Editors' note: We have revised the rating of this product to reflect the changing competitive Netbook landscape.
When news and images of the MSI Wind first popped up online in March, we thought we had seen at least a competitor and perhaps the successor to the Eee PC, Asus' Netbook that started the low-cost, low-power laptop craze last year. When the MSI Wind arrived at our offices, unboxing the pearl white Netbook did nothing to alter our thinking. This 10-inch laptop boasts a polished design along with a slightly larger screen and roomier keyboard than the 9-inch Eee PC 901. And priced at $479, it's $120 cheaper than the smaller Eee PC. Inside, the two Netbooks share very similar configurations, including the 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 processor. The Asus Eee PC 901 puts that extra money toward a solid-state drive and bigger battery--two items that allowed it to run for more than 3 hours longer than the MSI Wind on a single charge. (Thankfully, help is on the way; MSI will have a six-cell battery out in September for a yet-to-be-determined amount.) Though its battery life leaves a lot to be desired, the extra space the keyboard affords is greatly appreciated; after using the 10-inch Wind for a few days, we wouldn't recommend going with anything smaller. Until you can combine a 10-inch screen with a six-cell battery, however, you won't arrive at Netbook nirvana.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$479|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Atom N270|
|Memory||1GB DDR2 SDRAM|
|Hard drive||80GB, 5400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 945 Express|
|Operating System||Windows XP Home Edition SP3|
|Dimensions (width by depth)||10.2 x 7.3 inches|
|Thickness||1.0 to 1.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.5 / 3.3 pounds|
Our MSI Wind came outfitted in a pearl white chassis that's perhaps a shade or two darker than the MacBook. (Black and pink are your other options.) It feels well built and not like a cheap plastic toy like the first Eee PC we reviewed last year. Though it has a spinning hard drive, it's very quiet during operation. The underside remains cool, too, even during long computing stretches, but the wrist rest and touch pad do get warm after a spell.
The Wind is only slightly larger than the Eee PC 901; it's 1.2 inches wider and 0.4 inch deeper. Both models are the same thickness, tapering from 1.6 inches along their back edge to roughly an inch along the front edge. MSI makes good use of its extra width--the keyboard stretches from edge to edge. The space bar and Enter, Backspace, and Shift keys are amply proportioned, though we wish the period and comma keys weren't so narrow. On the whole, we felt much less cramped than we did when typing on the Eee PC 901; after about 30 minutes, we grew accustomed to it. The Eee PC 901 includes a row of multimedia control keys above its keyboard, but the only button you'll find above the Wind's keys is the power button.
The touch pad is a tiny 2 inches wide by 1.5 inches tall. There isn't any room to make it any taller, but it would be more useful if it was a bit wider--more of the shape of the wide touch pad found on the MacBook. The Wind's touch pad does feature vertical and horizontal scroll zones, which always come in handy when surfing the Web or working your way down a long Word doc or large Excel sheet. What you don't get are any sort of gesture controls as you do with the Eee PC 900 and 901. And the mouse buttons come by way of a single, rocker key, which the Eee PC 901 does away in serving up two separate mouse buttons. Even after a couple of days with the MSI Wind, we still found ourselves momentarily stymied by pressing the middle of the mouse button.
|MSI Wind U100||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, 4-in-1 media card reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
The Wind's display is an LED backlit model and an inch larger than the Eee PC 901, but it features the same 1,024x600 resolution. It provides enough room to view Web pages without needing to scroll side to side, but we were hoping the slightly larger screen would have bumped up the resolution a notch. Above the display sits the ubiquitous 1.3-megapixel Webcam.
The tiny stereo speakers emit predictably tinny sound. You'll want to make use of the headphone jack whether you're listening to music or watching a movie.
The MSI Wind serves up the standard 10/100 Ethernet and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi network connections. We're still waiting for a Netbook to include WWAN for true mobile connectivity out of the box. It does, however, provide Bluetooth. You can turn on and off W-Fi and Bluetooth simply pressing the Function and F11 keys. The 4-in-1 media card reader supports SD, MMC, Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Pro formats.
The MSI Wind is the second Intel Atom-based Netbook to make its way through the labs. While neither model had the necessary resolution to complete CNET Labs' Photoshop benchmark and performed as expected on our iTunes test--well behind a Core 2 Duo laptop with double the memory and ahead of the Celeron-based Asus Eee PC 701 that featured half the memory--we were surprised by the Wind's poor showing on our multimedia multitasking test. Though its configuration is very similar to the Asus Eee PC 901, the Wind took nearly twice as long to complete the test. In the Eee PC 901's favor is a solid-state hard drive and the fact that its internal graphics chip is set to share up to 128MB of the main memory to the Wind's 64MB. Still, those factors don't add up to a 32-minute difference on this test.
Digging a little deeper, we discovered that the Wind's CPU is constantly toggling between 800MHz and 1.6GHz. While that may help battery life, it did not help the Wind when multitasking. The Intel Atom chip, however, did prove to be much quicker than the VIA processor found inside the pokey HP 2133 Mini-Note PC.
We don't want to place too much emphasis on performance here. For one, the screen is so small that any multitasking scenario will most likely be no more than having Firefox, an instant message client, and perhaps Skype open at the same time. Netbooks aren't designed for high performance, and in anecdotal testing, we found the MSI Wind's performance to be more than adequate. Applications loaded quickly and worked with nary a hiccup during the few days we had the Wind running.
By way of comparison and to illustrate how far laptop prices have dropped, we offer this tidbit: for the same $499 (which includes a $150 discount at Best Buy) and a simple swap of portability for performance, you can get a Dell Inspiron 1525. From the charts, you can see how much faster a modern (but by no means cutting-edge) dual-core laptop is when viewed next to a single-core Intel Atom-based Netbook. Then again, the 15-inch Dell Inspiron 1525 weighs about three times as much as the Wind.