The real (sort of) $100 laptop

Once upon a time, we were all excited about the $100 laptop, Nicholas Negroponte's OLPC (One Laptop per Child). While the OLPC did eventually see the light of day, it never did make the $100 price. Instead, OLPCs retail for about $200. Dell, however, will sell you an Inspiron Mini 9 netbook for only $99.

There is, however, a catch. To get the Mini 9 for $99, you have to sign up for a qualifying two-year AT&T LaptopConnect agreement of $60 a month or higher. If that sounds a lot like a mobile phone deal, you've got it in one. Dell and AT&T want to find out if people are ready to treat PCs just as if they were cell phones, where you're really paying for the service instead of the device.

I predicted that Dell was going to explore this service/purchase plan for the Mini 9 a while back, and now the deal is here. And, you know what? I think it's a decent one.

I like the Dell Mini 9. It's a good-sized, decently powered netbook. I have one myself, with Ubuntu Linux, and it's easily my favorite netbook.

The Mini 9 uses an Intel Atom 270 Diamondville CPU running at 1.6GHz. The AT&T base package comes with 512MBs of RAM and an 8GB SSD (solid state drives). The display is a very readable 8.9-inch with graphics support from the Diamondville's built-in 945GSE graphics. It also comes with 3 USB 2.0 ports, an RJ-45 10/100Mbps Ethernet port and a media-card reader. It also supports 801.11b/g Wi-Fi and-this is where AT&T comes in--AT&T built-in cellular mobile broadband.

This is a HSPA (high speed packet access) 7.2 compatible 3G mini-card that comes pre-installed in this model of the Mini 9. I've used this card on other systems, and it has two pluses. One is that, I've found it to be faster than other broadband mobile phone technology. I've cracked 1Mbps speeds downlinks with it, and I average 384Kbps uplinks. The other is that, unlike Verizon and Sprint, you can use your AT&T broadband in Europe as well as the U.S.

The downside of this offer is that you can only get it with a XP Home Mini 9, I'd really rather have seen this deal with Ubuntu, but according to Dell public relations, it's an XP Home only deal. Darn it.

This package is also only available until the end of the month. I strongly suspect though that if there's strong customer demand for it, Dell will continue to offer it.

So is it for you? Personally, I've no use for XP Home, but I can see how if you're on the road and using mobile broadband a lot, this package could be very attractive. If you're already using AT&T mobile broadband, or you're considering switching, I've give this Dell Mini 9 offer serious consideration. It may not, strictly speaking, be a $100 laptop, but it's as close as you're going to find.

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