Dell Inspiron M101z

The Dell Inspiron M101z isn't much more than a handful, but I'm fond of it. Just big enough to use comfortably with my gigantic hands (they're like bear paws), it's also small enough to easily toss into a bag, even a tiny man-purse. I like it a lot for its form factor and the $580 price point.

This 11-inch widescreen review unit is a rich blue, measuring a measly 11.5 by 8.1 by .9-1.4 inches and weighing 3.4 pounds. The frame feels sturdier than it looks, with virtually no flex. The hinge sits the screen a little bit closer to you than usual, putting it neatly on top of the body of the machine itself. The interior is a clean grey with a black keypad -- easy to look at and not too flashy.

The keyboard and the touchpad are both delightful, with plenty of space between the chiclet keys but not so much that they feel isolated. Responsiveness is smooth and the keys themselves are quiet. The touchpad is also great, a single neatly placed pad with two distinct and quiet keys underneath it. It's rare for me to feel comfortable typing over a long period on an 11-inch keyboard, but the M101z felt great.

Wrapped around the frame are 3 USB jacks, a VGA output, headphone and a microphone plugs, an Ethernet port, and an SD card reader. Inside the frame is a lightweight 1.3GHz AMD Athlon II Neo K325 dual-core processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, 802.11n wireless, and integrated Mobility Radeon HD 4225 graphics. It's reasonably powerful for the price, but certainly not an overwhelming machine for the category.

Don't expect to run games that put much pressure on the graphics chip (like just about any first-person shooter), but games that turn more to the CPU for their juice can be played with the graphics dialed down. The M101z delivered a WorldBench score of 60 in our labs tests, and an unplayable 13.3 frames per second running our Unreal Tournament 3 at high quality levels and 1024x768. 1080p video, however, played fine. On the plus side, the sound from the speakers was surprisingly robust.

A severe downside is the 4 and a half hour battery life, well below what I'd expect to see in a laptop this size. That's to be expected with the dual-core AMD CPU (Intel's ultra-low voltage CPUs tend to be more power-efficient these days), but it's still disappointing. I want my ultraportable to last while I'm taking it all over the place - that's why I have a small little machine. I don't want to have to stop my adventures to charge my computer!

But that noted, I like the M101z a lot. Decent video playback, combined with enough power to run key apps without flinching, makes it useful. The wonderful keyboard and touchpad make it easy to use. And while it could use a little more muscle and a lot more juice, it is a little tiny laptop for under $600. I'm happy to take it adventuring.

This story, "Dell Inspiron M101z" was originally published by PCWorld.

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