. You can configure this version further with more RAM, a larger hard drive, or even a different color for the removable plastic top plate, but you must also accept the AMD Phenom II X4 processor and the upgraded ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5450 graphics chip.

Those components are well-suited to playing HD video, and unlike the first Zino we reviewed earlier this year, this model had no trouble with streaming HD content off the Web. It also handled Blu-ray movie playback flawlessly. With its video prowess, its small size (3.25 inches high, 7.75 inches long and wide), an HDMI video output, and 802.11n wireless networking, the Inspiron Zino HD will make a powerful, unobtrusive addition to any living room equipped with an HD television.

Dell Inspiron Zino HD Apple Mac Mini (spring 2010)
Price $749 $699
CPU 1.7GHz AMD Phenom II X4 P940 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 2GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5450 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 750GB, 7,200rpm 320GB, 5,400rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/DVD burner combo drive dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g/n/ wireless
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Apple OS X 10.6.3

The Blu-ray drive gives the Zino a distinct living-room advantage over Apple's DVD-only Mac Mini. And although we suspect many people would find the sleek Mac Mini and its brushed-aluminum chassis more attractive than the stumpy, plastic Zino, the Dell is by no means ugly. The Zino also features more than twice the hard-drive space of the Mac Mini, plus it comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard. The Mac Mini has no input devices in the box. The Mac Mini is faster, but Dell still has a compelling value to offer on the strength of its living-room features. Each system has compelling strengths for its price, making the value comparison essentially a tie.

While the Dell and the Mac Mini compare favorably depending on usage, the Inspiron Zino HD invites some criticism when you compare it with the rest of the Windows-based living-room PC category. The Zino is the best-equipped of the closed-case PCs out there, but when you look at slim-tower systems from Gateway and HP, the Dell runs into some trouble.

HP's Slimlines haven't fared well the last two times we've reviewed them, but we recently bestowed an Editors' Choice award on the $550 Gateway SX2850-33, and with a fast CPU, wireless networking, and an HDMI video output, it too makes a strong living-room PC. You'll see on our performance charts that that Gateway is also much faster than the Dell. The Zino has the edge with its Blu-ray drive and its updated graphics chip, but you can spend $150 or so and make those upgrades to the Gateway yourself.

We'll grant that not everyone feels confident upgrading computer hardware. For those who are willing, you can relatively easily turn the Gateway SX2850-33 into a living-room system with the same features as the Inspiron Zino HD and also enjoy better computing performance for the same price or less. The only real sacrifice would be the Gateway's slightly larger chassis.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Inspiron Zino HD

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Inspiron Zino HD

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Inspiron Zino HD

Cinebench (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Dell Inspiron i570-7034PBK
Gateway SX2850-33
Dell Inspiron Zino HD
Gateway SX2801-01e
Apple Mac Mini

Although the AMD Phenom II X4 P490 is a quad-core CPU, its 1.7GHz clock speed makes it a very slow chip, especially on tasks that don't support all four CPU cores. That explains why the Inspiron Zino HD comes in last on almost all of our benchmark tests. It placed in the middle on our multithreaded Cinebench test, which gauges how well a system will work with a single program that can support multicore processing, but the Dell is still not fast enough to come near the performance of the less expensive Gateway SX2850-33. For browsing the Web and performing basic tasks, the Dell will be fast enough. Its video playback also isn't an issue here, and it can even play forgiving 3D games, like Portal, at modest image-quality settings. For more involved tasks, like multimedia editing, performance will be slow.

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