Using the Dell Mini 9 for development

01Jul09

I recently purchased a Dell Mini 9 netbook with the intention of using it for a little c# hacking on the go or when the missus or my three year old daughter hog the desktop. There are lots of good reviews on the web but I couldn’t find much to persuade me either way if it was actually a usuable machine for running Visual Studio 2008 and ReSharper. My main concern was the 9inch screen and the 1024×600 resolution.

I took a gamble and I’m really happy I did. For me, the Mini 9 is easily one of the best bits of kit I’ve ever bought. Regarding some of the negative reviews, I think you have to have realistic expectations – I know it’s going to be slower than my quad core Xeon, and I know I’m going to have to do a lot more scrolling than I do for my 24inch monitor. I also surf the web on my PSP so I know what slow really is!

Mine has 2GB RAM and 32GB SSD HDD. I also installed Windows 7 which I’m really loving right now. I think this OS fits the Mini much better than XP. The startup time is just under 30 seconds. Shutdown time appears quite slow and I expect this is to do with the slow SSD write times. Running applications are fine with no noticable slowdown. Visual Studio can take about 15 seconds to startup. Once in, editing code, even with ReSharper enabled is pretty quick. Compilation is quick too – but then for someone who used to wait half a day to do a c++ build, c# is always quick!

The keyboard is on the small side but not difficult to use. On the GB keyboard only the ‘\’ key is out of place. I use the Home and End keys quite a lot and this involves pressing the Fn and arrow keys which I did initially struggle with. Despite what is reported, there are F11 and F12 keys. You have to hit Fn+Z and Fn+X. You may need to get the latest bios if this doesn’t work for you.

The screen size and resolution are actually fine. I run all the apps in fullscreen mode if they support it and 1024×600 doesn’t feel small. I’ve seen a Sony netbook with a similar sized screen but much higher resolution and that for my eyes was too small. The most important question though is how much code can you get on the screen. The following image shows a screen grab of VS running in fullscreen mode. I’m using the ProggyTinyTT font.

 VisualStudio_DellMini9_1024x600

With the tool windows unpinned and set to popup when a compilation or unit test run fails, you get a decent amount of space to write code. Learn the shortcut keys and you’ll have no problem.

For me, the Dell Mini 9 is a very usable light development machine. Mine’s fully set up now and it gets used everyday – more than my home desktop. I use it for browsing, watching channel 9 vids, development, and writing this blog. Now I have no excuse for not updating it more frequently. In a recent company meeting I plugged a projector into it and connected to a webex – well, it would be rude not to show it off! It’s a proper PC but also a fun and very cool toy.

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3 Responses to “Using the Dell Mini 9 for development”

  1. 1 Justin

    I was looking for validation using Postsharp and came across your project, then this blog.

    I’m in the market for a small laptop/netbook and read with interest the above (Dell Mini 9) review, as my requirements are similar to your own. Do you run SQL Server as well as Visual Studio? If so, can you let me know how well it performs. I’m not interested in the database performance, per se; more the whole database/web app/debugging experience. Memory really is the key to this. I previously had a lousy spec Compaq and development was a non starter.

  2. 2 Mike

    I don’t run SQL Server but Scott Hanselman apparently does (express): http://www.hanselman.com/blog/DellMini9PracticalDevelopersReview.aspx

    I found when researching for a cheap netbook it was very difficult to find one that met all my needs. Unfortunately there are sacrifices. The Sony I mentioned had 3GB RAM but the screen resolution was too high. I was initially looking at the Mini 10 as the keyboard is slightly larger but it appears you can’t upgrade the RAM and it’s fixed to 1GB. I still really love the Mini 9 and I use it pretty much every day. It’s not a fast machine but very usable. Sorry I can’t help you on the memory question.

  3. 3 percent20

    How much space does windows 7 take up on your drive and are you still liking it almost 2 months after posting this?

    Are you still doing dev stuffs on it etc… ?

    Am looking at maybe getting a netbook inside the next few months. Any suggestions or recommendations?

    Thanks


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