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September 3, 2010

The perfectly-portable Dell Inspiron M101Z

The Dell Inspiron M101Z is a funny little PC.  It’s not small enough to be a netbook or powerful enough to be a full-fledged notebook, but it balances both well enough to hit the sweet spot as an excellent travel machine.


If you’re a road warrior like me, you’ll immediately love the Inspiron M101Z’s size. At a compact 11” x 8” x 1” and weighing in at 3.5lbs, the M101Z is outstandingly portable.  Even my super-light and thin Sony VAIO Z looked kind of big next to it.  I’ve been carrying it around in my Tom Bihn Ego messenger for a few days, and I can honestly say that I barely notice the weight.  My copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire weighs just about as much.

I’m using the baseline version (single-core AMD Athlon II Neo K125 processor, 2GB of RAM, webcam, 3 USB ports, HDMI, media card slot and a 250GB, 5,400rpm hard drive), and there is a higher-end version that has a dual-core Athlon II K325 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive.  Despite the more modest specs, performance with the M101Z was surprisingly good and un-netbookish. Both have the same bright, glossy 1366 x 768 resolution screen, which makes viewing documents and web pages a breeze. The PC was responsive when multi-tasking, and handled my usual barrage of Office 2010 apps (Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote) without any issue.   I didn’t try any games, as a PC with 11.6” screen isn’t really optimal for gaming – unless of course that PC is an Alienware M11X.  I did, however, connect my M101Z to my home media library using Remote Media Streaming, and I was very impressed by the sound quality.  The speakers on the M101Z definitely don’t sound like a usual set of tinny, hollow netbook speakers; I filled up my office with surprisingly rich sound.


Ergonomically, the M101Z was the perfect size for me.  The keyboard is full-size and island style so typing was very easy, and the multi-touch trackpad was responsive and smooth.  As with many Dells, the mouse buttons are soft and pleasantly clickable.  I actually typed the first draft of this post on the M101Z in Windows Live Writer Beta, and I didn’t run into the normal eye-strain or hand-fatigue that I usually get when typing on a traditional netbook. 

My only wish was that the M101Z got better battery life.  Coming off many weeks with the ASUS UL30vt, which I can sometimes stretch to run almost 12 hours, the 4 hours of uptime I got with the Dell was a bit disappointing.  That being said, for most average consumers it should be plenty of time away from the outlet.

As with all of their new PCs, Dell did a great job of making the M101Z look as nice as it performs.  You can get the M101Z in one of 5 colors (mine is bright red) and the internal polycarbonate is high-gloss, so much so that at first glance you’d think it was aluminum.  It’s a beautiful machine that looks and feels like a premium box, even though it is value priced.

If you’re looking for a netbook but are worried about the small screen size and keyboard, I highly recommend you check out an 11-12” machine like the Dell M101Z.  You’ll find it to be a great compromise between the ultra-portability of a netbook and the power of a full-sized PC.

Have a question about this or any other PC?  Post a comment, hit me on Twitter or Ask Ben Anything via email.  Your question might appear in my monthly Ask Ben Anything Q&A column.