Dell Ditches Its Big Netbook

By  |  Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Dell Mini 12I swear I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But if I were, I’d be suspicious about the circumstances surrounding the death of Dell’s Mini 12 netbook, which the company is discontinuing. Along with Lenovo’s IdeaPad S12, it was one of the few netbooks on the market with a 12-inch screen, so its absence will be felt.

The company says that “Larger notebooks require a little more horsepower to be really useful,” but like Mike Arrington, I’m left flummoxed by that–there’s no reason why some folks might not be happy with a low-cost, basic-specs laptop that happened to have a larger screen than most netbooks. And there’s no technical reason not to build one, which is presumably why Dell built the Mini 12 in the first place.

The system packed an Intel CPU and ran Windows XP (or Ubuntu), but both Intel and Microsoft have decidedly conflicted feelings about netbooks–especially ones with 12-inch screens. And now Dell’s lost interest in large-screen netbooks, too. Perhaps the Mini 12 just didn’t sell particularly well–although Dell didn’t say it wasn’t popular, just that it was a bad idea. That’s sort of the party line of the whole industry.

In the end, there are really no such thing as netbooks–there are just notebooks in various sizes with different specs at different price points. Maybe Dell will be able to configure a 12-inch notebook with better specs than the Mini 12 and bring it in at a price point close to the Mini (which started at $429). If not, it’s telling consumers who want a fairly roomy screen but who don’t need a lot of processing power that they can’t get both in one machine. Anymore.


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6 Comments For This Post

  1. John Baxter Says:

    I must say I’m confused. Which is pretty normal.

    On Dell’s page of home laptops today (or this hour, or however often they mess with it), we see “Starting Price” for

    Inspiron 13: $499
    Inspiron 14: $449
    Inspiron 15: $379

    So bigger screens are cheaper? (No, presumably the larger screen laptops have lesser starting features to match the lower starting price. Or they can use bigger cheaper components. But it is very strange when laid out as above.)

    The Inspiron 17 does make it back up to the $499 “starting price”.

  2. JDoors Says:

    “[Dell] says that ā€œLarger notebooks require a little more horsepower to be really useful …”

    In other words: People buying larger screens EXPECT and DEMAND more horsepower, so we’re not going to try to sell decontented big screen netbooks any more — we wanna make money.

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    @john–notebooks with larger screens often ARE cheaper. (For instance, those few 13″ ones that aren’t MacBooks are often pricier than 15″ models.) It’s because of economies of scale, at least in part–if LCD factories are using most of their capacity to make 15″ screens, they’re going to be a better buy than 13″ ones.

    @jdoors–if Dell is killing the Mini 12 because it didn’t sell well, or because a high percentage of people who bought it told Dell they regretted the decision, its death makes sense. But I know at least one person who finds the idea of a basic laptop at a low price with a 12-inch screen appealing. (That would be me.) In the long run, of course, you’re right–the industry’s odd stance on netbooks stems from the fact that it’s hard to make money selling them or the components inside them.


  4. Mike Cerm Says:

    I can’t say that I really mourn the loss of the Dell Mini 12. I love the idea of a 12″ netbook, but the Dell Mini 12 wasn’t that great. It had only a 1.3GHz Atom in it’s base configuration, and used a 1.8″ PATA hard drive (really slow). I’m holding out hope that they’ll just replace the model with another 12″ model that’s a little nice and a little cheaper.

    As for WHY it was canceled, I just don’t think Dell could make it work. 10″ models have really become the industry-standard and are right in the sweet-spot of size and spec. In order to get decent battery-life, Dell had to use a Z-series Atom chips to offset the power-drain of the larger screen, each which drove the cost way up.

    Fully spec’d with Windows and the 1.6GHz Atom, the Mini 12 was over $500. You can easily get an Inspiron 13 or 15 for that price, and have a much more powerful system (though also much larger). If you didn’t need all that power, or wanted something in the netbook family, the Mini 10 was only $350 or so. All things being equal, $150 is a lot to pay, if all you’re getting is the slightly larger screen.

    Dell couldn’t make and sell something so squarely in the “no man’s land” between real laptop and real netbook, at a price that made sense. I’m sure that there will be plenty of other companies who will gladly fill the void (as Lenovo, Samsung, and Acer are already doing). After all, 12″ screens are basically the smallest that will still accommodate a full-size keyboard, which is a sticking-point for a lot of people. It makes sense to have a “netbook” for those people, but only if you can deliver it at netbook prices.

  5. JDoors Says:

    @Harry: "I know at least one person who finds the idea of a basic laptop at a low price with a 12-inch screen appealing. (That would be me.)"

    I'm sure someone, somewhere, would like a cheap laptop with a 22" screen. That's not reason enough for a company to lose money making one.

    Harry, you're just ahead of your time. In ten years we'll all be wondering why anyone would EVER have used a teensy 12" screen or paid SO much for a laptop. šŸ˜‰

  6. sandviƧ panel Says:

    Saved as a favorite, I really like your blog

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