Editors’ Note: Portions of this review were taken from our earlier review of the MSI U120.
While the MSI Wind U123 looks identical to the older U120, MSI has updated this 10-inch netbook with Intel’s newest Atom N280 processor, which provides slightly improved performance. Also, the U123 sports a new nine-cell battery, which, while making it heavier than most other netbooks, provides more than 8 hours of runtime, earning it the title of the longest-lasting netbook on the market. At $379, the MSI Wind U123 is easily one of the best netbook bargains around.
The Wind U123 sports the same chassis as the U120, which is not quite as snazzy or slim as the HP Mini 1000 or Dell Inspiron Mini 10. MSI claims that the U123’s design is for adults and business professionals, but the HP Mini 2140’s aluminum chassis seems more appropriate for that market segment. Still, the U123 is sleeker than the original U100 and forgoes its rounded edges for a squarer shape with cleaner lines. A glossy navy blue lid (also available in white, red, black, and gray) covers the outside of the netbook and is offset by a black underside and glossy screen bezel.
The Wind 123’s dimensions of 10.2 x 7.1 x 1.3 inches is standard fare for a 10-inch system, but its nine-cell battery adds a bit of girth to the back, props up the entire system about an inch, and also puts it in a higher weight class. At 3.2 pounds, this netbook weighs more than most competing netbooks (the Wind U120 was 2.8 pounds), it’s the same weight as the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE. Nevertheless, even with its AC adapter (which brings travel weight to a total of 4.0 pounds), the Wind U123 easily fit in our bag, and plenty of room was left for other gadgets.
Surrounding the Wind U123 are three USB ports and VGA, Ethernet, headphone, and microphone jacks. A 4-in-1 card reader is on the right side.
Roomy Keyboard, Subpar Mouse Buttons
The keyboard on the U123 is the same as that on the original Wind and the U120. The matte keys offered a good amount of springy feedback when typing, and we like that the Shift keys and Backspace key are relatively large. While the HP Mini 2140 and the Samsung N110 have slightly better keyboards, touch typists should have no problems using the Wind U123 for extended periods. The nine-cell battery props up the system, putting the keyboard at a nice angle for typing.
The 2.0 x 1.7-inch touchpad is disappointingly small. While we’re glad that MSI replaced the original single bar mouse button with silver colored right and left mouse buttons, they are quite stiff and make a distracting clicking sound when pressed. Also, the touchpad does not support multitouch gestures like those on the Eee PC 1000HE or the Samsung N110.
Display and Audio
Typical of other netbooks with 10.2-inch, LED-backlit, 1024 x 600-pixel displays, the U120’s screen allowed us to view Web pages without having to scroll. The matte LCD produced clear images and bright colors. When we watched an episode of 30 Rock on Hulu.com, vertical viewing angles were good, and tilting the screen to its maximum 120-degree angle didn’t cause much glare. The 0.5-inch wide, glossy black bezel that surrounds the screen looks classy but is larger than we would like and attracts fingerprints.
The MSI Wind U123’s dual speakers are located on the bottom front of the system. We could clearly hear Tina Fey’s voice from across our small apartment. Listening to Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” the speakers were loud but lacked bass.
Webcam with Facial Recognition Software
Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel webcam that displayed clear images when videoconferencing with a family member over Skype. Waving a hand resulted in a bit of motion blur, but the caller didn’t complain about lighting or clarity.
Paired with the webcam, MSI’s EasyFace Manager software enables facial recognition so users can log in with their face rather than a password. After registering our mug with the system, the Wind U123 recognized us in less than 10 seconds.
The MSI Wind U123 is the second netbook that we have tested to feature Intel’s 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N280 processor; the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE was the first. In addition to sporting a slightly higher clock speed than the 1.6-GHz Intel Atom N270 found on most netbooks, this CPU benefits from a higher frontside bus speed of 667 MHz (vs. 533 MHz for the N270). Like we found with the Eee PC 1000HE, this updated processor makes a difference, but it’s not dramatic.
When we ran PCMark05 (which measures total system performance in Windows XP), the Wind U123 notched a score of 1,534. That’s 177 points higher than the category average of 1,357 but only 19 points better than what the older U120 turned in—and about 50 points lower than the 1000HE. Overall performance was pretty snappy, and we had no problems streaming video at full screen or working with multiple applications (Microsoft Word 2007, Firefox 3, and Windows Media Player) open simultaneously.
Graphics Performance and Hard Drive
The Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip with 128MB of shared memory delivered a score of 755 in 3DMark03, which is a slim 3 points below the category average. The Wind U123’s 3DMark06 score of 85 is half the netbook average, but only 5 points lower than the Samsung N110.
A downloaded high-definition 720p video clip played back smoothly with no hiccups or pauses. However, as with other netbooks with this chipset, the U123 could not play a 1080p clip. We output a sample 720p video from Microsoft’s WMV HD Content Showcase to a 32-inch Samsung HDTV and set the resolution to 1360 x 768. Playback was smooth, and we could easily see the ripples in the water and the tops of the trees.
On the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying a 4.97GB folder of mixed media), the MSI Wind U123 notched a score of 15.8 MBps, which is above the category average of 14.0 MBps but behind the frontrunning 10-inch Acer Aspire One (17.7 MBps). The drive booted to Windows XP in 49 seconds, which is about 10 seconds faster than the category average.
Solid Endurance, Wi-Fi Performance
The MSI Wind U123 will be offered with both six- and nine-cell battery options. Our unit’s nine-cell battery lasted a remarkable 8 hours and 14 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). Not only is that 2 hours and 40 minutes longer than the average runtime of netbooks with six-cell batteries, but it beats out the Samsung N110 (7:24), HP Mini 2140 (7:19) and the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (7:08). However, those netbooks have six-cell batteries, and both the HP and Samsung weigh less than the U123.
The 802.11b/g Wi-Fi card provided a strong connection for working in the cloud. Its throughput of 19.3 at 15 feet and 16.5 Mbps at 50 feet from our access point was slightly above the netbook averages of 19.0 Mbps and 15.7 Mbps from those respective distances. In our day-to-day Web activities, streaming music over Pandora was fluid, and watching video clips on Hulu.com was smooth. MSI plans to offer the U123 with mobile broadband and WiMAX connectivity options.
Configuration Options, Software, and Warranty
MSI will also offer a six-cell battery configuration of the U123, which is rated for about 5 hours of battery life, for $349.
The MSI Wind U123 came preinstalled with Windows XP Home. Aside from its facial-recognition software, the unit is also preloaded with MSI’s BurnRecovery and CrazyTalk CamSuite. MSI backs this netbook with a one-year warranty but offers limited tech support from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday, and the call isn’t toll-free.
MSI Wind U123 Verdict
For just $379, the MSI Wind U123 offers good performance for a netbook and more than 8 hours of endurance. While the similarly configured ASUS Eee PC 1000HE ($399) and Samsung N110 ($469) have more comfortable touchpads and slightly better keyboards, the MSI Wind offers a complete package for a very competitive price.