At first glance, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9, Dell's entry into the mini-notebook category, looks like what you might get if you left a notebook from Dell's full-size Studio line of laptops in the dryer too long.

But the sub-£300 Dell Inspiron Mini 9 carries a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU, 1GB of RAM, and a solid-state drive, making it a good starter machine for basic computing at a reasonable price.

Our test configuration, priced at £299, includes Windows XP Home and an 8GB solid-state drive; a 4GB version of the Mini 9 will ship with Linux Ubuntu 8.04 and cost £269. The 8GB drive doesn't leave you much open space once the operating system and the preinstalled software (which includes Microsoft Works) are accommodated.

You can upgrade to a 16GB drive.

One feature that is missing in the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is an additional SD slot to allow users to insert a second SD Card, format it, and use it as another hard disk.

Working without two SD Card slots, we found that our WorldBench 6 test suite required more space than the Inspiron Mini 9's drive could spare. Since we couldn't run our benchmark tests on the Mini 9, we can't directly compare its performance with that of competing mini-notebooks.

We do know that the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 loads Windows in about 30 seconds and fires up Microsoft Works in 8 seconds. Also, it can copy more than an album's worth of music (77MB) in about 7 seconds. In short, it falls in line with what we've seen from other mini-notebooks packing an Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, and Windows. We'll update this review when we obtain more-precise performance results.

The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 performed well in our battery life tests. Its four-cell battery ran for about 3 hours, 34 minutes - far better than the three-cell battery of the MSI Wind, for instance, which lasted just 2 hours, 24 minutes.

As its name suggests, the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is tiny. It measures 27x232x172mm - barely enough room to accommodate the 8.9in screen - and weighs just over 1kg.

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