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After managing to break my home PC (note – don’t mess around with graphics cards when you still have power to your PC!) I found myself suddenly in the market for a new one. I did have a large tower system (an EZ Cool case that looks remarkable like an Apple G5 server, combined with the innards of a Mesh PC) but used little of its bulk, with the exception of two DVD writers. I therefore decided to look for something more discrete – I rarely use my PC for heavy processing tasks, so something a little less powerful would be fine.

In the end I settled on the Dell Zino HD. Obviously inspired by the Apple Mac Mini, this is a dinky plastic box containing a reasonably powerful AMD dual-core processor.

There are 2 base models to choose from, each available as the base unit only or with a monitor. I originally costed the lower end model, adding various extras that I needed, but I found that because the higher end model already had many of these extras it wasn’t much more. Indeed, I found that for only £70 more I would get a more powerful graphics card, 2GB more memory, a wireless card and a Blu-ray player. Well worth the extra money!

So, that full spec includes 6GB memory, Athlon 6850e processor, Radeon HD 4330 graphics, 1TB hard drive. All of this runs the 64-bit version of Windows 7.

It turned up within a matter of days and the box (which also contains a wireless mouse and keyboard) could be easily carried in one hand (it has a carry handle on the top of the box!). As I showed it off at work, people were truly amazed by its compact dimensions – just 8 by 8 inches.

The lid is replaceable and is available in a number of different colours (mine is red!). The power button resides on the top. On the front is the DVD/Blu-Ray player, which is a laptop style version, 2 USB ports, SD card reader and headphone socket.

On the rear is 2 further USB ports, 2 eSata ports, VGA, HDMI, line out, microphone socket, Gigabit Ethernet, Kensington lock socket and a power connector. No PSU is built in – instead this uses an external laptop “brick”.

As I mentioned earlier, the Zino comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse (both operating from a single wireless USB dongle). The mouse has a magnetic top, allowing you to easily lift it off and replace the batteries. It works well and I continue to use it. The keyboard, however, is a different matter – I found that keys had to be pressed quite firmly and, even then, I was often missing out keystrokes. It’s also quite noisy as well. In the end, using another USB port, I’ve put it in the wired Microsoft keyboard that I bought only a few months ago.

And USB ports are a concern, as it sports just 4 in total (with 2 on the front). But if that’s the worst problem I can find (and it is) that’s not too bad – a Belkin 7 port hub has sorted that out!

Pre-installed trial software was minimal – just McAfee needed uninstalling. Once done, I used the included Dell software to make an image of the build.

I’ve not used Windows 7 before (or Vista), so there’s been a bit of a learning curve for that. I was worried about hardware compatibility with W7 but, as it turned out, the only casualty was my webcam – it was top-of-the-range at the time, but it was quite a while ago and Logitech stopped producing drivers for it after XP. Printer, scanner, etc, all work happily. So, I’m now in the market for a webcam!

My monitor only has a VGA and DVI connector, so I purchased an HDMI to DVI lead from eBuyer (which cost only a few pounds) – this works a treat, but Blu-ray movies take exception to it (DRM is not present on DVI, unlike HDMI). It’s not my intention so sit and watch movies with it anyway, so it’s not a concern – however, when I buy a new monitor I will look out for one with HDMI.

I also ordered from eBuyer a SATA dock – I simply dropped my old hard drive into this and connected it to my Dell using a supplied USB cable – I was then able to transfer all my files over. Quick tip – Windows 7 took exception to me accessing the drive in the dock and just hung when trying to access certain folders. I found turning off UAC resolved this.

One last Windows 7 tip – I had problems sharing files between Win7 and WinXP. It turns out the Homegroup feature of Win7 isn’t compatible, so I turned that off and set up sharing “the old fashioned way”.

[review]Heartily recommended – small, very quiet and rather powerful for its diminutive size.[/review]