In order to achieve their diminutive size, weight, and price, most mini-notebooks come with compromises: the screen or keyboard is too small, the processor is too slow, or the battery life is too short. That’s why the MSI Wind U100 is a breath of fresh air. This 2.6-pound system boasts a relatively large 10-inch screen and a full-size keyboard and Intel’s zippy new 1.6-GHz Atom processor (overclockable with a touch of a button). Plus, the MSI Wind NB lasts more than 5 hours on a charge.
The Wind NB sports a minimalist white design (also available in black and pink) with rounded edges. Similar to the white ASUS Eee PC, this system’s lid features a low-luster finish that we are happy to report is resistant to fingerprint smudges. Measuring 10.2 x 7.1 x 0.7 inches and weighing just under 3 pounds, the Wind NB’s footprint is a tad bulkier than the ASUS Eee PC 900 as a result of its larger 10-inch screen. On the other hand, when we set it next to the very sleek Lenovo IdeaPad U110 ($1,899), the Wind NB looked just a hair smaller, which really puts the size-to-price ratio in perspective. The system easily fit in an oversized handbag and slim briefcase. At 3.4 pounds with the AC adapter (2.6 without), it was hardly noticeable.
The right side of the Wind NB houses one USB port, a 4-in-1 memory card reader, mic and headphone jacks, a VGA port, and an Ethernet jack. Two additional USB ports and the power jack line the left side. Unlike the HP Mini-Note, the Wind NB lacks an ExpressCard slot for adding a mobile broadband modem card, but you can always use a compact USB modem.
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Roomy Keyboard, Small Touchpad
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The Wind NB’s keyboard layout is pretty close to full size, and the matte keys offered a good amount of springy feedback when typing. The HP Mini-Note offers slightly larger keys, especially the Shift and Enter keys, and the keys are treated with a protective coating to prevent wear and tear. Nevertheless, touch typists should have no problems using the Wind NB for extended periods.
Measuring 2.0 x 1.7 inches, the trackpad on the Wind NB is disappointingly small, requiring more movement than we would like. The mouse button, a single bar that serves as a left and right click control, is also less than ideal. It lacks a divot to separate the buttons, feels mushy, and requires a firm press. We would prefer two dedicated buttons with more tactile response, but this arrangement is still better than the vertically oriented touchpad buttons on the HP Mini-Note.
Large Display, Decent Speakers
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The larger and roomier 10-inch display found on the Wind NB breaks from the typical 7- or 8.9-inch mini-notebook mold. The matte display with a native 1024 x 600-pixel resolution is much easier on the eyes; Web pages fit to size on the screen and required no horizontal scrolling.
We were impressed when we watched The Big Lebowski on Hulu; The Dude (Jeff Bridges) looked extremely clear, and we saw every detail of his shaggy, unkempt hair. Vertical viewing angles were decent; tilting the screen didn’t cause much of a glare. However, horizontal angles were poor; watching the movie with another person was a struggle, so you may want to think twice about loading up the Wind NB with some flicks and handing it to the kids for road trips. On the plus side, we didn’t notice any motion blur, which is typical of other systems this size.
Click to enlargeThe integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam worked well in a Skype video chat, and our caller was impressed with the quality compared with the HP Mini-Note 2133 and the Eee PC. The microphone, which is located to the right of the webcam, picked up a bit of background noise, and our caller complained about not being able to hear us; plugging in a headset solved the problem—we spoke to a contact across the country for 20 minutes without a hiccup. The speakers, located on the bottom of the system, produce a loud and steady sound; we heard Lauryn Hill’s “If I Ruled The World” clearly from 7 feet away.
Click to enlargeThe MSI Wind NB is one of the first mini-notebooks powered by Intel’s Atom processor—the smallest and lowest-power 45-nanometer processor to date. This 1.6-GHz CPU, along with 1GB of RAM, helped the Wind NB outperform other systems in its class. Programs loaded quickly even when we had several others running in the background. We could listen to music, have a videoconference with a friend, surf the Web, and write this review in OpenOffice Writer all at the same time with no hang-ups.
Although the Wind NB forgoes a solid state drive for a 5,400-rpm 80GB hard disk, we weren’t disappointed with its performance. The system booted in a quick 34 seconds (see for your yourself below) and packs plenty more space than a solid state drive would for files and applications.
The Wind NB notched a 72 on MobileMark 2007, which is better than the score of 39 that the Fujitsu LifeBook U810 notched (powered by Intel’s 800-MHz A110 processor). In fact, the Wind NB is nearly as fast as some traditional ultraportable notebooks; for example, the 11-inch ASUS U2E (equipped with a 1.06-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) turned in a MobileMark score of 98.
We wouldn’t recommend the Wind NB for 3D gamers, but this mini-notebook’s graphics performance is certainly better than the competition. It garnered a 3DMark03 score of 606, which is 226 points above the HP 2133 Mini-Note (with Vista). The system even handled the graphics-intensive Second Life—whereas other mini-notebooks haven’t been able to run the program. When playing City of Heroes, we were able to clock a decent 15 frames per second, albeit at the lowest possible settings.
An Overclocking CPU with TurboDrive
The Wind NB includes a TurboDrive button (activated by pressing Fn+F10), which overclocks the system’s CPU by as much as 20 percent. When the TurboDrive is turned on and the system is plugged in, an orange icon flashes in the corner of the screen and the power button changes from blue to orange. Running a CPU Speed Professional test with the TurboDrive turned on, the CPU clocked in at 1.9 GHz.
When the system is running off its battery, the TurboDrive reduces the CPU’s clock speed around 50 percent and dims the screen to extend battery life; the CPU clocked in at 1.1 GHz with this setting on. When we overclocked it to 1.9 GHz, our 3DMark03 test jumped from 606 to 746. And when we tried our same multitasking (video conferencing, listening to music, surfing the Web), we noticed smoother performance. Second Life also paused less, and loading images in the 3D world’s distance took less time.
Thanks to its low-power processor and its six-cell battery, the Wind NB has a lot of steam (a version of the Wind is available with a 3-cell battery for $499.99). Right on target with MSI’s estimate, using Mobile Mark 2007, we managed to get 5 hours and 30 minutes of juice out of the battery with the Wi-Fi turned off. We were unable to run Mobile Mark 2007 with Wi-Fi on, but in untimed, casual use while writing this review, our reviewer noted that the system lasted "well over four hours."
Update: A few weeks after initial publication of this review, we got the MSI Wind back and installed a new Web surfing script that visits a series of popular Web sites with the browser cache turned off. Using the Wi-Fi on surfing test, the Wind NB lasted an impressive 5:13. The original Wi-Fi on estimate of "well over four hours" should be discounted, because it was based on casual observations (no one used a timing mechanism), not a timed test.
In all instances, it was a pleasure not to reach for the AC adapter; we took the system to a Starbucks for an afternoon without fearing that we would need to recharge.
The Wind NB’s 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi connected easily to our WPA-protected access point. From 15 feet away, the radio managed 14.5 Mbps, and 7.7 Mbps from 50 feet away. By way of comparison, the HP Mini-Note (running XP) fared better zipping along at 16.7 Mbps at 15 feet and 10.6 Mbps at 50 feet. Nevertheless, Web pages loaded quickly on our office network; NYTimes.com loaded in 5 seconds, and we had no problem streaming video from Hulu.com. An episode of Family Guy had minimal video pauses and audio skips.
Software and Warranty
The Wind NB comes preinstalled with Windows XP Home Edition, though a SUSE Linux version of the system will be available for $399. The system is also packaged with MSI’s webcam software. MSI backs this mini-notebook with a one-year warranty but offers tech support only from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (PST) Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (PST) Friday. Unfortunately, the call isn’t toll-free. It is also worth noting that, according to MSI, while the Wind NB can support up to 2GB of RAM, performing this upgrade yourself voids the warranty.
Click to enlargeIf there were a Survivor: The Mini-Notebook series, and each of the ultra–low-cost notebooks were incrementally eliminated, the MSI Wind NB would be the one left standing. Unlike its competitors, the Wind NB offers the complete package, including an adult-size keyboard, a larger 10-inch screen, and a very capable Atom processor. This system’s solid performance, stellar 5-plus hours of battery life, and $549.99 price make it the best all-around mini-notebook to date.