MSI Wind U100 review

3 Jul 2008

A startling achievement: a capable, highly usable ultraportable for less than £300. Only mediocre battery life mars its appeal.

Price when reviewed 
270
5

The flurry of inexpensive laptops has finally reached its peak. First, HP's Mini-Note 2133, then Acer's Aspire One attempted to recreate the success of Asus' pint-sized Eee range. Now MSI's own contender, the Wind U100, is upon us.

The burning question is whether it can truly live up to such stratospheric expectations.

After our initial, and admittedly curt, encounter with MSI's Wind we were already excited. Really excited. We'd already heard the peals of dissent from the Eee faithful. "It's too big and heavy," they cried. "What's the point of a 10in screen?" they continued. For us though, from the first moment we clapped eyes and hands upon its smoothly contoured form, something about the Wind just seemed inexplicably right.

Vital statistics

Measuring 260 x 180 x 37mm (WDH) it is indeed larger than either Acer's Aspire one, or any of Asus' Eees. And at 1.15kg it's heavier too, but not by much.

A few hundred grams is a small penalty to pay for the fine build quality. Wrestle with the base and there's a little flex accompanied by a quiet creak, but it still feels sturdier than all its rivals bar the HP Mini-Note 2133. The lid is pleasingly stiff, and it's not until you twist or prod with extreme force that any show-through is transmitted to the display itself. So far, so great.

MSI has put the Wind's extra girth to good use too. The keyboard reaches right to the edges of the chassis, and compared to the Acer Aspire one's fine example, it's another three or so millimetres taller and 10mm wider. One thing it has in common with Acer's model is its superiority over the Eee's cramped keyboard. Touch-typing is effortless, and whether you're at a desk or in the cramped confines of a sweaty commuter train, there's very little to complain about.

Well, okay, the layout isn't quite perfect. The positioning of the Fn key to the left of the Ctrl key takes a bit of getting used to, and having to depress the Fn key and use the up and down cursors to emulate PgUp and PgDn is a fiddly workaround. But, given the full height Enter key, and the amply-spaced, positive-feeling keys, these are compromises we could learn to live with.

And while we were prepared to put up with the Aspire one's aggravating trackpad layout - with buttons arranged to the left and right of it to save space - the Wind's traditional trackpad is a breath of fresh air. It might look like a Mac-style single button, but it's hinged in the middle to allow for left and right clicks, and we had no problems with it at all.

The 10in screen shares the same 1,024 x 600 pixels as its competitors, but the extra inch or so of screen size makes everything just a touch more legible. And thanks to the LED backlighting it provides impressive brightness.

If anything, it's too bright at times but while this, and the matte finish, make it perfect for tapping out emails and surfing the net in the garden, it has a somewhat negative effect on colour accuracy. Skintones tended to look just a touch too washed out, and detail in bright areas was missing. It's no deal-breaker but, again, it stops short of perfection.

Strong at heart

Much of the Wind's technological blueprint is startlingly similar to its rivals. But it's hardly surprising that the Wind and most of its ilk (HP's Mini-Note 2133 being one unfortunate exception) have adopted Intel's Atom processor. This, the top of the range Wind, boasts an Intel Atom N270 processor beavering away at 1.6GHz, backed up with 1GB RAM and an 80GB hard disk loaded with Windows XP Home. It's not a particularly potent combination, but with a score of 0.38 in our application-based benchmarks, it's clearly capable of everyday tasks.