Dell Inspiron Zino HD - Little Pleasures

Launch SRP: S$649

Design & Features

Body Art 

As you might have guessed by now, the lid is the fashionable and swappable garb of the Zino HD, whilst the rest of its chassis is contrasted in stolid black. To pop the cover, simply depress a quick-release catch located behind the desktop. Dell has kept a sterile look for this Inspiron's front panel, but neither is it devoid of connectivity options. Located just below the Blu-ray optical drive sits a 3.5mm headphone jack, two USB ports and a 4-in-1 card reader. Look behind and there lies the bulk of its IO army. Two more USB ports lie in wait, as well as dual eSATA connectors which are understandably handy if you have any relevant external drives. A HDMI outlet allows you to hook this little baby to your HDTV, and you also get to blaze the network trail with a Gigabit Ethernet port. Other essential connectors include a VGA port, stereo line-out, and microphone jack. Although Dell claims of a digital 5.1 output, the HDMI's audio finesse only speaks of a 2-channel delivery after we've verified its audio properties. 

Dell's Inspiron Zino HD might look like a simple little box but the mini desktop packs more than you could possibly bargain for, including the possibility of a Blu-ray optical drive. The memory card reader is located on the front deck for easy access. 

Unlike a typical desktop chassis, you get to pop open the Zino HD's lid in mere seconds. Last we checked, Dell appears to be running low on stocks at the moment. You might have to wait if you want to customize the system with a colorful imprint other than black.

In the connectivity arena, the Zino HD has enough ports and slots to challenge a full-fledged desktop with a total of four USB ports plus two eSATA inlets thrown into the mix.  Home theater fans might lament the lack of an audio optical outlet, but the HDMI installation (audio and video) should be a welcome treat.

Moving on, curiosity got the better of us as usual, so we pried its bottom lid open just to see what lies beneath. Apart from the PCB's underbelly, we also found two DIMM slots which are readily accessible should you need to upgrade the RAM modules. To remove the 500GB hard disk inside, however, would require more work by removing the second layer beneath the top lid. The Zino HD's base configuration comes with a standard optical mouse and wired keyboard, although Dell has sent us the optional wireless keyboard and mouse bundle (worth S$38.52) instead. More pertinently, our review unit's configuration comes with a 802.11n wireless module which should be a boon for Wi-Fi fans.

Remove the two holding screws beneath the chassis and you'd gain instant access to the dual SO-DIMM slots. Thumbs up to Dell's engineering which makes it easy for you to upgrade or swap the RAM modules when needed.

For S$38.52 more, you get to enjoy a wireless keyboard and mouse which comes with a USB adapter as well. This option is definitely for the minimalist who detests clutter on their desk space.

 

The Soft Side - Software and Features

To be honest, we were expecting the petite system to be laden with a slew of bloatware typical of packaged desktops. On the contrary, the Zino HD's operating system was almost squeaky clean, save for an Apple-esque dock plus a trial copy of McAffee's Security Center and of course, its share of incessant prompts. Dell is flying the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium instead of the 32-bit variant. As such, you might want to check if there's any driver support for older 32-bit hardware if you plan to use it with the Zino HD. The presence of Windows Media Center is another bonus for multimedia playback and streaming jaunts. In addition, Microsoft's recent native support for the popular DivX and Xvid containers on Windows 7 also signals less reliance on 3rd party CODEC packs as well. Since the Radeon HD 3200 GPU (embedded within the AMD 780G chipset) carries a unified video decoder, we ran a number of 720p and 1080p clips on various formats (MOV, AVI and MP4 mainly) to determine the system's HD faculties. Good news is, HD renders were smooth with little signs of stutter or lags, and similar results were gathered with a Blu-ray disc. Moreover, CPU load was kept to an average margin of 5 to 18 percent for 1080p clips. We do have one quibble though. Try as we might, we can't get the Zino HD to cover the entire display via the HDMI link. Even after tweaking a native 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution monitor, a stubborn black border remained around the screen's perimeter. We're hoping you might have better luck with this.

Powered by StarDock, Dell has fastened a number of pertinent icons to the Apple-esque dock with links to often-used applications such as IE8 and Microsoft Office, to name a few. If you think it's too obtrusive, you can disable it under the dock's advanced settings.

Microsoft has peppered the recent version of Windows Media Center on Windows 7 with a few updates, such as a new "Play Favorites" tabs for its Music, Video and Photo segments, just so you can jive to your favorite tunes.

Can the demure Zino HD juggle a 1080p MP4 clip with a data rate of 18Mbps? Yes, it can. The Final Fantasy 13 trailer ran like a dream without glitch or stutter. CPU load was kept below the 18 percent mark mostly. Best of all, the system was nice and quiet too.

Needless to say, CPU load levels were even lower with a 720p file, measuring just about 1 to 5 percent on average. Shown here is a trailer screenshot of The Fourth Kind.

8.5
Overall rating 8.5/10
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Design
9
Features
8.5
Performance
8.5
Value
8
The Good
Compact design
Interchangeable lids
Decent HD playback
The Bad
Unable to display in full-screen