Dell Drops Mini 12 Netbook - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers

Dell Drops Mini 12 Netbook

The computer maker says buyers expect more horsepower out of 12-inch notebooks than the Mini 12 delivers.

While other computer makers are pushing the size envelope for netbooks, Dell has quietly dropped the 12-inch version of its mini-laptop line.

Dell said it was time for the Inspiron Mini 12 to "ride off into the sunset," because buyers favored 10-inch netbooks. "It really boils down to this: for a lot of customers, 10-inch displays are the sweet spot for netbooks," Dell said in the company blog.

Dell goes on to say that customers who buy a 12-inch system "expect a little more horsepower." Netbook performance in general has been an issue among consumers buying the PCs as inexpensive alternatives to larger, mainstream notebooks. Netbooks are intended as a secondary mobile PC for people primarily interested in checking e-mail and surfing the Web on the road.

Nevertheless, Dell's experience with the 12-inch model does not appear to be shared by other computer makers. In May, Acer and Lenovo introduced 11.6-inch and 12-inch netbooks, respectively, for less than $500. The systems were launched to meet customer demand for larger netbooks with full-size keyboards. In Lenovo's case, the IdeaPad S12 boosts performance through the use of an Nvidia Ion graphics processor.

The term "netbook" was first used by Intel in defining laptops with screens 10 inches or less. The systems typically sell for a starting price of between $300 and $499. Most netbooks today use Intel's Atom processor.

Because of their price and good-enough performance for basic computing tasks, netbooks have become the fastest-growing category in the PC market during the economic recession. However, the low price translates into very narrow profit margins for computer makers and Intel, which charges less for Atom than for its dual-core chips used in mainstream systems.

To encourage use of dual-core products in 12-inch or higher notebooks, Intel charges more for Atoms used in the netbooks with screens larger than 10 inches, according to tech blogger Michael Arrington of TechCrunch. Arrington argues that Dell's true motive for dropping the 12-inch netbook is to steer customers to higher margin laptops.

While acknowledging Arrington's post in its blog, Dell does not address the argument. The company was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

Larger, mainstream laptops are available from Dell at a price similar to netbook pricing. For example, the company sells a 14-inch Inspiron laptop with an Intel Pentium Dual Core chip for a starting price of $449. However, the system weighs nearly five pounds, while the Mini 12 is less than three pounds. Lighter systems are generally more expensive to make.

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