Who'd have thought Eee PC has led to other manufacturers competing for a slice of its pie.would be the hottest property in the world of computing? Asus certainly did and its success with the
MSI -- peddlers of graphics cards, motherboards and the occasional overclockable laptop -- is the latest to try its hand in this area. Its effort, dubbed the MSI Wind, isn't just here to make up the numbers. It's stylish, has a strong enough specification to give its rivals a scare and is cheap -- just £320 from online retailers.
The Wind is very pretty. MSI will sell it in a variety of colours, but we're very happy with the white review sample we were sent. It's the sort of thing the Sex and The City characters would love to show off in a trendy NY coffee shop. The curved corners and pearlescent white finish give it a very contemporary look and although the MSI logo on the lid might spoil it for Carrie and company, the rest of us will adore it.
It's very portable, too. It only weighs 1kg with the 3-cell battery -- or 1.1kg with the 6-cell battery -- so it's easy to carry. It's large by netbook standards: its dimensions are 260 by 19 by 180mm, so while it dwarfs the Eee PC 901, it lacks some of the cute factor people find so appealing in netbooks.
The main reason for its extra girth is the fact it's designed to use a 10.1-inch screen, instead of the more common 8.9-inch display used on most of its rivals. There's a large bezel surrounding the screen -- complete with a 1.3-megapixel webcam and mic -- but that doesn't negatively affect the looks. MSI has said it will release an 8.9-inch version of the Wind later this year.
The biggest benefit of the Wind's large chassis is the fact it can accommodate a large keyboard. This one is infinitely more comfortable than the keyboards on most netbooks and large enough to touch type on. The shift keys are an ample size, as are the return and cursor keys. The only flaw for user is the left-most CTRL button, which isn't at the bottom left of the keyboard -- the Fn button is and that can be annoying to anyone that uses CTRL-based keyboard shortcuts.
We're not so keen on the mouse track pad, either. It's about 51mm square, which is unnecessarily small. It also lacks a dedicated scrolling strip or any sort of gesture-related input. We suppose we've just been spoiled by the Eee and MacBook Air's multi-touch systems, but having the ability to scroll Web pages with a swipe of the finger really is handy on devices of this type.
The MSI Wind will come in a couple of varieties. There's the low-cost Linux version (around £320), and the slightly more expensive Windows XP model (£363). Both have an identical specification -- a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU and 1GB of DDR2 667MHz memory -- upgradeable to 2GB. That might not sound like much in a world where clock speeds and memory quantities go far higher, but in our experience, this level of performance is fine in a netbook.
Disappointingly, the instant overclocking feature seen on early engineering samples has been removed from the final retail model. Instead, the laptop can still be instantly 'underclocked' to 800MHz by pressing the Fn and F10 buttons in conjunction.
Using the Wind is always a positive experience. The screen in particular is impressive -- it's sufficiently bright and the 1,024x600-pixel display is adequate for most purposes. The vertical viewing angle is shallow, but it's fine horizontally. People can sit side by side with a Wind, watch a movie and still be able to see what's going on. If you're anywhere near a projector -- or any large display -- you can output the video signal via the D-Sub port on the right side.