People buy netbooks for two reasons: They’re extremely portable and they’re pretty darned cheap. The MSI Wind U123 satisfies both criteria and throws in a bonus: Incredibly long battery life.
We tested battery life by playing (and in this case, by replaying) a movie (Boogie Nights) that we ripped from DVD, encoded to MPEG-4, and copied to the computer’s hard drive. It’s a good thing we enjoy this movie, because we were able to watch it three times before the Wind’s nine-cell Lithium-Ion battery finally petered out. That’s right: This little device ran for a hair more than six hours.
The fat battery adds almost a full pound to the package—this model weighs 3.2 pounds compared to models with more conventional three-cell batteries that weigh just 2.3 pounds—but when you find yourself far from a power outlet, you won’t mind the trade-off. Besides, the battery’s bulge tilts the computer’s keyboard up at an angle that renders typing more comfortable—and it makes a great handle.
Features and Design
Like many of its competitors, the Wind U123 is powered by Intel’s Atom N280 microprocessor, which runs at 1.66GHz, and has access to 1GB DDR2 memory. There’s a 160GB 2.5-inch hard drive inside the slim enclosure. You can upgrade these last two components—assuming you have the nerve to remove all nine of the screws holding the netbook’s bottom to its top. Vista is much too resource-intensive to run on this class of machine, so MSI tapped Windows XP Home Edition for its operating system.
Continuing our look under the hood, we saw a 2.5-inch hard drive offering 160GB of storage capacity and integrated graphics in the form of Intel’s Graphics Media Accelerator 950. Considering that MSI built in both Bluetooth support and an Atheros Wi-Fi adapter that supports 802.11b/g/n network access, we were disappointed to discover that the Wind’s wired Ethernet speed tops out at a measly 100Mb/sec. We realize that most people who buy this machine won’t want to be tethered to a network anyway, but when you need speed and have a gigabit network at your disposal, you’ll want to take full advantage of it.
The Wind U123’s 10.2-inch display offers a widescreen resolution of 1024×600 pixels, which is typical for a netbook these days, but this one is wonderfully bright, thanks to MSI’s use of a LED backlight. This machine is available in white, gray, red, and blue (the color of our evaluation unit). The case’s exterior is very attractive—at least until you handle it and begin covering it with your fingerprints. The bezel around the display suffers from the same problem, but the palm rest is covered in a matte finish that’s much less susceptible to smudging.
Keyboard and Usability
The keyboard features very large keys (for a netbook, anyway) that provide excellent tactile feedback, but it took us a while to become accustomed to the tiny comma, period, and forward-slash keys. Each of these is about half the width of the other keys, which led to a number of frustrating typos when we first started pounding the keyboard. Function keys at the top of the keyboard provide flexibility to turn features—including the integrated 1.3-megapixel webcam, Wi-Fi adapter, and Bluetooth networking—on and off as needed. This is a welcome feature when you’re trying to squeeze every second out of a battery. No fewer than eight LEDs on the palm rest inform you of the machine’s status (sleep mode, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, caps lock, num lock, and so on).
A VGA connector allows you to plug in an external display. Using Intel’s software, you can then either clone the netbook’s display (show the same desktop on both screens) or extend your Windows desktop to a second monitor (designate the second monitor as your primary display and you can drive it at its native resolution). The machine is also outfitted with three USB 2.0 ports and a four-in-one media-card reader that supports SD, MMC, Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Pro media. Having an integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter takes the sting out of not having a ExpressCard adapter slot. All ports are located on the left or right side of the chassis, so there’s nothing sticking out of the back to cause problems when you’re using the computer on an airline tray table. There’s a pair of speakers inside the chassis, but their acoustic shortcomings will have you using the headphone jack most of the time.
MSI’s Wind U123 is a solid value. It’s not the fastest netbook we’ve tested or the lightest one we’ve hefted, but its specs are definitely respectable and it boasts a number of excellent features, including a bright and gorgeous display. The oversized battery adds a lot of bulk to the package, but you’ll forget about that the first time you’re able to work an entire day without having to plug into an AC outlet.
- Supremely long battery life
- Very bright display
- Integrated 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi adapter
- Integrated webcam
- Memory card reader
- Oversized battery adds to weight
- Half-sized period, comma, and slash keys
- Glossy finish prone to fingerprints
- No gigabit wired Ethernet
- No ExpressCard slot