We've been looking forward to reviewing the Dell Inspiron Zino HD ever since it was announced in November. An affordable, flexible, small-scale desktop, the Zino HD seems like a more accessible version of Dell's older Mac mini competitor, the Studio Hybrid. Our £370 Zino HD review configuration will provide you with a cheap, reasonably effective, standard-definition home media PC. With no Blu-ray drive, and stuttering 1080p high-definition and streaming video playback from the integrated graphics chip, you'll need to upgrade this configuration or look elsewhere for a fully capable, worry-free home-entertainment computer.
Mac mini mimicry
Dell's designers clearly got their inspiration for the Zino HD from Apple's Mac mini. The squat, square design and all-plastic exterior don't quite have the industrial polish of Apple's tiny desktop, but we can also see some people thinking that the Zino HD looks friendlier than the Mac mini. The default colour scheme is all-black, but you can opt for a top plate in various colours and designs for an additional £20 or £30 when you place your order.
The Zino HD is larger than the Mac mini, as well as Dell's other small-scale system, the Studio Hybrid. Although the 197 by 83 by 197mm Zino HD is slightly larger than the Mac mini, Dell's design isn't inappropriate for a system destined for your living room.
If its physical design is well-suited to the living room, we were disappointed to find our Zino HD's specs weren't quite up to the task. Its HDMI video output made connecting a HD telly a breeze, and we were happy to find that the desktop resolution scaled properly and the audio signal travelled from the PC to our Samsung test TV with no trouble. Traditional DVD playback was fine, but we ran into some difficulty when we tried playing video content from various sources around the Web. We had success with standard-definition video from YouTube and Apple's movie-trailer repository, but 1080p trailers from Apple's Web site were completely unwatchable.
With no Blu-ray drive, and inadequate 1080p-playback capability, the 'HD' in this machine's name doesn't ring true, at least for our configuration. For an extra £61, you can upgrade the Zino HD's integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics chip to a discrete Radeon HD 4330 GPU. If you're interested in the Zino as a living-room-based video source, upgrading the video chip should be the first move you make when you place your order, and you may want to consider upgrading to a Blu-ray drive for an additional £130.
We've criticised Dell's desktops in the past for their lack of up-to-date inputs. We're glad to see that Dell is keeping its newer PCs more current. In addition to the HDMI output, the Zino HD also features a pair of eSATA ports. That means you can add fast external storage devices, which would be perfect for expanding this system's video storage. You also get a pair of USB ports on the back, as well as a VGA video port and a pair of analogue audio outputs. On the front, the Zino has an additional pair of USB ports, as well as an SD card input and a single headphone jack. The only other feature we might ask for is a digital audio output independent from the HDMI port.