Netbooks are the biggest selling category in the computer industry right now for several reasons. The poor global economy is the big reason consumers are flocking to netbooks. I don't think that is the only reason that netbooks continue to post such massive growth, I think that consumers are finally realizing that they don't have to use the most powerful notebook available to do the majority of what they need.
With that realization many people shopping for computers are opting to go with the much smaller and more portable netbook machines rather than larger full notebook systems. Another big benefit of the netbook is that the little machines tend to sip power making them last longer away from an outlet.
The big question in most consumers minds when they are considering a netbook is will the machine do everything they need. Obviously, the answer to that question will depend on what you need. If you expect a netbook to be as fast as a full notebook, play 3D games or do intense video and photo editing, you will be disappointed. However, if you expect a netbook like the MSI Wind U100 I am looking at today to do all the basic computing tasks like email, web surfing, word processing, basic image editing and so on you may be a good candidate for a netbook. Read on to find out exactly how well the MSI Wind U100 performs and decide for yourself if a netbook is for you.
Specifications, Availability, and Pricing
The MSI Wind U100 has been on the market for a while now and can be found in a number of online and retail outlets. The machine is cheap with an MSRP of $479.99 for the model I am reviewing today. However, other models with different specifications can be found for less money. Some U100 models can be had for under $350 with Newegg going as low as 309.99 U.S. Dollars. Check the image below for the specifications of the system I am reviewing today.
The main difference in price between Wind U100 models has to do with the size of the hard drive and whether the machine has the 3-cell or 6-cell battery.
As you can see, the smallish U100 comes packed in a smallish box. That white thingy you see inside the box in the picture is a carry case, the only accessory the U100 ships with.
Behold the faux gift wrap box bearing the MSI Wind U100. Never mind that sticker on the box that clearly has the wrong specifications on it. This being a review unit, boxes tend to not last long and MSI obviously had to ditch the original box at some point and go with a replacement.
Pop the top of the box and you get your first glimpse of the U100 in all its tiny glory. As you can see, the review unit was not packed so tightly inside the box; I would assume that production machines not opened by every geek who could get their hands on the U100 would be more safely packed. Despite the lack of a tight fit, the U100 arrived in perfect shape for my review.
The MSI Wind U100
The MSI Wind U100 Netbook
The first time you lay eyes on the U100 the thing that really hits you is how small the computer is. The U100 makes Mini Me look like a giant. The lid to my review unit was a shiny, gloss black plastic that is prone to gathering fingerprints and smudges. If black isn't your thing you can get yours in white or pink.
This shot shows the back of the Wind U100 with the lid closed. There is really nothing to see here but the rather fat 6-cell battery sticking out under the netbook.
On the right side of the U100 hides the VGA out, RJ-45 port, headphone jack, microphone jack, memory card reader and a single USB port.
The front is much like the back of the U100, not really much to see. If you look closely, the beveled wrist rest gives you a glimpse of the status LEDs.
The left side of the U100 sports the port for the AC adapter, Kensington style lock and a pair of USB ports. The large grate you see is a heat exhaust vent.
This is a shot of the bottom of the U100. You can see the Windows sticker, the fat little 6-cell battery and the cooling grates to keep the works of the tiny netbook cool.
In this shot, you get a glimpse of the 10-inch LED backlit LCD with its matte finish that thankfully throws little glare.
Here is perhaps the most important element of any netbook -- the keyboard. Some netbooks like the older ASUS models have an odd key arrangement; the U100 puts the right shift key where it's supposed to be. The keys are small, but well spaced for a netbook. You can also see in this shot how close to the keyboard the track pad is.
The white carry pouch that looks like something straight out of the 1970's is the only accessory that came with the U100, aside from the power adapter.
Benchmarks - PCMark05 and Video Encoding
Now we get to the part of the review that gives you an idea of how well the U100 performs for different tasks. Typically, at this point I run an iTunes encoding test, but for some odd reason iTunes refused to convert my test MP3s to AAC, not the fault of the U100 but some sort of software conflict I was unable to resolve.
It's also important to note that many of the benchmarks we would run on full notebooks or desktops simply won't run on a netbook. We will be running PCMark05, a video encoding test and testing the battery life in real world usage.
Since the U100 runs Windows XP, I will be using PCMark05 rather than PCMark Vantage which I use on Vista notebooks. Check out the image below for the PCMark05 test results.
Version and / or Patch Used: 9
Developer Homepage: http://www.microsoft.com
Product Homepage: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/forpros/encoder/default.mspx
Video encoding is a very common task that users perform with their computers. Taking a large file and making it able to playback on small devices like an iPod is a task many users will expect their computer to perform. In this test, I am using the free Windows Media Encoder and the Microsoft Wonder of Flight test video. The nearly 19 minutes that the U100 took is sloth-like compared to full notebooks, but what we expect for a netbook.
MSI Wind U100 Hands On
This is my favorite part of any review. Hands on use always tells more about a notebook or netbook than any benchmark could. The MSI Wind U100 is a small machine, but is sized exactly like the ASUS Eee 1002HA that I reviewed previously.
With all netbooks using the same basic gear inside, the place that separates the good form the bad is typically the keyboard. They MSI Wind U100 has a fantastic keyboard, with the usual netbook caveats. Sure, the keys are small, they are spaced close together and typing takes getting used to, but that is the sacrifice you make for a netbook's portability. The U100 has a great keyboard with all of the keys exactly where you expect them to be, which is to say the right shift key is in the proper location beneath the enter key rather than to the right of the up arrow like the ASUS 1002HA.
The U100 keyboard is sized well for a netbook and offers good tactile feel and typing feedback. The smaller layout of the keyboard takes some getting used to for sure, but you don't have to re-train yourself for a new layout as you do with other netbooks.
Under the keyboard is the track pad, which is large enough for comfortable use and places the mouse buttons under the track pad where they are expected to be. The U100 lacks the slick multi-touch track pad the 1002HA from ASUS offers, but it performs well enough for those who aren't accustomed to a multi-touch pad.
The only gripe I have about the MSI Wind U100 track pad is that the small size of the netbook puts the track pad so close to the keyboard that I often found myself hitting the track pad with the heel of my hand. This would cause the text I was typing to end up in a place other than where I wanted it. If your typing style is different from mine, you may not have that problem. The fix for me was to turn the track pad off when I was typing long documents.
The 10-inch LCD on the MSI Wind U100 is LED backlit to optimize battery life and offers plenty of brightness for use even in brightly lit rooms and outdoors. The matte finish on the screen is most welcome and much preferred by myself and many other users. The screen can cast a bit of glare, but it is much less likely to do so than a glossy screen.
Image quality on the little screen is very good and I spent lots of time watching Hulu on the netbook. Colors are sharp, realistic and skin tones were very good. Overall, the screen of the MSI Wind U100 is great for a netbook.
Watching Hulu shows unveiled one of the MSI Wind U100 real issues -- the onboard speakers. The speakers lack enough volume to listen to them without resorting to headphones. You have to be in a quiet room and still strain to hear some words in quieter movie scenes. The speakers could offer twice as much volume before I would consider them adequate.
Almost as important as the keyboard on a netbook is the battery life. The U100 I tested had the 6-cell battery and with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on and with the screen at max brightness, I was able to get about 4 hours and 15 minutes out of the battery while working and watching Hulu shows. That is a far cry from some of the ASUS models that double that number, but overall I was satisfied with the battery life of the U100.
While at CES 2009 earlier this year I worked exclusively from the MSI Wind U100. I found that the machine was more than capable of doing anything that I would have done on my normal notebook. Admittedly, some things I wanted it to do took longer. I was able to do basic photo editing with Adobe Photoshop Elements, type all the Word documents I wanted and surf the net to my heart's content. In answer to the question I posed at the start of this review, yes a netbook will do everything I want a notebook to do and it will probably do all you want it to as well.
I spent lots of time just using the U100 as my only computer and I came to the realization that I could leave my large notebook behind and travel light with the U100 and never look back. I was impressed by the performance the little machine offered and the battery life was much better than what my full-size notebook offers.
The only real issue that I had with the machine was the track pad location and other users may not have that. I never learned to touch type correctly and have an odd typing style that may contribute to the issues I saw with the track pad and my hand location.
Overall, the MSI Wind U100 is a great netbook and my personal favorite. Shop around and you can get the little machine at a bargain that makes the U100 very hard to pass up. Once you get used to the small keyboard and compact dimensions of the U100, you will be glad you don't have to heft a much larger notebook around all day. I know I was!
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