Thursday, December 10, 2009

DellNet Hijack of my Computer... Resolved!

I recently purchased a Dell Inspiron Zino HD as a gift for my in-laws. Dell fulfilled the order quickly and my initial impressions of the AMD powered brick computer are very positive. It's quite a performer with a host of features all for a very modest price. I would recommend it for anyone with normal email, web browsing, word processing requirements. It's a robust PC in a small, convenient package.

My in-laws are relatively good at using computers, but set-up and configuration can pose confusing options for some people who are not entirely comfortable with information technology, so I took the time to get everything in order before presenting them with the gift. As expected, the Windows 7 Home Premium set-up went along smoothly and in a short time all of their desired software was installed and everything seemed to be in order.

The last thing I wanted to set-up was the default tabs on their web browser. My mother in-law uses Yahoo! Mail, and my father in-law uses MSN Mail, so I thought it would be nice to make and the default tabs when Internet Explorer ("IE") was opened. After making the changes under Internet Options, displayed as expected, but what was the deal with Whenever I entered into the address field, the URL ("Universal Record Locator") would automatically change to What the heck is DellNet?

DellNet was Dell Corporation's Internet Service Provider ("ISP") business. It was introduced in 1999 as a stand-alone ISP option. In 2000, they announced a partnership with the Microsoft Network ("MSN") to provide a customized version of MSN Explorer that included Internet access. It's not entirely clear if DellNet still exists as a service provided by Dell. The service seems to have been absorbed by MSN sometime in the early 2000s. But that is not what this story is about.

The issue here was 1) I did not install or initiate service with DellNet on this brand new installation of Windows 7, and 2) I did not want my attempts to use MSN to be hijacked by Dell. I was very disappointed that Dell would do this. It is nothing less than adware or spyware activity. Even when simply entering into the address field, Dell changed the URL to If I wanted to navigate to, I would have entered it into the address field!

So here's where the fun began. How could I fix this behavior to eliminate the DellNet intrusion? Changing the default pages via IE8's Internet Options had no effect and there were no rogue entries in the HOSTS file. I scoured the Internet looking for a solution. It seems as though there are a lot of bad user and tech support experiences with trying to uninstall the DellNet / MSN service from users' computers. I tried using some of their proposed solutions, such as removing the default registry entries for MSN6 and IE's home page and search service, but those efforts alone had no impact either.

Using Trend Micro's HijackThis seemed like an extreme measure, after all, this was a brand new computer; how could it be infected with adware or spyware already? However, I proceeded to install HijackThis and used it to identify a few additional registry entries that mentioned MSN that I had not found in my previous effort. Still no change... any attempt I made to browse to changed the address to include Dell or DellNet. How frustrating!

Then it dawned on me. On my first use of IE8 with the new Dell Zino, the browser had automatically navigated to This was likely because of a factory-set registry entry. Now I had since removed the registry entry, but the browser continued to use the same hijacked URL. Did the web site install a cookie to redirect the address?

To view the IE8 browser cookies, you use the Internet Options selection from the Tools menu. Then the General tab, Browsing History section, and Settings button. Once you are in the Temporary Internet Files and History Settings dialog, choose the View Files option. A File Explorer window will open where you can view all of the images, scripts and cookies saved by IE8.

I found two cookies had already been installed for, and I deleted them both. After a re-boot to make certain I was starting fresh, the problem was resolved. Visiting or did not revert the URL to or!

Why did this happen in the first place? What is Dell thinking? It's one thing to direct me to the manufacturer's web site on the initial load of the web browser, but hijacking the browser to constantly redirect the URL to their co-branded site is simply adware; it's wrong and not welcome by me.

It's important to note that this issue is only with IE and does not impact access to when using other browsers (i.e. Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari tested to be okay). However, that does not make it a less serious matter.

So what is the solution to removing the hijack? Based on my experience, I believe that it has multiple steps:
  1. Remove all instances of the default browser homepage in the Windows registry with very careful use of HijackThis or manual editing with RegEdit (the Windows registry editor).
  2. Delete all Internet Explorer cookies associated with for all users.
  3. Add and to the Internet Explorer blocked sites under Privacy Settings to keep the cookies from being reinstalled should you happen to attempt to browse (or be redirected by a link) to one of those sites in the future.
If your computer has been hijacked by Dell, I hope that this information helps you access without being redirected to Dell's adware version of the MSN web site.

Monday, November 23, 2009

GE Hybrid Water Heater - Does the Heat Pump Design Really Save Money?

[Editor's Note - Please consider reading all of the visitor comments at  the end of this blog as well. They help provide some interesting insight, both pro and con.]

The old water heater decided to start leaking a few days ago. That was a sure sign that a more serious failure was pending, so we started shopping for a replacement. We live in an all-electric house that happens to be set in an all-electric neighborhood. There's no natural gas service in the area, and none close enough to justify the expense of having service extended to our home. Propane is an option, but the local distributors set their prices driven by visions of insane profits (in an unregulated market) and sadly are known to be less than customer focused. That left us looking for a new electric water heater.

The failing water heater was installed when the house was constructed a little more than ten years ago. In a typical minimize-construction-costs move, the contractor had installed what must have been the cheapest model available. It was a very basic, 50 gallon economy model, so it did well by lasting ten years. If the original Energy Star EnergyGuide label were updated to reflect the latest national average electricity cost of $0.1065 per kilowatt hour (re:, the annual expected operating cost would be about $534. Probably not the worst performer out there, but better models were certainly available.

Our first look for a replacement was at water heaters that use tankless technology. A recently popular choice for many homeowners. This certainly looked like a good idea for a home with natural gas service. However, the electric tankless model has such a high instantaneous demand for energy, that the costs to provide adequate electric service to the unit can be prohibitively expensive. Annual energy consumption data from the manufacturers also demonstrated that annual cost savings for the electric model would only be about $20. The break-even point would be much too long.

Then we learned of the newly introduced "hybrid" water heater from General Electric. Their Model GEH50DNSRSA. GE claims that this new, heat pump water heater design could save consumers $320 per year by using 62 percent less energy than an equivalently sized conventional electric model. We were intrigued.

Upon closer review, the GE Hybrid Water Heater appears to be a high-efficiency electric water heater with a head unit that pre-heats the incoming water using an air-to-water heat exchanger. The heat exchanger relies on the energy content of the ambient air, drawing heat out of the surrounding area. On the surface, this seems like a great idea; use the free heat in the house to pre-heat the water!

The basic concept is sound. Assuming that the incoming water temperature is somewhere between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit (the actual water temperature depends upon your geographic location and water source), warming the water to approximately 65 degrees using the heat from the surrounding air means that you only consume electricity to heat the water 55 degrees instead of 75 degrees (the heat-rise needed to heat the water to 120 degrees). It was fairly obvious to see how GE could claim that this new design could save you 62 percent over a standard electric water heater. In fact their EnergyGuide label boasts that the unit's annual expected operating costs are a mere $198, about 40 percent of the cost to operate a comparably sized conventional electric water heater. That's pretty amazing, and made the engineer in me think about this a little harder.

Now I'm not going to suggest that GE is lying to consumers. The hybrid water heater probably does use 62 percent less electricity than a conventional electric water heater when you compare the energy consumed by the devices alone. However, therein lies the problem. My recollection from thermodynamics class may be a bit cloudy, but I seem to recall that there is no such thing as free energy. The heat that the hybrid model derives from the ambient air is not free. If the heat exchanger used some sort of ground loop or outdoor air source I would be better convinced that there are radical energy savings, but this model is simply going to spew cool air into the room where it is located as part of the heat-exchange process. In most installations, this will require the building's HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) system to work harder, resulting in more energy consumption. My very conservative guess is that about half of the 62 percent savings will be eaten-up by the need to produce more heat to keep the living area comfortable. The actual energy consumption could really be quite worse, but we will give GE the benefit of the doubt.

With this in mind, if the hybrid water heater was going to really save money, it would have to be available for purchase at a very reasonable price. The GE web site publishes the suggested retail price of the hybrid water heater at $1,699 and notes that availability may be limited. They were right. Our calls to local General Electric appliance dealers, plumbing supply dealers and plumbing services left us with only one purchase option within a 500 mile radius of a very large metropolitan area. The sole dealer who had them available for purchase told us that the new models were selling very quickly and that we better move fast if we wanted one. Their price was $1,800, an additional $100 than the manufacturer's suggested retail price... with installation an extra $300 minimum. Ouch! We found that a comparably-sized, high-efficiency, premium model from Whirlpool, Model 188414, could be purchased for only $438; only 24 percent of the GE dealer's price for the hybrid model.

Even though the Whirpool model is labeled as high efficiency, it doesn't match the published efficiency rating of the GE hybrid. The EnergyGuide for the Whirpool water heater suggests that the unit's annual expected operating costs will be $492. The GE dealer was quick to point out that there were also tax benefits to installing the hybrid model; a 30 percent energy efficiency federal tax rebate on the unit's cost and another 30 percent on the cost of installation. Obviously, between the tax breaks and the lower operating cost, the GE water heater must be the better deal... or is it? Let's do some math.

The all-in cost of the GE Hybrid Water Heater is $2,190 (water heater, 5 percent state tax and $300 installation). After the federal tax rebate ($567 on the water heater and $90 on the installation) the total cost is $1,533.

The all-in cost of the Whirlpool conventional water heater is $760 (water heater, 5 percent state tax and $300 installation).

Using the latest national average electricity cost of $0.1065 per kilowatt hour, the annual expected operating cost of the hybrid model is $198, and $492 for the conventional model; but if you factor-in the presumed extra HVAC operating cost, the hybrid really costs about $345 per year to operate.

Using these values, it would take eight (8) years before the hybrid model begins to save the homeowner any money. EIGHT YEARS. If you have to borrow money (i.e. use a credit card) to purchase the expensive hybrid model or if my conservative estimate of the house's total energy consumption is worse, the break-even point will be even longer.

So, is General Electric being deceitful? Well, I would kindly describe it as creative marketing. By isolating the operating cost to the unit itself, the hybrid model can be truthfully touted as less expensive. However, the savvy homeowner would be wise to carefully consider the impact of the hybrid model on the home's indoor temperature, and thus, the actual operating cost. Eight years, or more, is an awfully long time to wait before any savings occur. It was too long for us; we installed the high-efficiency conventional model and are very pleased.

[Editor's Note: Thank you for the thoughtful comments regarding the possible advantage of the heat exchanger cooling an area for installations located in warmer climates. I won't disagree that this could be a benefit. However, in my location, and for that of many other installations, the cooling effect will result in more energy use. My concern remains with GE's simplistic report of "point-of-use" energy consumption versus "whole house" or "full-fuel cycle" energy consumption. It's just downright misleading.]

[Editor's Note: Thank you to Keith Burkhardt, the Marketing Manager for GE’s Hybrid Water Heater for leaving some comments on my post. I found them interesting, but they do not change my mind. Just because GE relies upon the Department of Energy and Federal Trade Commission standard for publishing appliance efficiencies does not make them "right". The fact is, the Energy Star yellow labels are deceitful as they are for the appliance alone and do not take into account the full-fuel cycle impact, nor do they take into account the whole-house energy impact of the appliance. This matter is currently being debated within the energy industry as the comparison is made between appliances fueled by electricity versus natural gas (i.e. Natural gas is far more efficient when you factor-in the losses associated with generating and distributing electricity). I stand by my comments that in the instance of my installation of a water heater in the Mid-Atlantic United States, the GE Hybrid Water Heater would not provide the energy savings that are exclaimed by General Electric.]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pick and Pan: Dyson and Hertz

Like many consumers, there are certain products and services that I have used and absolutely love, and then there are those that I really dislike. Sometimes my experience with these products and services are so great, good or bad, that I feel compelled to tell the whole world. Welcome to my first selections to Pick and Pan.

Have you had the chance to use one of these new types of hand dryers? Now this is what a forced warm air hand dryer is all about! I've seen a few of these installed in select airports and interstate highway rest areas. They may be in other public locations as well.

Their use is brainless; no buttons, levers or switches to operate. You simply insert your freshly washed, wet hands into a wide slot at the top of the dryer. A "blade" of forced warm air automatically begins to blow, simultaneously striking both sides of your hand at the wrist. A vacuum at the bottom of the slot turns on at the same time.

As you slowly withdrawal your hands from the slot, the blade of warm air literally scrapes your hands of any surface water, while the vacuum at the bottom keeps the slot nice and tidy.

Super efficient. No mess. Low noise. Very fast. Cool, modern looking design. If I could purchase one of these appliances for a more reasonable cost (currently about $1,200 retail) I would have them throughout my home.

The high price is probably why you don't see more of these hand dryers installed in public locations, but I would expect that to change over time. The Air Blade just works so darn good, uses less energy (i.e. no HOT air) and leaves no mess. That should prove to be more economical over time.

I've used Hertz exclusively for my business travel ground transportation needs for many years. I've also been a "Hertz Club Gold" member for years, and enjoy the nice perks that come with that status. As much as I value the Hertz customer experience, they do get it wrong once in a while. In this case the failure was so bad that they earned this well-deserved "pan".

On a recent trip to through Boston Logan International Airport, I had reason to rent a car from Hertz. I used their friendly and simple on line reservation system to hold a mid-sized car for my needs to comfortably transport one other business associate about town. According to the Hertz web site, a mid-sized car generally has 2 to 4 doors, seats 4 to 5 passengers, and has luggage capacity of up to 3 suitcases. They suggest that the Mazda 6 fits this description. I would agree and looked forward to driving a car much like the Mazda 6.

Imagine my surprised when I walked to my waiting car to find it was a Toyota Yaris. Now, I'm not hating on the Yaris vehicle or the Toyota brand. I happen to think that Toyota manufactures a fine product. However, in this case I reserved a mid-sized car for a reason, and I do not consider the Yaris mid-sized. It's not clear how Hertz could think that either.

Unfortunately, the Hertz staff on-site didn't seem capable of doing anything to assist me. The experience was not bad enough to sour me on Hertz forever, but if it happens again, it could be enough to have me looking to switch loyalties to another car rental company who knows what a mid-sized car is.

Watch for more Pick and Pan selections coming soon...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

If it's Fall, it's Time to Make Some Horseradish!

I grew up in a family with grandparents and great-grandparents who had immigrated to the United States from Poland. Important ethnic traditions were not limited to holidays; we enjoyed being Polish-Americans everyday! Polish music, dancing, folk art and food were a big part of our everyday life.

Ah yes, the food! One of the best parts about being a Polish-American from a large extended family was enjoying the large variety of delicious, authentically prepared foods. Tasty soups, hearty starches, rich desserts and fine meats and sausages. Polish Sausage, or Kielbasa was a standard menu item at our home. The best kielbasa came from our family's own recipes, and some was even made using pork from hogs that were butchered in the cold of winter on our family farm.

A real Pole does not eat kielbasa, fresh or smoked, without adding some horseradish for robust flavor! Horseradish is technically the name of the plant, but it is also commonly used to describe the grated root of the plant that is mixed with vinegar and used as a condiment. It has a spicy hot flavor that many believe accentuates the taste of the meat. Other cultures use horseradish as well. It is a common compliment to meals of beef, pork, lamb, and gefilte fish, and of course the bloody mary cocktail.

Part of the fun of growing up on a Polish-American farm was making our own horseradish. The plant grew like mad in the fertile soil of the Midwest, and literally spread like a weed when left uncontrolled. You can often find it growing wildly on sites of old farmsteads.

During a visit to our family farm about a year ago, I dug-up a few plants and brought them back to our home in Virginia. I cultivated a small plot next to our backyard compost pile, somewhat out of the way just in case the plants started to spread too quickly. The horseradish greens (i.e. the tops of the heavy rooted plants) looked rather handsome throughout the summer. I knew that the roots were maturing underground.

The rule of thumb that I was taught about harvesting horseradish was that the root had the best flavor, which I assume means "strong", in any month whose name contained the letter "R". In areas where horseradish is cultivated commercially, they typically harvest in the late fall; a tradition that my Father has followed for many years. Since it was the first week of November, and my plants already had about a year to get established, I decided that it was time to make a little bit of the condiment for our own use.

My son and I dug-up a handful of moderately-sized roots. I would have preferred that they had been a bit larger, but they were pretty good-sized for one year's growth. The best flavor seems to come from roots that are about the width of a man's thumb (1 inch or 2.5 cm) or about two years old. The roots that we had from this first year were slightly smaller, about the width of a man's index finger (3/4 inch or 2 cm) and 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) long.

My experience is that once the roots get really large, they get a "woody" texture that makes them difficult to process into a condiment. The older roots also attain a more bitter flavor. Conversely, roots that are smaller seem to taste less strong, and are difficult to process; hardly worth the time and trouble to handle. Fortunately, we had found enough roots that were the appropriate size for our use to make some homemade horseradish!

After you dig-up the roots, the next step is to lop-off the top of the plant, leaving about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) of the root still intact to the leafy stem (see photo above). These tops are then placed back into the soil where they will re-grow their root and be ready to harvest again in a year or two. This is also a handy way to propagate the plant. If you can find someone with a horseradish plot, ask them for some plant tops from their next harvest. Then you can plant them in your own backyard.

After the roots were thoroughly washed from the surface dirt, we cleaned them with a vegetable peeler. The peeler tends to reduce the size of the root as it takes a pretty thick cut from the surface. As an alternative, you can also lightly scrape the roots with a knife, or simply scrub them with a rough pad to remove any dirt and the root's thin outer skin.

Then they roots were cut into cubes about a one inch long (2.5 cm). This peeling and cutting process begins to expose the root's inner-flesh in a way that releases the strong and pungent odor. You will quickly get an indication of the spicy hot flavor that awaits you!

Now it's time to make the actual condiment. Grab a big handful of the cubed pieces and place them in a blender. Then add enough white vinegar to match the depth of the horseradish pieces. Chose a medium-high blender speed and stop every few seconds to push down any remaining cubes with a wood spoon. Don't blend too much. You don't want to create a "cream", rather blend the root cubes until you have a fine grated consistency. Use caution here as the resulting blend will smell very strong and can cause severe pain if a piece of the root or the juice were to get into your eyes, or a cut or scrape. Please be careful.

If you are making a large quantity of horseradish, the blending process could make your home almost unbearable from the strong odor. You may consider doing the processing work outdoors or in a well-ventilated garage or porch to help reduce the burning, teary eyes and runny nose.

Once the correct consistency is reached, we empty the blender contents into a bowl for easier spooning into small jars. That's all there is to it, you are done! The homemade horseradish needs to be refrigerated to stay fresh, and there it will remain good and strong for a couple of months. After that time, the condiment will begin to darken in color from a white to beige. This is also an indication that the condiment is losing its flavor. However, with your own backyard horseradish plot, you can simply dig up a few roots and make a fresh batch whenever you would like... as long as the month's name contains the letter "R"!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hardware Review: Dell Inspiron Mini 10v

I do not normally write reviews of computer hardware, but after recently having the opportunity to spend a few weeks in the "real world" with a netbook computer I wanted to publish this post in hope that it may be useful to someone considering a purchase or comparing models.

The management consulting firm that I work for has several remote employees who travel extensively. The nomadic travel includes air, rail and automobile, and can be simple day trips or long-term assignments at client offices. I have successfully used a notebook computer for many years in this type of work environment. Typically, the models have fallen somewhere between desktop replacements and almost-luggable units. These have been great at the office or at home, but usually less than desirable at the airport, on the plane, or while working from nomad locations like Starbucks. They were all just too darn heavy to carry around all day (i.e. 6 pounds plus, not including the AC adapter), and too darn big for the airplane seat tray, rental car seat or restaurant table (i.e. full keyboard and 15 inch screens).

Therefore, it was decided that we should consider the use of netbooks, and a Dell Inspiron Mini 10v was acquired for testing. Our ace technology manager took delivery and immediately added more memory and installed Microsoft Windows XP Professional and the Microsoft Office Suite of applications. I took it from there.

I will try to go through the list of the computer's features and add my comments on the experience that I had while using the netbook in real world conditions for about three weeks. Where applicable, I will also offer my suggestions on how to make the device more useful should you decide to take the netbook plunge.

Processor: Intel Atom N270 (1.6GHz/533Mhz FSB/512K L2Cache)

This seems to be the standard processor for the class of netbook machines that are currently available in the retail market. There are some slightly faster processors. For example, the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 has the Atom processor running at 1.66GHz. That doesn't seem like enough speed difference to really be noticeable when there are so many other factors that influence performance.

The processor seems peppy enough to be productive with current versions of typical Windows applications. I didn't use a stopwatch, but the observed speed of opening applications and processing simple spreadsheets was quite reasonable. In fact, the Mini 10v was able to accommodate my typical workload of web browsing, email, word processing and simple spreadsheets as good as my more powerful notebooks.

Operating System: Windows XP Professional Edition SP3

The Mini 10v comes with Windows XP Home Edition SP3 installed, but our firm uses XP Professional as the standard operating system so a clean install was made upon delivery from Dell. The Mini 10v had no obvious problems providing the horsepower to make XP Professional hum like it was designed to. I am not certain that Vista would be a good option for the Atom processor, but based on early reports of Windows 7 minimum requirements, I cannot see the Mini 10v having a problem running the next generation of Microsoft operating systems.

Memory: 2GB, DDR2, 533MHZ

Before installing XP Professional, an additional 1GB of memory was installed to supplement the original 1GB, DDR2, 533MHZ in-place as purchased. The additional memory made a big difference on performance. As good as the Mini 10V performed, the combination of the Atom processor and the 2GB of memory had its limits.

The Mini 10v operated like a real trooper when you opened no more than two or three applications at once (i.e. Microsoft Word, Excel and Internet Explorer). However, once you opened several applications, kept some resident applications open in the background (i.e. Yammer or Seesmic), or had several browser tabs opened at once, the performance would begin to suffer. When multiple programs were in-use, memory intensive applications like Adobe Flash Player (needed to view on line video from sites such as YouTube) would bring the Mini 10v to its knees.

Graphics: Integrated Intel 945GSE UMA Graphics Media Accelerator

It was difficult to be critically judgmental on the Mini 10v's graphics performance, since the difficulty that the netbook had with displaying Flash animation and video could just as easily been associated with the Atom processor or 2GB of memory. Since the Mini 10v was able to quickly display high resolution, static images in their full glory, I will place the lackluster Flash and video performance on the limitations of the processor and available memory.

LCD Display: Glossy 10.1 inch display (1024x600) WSVGA

The small(ish) size of the netbook's screen was not nearly as limiting as I expected it to be. Many of us have become spoiled with extremely high resolution, large-dimension LCD panels, maybe even multiple panels for use with one computer. However, having the sharp-looking 10 inch LCD available virtually anytime and anywhere made you forget about its relatively small size.

The glossy finish was a bit of an unfortunate distraction. It produced a glare that was rather difficult to view in the sunlight and bright interior lighting. It also easily showed fingerprints and smudges from normal handling. I would have very much preferred a matte finish, especially considering the mobility of the netbook, its frequent handling and its likely use in locations with bright light.

After a few days of use, it was easy to figure-out ways to work around some of the screen size limitations. Even when turning-off unnecessary toolbars in Internet Explorer, the Microsoft browser still took-up too much screen space. We switched to Google Chrome which is much better at maximizing the usable browser screen space. It was also helpful to move the Windows menu / task bar to one of the vertical sides of the screen. It was even better to set the menu / task bar to auto-hide. However, we took it one step further and installed the open source keystroke launcher, Launchy, which eliminates the need to ever have to look at the menu / task bar at all!

Audio and Speakers: Main speakers, 2 x 1.0W; Microphone, integrated single analog

No real criticism here. The internal speakers are adequate, providing as much fidelity as one would expect from such a small form factor device. The microphone worked surprisingly well for voice and video chat purposes. The combination of the internal web cam and microphone made the netbook particularly useful for voice (and video) over Internet protocol applications like Skype.

Hard Drives: 160 GB SATA HDD 2.5 inch 5400RPM

I recall a day, not that long ago, when having a 20 MB hard drive was pretty awesome. Now as I watch the 5.5TB on my Mac Pro slowly fill with bloated software and space-hungry audio and video files, I find it hard to imagine having less than 500 GB available to work with. However, with a little discipline, the limited hard drive space of the Mini 10v becomes a non-issue.

If you can remember that the netbook is not supposed to be a desktop or notebook computer replacement, you can live with not having your entire iTunes library with you (Hey, that's what your iPod is for!), or too many of your recent NetFlix downloads. Even with XP Professional and the Microsoft Office Suite installed, I had plenty of disk space for most all of my important and current work files (Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations), as well as the last few months worth of email and calendar entries (Outlook PST file). A little diligence here goes a long way, and the standard drive size is more than adequate.

The advent of cloud computing comes to the rescue of the netbook users. I made good use of on line storage and sync solutions, such as DropBox to keep my work files synchronized and current across multiple computers. I also played with on line applications a bit. Google Docs seems to have the most complete set of productivity titles that actually work. However, I have not convinced myself that there are not compatibility issues with the Microsoft Office Suite. I believe that Google Docs would be perfect for the user who did not need to share complex, live documents (i.e. heavy use of macros in Excel) in collaboration with Microsoft Office Suite users. Using applications that reside "in the cloud" would likely make the netbook even more productive.

Optical Drive: External only

The lack of a CD or DVD drive is a non-issue for me. Outside of installation discs, and even that is limited, I cannot recall the last time that I needed to use an optical drive. Between cloud storage and USB drives, I am quite satisfied with access to external read / write storage.

Power: 3-cell 24WHr Li-Ion Battery

Battery life was one feature, or should I say lack-of-feature, that became apparent from the first day that I used the Mini 10v. Fully charged, the 3-cell battery lasted about 2.5 hours in normal, real world use. Add a USB wireless modem and the battery drains even faster. Use an application that hits the hard drive often and you better hope that you are not far from an electric outlet.

It's entirely possible that the optional 6-cell 56WHr Li-Ion battery would help extend the battery life to a useful length of time, but the longer battery life comes with the cost of added weight and size (two significant advantages of the standard 3-cell battery).

Camera: 1.3MP Webcam

No, this camera is not going to be a replacement for your high-tech digital SLR, or even your mobile phones camera for that matter. However, combined with the built-in microphone, this webcam provides you with a very good video chat device. It is functional and it worked well in my tests with both Google's Gmail Video Chat and Skype.

Wireless : Wi-Fi, WLAN 802.11g

The built-in Wi-Fi capability worked fine, and the range was good for a built-in device. There was no issue with connection quality to a number of different brands of access point devices in various circumstances (i.e. inside, outside, and "noisy" electronic environment). I was disappointed that the Mini 10v Wi-Fi card uses the 802.11g protocol and not the faster 802.11n protocol. Since a netbook could truly rely on the use of cloud computing, Wi-Fi speed could become the bottleneck that determines the ultimate usefulness of the computer.

Ports: Kensington lock, AC power-in, 3-in-1 card reader (SD/MMC/MS), Integrated network connector 10/100 LAN (RJ45), VGA connector, (2 ) USB and (1) Power USB, Audio jacks (1 line-out, 1 Mic-in)

No real surprises here. The Mini 10 offers a HDMI port in-place of the VGA connector. It's my experience that the installed base of LCD projectors in corporate conference rooms has not yet caught-up with the HDMI world, so having the VGA connector means one less adapter for me to carry around. I am fine with that.

I was very pleased with the capability of the rather common looking memory card reader slot. What appears to be a simple SD ("Secure Digital") card slot has the ability to accept MMC ("Multi-Media Card") and MS ("Memory Stick") cards as well. Very nice for those who have various types of mobile devices, each of which seems to use a different type of memory card.

The three USB ports is somewhat expected these days. In my world, you can never have enough USB ports, and having more than one that is powered would be really useful for when you need to charge-up that iPod and the mobile phone at the same time.
Dimensions and Weight: Height 1.06 – 1.11 inches (front – back), Width 10.26 inches, Depth 7.19 inches, Weight 2.5 lbs with 3-Cell battery

Well this is really what the netbook is all about now, isn't it? The small size is really quite amazing. There is a bit of a sacrifice in keyboard size, but Dell has done a nice job of keeping the layout similar to the standard keyboard with no obscure key placements. It took me a short time to learn how to effectively type on the keyboard. I can honestly say that after three weeks I still have some minor difficulty touch-typing, but if I sneak a look at the keys while typing, my error rate drops significantly.

At ten by seven inches in size and only 2.5 pounds, carrying the Mini 10v is not unlike toting a small hardcover book. In fact, there were times that I believed that I had forgotten to place the computer in my book bag, which caused me to stop and check. On extended trips, the four pound weight savings from not having to carry the full-sized notebook computer is real; my back and arms tell me so.

The diminutive size also prompted me to carry the netbook along with me more often than I would have taken a notebook computer. I found myself toting the Mini 10v along, much like a book. That proved to be quite useful on more than one occasion. For example, I was able to make a last minute change to a presentation while at the printers and send a colleague's misplaced document by email. Yes, it may have been possible to do these same things with my iPhone, but not nearly as easy as it was with the larger keyboard and screen.


On a mobile computer, the input device is critical to its usefulness. I have already sang the praises of the Mini 10v's keyboard, so I will be honest here and tell you that I think the touchpad is awful. Maybe I am spoiled by the responsive, multi-touch capable pad on my MacBook Air. Then again, maybe not. I believe that Dell would have been wise to spend more money on the trackpad and less on the colorful shells (the Inspiron series is available in six different colors!). I do not like the textured surface of the trackpad. I do not like the lack of responsiveness. I do not like the trackpad buttons being "built-in" under the surface of the trackpad itself. I cannot see a market research effort revealing that a test group found this input device satisfactory.

Since I really like the Mini 10v overall, it is my hope that Dell will correct the trackpad matter in future versions.


The Dell Inspiron Mini 10v is a very good netbook computer. Through my real world use, I have found that the netbook device would not be a very practical replacement for an existing notebook computer for most users. Rather, I believe that the netbook makes a formidable compliment to a mobile user's notebook computer. Save the notebook for the processor and graphics intensive applications that make up the minority of your computing requirements, while using the netbook when on the road to stay connected to the world and to get the majority of your more simple computing tasks completed in a much more convenient and practical manner.