MSI Wind U100 Review

by Reads (68,007)

The MSI Wind U100 is a new subnotebook in a field originally started by the Asus Eee PC. It has one significant advantage that makes it stand out in an increasingly crowded market: it is priced well under the equivalent Eee PC.

Now having a better price doesn’t always mean you are going to win in any given market, but MSI really outdid itself and created a great mini notebook. Read on to see just how much Asus should fear the Wind.

MSI Wind

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Inside this Review

Build and Design

The MSI Wind really has a great look and feel to it. The soft rounded edges coupled with the glossy texture make it easy and comfortable to grip onto, while also giving the mini notebook a very professional look.

Another great aspect of the U100 is that nothing appears “look at me” flashy, making it very appealing to business professionals, as well as children and teenagers alike. No chrome is found anywhere, and all the labeling and branding is a light grey which really goes well with the pearl white finish.

Build quality is excellent, and reminds me very much of the HP Mini-Note. Fit and finish is top notch, with smooth and tight plastic seams, beveled edges, recessed hinges, and plenty of touches here and there that make you feel as if you are getting every penny’s worth of notebook from MSI.

MSI Wind

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The quality of the plastics used is top notch too, and mostly thick enough to prevent flex even under a firm grip. The LCD cover and palmrest show no flex under heavy pressure, but the bottom panel is thin in a few spots and easy to bend. Not a deal breaker by any means, but I’m just saying it might not hold up well to being run over by a car.

Display

The Wind has a 10-inch, 1024-by-600-pixel display.

This is a LED backlit matte-textured LCD that is very bright and easy to read. It stacks up very well to others screens I have used, as colors are vibrant and contrast is excellent.

On the flip side, the screen does have the infamous sparkly texture to it, giving solid colors a dirty look, and on high-backlight settings you can see some backlight bleed and almost make out each individual LED. None of those drawbacks would be enough to make me not buy one, but it might be enough for someone to give it a second thought it they were more on the obsessive side of things.

Viewing angles are just how I like them, wide in both vertical and horizontal planes. I have always found it kinda funny that “cheap and affordable” subnotebooks can always manage to beat out multimedia powerhouses in this screen aspect. With some screens inverting colors or going distorted with minimal vertical movement, the U100’s LCD keeps colors true until much steeper angles. I could say you could probably go 45-50 degrees above or below the screen before you might want to reconsider your seating position. Horizontal viewing angles were not as good as the vertical, with the screen appearing much darker in side viewing positions. The colors didn’t exactly invert, but screen was dark enough to become unwatchable for secondary viewing buddies who you might be sharing a movie with.

Sunlight readability for those who might adventure into the wilderness on occasion is fairly good. At full brightness the screen should still be readable.

I did a comparison between the MSI Wind, Lenovo T60, and Dell D630 at maximum brightness, and the Wind is a good deal brighter than the other two notebooks (see here).

Keyboard and Touchpad

The Wind really shines with its keyboard, and taking up almost every inch of space side to side to have the largest possible keys on such a small device. The keyboard takes all but 2-3 mm of space going side to side, and is really great to type on even with large hands.

MSI Wind

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The only big flaw I can find with the keyboard is the super narrow “,”, “.”, and “/” keys which are 2/3 the width of standard letter keys. This threw me off at first trying to type in websites, and hitting the “/” key instead of a period. Once you got used to the layout it wasn’t as much of a problem, but come on, why ruin such a good thing? The shift keys on both sides should have been reduced in size by half and still been perfectly fine, and you wouldn’t have to have 2/3 size symbol keys.

The touchpad is slightly recessed from the palmrest by about 1mm, giving a defined lip around the entire perimeter. For small touchpads like this one, this can be very handy, letting you keep your finger inside the detection zone, and not always slipping out accidentally. The sensitivity is great, letting you slide your finger along without excessive pressure for perfect tracking. At times the preset vertical and horizontal scrollbars messed with that perfection, making the mouse veer far from the intended path, but with a few adjustments peace was restored.

The touchpad buttons consist of a single see-saw bar, ala early Eee PC, with shallow feedback and a semi-soft click. The clicking noise could probably best be described as a Microsoft Intellimouse clicking inside a sock.

Ports, Networking, Etc.

The MSI Wind U100 has a laundry list of features, including everything you would expect to find on a full-size notebook. Key features include 802.11b/g wireless, Bluetooth 2.0, with USB, VGA-Out, Ethernet, and audio making notable appearances.

There’s even a 1.3 MPx Webcam and a 4-in-1 Card Reader (SD/MMC/MS/MSpro).

While FireWire would have been nice to see, it was understandable to be missing, with an already crowded port selection on each side.

Audio

Speaker quality on the Wind makes most full-size notebooks sound like full surround-sound systems. It works well enough if you have to watch a YouTube clip or listen to system sounds, but it doesn’t have any purpose beyond that.

Volume levels can’t get high enough, and you are missing all midrange without even a hint of bass. The headphone jack provides a great alternative though, and comes highly recommended.

Missing Features

After my hands-on time with the ASUS Eee PC 901 and the Hybrid Engine that allowed you to overclock the Intel Atom processor for a boost in power, I really wanted to see what the MSI Turbo feature could do. Those who managed to get pre-release models of the MSI Wind saw gains using it, but as luck would have it MSI pulled this feature out before it started shipping to consumers.

The FN+F10 overclocking feature is no more, and replaced with a simple “ECO feature” that switches between battery saver mode at 800 MHz and normal mode which dynamically switches between 800 MHz and 1600 MHz depending on processor load.

Performance

System performance — with great help of Intel Atom processor — was stellar. Boot times into Windows XP were on par with many full-size notebooks, and casual use programs opened up without any lag.

The subnotebook experience is basically identical to what you would find on a regular notebook, minus the gaming or fast photo editing. Programs like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Pidgin, Word, and Excel all open up just as fast and work just as well as you would expect on a modern computer.

Items that fall into a more intensive category like Gimp, Half-Life 2, or 720p video content don’t work as well. Gimp worked great for basic photo editing, but some tasks took much longer than they did on my Core 2 Duo system. Half-Life 2 and the HD video content played between 1-5 FPS and were quite horrific. The Wind just doesn’t have the horsepower for really intensive activities.

The normal benchmarks I use for notebooks were thrown out of the window for the MSI Wind because of various problems associated with the platform, so I chose to use a few creative alternatives. Futuremark 3DMark03 made a short comeback, as well as FPS tests inside the original Half-Life.

3DMark03 Graphics Performance Benchmark (higher scores indicate better performance):

Notebook

3DMark03 Results

MSI Wind U100 (1.6GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)

589 3DMarks

Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T4400, ATI X1400 128MB)

4,622 3DMarks

 

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Notebook / CPU

wPrime 32M time

Asus Eee PC 901 (Intel Atom @ 1.8GHz)

111 seconds

MSI Wind U100 (Intel Atom @ 1.6GHz)

124.656 seconds

HP 2133 Mini-Note (Via CV7-M ULV @ 1.6GHz)

168.697 seconds

Asus Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)

200.968 seconds

Asus Eee PC 900 (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)

203.734 seconds

Fujitsu U810 Tablet PC (Intel A110 @ 800MHz)

209.980 seconds

Everex CloudBook (VIA C7-M ULV @ 1.2GHz)

248.705 seconds

Asus Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 630MHz)

289.156 seconds

Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.2GHz)

76.240 seconds

Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (Core Solo U1500 @ 1.33GHz)

124.581 seconds

Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile @ 1.6GHz)

231.714 seconds

 

Since Half-Life was released in a time when system requirements were laughable by today’s standards, it ended up working great on the Atom-based Wind. A frame rate of 59-61 frames per second (FPS) were common in most situations with the system setup in “normal” mode, and 25-30 FPS in “eco” mode.

High Definition video playback is not really possible on the Intel Atom processor besides select movies. Most sources have bitrates that are too much for the processor to handle when decoding, and I barely broke over 6-8 FPS throughout my video collection. Regular 480P video played just fine, so all hope was not lost. It will probably take a significant speed bump or new video chipset before these subnotebooks can handle HD content without stuttering.

While the Wind doesn’t have the low latency SSD advantage of the Eee PC, it does come out on top with higher overall transfer speeds with the spinning drive. U100 users also have an advantage with nearly quadruple the storage space, and an easy and cheap upgrade path if they so chose.
(See HD Tune Results)

What Heat and Noise?

For a user who has put up with super hot keyboards and bottoms of subnotebooks for far too long under the excuse of “it’s small and space cramped,” the MSI Wind was a huge surprise.  After sitting on for a couple of hours in normal mode while plugged in, the bottom of the notebook was 90-94 degrees Fahrenheit, and the keyboard was below that.

Compared to the Eee PC 900 which broke 100 degrees on the bottom and 105F on the keyboard, this is a huge advantage. For someone like a writer who might spend hours on a keyboard typing away on the road, not having your fingertips sweat like crazy is a incredible feature.

Fan noise is completely silent at best and minimal at worst… and seemingly always running in the background. This is probably one of the big reasons the MSI Wind runs at reasonable temperatures, as it always has some air flowing through to carry away excess heat.

Battery Life

Currently only the 3-cell battery version of the MSI Wind is shipping, and I would barely call the Wind travel friendly because of it. At lowest screen brightness and the processor locked in ECO mode, the Wind almost broke 3 hours with wireless enabled but no activity taking place.

When I turned the backlight brightness up to reasonable levels — which range between 60-70% and leave the processor in the normal mode — battery life plummeted to 2 hours and 6 minutes under “normal” conditions. This includes heavy web browsing, installing a small application, and viewing images off of a memory card. For something a business user might want to take with him or her on the road, this is unacceptable, even compared with gaming notebooks.

When the 6-cell battery starts shipping as a standard item, my harsh opinion will change as you might be able to break 4-5 hours depending on usage, since the battery is twice the size. This is basically the only option for road warriors, besides packing an AC adapter and extension cord at all times to gain outlet access.

Ease of Upgrades

Currently any upgrade beyond swapping the battery for one with a larger capacity will void your warranty.

MSI Wind

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For those who accept that risk, popping open the bottom half of the MSI isn’t that hard at all. Remove all the exposed screws on the bottom (including the one under the warranty void sticker), and use a fingernail around the perimeter to release the plastic clips.

I found it easier to unlatch the rear portion first, lift up the left side, and wiggling the right side free. To clear the VGA port on the right side you need to slide the bottom half in that direction, instead of lifting directly up.

Once the plastic shell is removed you have full access to any component that could be swapped out. This includes the wireless card, 2.5-inch SATA hard drive, and adding additional RAM to the open DDR2 slot. The included 1 GB of RAM is soldered onto the motherboard, so you are stuck with that for the life of the subnotebook, but the free RAM slot does make some expansion possible.

Specifications

  • 1.6 GHz Intel Atom Processor
  • 10″ WSVGA (1024 x 600) LCD
  • Windows XP Home Operating System
  • Intel GMA 950 Integrated Graphics
  • 1 GB 667 MHz DDR2 Memory
  • 80 GB 2.5″ SATA Hard Drive
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.0
  • 3-Cell 11.1v 2200 mAh Battery
  • Size: 10.2″ x 7″ x 1.3″
  • Weight: 2 lbs 8.6 oz

Conclusion

The MSI Wind U100 is one of the best subnotebooks I have seen come out of the mini notebook storm that has hit us the past few months. It offers a 10″ widescreen, 2.5-inch SATA hard drive, Intel Atom processor, and Wi-Fi with Bluetooth for well under what some of the other mainstream competition charge.

All all of this seems to come with a small caveat right now: horrible battery life. MSI is only selling the 3-cell version of the Wind, which averages just a hair over 2 hours of mobile use. This is unacceptable for a travel companion device. Good news is sometime in the future: a configuration will be sold with an extended battery, and early adopters should wait for it.

For the $500 price you really can’t ask for much more. The screen is great, the keyboard is great, build quality is top notch, and above all the thing doesn’t light your pants on fire… at least not due to heat.

Pros

  • No heat to ignite pants or palms
  • Super bright LED backlit screen
  • Near perfect keyboard
  • Storage device offers an easy route of upgrade

Cons

  • Battery life is abysmal with the 3-cell
  • Limited supply at release, hard to acquire

The recommended price for the MSI Wind U100 is $500. It’s available from Amazon for less than that, though.


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