Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Mini 9 – one year later

EXIF_JPEG_T422 It’s been almost a year since I got seduced by a netbook.

Specifically, it was the Dell Inspiron Mini 9. The Mini 9 was introduced in 2008. It was nearing the end of its production life by last February and was about to be supplanted by the Mini 10 which has a full size keyboard and an inch wider screen. Consequently, the Mini 9 was being sold in various places at a big discount. I got an email from Sam’s Club advertising a special online deal for $245, shipping included, and immediately ordered one in red.

I’ve been searching for years for a way to surf, blog and email from the road on my motorcycle trips. I’ve used Treo smartphones for several years, but typing with my thumbs and only being able to blog from places with Sprint coverage was less than ideal. What I needed was a notebook computer small enough to pack on the bike and robust enough to handle the vibration of motorcycle travel.

When I discovered the Mini 9 had Wifi and a solid state hard drive with no moving parts, I was sold.

But the Mini 9 had some limitations. Like no CD/DVD drive, and 1 GB of RAM and an 8GB SSD (solid state drive).

So I shopped around and found compatible memory that doubled my RAM to 2GB. And I found RunCore, which makes SSDs in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB sizes. The 64GB SSD costs nearly as much as I paid for the Mini 9, so I settled for the 32GB SSD. I also bought a 32GB SD card that lives in the SD card slot and functions as my D: drive. Everything I download or create goes onto the SD card, so I don’t load up the SSD with anything but essential software.

The SSD upgrade made it possible for me to add Photoshop, copying the install CD to a USB thumb drive and installing from the thumb drive.

The Mini 9 runs Windows XP SP3, which is just fine with me since it’s reasonably stable and less of a memory hog than Vista. At this point I see no particular advantage in upgrading to Windows 7.

I also bought a combination card reader/USB hub and last month added a Sprint 3G USB card to the ensemble. That’s the Sprint gizmo sticking up from the right side of the keyboard in the photo above. The case I bought at the same time as the Mini 9 can be seen in the upper left corner. It has a zippered pouch on the front that accommodates a Logitech wireless optical mouse, the Sprint 3G device and the AC power cord.

The Mini 9 arrived while I was at Daytona Beach Bike Week last year, so my first chance to use it on a bike trip came in July when I took it to the BMW MOA International Rally at Johnson City, Tenn. They had Wifi at the rally and the Mini 9 performed like a champ.

I gave it a serious workout in late August and early September when I rode to the MotoGP in Indianapolis and then to the Colorado Rockies for a week with my BMW friends the Baloughs. It was relatively easy to find Wifi wherever I went. It’ll be even easier this year now that McDonald’s offers free Wifi nationwide, plus I have the Sprint 3G access.

So I feel like I’m finally properly equipped to blog from the road. Now all I need is a destination and good weather. That may come in a few weeks if the Weather Gods smile upon Bike Week.
Naturally, about an hour after I wrote the above, I got a terminal Blue Screen of Death (BSD) on my Mini 9. Obviously, something had gone horribly wrong with Windows XP.
I'll spare you the details except to say that I ended up putting the 8GB SSD back into the computer, formatting the 32GB SSD and re-cloning the old drive to the new one.
I had to reinstall a few programs, which went smoothly except for Photoshop which refused to activate online because I had exceeded the number of permitted installs on various machines. I called Adobe and got the new activation code and now I'm back in business.
Keeping my fingers and eyes crossed.

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