Dell's Inspiron M102z is an 11.6in netbook that makes use of AMD's Fusion technology. It runs an AMD E-350 APU (accelerated processing unit) which combines the CPU and the graphics in one small chip, and it's a lot faster than a conventional 10in netbook based on Intel's Atom CPU.
Build quality and design
The Inspiron M102z is comfortable to use thanks to its relatively large size, which provides a decent-sized (62mm) palmrest and a chiclet keyboard with big keys (16mm) that are well laid out. They keys feel a little stiff and shallow, but you get used to them after a while and we wrote this review without making too many typos (well, no more than usual anyway). The touchpad is a good size (75x39mm) and it's very responsive — in fact, it was a little too responsive (that is to say uncontrollable!) when using the two-finger scroll gesture.
Overall the Inspiron is a little bulky (it weighs around 1.55kg) and it gets thicker towards the back where the battery is located. This is a similar design to other Fusion netbooks we've seen, such as the MSI U270 and Sony VAIO YB Series. Our review unit shipped in a brushed Peacock Blue colour (that's what Dell calls it) that looked good and matched the pre-loaded Windows 7 Home Premium desktop background. It also comes in Fire Red, Piano Black or Lotus Pink.
The finish on the palmrest is smooth and semi-glossy, which means that it can feel a little sticky after you've been typing on the netbook for a prolonged period of time. If you use the netbook for a long time on your lap, you will feel some warmth, especially near the centre where the RAM is located. You'll have to make sure you don't block the left air vent. The M102z's build quality is decent for an inexpensive laptop, but the screen was a little creaky in the top-left corner when we moved the lid up and down.
We're not fans of the glossy bezel around the 11.6in screen, which can be distracting, and the display itself has a glossy finish that reflects room lights. However, it isn't as bad as other glossy-screened notebooks we've seen recently, and because it's a small screen, you can adjust it relatively easily to get rid of reflections.
Around the edges of the Inspiron M102z, you get three USB 2.0 ports, 10/100 Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, microphone and headphone ports, as well as an SD card slot. You also get a webcam, Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi. It doesn't include a USB 3.0 port like the MSI U270, which is a bit of a let-down.
In the performance department, the Inspiron M102z put up decent numbers. In the Blender 3D rendering test it returned a time of 2min 43sec, while in the iTunes MP3 encoding test it recorded 3min 1sec. Both of these times pip the MSI Wind U270, but only just. It was much faster than the Sony YB Series and the Toshiba NB550D in the iTunes test, but it was still slower than the Toshiba in the Blender 3D test. Compared to the Dell Inspiron M101z, which uses a single-core AMD Athlon II Neo K125 CPU, the M102z is noticeably faster; the M101z recorded 4min and 3min 48sec in the Blender and iTunes tests, respectively.
You can employ the M102z for video transcoding if you're really dedicated and don't mind waiting a long time for results — using AutoGordianKnot to turn a DVD file into Xvid took 3hr 40min, which is almost half an hour more than what the Sony took. We think you should only use the M102z for basic tasks only and leave tougher media transcoding tasks to faster notebooks. The unit's hard drive has a 7200rpm spin speed and it recorded a rate of 35.33 megabytes per second in our transfer tests, which is a good result.
With its integrated AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics, the Dell M102z has a lot more oomph than a netbook using integrated Intel HD graphics (such as the Samsung NF210-A01AU), and this was shown in 3DMark06 where the Dell recorded 2272 marks. This is on par with the other AMD E350 Fusion netbooks we've seen, and it means that not only can you undertake basic office work and photo editing tasks, you can also view high-definition video content on a big-screen TV.
The Inspiron M102z performed fine when hooked up to an HDTV, but we did have to adjust the scaling of the TV in order to get the entire Windows Desktop to fit. We had to switch the aspect ratio on the TV from 'wide' to 'native' in order to get it to fit; simply enabling the scaling feature in the installed driver didn't help and it didn't have a manual scaling slider. Videos (both standard- and high-definition) played smoothly and we think the M102z can be used as a nice little makeshift media centre.
The Inspiron really excelled in our battery tests. Its 6-cell, 56 Watt-hour battery lasted 4hr 32min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. This is over an hour longer than the other Fusion-based netbooks we've reviewed and it helps to set the Dell apart in this field.
The Dell Inspiron M201z doesn't have the eye-catching style of the Sony and Toshiba Fusion models we've seen (save for its colour) and it doesn't have USB 3.0 like the MSI, but it does have a long battery life. If you're in the market for an AMD Fusion netbook, and you want long battery life out of it, then you should definitely consider this Inspiron.
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