Dell Mini 9 Review

This is a guest post from Tom Ratas over at TestFreaks, if you are looking for netbook reviews or other reviews give them a try.

Dude I got a Dell! Well physically it’s a Dell Mini 9, however the brains of this tiny beast is all OS X. Recently on TestFreaks I detailed how to install Leopard OS X onto the Dell Mini 9 using the speedy RunCore SSD drives. In total this machine should run under $500; less if you shop around and have a retail Leopard Install Disk.

My impetus for having a netbook size Mac is two fold – for the past three years I have always worried about my MacBook Pro walking away when not in my physical proximity and secondarily, that machine is cumbersome to carry around.

Unfortunately Apple does not offer a low price laptop alternative that is both affordable and light weight. Luckily thanks to Apple’s migration to the Intel platform getting OS X running on some Intel based Windows machines is possible. The Dell Mini 9 is one of those PCs. In fact all of the hardware on the Dell Mini 9 functions without any sort of hacked drivers after the OS X installation.

For the past six weeks I have used the netbook version of OS X. Here are my impressions of the machine. As an owner of the original Mac Mini Solo Core machine, I can say speed wise that the Dell Mini 9 runs on par with that machine. Boot up is snappy with the SSD drive, applications open quickly and run as advertised. I would not recommend using it for any processor intensive tasks such as graphics work, video editing or gaming, but it functions well otherwise. There are reports of folks running more intensive programs on the Dell Mini 9 Forum.

Physically the 9” screen provides plenty of viewing real estate especially compared to my first netbook – the Asus eeePC 701. One useful trick to maximize viewing is to auto hide the dock when not in use. This gives the user the entire screen surface as a work area. Some others have chosen to keep the dock on the side of the screen, but I prefer my dock at the bottom. It’s the PC user in me, I guess.

The Dell Mini 9’s keyboard is much better than I anticipated. As a person who is over six feet tall, I have hands that are not really made for smaller keyboards; however I have found typing on the Dell to be a pleasant experience. The only issue I have is with the location of the non-QWERTY keys such as the apostrophe, slash, and delete keys. Supposedly there is a variant of the keyboard that many users on the Dell Mini 9 Forums have recommended which places these keys in a more classic orientation. Here is some more information on the international keyboard.

My main complaint with the OS X on the Dell Mini 9 does not have to do with the operating system but with the physical device. To me the trackpad and mouse buttons are somewhat lacking. The trackpad is small and not as responsive as the MacBook versions. Mushy is the best way to describe the track pad buttons. Due to their proximity to the keyboard, it is not uncommon for the heel of ones hand to hit these buttons throwing your on screen activity off course.

In addition, the trackpad gestures that the Macbooks are famous for, do not work on the Dell Mini 9. There are some work around available online but they are not 100% perfect and I have not tried them.

Not all is terrible with this area of the Mini 9 as the presence of a right click button will offer comfort to the newer OS X user, especially those who used PCs before hand.

Personally, I prefer to use an external mouse with my Mini 9 when possible. The Logitech Revolution VX is my travel mouse of choice.

Another useful trick to avoid interacting with the trackpad is using Quicksilver in conjunction with the Abracadabra plug in. This allows gesture commands to be used for starting programs, inputting commands and much more.

It is important to disable Legacy USB support in the Bios screen to allow sleep mode to work correctly. Otherwise if there is a USB device plugged in, then the machine will not wake up from its resting state.

Closing the cover puts the machine to sleep and lifting up the cover awakens it. If you leave the machine alone and it goes into standby, just hit the power button to wake it back up.

The folks who designed the DellEFI program were nice enough to install the Remote Disc feature that is found on the Macbook Air. I was able to install iLife 09 onto the Dell Mini 9 using this technique without a hiccup.

Using the Dell Mini 9’s SD card reader, I was able to install an 8GB SDHC card and run applications from that location. This saves precious space on the SSD. For instance I run my iLife09 and Microsoft Office applications from this location without any issues. Simply create an alias for the Application stored on SDHC and drag the alias into your Application folder to keep everything organized.

Overall the Dell Mini 9 experience has exceeded my expectations. I now have a lightweight, portable OS X machine that helps me get work done on road and if it does get stolen I will not be losing a machine that costs over $2000. Functionally the Macbook Mini 9 handles all the everyday tasks – web surfing, checking email word processing and iChatting just like its bigger brethren.

If you own a Mac or want to try out OS X for the first time, the Dell Mac Mini 9 is a relatively low cost investment. It also provides a nice conversation starter when people see OS X running on netbook.