Dell is now preparing to jump into the low-cost notebook market with its own creation called the Inspiron Mini 9, which looks to compete against a group of similar offerings from Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Asus and other PC vendors.
Dell officially released the Mini 9 notebook or "netbook" on Sept. 4, but the company had been talking about its offering for the low-cost laptop market since April. The debut of the Mini 9 follows Dell's launch of 10 new notebooks in August for business and enterprise users.
The entrance of Dell into the netbook market will help further validate this market although its ultimate success is yet to be seen. While these notebooks are meant more for students and users in developing countries, some analysts believe that business buyers might see these PCs as an alternative to lugging a full-size laptop onto an airplane. For now, Panasonic has crafted a netbook using an Intel Atom processor, but as a device for use in specific vertical markets such as government.
In August, Gartner released a study that said mini-notebook shipments should hit 5.2 million units by the end of 2008, with 8 million units in 2009. By 2012, Gartner is calling for shipments to hit 50 million.
While Asus has had some of the most notable success in the netbook market with the Eee PC, HP's entrance into the market with the $499 Mini-Note earlier this year showed that major PC vendors would not sit on the sidelines as the market developed. Lenovo also made a strong showing in August with the release of its IdeaPad S10.
What Dell has done different than other vendors is how it plans to sell the Inspiron Mini 9. In addition to its own sales, Dell announced that European wireless carrier Vodafone will add built-in broadband technology for the Mini 9, and then sell the laptop through its Vonafone retail stores and online.
More details on the relationship between Dell and Vodafone, including availability in Europe and prices, will come later this year.
While many of the features of these netbooks are the same, the big differences, so far, from the different vendors is screen size and price. In Dell's case, the company went for an average screen size but an aggressive price that put it below the $399 Lenovo IdeadPad S10 for now.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 9, which will start at $349, offers an 8.9-inch screen and weighs about 2.28 pounds. At the start Dell will sell the Mini 9 with Microsoft Windows XP Home, but Dell will follow with Ubuntu 8.04 later with a customized interface.
The Mini 9 will also use the Intel Atom N270 processor, which offers a 1.6GHz, 512KB of L2 cache and a 533MHz front side bus. Dell will also offer a 16GB solid state drive and the Mini 9 will offer up to 1GB of RAM.
For now, the Mini 9 will offer 802.11 g wireless technology, according to Dell.