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It's Official: Dell Enters the Netbook Fray - InternetNews.
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It's Official: Dell Enters the Netbook Fray

Dell Mini 9 Netbook
Source: Dell

Dell joins the craze of ultraportable, low-cost notebooks with an 8.9-inch netbook starting at $349 with the popular Linux distribution and $399 with Windows XP. Both solid-state and online storage are standard.

Asus' Eee PC was first; Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), Acer, MSI, and Lenovo followed; and now Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) has dived into the flood of low-cost, ultralight laptops commonly known as netbooks.

Starting at $349 and 2.3 pounds, the long-rumored Inspiron Mini 9 is a compact companion built for convenient surfing, chatting, checking e-mail or checking out YouTube, and light productivity work.

Except for a keyboard that omits the usual row of function keys above the number row, the Mini's specs match several of its competitors'. A glossy 8.9-inch display with 1,024x600 resolution shows most Web pages with no need for horizontal scrolling. Under the hood are Intel's Atom N270, a 1.6GHz one-core processor with 2MB of Level 2 cache, and GMA 950 integrated-graphics chipset.

The $349 configuration will feature a custom Dell interface atop Ubuntu Linux 8.04, much as Asus and Acer offer customized versions of Xandros and Linpus Linux, respectively.

Like emergence of the Dell netbook itself, the support for Ubuntu is also not much of a surprise: The Linux vendor has been signaling its plans to enter the netbook space for some time.

The Ubuntu-based unit also includes a shock-resistant 4GB solid-state drive (SSD) that replaces the traditional hard drive, as well as 512MB of memory and 802.11g Wi-Fi as standard equipment. Dell expects this model to ship in a few weeks.

Two additional Inspiron Mini 9 models, which are available today, use Windows XP. For $399 on Dell's Web site (listed as an instant discount from $439), buyers get the same hardware as the Ubuntu version except for a larger, 8GB SSD and a 0.3-megapixel Webcam. The $449 (discounted from $504) top of the line has 1GB of RAM and a 16GB drive.

All versions of the 6.9x9x1.2-inch netbook offer VGA, Ethernet, and three USB 2.0 ports and a media card reader. Dell promises more than four hours of use from the four-cell, 32 watt-hour battery.

Options range from an alpine white instead of obsidian black case ($25) to built-in Bluetooth ($20) and a 1.3-megapixel Webcam ($10 for the Win XP models). A plug-in external DVD-RW drive costs $85. Dell has teamed with online storage provider Box.net to offer a free 2GB of browser-based file upload and access space, with 10GB and 25GB annual subscriptions available.

With another of the world's largest PC makers joining the netbook craze, the trend of producing cheap, ultralight notebooks PCs shows few signs of slowing.

One side-effect of the frenzy has been to propel mobile processors like Intel's recently released Atom to soaring heights in sales. The downside is that for Intel, at least, it's having trouble meeting demand -- despite being the world's largest chipmaker.

Some industry watchers also have criticized the rush to produce netbooks as being ultimately detrimental to PC makers, considering the low margins associated with the category. Still, PC vendors may suffer more by opting out of the trend altogether, JPMorgan analyst Charles Guo told Reuters last month, shortly after Lenovo announced its own netbook entry.