In general, MSI netbooks have been the long-distance runners of the category; the U100, the U110, and the U123 all had impressive battery life. With its newest netbook, the Wind U135 ($329), MSI is using the second-generation Atom N450 processor, which was designed to provide up to 20 percent greater power efficiency than Intel's last chip. However, the U135 doesn't last nearly as long on a charge as the competition. What we do like about this netbook is its comfortable keyboard and low $329 price.
With a footprint of 10.2 x 7.0 x 1.5 inches, the U135 takes up about as much desk space as other netbooks of its ilk. However, its battery sticks out the bottom of the system, increasing its thickness in the back to 1.5 inches. While not nearly as egregious as the Wind U110, this protrusion is more noticeable than those on many other netbooks with 6-cell batteries. Weighing 2.8 pounds, the U135 disappeared like every other netbook once inside our messenger bag.
When we first opened the lid of the U135, we were struck by the similariries between this system and the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P (Seashell), and with good reason: The two island-style keyboards are almost identical, and both have a single mouse bar as opposed to discrete buttons.
While our U135 came in blue, consumers will also be able to get the netbook in silver, red, or black. The wavy line pattern on the lid is also repeated on the touchpad, which adds a nice graphical element to the design. This pattern also does a decent job of masking fingerprint smudges.
The U135 kept its cool, something nice to see (and feel) on a device this small. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, both the touchpad and the space between the G and H keys only reached 88 degrees, and the middle of the bottom was a comparatively cool 83 degrees. Even the area by the vent, usually one of the hottest areas on a notebook, only got as warm as 90 degrees. The trade-off is that the U135's fan is a bit loud.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to enlargeAs mentioned above, the U135 has a keyboard that's nearly identical to the 1005PE-P, and that's a good thing. The island-style layout was comfortable to type on, there was no flex, and keys had a nice, snappy response. While the right Shift key is slightly undersized, at least it's in the correct position.
The touchpad had low friction and was decently sized, though it does not support multitouch gestures. The single silver mouse bar below the touchpad is toonarrow and felt slightly mushy. We prefer touchpads with two separate buttons, which you'll find on competitors like the Toshiba mini NB205.
Display and Audio
The 10.0-inch, 1024 x 600 screen on the U135 was bright, crisp and provided excellent viewing angles. While watching videos online, we never saw any color shift, even at 90 degrees to either side, or when we tilted the screen all the way back.
We don't expect stellar audio from netbooks, but the U135's speakers got fairly loud when streaming Green Day's "Welcome to Paradise" on Pandora. Just don't expect the quality to match the volume; Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" lacked any sort of bass, and guitar riffs were tinny and scratchy.
Ports and Webcam
Click to enlargeLike most netbooks, the U135 has three USB 2.0 ports, VGA, Ethernet, headphone and mic ports, a lock slot, and a 4-in-1 card reader.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam delivered slightly washed-out visuals, which we were able to remedy using the ArcSoft WebCam Companion software. This app also let us add fun and humorous visual effects to our mug.
Stocked with Intel's new Atom N450 processor and 1GB of RAM, the U135 performed about the same as the ASUS 1005PE-P. The U135 scored 1,418 on PCMark05, 8 points higher than the 1005PE, but 80 points below the netbook average--which to date has been mostly Intel N270 and N280 processors. In Geekbench, the U135 scored 906, about 70 points higher than the netbook average. We were able to go about our typical netbook activities--surfing the web and watching videos--without any issues.
The U135 was a bit more lethargic in the LAPTOP Transfer Test. Its 250GB, 5400-rpm hard drive copied a 4.97GB folder of multimedia in 5 minutes and 6 seconds for a rate of 16.6 MBps, which is 9.8 MBps slower than the 1005PE, but 1.3 MBps above the netbook average.
It also took 1 minute and 24 seconds to boot into Windows 7 Starter Edition, almost half a minute longer than average.
Similarly, the U135, which has the new Intel GMA 3150 integrated graphics chip, was fairly average when it came to graphics tests. In 3DMark06, the U135 scored 154, nearly identical to the ASUS 1005PE (155), and a shade below the average of 160. When we transcoded a 114MB, 5-minute and 5-second MPG4 video to AVI using HandBrake, the U135 took 30 minutes and 12 seconds, half a minute longer than average. When performing the same task using Oxelon Media Converter, which takes advantage of multithreading, the Ul35 took 6 minutes and 6 seconds.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
The U135's Wi-Fi throughtput was a bit lacking. At 15 feet from our access point, the netbook saw just 17.6 Mbps, 3.2 Mbps slower than average. At 50 feet from the router, the throughput was 16.7 Mbps, a shade under the 17.1 Mbps netbook average.
The one area where the U135 disappointed most was in battery life. In our LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the U135's 5200-mAh, 6-cell batterylasted 5 hours and 35 minutes. That amount of endurance isn't terrible, but it's about 40 minutes less than the 6-cell netbook average, two hours less than MSI's claim, and over 5 hours less than the $379 Eee PC 1005PE.
The U135 took 3 hours and 30 minutes to completely recharge. The system used an average of 28.8 watts while charging, and a total of 6048 watts for a final LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 18.1. That score is slightly above the average of 16.8 (lower numbers are better), and about twice that of the ASUS 1005PE-P (9.3).
MSI does not plan to offer any other configurations of the Wind U135 in the U.S.
Click to enlargePerhaps realizing that younger folks use netbooks, too, the U135 comes with Kido'z, a Web browser designed for children. It features a bright and colorful interface that doesn't require the use of the keyboard, and opens to nine panels with links to Web sites of popular childrens' content, such as Dora the Explorer, Hannah Montana, and Hello Kitty. A video section leads to kid-friendly YouTube clips, and a game section has links to a number of simple, fun titles. Parents have a large amount of control over what content kids can see, and can determine what sites a child can visit, and when the child can surf the Web.
The U135 comes with software for grown-ups, too: Microsoft Works, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, and a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security.
MSI offers a 1-year limited warranty with the U135 and extended toll-free customer service hours.
The MSI Wind U135 looks and performs well for a netbook, keeping pace with its competitors. Its price of $329 also makes it less expensive than the ASUS 1005PE ($379) and even the budget conscious Samsung N130 ($349). However, battery life takes a step back, especially considering that the Atom N450 is supposed to offer greater endurance than the previous generation of Atom chips. If you can swing the extra $50, we recommendthe ASUS Eee PC 1005PE and its 5 extra hours of work and play time. But, if you're really watching the bottom line, the U135 is worth a look.