The laptop market has changed in recent months. That was due to the introduction of the Asus Eee PC, which single-handedly created the low-cost mini-laptop market segment.
To support this market, Intel has now released its Atom processor, designed specifically for such laptops and the MSI Wind U100 is the first machine we've seen sporting the new chip.
In style, the Wind takes many of its designs queues from the Eee PC. It's made from white plastic - a black version will ship in July - with a 3-cell battery taking up the back of the unit. It feels great in the hand and is certainly tough enough to carry around on a regular basis.
Weighing 1kg, its weight is nicely balanced, especially considering the use of a 10-inch Super-TFT screen that has a native resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels.
Images look great and even when running on battery power it looked sharp. The screen sits on hinges that make the screen cover the back of the unit, giving a slightly low line of sight.
The use of this screen means it feels a lot more like a standard laptop than either the Asus Eee PC or the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC. The keyboard is a good size and doesn't feel as though you're compromising usability for a smaller form factor.
The touchpad and single-strip mouse button is on the small side but it doesn't take too much away from the usability.
When it comes to performance, you'll find a state-of-the-art Intel Atom N270 processor that is the smallest mobile chip to date. As a pre-production unit we were unable to benchmark it but in daily use we found it quicker than the current options on the market. Running Windows XP Professional, the system loaded and ran with ease.
The Atom is a 45nm chip that measures just 22mm across and has been designed to run in fan-less systems. This means the MSI Wind runs exceptionally coolly and quietly.
The use of the ageing Intel 945GSE chipset will no-doubt keep development costs to a minimum for manufacturers but it does mean the Front Side Bus (FSB) is limited to a maximum of 533MHz. So, in real terms you won't see much performance gain over the current Celeron M chips being used in the Asus Eee PC.
That may be an issue if you're looking to use this laptop as your sole machine but that's not its intended use. After all, Intel would be crazy to try and move market share to a sector of the market where there is less money to be made.
However, if short bursts of power are what you need, MSI has a trick in its armoury no one else seems to offer at this stage: Turbo Boost. This tool uses the company's own Turbo Drive Engine Technology to physically overclock the CPU. We weren't expecting this to play a part in The Wind but it has been included and pushes the N270 up to 1.9GHz.
Naturally, this only works when you're plugged in. When you're running on batteries it runs at the same clock speed but puts performance ahead of battery life, so screen brightness is typically higher. To deal with the extra power, you'll notice the fan kicks in to life and stays on for the duration you run Turbo Boost.
The 80GB hard drive is a standard laptop hard disc that has been partitioned into two.
You'll find 1024MB of memory installed but with an empty second slot the system will support 2048MB with ease. Future upgrading is possible but you'll need to take the whole of the base, as there are no hatches to access the innards. We were impressed at how cool this machine stayed, even after using it for long periods of time. Fan activity was low, only really clicking on when running DivX video clips.
You won't find an optical drive onboard but in terms of features, there is the standard array of connections. You'll find three USB ports, along with Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth fitted as standard. The memory card reader supports four different types of cards but we were a little disappointed to see that cards protrude from the side.
We had initial concerns that the larger screen size would make this laptop less ideal for use on the move, so we took it on the road with us. Like the Asus Eee PC it fits neatly on the table you'll find on the back of most train seats, so can equally be used on a plane. However, it only just fits, any larger and you would have trouble opening the screen fully.
Overall, the MSI Wind U100 is an impressive entry-level laptop. We never once felt as though compromises had been made. IT won't suit anyone looking for a powerhouse portable but if your needs are basic, writing emails and using the internet, or a word processor for the commute, this is as good as it currently gets.
BUILD QUALITY 8