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)|
|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.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
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.
The Inspiron Zino HD provides little flexibility in the way of internal upgrades, and uncovering all of the upgradable parts will take a determined effort. You can remove two screws on the bottom of the case to take off its bottom plate, which provides access to a single memory slot, but the hard drive and the other memory slots are buried deeper inside the system, and you'll need to remove a fair amount of the case to access them. Most people should consider this a closed box.
On the outside, the Zino presents a few more options. You get four USB 2.0 ports total on the system, and on the front you'll find an SD card reader and a headphone jack. On the back of the Zino you'll find a VGA port in addition to the HDMI output, as well as a pair of eSATA ports, an S/PDIF digital audio output, and a pair of analog audio jacks. The only thing we might like to see is FireWire, but the eSATA ports and the digital audio outputs especially go above and beyond the standard connection options.
|Dell Inspiron Zino HD||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||1.16|
|Sleep (10 percent)||2.41|
|Idle (25 percent)||33.38|
|Load (5 percent)||48.21|
|Energy Star compliant||Yes|
|Annual energy cost||$14.77|
Given its slow speed, we wouldn't expect the Zino Inspiron HD to use much power, and, happily, it doesn't. None of the PCs in this $600 to $750 price range are particular power hogs. The Mac Mini also sets a near-impossible example. Among Windows PCs, at least, the Dell's power consumption falls where it should. Expect to pay just over a dollar or so a month in power costs to operate this system.
Dell covers the Inspiron Zino HD with a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty. You also get 24-7 phone support and a comprehensive support presence on Dell's Web site, as well as on the system itself via various diagnostic and system help applications.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Apple Mac Mini (spring 2010)
Mac OS X 10.6.3; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 2GB 1,067MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 320M; 320GB, 5,400rpm hard drive
Dell Inspiron i570-7034PBK
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X4; 6GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB (shared) ATI Radeon HD4200 integrated graphics chip; 750GB, 7,200rpm hard drive
Dell Inspiron Zino HD
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.7GHZ AMD Phenom II X4; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5450; 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 3.2GHz Intel Core i3 550; 4GB 800MHZ DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 HD integrated graphics chip; 640GB, 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.8GHz Pentium Dual-Core E5500; 6GB 800MHZ DDR3 SDRAM; 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip; 1TB, 7,200rpm hard drive