The recent flurry of mini PCs may all look alike but, like a manufactured boy band, they’ve all subtly carved their own identities. The HP Mini-Note sacrificed performance for looks, Acer’s Aspire One conceded battery life, storage and a polished operating system to keep its price down, while Asus’ Eee PC 901 is an all-rounder. So what’s the MSI Wind’s special power?
Well, it’s aiming for the top. For starters, its 10in screen is matched only by the Eee PC 1000. There’s a slight blue tint when the backlit is dimmed and its size means the Wind isn’t quite as ‘go anywhere’ as its smaller, fun-sized rivals, but it’s still an extremely practical size.
Also like the 1000, there’s a full size keyboard that’s a pleasure to type on. The mousepad is a little cramped and fiddly, but that’s because the overall dimensions are well constrained. It’s almost exactly halfway between the tiny 8.9in ‘netbooks’ and the slightly-too-big Eee PC 1000.
Where MSI really scores is in the build quality. While it’s still plasticky, the textured surround for the keyboard and flush folding hinge make this a good-looking machine, spoilt only by a wide band of plastic around the screen.
Curiously, though, when you push an SD card into the reader, the end of it is left sticking out. This isn’t a permanent home for extra storage, but with an 80GB hard drive that shouldn’t be too big a concern.
Not Linux yet
The only version of the Wind U100 so far available is the Windows XP version. This is almost identical in specification to the equivalent Eee PC, with the only real difference that network support is wireless G rather than N.
It’s hard to say whether or not the Suse Linux version will be as easy for Windows users to pick up and run with as Xandros has been, especially when it comes to media streaming and finding a Windows network.
The price is right
What’s really outstanding is the price points that MSI has hit. The Linux model will launch at £300 (without Bluetooth), while the Windows one is still cheaper than the lowest end EeePC 1000 at £330. If you want a real bargain, PC World is selling a grey XP version badged as an Advent 4211 for just £279.
Before you run out and buy one, though, there is one major flaw. Thanks, apparently, to a global battery shortage the Wind is powered by a measly three cell affair.
Under regular use, with Wi-Fi switched on, this lasts just one hour 45 minutes. That’s barely three lattes worth of coffee shop surfing, and a six cell upgrade will cost somewhere in the region of £60-70.
For longer lifespan and more portability, then, stick with the Asus Eee PC 901 (last seen around the £280 mark). If you want the larger screen and keyboard, the Wind is blowing favourably in MSI’s direction.