Yee-haw? Workhorse PC, a Texas-based company that manufactures PCs for governments and educational institutions, is looking to get a little more recognition by hopping on the netbook bandwagon with its Certeza MC10. The MC10, which sports many of the same specs as other netbooks, isn’t the prettiest netbook in the corral and, at $539, is overpriced for its functionality. However, its customization options and the company’s plans to sell a barebones unit may be ideal for the user looking to build a very specific netbook.
Black Boxy Design
The black, glossy Workhorse PC Certeza MC10 looks good from afar, but up close it doesn’t have the same lustre as its competitors. Sporting a boxy plastic chassis, the Certeza doesn’t look like a finished product, which is partially due to its customizability. The lid, which is a fingerprint magnet, has a small indented, rectangular-shaped slot which is blank at the moment, but can be customized with a label of a company’s name or school. Similarly, a blank plastic strip waiting to be personalized runs along the top of the keyboard. While there is a Workhorse logo beneath the screen, the overall impression is that this is a netbook in progress.
Still, the Certeza MC10 is quite compact for a 10-inch system. At 10.4 x 7.3 x 1.1 inches, it has the same dimensions as the very svelte Dell Inspiron Mini 10, but tips the scales at a slightly heavier 3 pounds. Nevertheless, with a travel weight of 3.6 pounds with its AC adapter, the system fit comfortably in our portable DVD carrying case and didn’t weigh down our shoulder on our walk home from work.
The Certeza MC10 is surrounded by two USB ports, a 4-in-1 card reader, mic and headphone jacks, a VGA port, and an Ethernet jack. While most netbooks have three USB ports, Workhorse used the space for an ExpressCard/34 slot, perfect for adding a mobile broadband card. (Workhorse plans on offering integrated mobile broadband as an option in the future).
Comfortable Keyboard, Cramped Touchpad
The keyboard on the Certeza MC10 is very similar to those on the MSI Wind U100 and U120, which is a good thing. The black matte keys offered a good amount of springy feedback when typing, and we like that the right Shift key (located to the left of the up arrow) and Backspace key are relatively large. While the HP Mini 2140 and the Samsung NC10 have slightly better keyboards, touch typists should have no problems using the Certeza MC10 for extended periods. Above the keyboard are three shortcut buttons that launch the webcam utility, e-mail, and Web browser.
In order to make room for the spacious keyboard, Workhorse had to sacrifice some of the trackpad’s size. Similar to the touchpad on the MSI Wind U120, the 2.1 x 1.4-inch trackpad is disappointingly small. However, we liked the dedicated right and left mouse buttons, even if they make a distracting clicking sound when pressed. Unlike the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE and Samsung N110, the touchpad does not support multitouch gestures, but it has a smooth, almost leatheresque feel.
Display, Audio, and Webcam
The Workhorse PC Certeza MC10 features a 10-inch matte display with a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. The LED-backlit panel was bright and crisp while playing an episode of Family Guy on Hulu.com, with good horizontal and vertical viewing angles. Unlike most other netbooks, you can tilt the screen back 180 degrees.
The MC10’s dual speakers, which are located above the keyboard, produced decently loud sound for such a small system. A voice call over Skype was plenty audible, and the Kings of Leon’s “Manhattan” was loud enough to fill a quiet living room.
Above the display is a 1.3-megapixel webcam that provided very clear images when videoconferencing with a friend over Skype. There was little motion blur, and our caller could make out the design on our necklace. The microphone, located on the bottom of the screen’s bezel, allowed our voice to come through loud and clear to our caller, without us having to speak up.
The Certeza MC10’s 1.6-GHz Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM provided good performance, especially considering it’s running Microsoft’s Windows Vista Business rather than the slimmed-down Windows XP. In our hands-on experience, the Certeza was able to keep up with our demands. Firefox 3 and Windows Media Player opened quickly, and simultaneously conducting video calls over Skype and surfing the Web caused no real performance hit.
On PCMark Vantage, which measures Vista application performance, the netbook notched 1,089, which is 14 points higher than the Gigabyte M912’s 1,076. The integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics scored 715 on 3DMark03 and 89 on 3DMark06, which are 51 and 86 points lower than the respective category averages. Like the other netbooks, you shouldn’t count on using the MC10 for gaming or watching high definition video, but the system did handle streaming video without a hiccup.
During testing the system kept its cool, and we didn’t feel our lap getting hot during regular use. The underside of the unit registered 98 degrees (Fahrenheit) and the keyboard 95 degrees during our battery test.
The included Western Digital Scorpio 160GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive booted into Vista in 56 seconds. That’s pretty good, considering the netbook average is 57 seconds—and that’s with XP. Our LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we duplicate 4.97GB of mixed media files, took 6 minutes and 26 seconds, a rate of 13.2 MBps. That is about 0.8 MBps faster than the average netbook, but 4.5 MBps slower than the current category leader, the Acer Aspire One AOD150.
Short Battery Life, Decent Wi-Fi Performance
The Certeza MC10’s four-cell battery provides subpar endurance. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi) the netbook lasted 2 hours and 33 minutes on our browsing test, which is 15 minutes shorter than the average for netbooks with batteries smaller than six cells—and most are 3-cell batteries. Workhorse will have a six-cell battery option available as a configuration option.
The 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi card provided a strong connection for working in the cloud. On our tests the Certeza MC10 pushed data along at a rate of 18.6 Mbps at 15 feet and 17.3 Mbps at 50 feet from our access point. Those scores are both around the netbook averages of 18.9 Mbps and 15.5 Mbps from those respective distances. Streaming video clips from Hulu.com was smooth. Workhorse PC plans to offer the Certeza MC10 with mobile broadband and WiMax connectivity options; a latch on the bottom lid lets you insert a SIM card.
Software and Warranty
The Workhorse Certeza MC10 came preinstalled with Microsoft Vista Business. Workhorse backs the netbook with a 1-year Depot Standard warranty. Other warranty options are available from the manufacturer.
Unlike most netbook manufacturers, Workhorse PC makes the Certeza MC10 highly configurable. Although our unit had a Vista Business operating system, users can select the same hardware configuration but with Windows XP for $89 less. Consumers can also opt for different hard drives and amounts of RAM, and the company will be updating its Website to allow for this functionality. For now customers can contact email@example.com to customize their own unit. Workhorse PC will also offer a barebones version of the Certeza MC10 (without a hard drive, RAM, etc.) for $329, which will allow techies to build their own netbook.
Workhorse PC has slapped a high price on this underwhelming netbook; even its Windows XP SKU is $449. While the $539 Certeza MC10 provides a comfortable and sturdy keyboard and decent netbook performance with a Vista operating system, systems like the $379 MSI Wind U120 or $399 ASUS Eee PC 1000HE provide double the runtime and more attractive builds. Nevertheless, those who are in search of a highly customizable netbook or one that can even be built from the ground up might want to saddle up.