Dell’s little box that could has been humming along for a year now, offering Windows users a similar experience to the one that Mac Mini buyers have enjoyed. Replete with attractive, customizable covers, a slim remote control and a full suite of media software, is Dell’s improved Zino finally going to be the PC that conquers the living room?
What’s in the box:
In this configuration, the manufacturer’s suggested price is $799.99. Going with a basic keyboard and mouse knocks it down to just $725.
Build and design
Dell first announced the Inspiron Zino HD some time ago, to moderate praise. The Zino is a compact unit compared to the majority of desktops, measuring under eight inches on a side. Taking a cue from the Mac Mini, the Dell Zino HD also comes in a pretty small box, so there’s not a lot of needless packaging involved. Go Dell.
The unit is clad in a glossy black plastic on four sides and the top; the bottom is comprised of a rubbery black “foot” that prevents the machine from skidding around while simultaneously protecting customers’ furniture from scratches.
The front of the machine offers users access to two USB 2.0 ports, one headphone jack, an SD card reader and the optical drive. A small lighter colored square to the right of the ports shows the presence of an IR receiver, used to capture commands sent by an included remote control.
There’s also an optical drive; depending on the configuration, that drive might play DVDs, burn DVDs or even play back Blu-ray movies.
Both sides are featureless, save for two small extrusions on the bottom of the left side. These serve as points of stability in case a user should decide to orient the Zino HD vertically - a common occurrence, given limited desk and entertainment center space.
As a whole, the unit feels exceptionally sturdy; the solid build quality belies its inexpensive roots. The only real worry most users should have is from shock trauma, but few desktops are routinely carted around and used while moving.
Even Dell’s first iteration of the tiny Zino desktops included a series of stylish lids, all optional extras. The new version scales back on some of the modern, ultra-hip designs in favor of more traditional solid color gradients.
The lids pop off with a quick button press on the rear of the machine; removing and replacing the basic black model with which the Zino ships is a literal snap. The black lid is included at no extra charge with the Zino HD; optional (textured) red, silver and blue colors are an unfortunate $39. Given that they’re just molded sheets of plastic, Dell should really be able to cut the price of those in half.
Inputs and expansion
This part is largely unchanged from the original Zino HD. The front of the machine offers two USB 2.0 ports (no USB 3.0, sorry), an SD card slot, audio out and an IR receiver.
The rear of the machine shows off two more USB 2.0 ports, two eSATA ports for high-speed external storage access, analog line in and out, S/PDIF audio out, VGA and HDMI video out and Gigabit Ethernet in.
Unlike the previous Zino HD, the new Zinos use entirely laptop machinery inside - save for the hard drive. The last units used desktop CPUs that you could upgrade yourself, if you were wily enough.
It’s almost too bad that Dell chose to go with a full on 3.5-inch hard drive. The prime competitor to the Zino, the Apple Mac Mini, forsakes that cheaper storage for a 2.5-inch hard drive. While a bit slower, it also lets them make a much smaller case. The Zino isn’t big, not by a long shot, but it could still be smaller yet.
Maybe that’s something Dell can change for the 2011 model.
It’s also worth pointing out that this configuration of the Zino (which, despite the affordable price, is pretty much a top-of-the-line system) also includes a combo Blu-ray readable / DVD+/-RW.
Despite relatively lackluster growth in the HTPC arena, Dell is making sure that they have a foot in the door, if they want to pursue it. While the Zino unfortunately has no room inside to include TV tuner circuitry, the manufacturer offers USB units up for sale, if users want to go that route.
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