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A New Inspiron Zino HD: Same Size, More Power

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It's no secret to folks around here is that I'm a PC and home theater enthusiast. That's one reason that I liked the original Zino HD desktop when we brought it out last year—it made for an awesome little home theater PC (HTPC).

Fast forward almost a year later and we've got a new version that improves on the original. How so? Faster AMD processor options, faster memeory (now DDR3), better integrated graphics performance (it utilizes AMD's Mobility HD 4250 processor), and better discrete graphics performance with the 1GB AMD HD 5450 graphics card. Besides those components, the new Zino HD features an integrated infrared receiver so that you can use it with a Media Center remote without needing an external IR receiver plugged into one of the USB ports. The Inspiron Zino HD is available now on Dell.com in several countries around the world at a starting price of $299. It will be available in retail stores like Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Staples later this month.

The Zino HD packs a lot of performance in a small 8-inch by 8-inch case. We support a slew of AMD processors in this thing, from single-core Athlon II, dual-core Turion II, and triple and quad-core Phenom II processors. More on hardware in a bit.

Just like the product it replaces, the new Zino HD is a piece of cake to connect to your HDTV. All it takes for audio and video output is to connect it with an HDMI cable to your television or receiver. If you're using it as an HTPC, you can also order it with an optional Blu-ray drive. Just like you'd expect, if you have a 1080p HDTV set, you'll be able to enjoy Blu-ray movies in true HD. And because it's a full-blown PC, it's great for streaming video. Whether you use the integrated gigabit Ethernet controller or opt for the integrated dual-band 802.11n option, you can stream HD video from several places on the web… sites like Hulu, YouTube, or Netflix for example, or listen to music on sites like Pandora and my new favorite, Rdio.

Beyond the version 1.3 compatible HDMI port, the Zino HD has all kind of connections: VGA for video, two USB 2.0 (plus two more in front), ports an Ethernet jack, two external eSATA ports, a speaker and mic input and an S/PDIF digital audio connector. The integrated audio supports up to 7.1 through HDMI and the optical S/PDIF port. Click on the image below for a closer look:

We ship the Zino HD with Flash 10.1 installed, and that means you'll be able to watch H.264-encoded videos with GPU hardware acceleration. The end result is that whether you go the discrete route or the embedded graphics, you will be able to enjoy a smooth HD playback experience without having to max out the processor speed. Microsoft's Silverlight also supports GPU hardware acceleration on both the integrated and discrete graphics card options. That means HD-optimized Netflix streaming as well. Since I couldn't get my hands on a Zino HD this time around, I asked the folks in our performance lab what kind of processor speed delivered solid HD playback experience. According to their tests, all the dual core processors and above offered smooth HD.

Another cool thing that's happening in the industry is that GPU acceleration is also occurring at the browser level. Microsoft pushed that discussion into high gear with the recent beta of the IE9 browser. We're in for some pretty cool stuff as that develops. Bottom line, even if you go with the integrated AMD HD 4250 graphics option, you will be able to see the benefits of GPU acceleration. Upgrading to the discrete HD 5450 option, those benefits are even more pronounced, and 3D gaming performance receives a pretty big boost if that's part of your agenda with the Zino HD.

Here's what I  can say… if you're looking for a slick little machine to use as an HTPC, the new Zino HD is the best option we've ever made. But, for those of you who aren't as geeky as I am, the Zino HD also fits the bill as a space-saving desktop that still packs a punch. Check out the new Inspiron Zino HD here.

Zino HD with keyboard and mouse

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