HP's new Mini is a cracker – and we got a close up look at it yesterday courtesy of Nvidia.

The netbook boasts the company's Ion graphics chip and as a result will playback HD video without issue.

The 11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 screened marvel has a lot going for it – not least its superb £349 price point.

Indeed, it seems the £350-£400 band will be a competitive hotbed over the coming months, as manufacturers try and pack more power into the netbook market.

HP mini 311

The new model goes up against fellow Ion-powered netbooks such as the 12.1-inch Lenovo IdeaPad S12, and Samsung's 11.6-inch N510. Nvidia says many more will follow. The Samsung is set to retail at around £379-399 though it seems the model will have a faster Atom chip than the HP.

The HP system we saw had a 1.6GHz Atom N270 as well as 3GB of memory, though expect that to vary on its full UK release. The version we've photographed here has Compaq branding, though there's also a pic of the HP variant at the bottom of this piece. Various versions will be available, and expect to see it when Windows 7 launches.

HP mini 311

An Nvidia representative said the six-cell battery has about six hours of battery life, though we'll reserve judgement on that one.

HP mini 311

As well as being able to watch 1080p HD video it can also make a passable attempt at gaming. We saw Call of Duty 4 being played (with reduced detail) on the netbook, as well as HD footage (the Star Trek trailer) being played through the netbook yet displayed on an attached plasma screen via HDMI.

HP mini 311

Ion provides 24-bit 8-channel LPCM uncompressed audio through the HDMI connector. There's a VGA connector for output to older monitors and three USB ports are also provided.

HP mini 311

The keyboard isn't firm enough for our liking - it might look the part, but there's better out there. The keys are, however, a good size and you will get used to them quickly. They're certainly better than the small keys given to the new Ion-touting N510 by Samsung. The mouse keys and trackpad are better though and decently sized for a netbook.

HP mini 311

HP mini 311

However, Ion can't help the speed of the system itself, which remains rather slow. A single core Atom processor isn't quite cut out for the job, and we're looking forward to the time when netbook performance gets a little fillip from the chaps at Intel. It did, however, cope fairly well with a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate installed (though we'd expect the Mini 311 is far more likely to ship with Home Premium).

HP mini 311

Here's the HP variant. As you can see it's remarkably similar, but HP will release the different branding depending on country.

The Mini 311 is, processor power aside, finally a netbook you can do some serious work with - and you can hardly complain about the price. £349 is an absolute steal and the HP blows the existing line of equivalent-priced models out of the water.

HP mini 311