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Dell Inspiron Micro Desktop review - miniature excellence

Chris Finnamore
13 Feb 2016
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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
199

An inexpensive PC which is just about powerful enough for everyday tasks

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Specifications

Processor: Dual-core 2.41GHz Intel Celeron CPU J1800, RAM: 2GB, Front USB ports : 1x USB3, 1x USB2, Rear USB ports: 2xUSB2, Total storage: 32GB, Graphics card: Intel HD Graphics, Display: None, Operating system: Windows 10 64-bit

We've seen a few sub-£200 Windows PCs, but they've generally been pretty compromised. Some have Atom processors, which are only barely capable of running Windows properly, and others, such as the Intel Compute Stick and Hannspree Micro PC, are hamstrung by slow Wi-Fi and only having a single USB port. Dell's Inspiron Micro Desktop is a different proposition. It may be bigger than the Hannspree and Intel stick computers, but it has the advantage of being a properly usable PC.

Want something more powerful? Take a look at our Best Desktops 2016 guide

The Micro Desktop is about the same size as an Intel NUC, which means it's slightly smaller than a stack of four CD albums. The PC has a useful selection of ports; on the rear are two USB2 ports for your keyboard and mouse, HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The PC is amazingly well served for networking, too, with Gigabit Ethernet and fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi. You also get two further USB ports on the front, one of which is USB3, and an SD card reader on the side. 

This all means that the PC feels refreshingly uncompromised when you set it up; you can even have it permanently plugged into a printer, for example, plug in your camera's memory card and still have a spare port for a USB flash drive. The PC is missing VESA mounts to let you screw it to the back of your monitor, but the Micro Desktop's matt black sides and glossy top are smart enough that you won’t object to looking at it sitting on your desk. The PC comes with a USB keyboard and mouse. The mouse is absolutely fine, but the keyboard's keys are rather wobbly. It's perfectly acceptable for light use, though.

As you'd expect for the price, the Micro Desktop isn’t a performance powerhouse. It has a dual-core Intel Celeron J1800 processor running at 2.41GHz, and it struggled through our benchmarks to a score of 9 overall. The onerous multitasking test, where the PC has to manipulate high-resolution images while encoding and playing back 4K video, was particularly troublesome, as a score of 1 shows. We also have a suite of benchmarks which we run on less powerful hardware such as this, where the 4K video is replaced with 1080p. Here the PC scored 39 overall, which is about what we'd expect to see from a low-end laptop.

We weren’t expecting much from the processor's integrated Intel HD Graphics chipset, and it certainly struggled in our game tests. We managed to get Dirt Showdown up to a just-playable 31fps by knocking the resolution down to 800x600 and turning detail down to Ultra Low, but the game looked decidedly retro at these settings and was still jerky in places. However, the PC could still play office card game favourite Hearthstone smoothly.

When we first booted into Windows 10, we found the Micro Desktop felt very sluggish. Checking Task Manger, we found that Dell Backup and Recovery Toaster was taking up 50% of the CPU. Once Dell Backup finally loaded it didn’t work anyway, and showed the error "not enough space on recovery partition, will exit". Once we'd uninstalled all the Dell software, the PC felt much quicker.

Uninstalling the Dell-branded software also had the benefit of freeing up some much-needed storage space. Out of the box, the Micro PC had 9.7GB of space left on its 32GB SSD, but once we'd purged the Programs list, we had a more useful 17.5GB. Bear in mind that this is still a pretty minimal amount of room, which you'll eat into quickly with an Office suite and a handful of applications. You'll have to be prepared to store most of your files in the cloud, and synchronise only what you need to the Micro Desktop's disk. You could also use an SD card or an external hard disk for extra storage.

The Micro Desktop is just about quick enough for everyday use. There's only the occasional jerk when scrolling up and down web pages, for example, but they do take a while to render; a standard story on the Guardian's website took around eight seconds to fully load, compared to four seconds on a quad-core desktop PC. Complicated web applications such as Google Sheets are also slower on the Micro PC, but still usable. It had no problems playing back 1080p video, however.

We’re impressed with the Dell Micro Desktop. It’s a well-designed, properly usable PC at a low price. It even comes with a half-decent keyboard and mouse. Rivals such as the £160 Asus Chromebox don't have the power of a proper Windows operating system, while the equivalent Intel NUC micro PC would cost around £260 once you'd added storage, RAM and Windows. For that price you could pair the Dell Micro Desktop with a 22in Full HD monitor for a complete system, which seems like excellent value to us.

It’s a shame it doesn’t have more built-in storage and you’ll have to spend some time uninstalling Dell’s software to get acceptable Windows performance, but if you need a PC for simple tasks, it’s a good buy.

Core specs
ProcessorDual-core 2.41GHz Intel Celeron CPU J1800
Processor socketN/A
RAM2GB
Memory typeDDR3
Maximum memoryN/A
MotherboardDell 0GN4PW
Motherboard chipsetIntel Bay Trail
Ports and expansion
Front USB ports1x USB3, 1x USB2
Rear USB ports2xUSB2
Other portsNone
NetworkingGigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Case typeMicro PC
Case size HxWxD48x130x130mm
PCI (free)N/A
PCIe x1 (free)N/A
PCIe x16 (free)N/A
Serial ATA (free)N/A
Memory slots (free)N/A
Drive bays 2 1/2" (free)N/A
Drive bays 3 1/2" (free)N/A
Drive bays 5 1/4" (free)N/A
Storage
Total storage32GB
Memory card readerSD
Optical drive typeNone
Graphics
Graphics cardIntel HD Graphics
Graphics/video portsHDMI, DisplayPort
Sound
Sound cardRealtek High Definition Audio
Sound card outputs3.5mm headset
SpeakersNone
Display
DisplayNone
Native resolutionN/A
InputsN/A
Other hardware
KeyboardDell KB213p
MouseDell MS111-L
ExtrasNone
Software
Operating systemWindows 10 64-bit
Operating system restore optionWindows restore

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