Dell Inspiron Mini’s Guts Reveal Upgrade Opportunities

You wouldn’t know it from looking at the outside of Dell’s new Inspiron Mini 9, but the new netbook offers a slew of hidden upgrade possibilities for intrepid hardware modders willing to pop open the hatch. Even Dell is touting the ability to mod the system. First, as we demonstrated in this RAM upgrade how-to, it’s very easy to replace the preinstalled memory with a higher capacity DDR2 DIMM. Of course, there’s only one DIMM slot so you’ll have to toss out the perfectly-good 512MB or 1GB to move up to 2GB. On the lower right, there’s a Wi-Fi card which supports 802.11g connections. While 802.11n would probably be wasted on a netbook like this, the default card could probably be replaced with another mini PCIe card that suports the draft N wireless standard. On the lower left, there’s an unused mini PCIe slot next to a space that says WWAN and a pair of wires which are meant to connect to some kind of antenna that’s probably sitting somewhere else in the chassis. Clearly, this is where the mobile broadband card will go when Dell starts offering mobile broadband as an option. For now, though, this is a free slot that can be used for something else.

On the upper left, you’ll see the system’s SSD, which we have identified (through perusing the BIOS and consulting with our friend Kevin Toefel of jkOntheRun) as a STEC UM-SSD. Unfortunately, we have the Linux version of the Inspiron Mini so we haven’t been able yet to run a serious disk benchmark like HDTach or Sisoftware Sandra to tell us what the read/write performance is like. However, STEC’s description of its SSD claims 85MBps read / 25MBps write, which would be a really great read time, but a rather poor write rate.

The really interesting thing about the Inspiron Mini’s SSD is that it’s attached via a mini PCIe slot so, if you can find a mini PCIe drive for sale somewhere, you can replace it or, bettery yet, add to it by using the empty mini PCIe slot on the lower left. We took an ASUS-Phison mini PCIe SSD out of our Eee PC 901and tried to pop it in, but found that the Eee PC’s SSD was twice as long as a normal mini PCIe card and just wouldn’t fit in the space allotted. We couldn’t find a single vendor selling STEC SSDs or any mini PCIe SSD that would fit in this slot, but we know somebody’s going to figure out a way to hack this.

Check out the pictures below that have been posted on Dell’s Service Manual site.

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. jkkmobile Says:

    the internal one from 901 and Eee 1000 would fit there..

    Intel, Sandisk and few others are making pci-e SSDs too..

    ..and in some Mini 9’s there is Intels SSD:

    http://jkkmobile.blogspot.com/2008/09/dell-inspiron-mini-9-dissected.html

  2. Tony Chung Says:

    Even if you wanted to install a wireless N card, so far I can only see two antennas for the G card. N cards require 3 antennas if I’m not mistaken.

  3. Lawrence D'Oliveiro Says:

    Why do you need special software to do benchmarking? Why not just time some large reads and writes using the “dd” command?

  4. dtm4trix Says:

    I have one of these on order. It just so happens that my wife needed a new lappy so when I heard that they were selling them for $99 when you buy certain dell laptops I couldn’t pass it up. I would love to get a bigger SSD and install Windows on it. I have searched and searched but have not been able to find any mini pci-express SSD’s. If anyone knows please post.

  5. Patrick Says:

    Would this WWAN Dell card fit the Mini?

    http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/products/VoIP_Telephony/productdetail.aspx?c=us&l=en&s=dhs&cs=19&sku=313-5166

  6. Broken Says:

    If you upgraded to 2GB of memory and added a larger SSD, you could potentially install Vista Basic?

  7. Ed Jolanski Says:

    Broken, why would you want to ruin a perfectly good machine by putting some awful Vista garbage on it? The biggest feature this thing has is that it comes with Ubuntu pre-installed!

  8. Glenn Says:

    Watching the video at:

    http://jkkmobile.blogspot.com/2008/09/mydigitalssd-on-asus-eee-pc.html

    sure makes you appreciate the speed advantages of SLC vs. MLC. Too bad the MyDigitalSSD drives available for the Eee PC 901 won’t fit in the Dell. A quick search doesn’t seem to come up with anything so far. I assume this will come eventually. A 16GB SLC upgrade to the Dell for like $200 might be worthwhile, since they’re apparently using even slower parts than the Eee PC 901.

    Also note from jkk’s coverage that newer Dells seem to be shipping without the extra PCIe slot for the WWAN, i.e. the connector and anntenna and so forth aren’t there.

  9. logiotek Says:

    Whoever is looking for speedy Mini PCI-e SSD:

    http://www.mydigitaldiscount.com/CategoryProductList.jsp?cat=Browse+By+Product+Type:Solid+State+Disk+Drives:PCI+Express+PCI-e+SSD

    4/8 GB SSDs in Mini Inspirons will be slower than above link (38 MB/s read, 10 MB/s write) but 16 GB ones will be on par or faster (80 MB/s read, 25 MB/s write). Write speed is more of a bottleneck than read speed on the SSDs. I hope this helps. Those MyDigitalSSDs might be better on writing speed than 16 GB STEC SSDs in Mini Inspiron, I’m not really sure. Got to test them out.

  10. indy Says:

    Do yourself a favor and re-format and reinstall XP (if you purchased that version), it runs sooo much better without all the bloat that comes pre-installed. Keep in mind also that the XP version comes with the hard drive compressed, causing slow performance. You can reinstall windows using a flash drive, as shown here: http://tdcomp.blogspot.com/2008/03/install-xp-from-usb-flash-drive.html , its well worth it.

  11. Brad Says:

    Will upgrading ram void warranty?

  12. Sue Says:

    Guess what, Dell apparently changed motherboards, you no longer get the open pcie slot. Dell may very well get mine back I haven’t decided yet. even if you changed plans there’s no reason to emasculate the motherboard that was just nasty and could even be called the old bait and switch.

  13. Nick Says:

    They obviously removed the WWAN when they worked out they could make money by supplying it only as an option with a contract with a Phone provider. I for one am really annoyed as I now have wasted space and do not have the ability to install a WWAN card now or in the future.

  14. Daniel K Says:

    Nick,

    I just got one of the new ones and took a look inside. It seems I have the newer type of motherboard with the WWAN card slot removed. All they took off was the minipci header, and I bet if you could find some somewhere, you could easily solder it back on and see if the bus is still active. Thats what I plan to do at least.

  15. Karen Says:

    Can the Dell Mini Inspiron only be upgraded to 2 gb RAM or can I go to a 4 gb?

  16. admin Says:

    Only to 2GB

  17. jan Says:

    Maybe, if you buy the Kingston 4GB 200-Pin DDR2 SO-DIMM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300)
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820134685

    Not cheap though ($315)

  18. colten Says:

    The WWAN slot will not take mini PCIe SSD HDD. If you put your SSD HDD into that slot, it won’t boot.

  19. mel Says:

    just buy one and when I want to upgrade the RAM I have to bring mine to the service center. They said it will break the warranty seal so I shouldn’t just open the case myself.

  20. Austen Says:

    So, has anyone found a 16GB ssd that does fit?

  21. Burk Says:

    @mel

    Actually, as long as you don’t break anything you will never void your warranty by taking it apart. You can strip the whole thing and reassemble, it will still be under warranty. I can’t even find a warranty seal on mine.

    @Austen

    Mydigitaldiscount.com has three Runcore SSDs sized 32gb, 64gb, and 128gb that fit wonderfully in the Mini 9/Vostro. I upgraded to the 32gb a few months back and it was very easy. There are a bunch of “how to” videos available on youtube and jkkmobile if you are uneasy about doing it yourself.

  22. UpgradeJunkie Says:

    I have Dell Inspiron Mini. I have always struggled to run videos on it, there is delay on some HQ. I would like to upgrade the mini to get higher speed i7 or duo. Is it possible? If so how.
    I see RAM replacement here. I don’t think it can help beyond a certain point.

  23. Michelle W Says:

    I have the Dell Mini 9 and I installed the Kingston 2GB PC2-6400 and I’m still getting the virtual memory and OS memory low messages. Can someone please tell me what to do? My computer properties are showing 1.99 GB of RAM, so my computer is recognizing the card. Anyone?

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