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Friday, January 15, 2010

Mac Mini versus Dell Zino HD

This is based off the current specs in January 2010 with CDN pricing.

I am – for the life of me – trying to figure out where the value is in the Mac Mini.  Is it only in the subtle shade of gray on the case?

I shouldn’t be too harsh.  In fact, the the Mac Mini server edition actually looks pretty decent as a small office server (you’d want to use it with a time machine plus off-site backup) but for the entry-level PC it leaves me scratching my head, especially when you consider Dell’s Zino HD.

You’re not going to win any performance awards with either one.  These are not power-user machines designed for the world elite gamers.  These are surfing machines, meant for browsing the web, checking email and watching TV and movies.

The Mac Mini

imageBy default the Mac Mini ships with no keyboard and no mouse.  If you get it up to a respectable sized hard drive (500Gb) and add the ability to type and move the cursor you’re over $1100.

The unit itself sports a decent processor and 4Gb Ram if you go with the larger option available on the site. 

I have a Mac Mini on my desktop at the office, used for compatibility testing on the customer portal web site and a couple experimental applications we’re working on for the iPhone (our entire company revolves around GPS locations).

It does what it is designed to do and is easy to set up.  I’ve had no problems with this machine.

Dell Inspiron Zino HD


By all accounts, these are well-regarded machines that are growing in popularity.  It makes it real easy to leave one of these in the living room attached to your high def display at it’s price point.

With the medium level configuration you get a keyboard and mouse (wow!), 4Gb RAM, a 640Gb hard drive and an upgrade on the wireless card gives you all the latest flavours of WiFi.

The latest iteration comes with Windows 7 Home Premium and clocks in at $598 configured as above.

Comparing the Two: Mac Mini vs. the Dell Zino HD

I started this as a comparison for a friend who asked me about buying a second, small computer to surf, chat and email in the living room, but also wanted to throw movies and pictures on the box.  He was considering a Mac Mini to do the job but suspected the price was a little steep for what he needed.

Now I’m not trying to be too trite here, but the fact is that there isn’t much to compare.  A 1Ghz processor is more than fast enough to browse the web and when properly equipped with a good, HD-video-compressing video card, there is no need for any more juice in the processor to watch videos.

Both video cards hold up fairly well for this application, and while the the Mac Mini processor score is 2x that of the Zino HD, my argument is that the processor in the Zino is already overkill.  Anyone ever hear of a netbook?

So, they both have the juice they need, and the graphics required for a little HD lovin’ on the TV set.  You can add options to level the playing field on both sides for the shortcomings (peripherals, RAM and HDD for the Mini, wireless for the Zino).  No one yet has been able to show to me how Mac OS is better than Windows 7.

They are both more than capable at surfing the web, sending email and watching video.  They are both dumb-as-nails-simple to set up.  Both look pretty sharp (I actually prefer the black Zino to the Mac Mini, the others remind me of iMacs when they first came out with the colors).

All we’re left with is the price.

Mac Mini: $1,107

Dell Zino HD: $598

And I thought there was no such thing as the “Apple Tax”.  For the $500 difference you could buy two Netbooks, lose one and still be further ahead.


  1. I have the lowest-end Zino, and I can definitely report that it is underpowered. AVIs play fine, Netflix plays *barely* adequately (it's jerky) and if you rent movies from iTunes, forget it. The graphics card leaves streaky dithering patterns on my monitor. I only wish I had figured all this out in time to return it!

  2. We just got the new Zino and are enjoying it quite well. We purchased the one similar to the specs you mentioned above.

  3. I think the important thing to point out here is that the lowest end Zino (especially the first rev) possibly wasn't worth getting.

    I *am* talking about the current refresh, of which I've heard nothing bad, and side-by-side competes just fine with the Mini.

    Anon 1: what OS is on that Zino, and was it a first gen?