So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
MSI Wind U100
It ain't easy bein' breezy
- Comfortable to use, 10in screen, 80GB hard drive, long battery life, competitive price
- Chassis has poor balance for lap use, no expansion slot
For its sub-$700 asking price, you can't go wrong with the MSI Wind. It was responsive in our tests, and has plenty of storage and a large screen. Most importantly, its battery lasts a long time. This ultraportable is also quite comfortable to use.
Price$ 699.00 (AUD)
The MSI Wind looks less like the ASUS Eee PC and more like the HP Mini-Note PC. It weighs 1.25kg and has a 10in screen, and it offers a keyboard that is very easy to type on. It's not a unit without failings, but there aren't many.
In fact, the Windows XP-based Wind is close to being the perfect ultraportable laptop. Although we wish it was about 200g lighter, the Wind is supremely easy to carry around. It's an ideal choice for travellers who want a small, inexpensive laptop with plenty of storage for digital photos and low-resolution videos.
A 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU runs the MSI Wind, along with 1GB of RAM and integrated Intel 945G chipset-based graphics. The unit has a conventional 5400rpm 80GB hard drive. These components made the Wind breeze through most tasks. It didn't feel sluggish at all while using the Internet and listening to iTunes at the same time. However, you won't be able to perform many taxing tasks on it. Although you can use it for basic photo editing and for encoding music, you should leave those tasks for your main PC.
If you were to encode music on the Wind, for example, you'd be in for a long wait. Using iTunes, it took 8min 25sec to convert 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s. This was about 23sec faster than the Eee PC 901, but it still shows that the Atom is best used for the simple things in life, such as running basic office applications and Web browsers, and playing music files and videos, rather than creating them. To put the CPU's speed into perspective, the Wind took 7min 24sec to complete a two-threaded 3-D rendering job in Blender 3D. The same test takes about 1min to complete on a top-of-the-line laptop (like the HP Compaq 8510p, for example).
The Wind's 10in screen is a standout feature, even though it doesn't a support a native resolution higher than 1024x600. The large screen makes it easy to view icons and text at that resolution; it's also bright, with wide viewing angles from the side. However, there is colour-shift and a noticeable lack of contrast when the screen is viewed from above.
While the 80GB hard drive that's installed is roomy enough for installing plenty of programs and storing masses of data files, it's also a fast drive. It averaged 16.3MBps in our file transfer tests, which is a good speed for an ultraportable and about 6.8MBps faster than the solid-state drive in the Eee PC. This is one of the reasons the unit felt so responsive during everyday use.
Videos also played back smoothly and looked good on the screen. The advantage of the big hard drive is that you can store plenty of DviX- or Xvid-encoded files on it for when you travel. Just make sure you install a codec pack before you leave the house.
Away from a power outlet, the Wind's 6-cell, 5200mAh (milliampere hour) battery supplied a runtime of 4hr 47min. This is not quite as good as the Eee PC, which lasted over five hours, but it's still a great result considering the Wind has a bigger screen and a mechanical hard drive, rather than solid-state storage. It would definitely make a great portable video player.
We've already ascertained that the Wind is a responsive and adequately quick unit — but it's also very easy to use. It's 26cm wide, about 17cm deep, and about 3cm thick at its thickest point (near the battery). These dimensions are the same as the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC (FH441PA), but the HP has much bigger keys. Nevertheless, the Wind is very comfortable to type on (much more comfortable than the Eee PC) and we also love its touchpad. It was very accurate and didn't stick at all. In fact, its touchpad is much better than the Eee PC's and also easier to use than the HP's.
Where the Wind falls over is in your lap. Literally. The unit's weight is centred towards the rear. When you use it on your lap, the unit will fall back unless you hold it down. We also found the screen's hinges to be too loose, as the screen would move back by itself during actions as simple as placing the notebook on our lap. The hinges are also a problem when using the unit while on a bumpy bus ride.
Around the sides of the unit, you get three USB 2.0 ports, a D-Sub port, headphone and microphone ports, as well as a 10/100 Ethernet port and an SD memory card reader. It doesn't have an expansion slot, so if you want to add a 3G data card, for example, you'll have to use one of the USB ports.
For wireless connectivity, you get an inbuilt 802.11b/g module, as well as a Bluetooth module. Compared to the ASUS Eee PC 901, the Wind's networking options are slower, but unless you'll be using a fast ADSL2+ connection wirelessly, or conducting lots of files transfers over its LAN connection through your Gigabit router, they are more than adequate.
All up, the Wind is probably the strongest contender in the entry-level ultraportable laptop market, thanks to its great battery life, large screen and hard drive, and comfortable keyboard and touchpad. But it's not perfect; its hinges are not stiff enough, the unit tends to fall over in your lap and it doesn't have an expansion slot. Nevertheless, for $699 the MSI Wind is the perfect tool for anyone who wants an ultraportable laptop for work or for the classroom.
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