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MSI Wind U100 (Linux)
The term "netbooks" may not be familiar to some of you. It’s used to describe the newly launched Intel atom platform that features in sub 10-inch laptops. These machines are inexpensive, have relatively modest specifications, and are designed for casual use. The most famous member of this new club is ASUS’s Eee PC, which was largely responsible for sudden popularity of this category.
In light of ASUS’s success, nearly every major laptop manufacturer is introducing a product in this range. One such company is MSI, which recently introduced its MSI Wind or "Wi-Fi Network Device". This product earned itself a good deal of fame even before its release, as it was used by Microsoft at the unveiling of Atom at IDF earlier this year. Does it live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
Its body outline is quite decent, with no extra flat-lined edges. The build quality is top-notch; it employs a lightweight plastic that's quite durable and has firm hinges that don’t squeak even if pushed hard. The body itself does not squeak or display any extra flex.
The keyboard of the U100 is about four-fifths the size of a normal keyboard. I was worried it may be too cramped, but my fears proved unfounded. The keyboard is larger than the picture indicates and offers a good typing experience. The keys are comfortably spaced, offer decent tactile feedback, and have a decent textured finish. I typed this preview on the U100, and despite being a touch typist who's fussy about the keyboard I use, I had to admit it was very comfortable.
The touchpad was, however, a bit of a disappointment. The touchpad area is small and takes some getting used to. The mouse keys are quite hard, and often need more than a firm press to register.
The screen is a 10-inch backlit LED panel with a native resolution of 1024 x 600. For a small notebook, this is adequate screen space. Though not on par with other backlit LEDs, this screen offers pretty impressive color and contrast levels. But on the brightness front the laptop lagged a bit – even at maximum brightness it looked a bit sober. While some users may appreciate this, it affects video playback – dark videos need to have their brightness increased via the player.
Connectivity-wise the U100 is decently loaded for a notebook. It has 3 USB ports, 1 VGA adapter, 1.3 MP webcam, 4-in-1 card reader, 802.11 a/b/g support for wireless, and a standard 100 MB Ethernet port.
The unit we received was a Linux edition. It packs in Novell’s Suse Linux 10 Enterprise, a fairly stable and capable OS. As such we have deferred our benchmarks of the MSI Wind for an upcoming shootout where we plan to compare the XP editions of the MSI Wind with the Asus Eee PC 1000H.
Our netbook sported an Intel Atom N270 processor with a clock speed of 1.6 GHz, 1GB of DDR2 667 RAM, 80GB of storage on a 2.5 inch drive, and a 3-cell battery. The configuration may seem a little sparse, but do bear in mind that this is a scaled-down device designed purely for Internet usage and everyday work.
The OS bundles the Firefox browser, multimedia playback via VLC, IM messengers, Skype, OpenOffice, and just about everything the average user would need. Productivity via the OS is a given; one can reasonably expect it from any modern-day Linux destro. Thanks to XGL, it also offered some spiffy 3D effects and good UI management. The OS is very customizable and noob-friendly.
Multitasking on the U100 was easy. The new Atom processor is very capable and offers more than enough oomph to comfortably listen to music, surf the Net, and do other mundane activities.
The U100 offers two battery options: a 3-cell battery at 2200 mAh or a 6-cell battery at 5200 mAh. Our test unit came with the former and the results we got were spectacular. On a full charge it lasted 2 hours and 43 minutes. The 6-cell option will easily double this, and with judicious use one can make it last 5 hours. This really shows off the power-saving and strength of Intel’s new platform.
The MSI Wind is a great device that offers excellent battery life, fluid multitasking, and a sober design. At its price of Rs 25,000 it’s a bit expensive – but with many more models expected in this range, the prices will definitely tumble. Still, if you happen to be in the market for a sub-notebook, look no further.