Intel has now officially unveiled its Atom processor for MIDs and low-cost laptops.
And the MSI Wind U100 is the first mini-notebook we've physically had in our hands that uses this Atom N270 chip. The question is: does the Atom give the MSI Wind an advantage over other machines on the market?
The Wind has been on the TechRadar test bench for the last few days and we've also been using it out and about and in our opinion, it's definitely a solid step forward.
The first thing you notice about this machine is how quiet it runs. The Atom is a 45nm chip that measures just 22mm in size and has been designed to run in fan-less systems.
The use of the ageing Intel 945GSE chipset should help keep development costs to a minimum for manufacturers but it does mean the Front Side Bus 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.
Turbo Boost overclocking
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 smaller chip size means MSI hasn't had to compromise on features to hit the 1kg size. The 10-inch screen gives greater viewing space without impacting on weight but the main benefit is a good-sized keyboard. The keys run flush to the edges and while they're not full sized, they really make this laptop feel a lot more practical than the Eee PC.
The big sell, however, is the reduced footprint and power usage and on that level, Atom makes far more sense. Simply using the MSI Wind is enough to convince you this is a better chip for small format devices. The Wind stayed cool to the touch with little or no fan activity. Only when we started to push it by running video while running a system check in the background did the fan really become noticeably louder
Atom is the future
Expect the Atom to replace the current low voltage Celeron M chip being used by most manufacturers because not only is it smaller in size, it also uses a lot less energy, making it more power efficient. MSI made the right decision opting for the Intel Atom and for the time being gives it a serious edge.
Now, if only it can get units into the market before other manufacturers can catch up, it'll make serious headways into Asus' market lead.