MSI Wind review: Going places without breaking the bank or your back

I'm amazed at what you can get for $350.

Netbooks garnered lots of attention last week at CES. As the 3rd generation of these popular, small devices begin to roll out in the coming months, I was able to spend some time with perhaps one of the best netbooks of 2008, the MSI Wind.

The netbook market is a perplexing thing. At first glance it makes sense: a portable, low-priced laptop you can easily take with you without the burden of a 6-pound mountain bag draping over your shoulder. But while I like the portability, I find the screens and keyboards far too small for extended use.

Now, several manufacturers are rolling out models with larger screens (12″ and 13″ screens for example), more power and slightly higher prices. Hmmm, sounds a lot like a laptop doesn’t it? In fact, some, like Sony, prefer you don’t use that moniker when referring to their svelte devices, suspecting attributing the label diminishes status.

The MSI Wind though is a winner through and through, no matter what you call it. It’s available from about $350-400 depending on configuration. For a 2.6lb portable computer that can run Windows XP (and even Windows 7) without a hitch that’s impressive. Over the course of a few days I spent some quality time totting it around, testing performance, and trying to understand the personality of our new-found gadget celebrity, the netbook.

  • MSI Microstar Wind U100 10″ Netbook
  • Rating
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Thumbs up
  • Snappy performance from Intel Atom processor. Low price, still includes large 160Gb hard drive, Wireless N and bluetooth. 10″ LED screen is bright and sharp. Good battery life with 6-cell.
  • Thumbs down
  • Test unit had quirky international keyboard. 1024×600 resolution is decent, but not enough vertical pixels results in lots of scrolling. Customer support questionable.
  • Mike says:
  • “A winner for emails, web surfing and simple applications. Easy to tuck away, good build quality and strong features stack up well against bigger brands such as HP, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung.”
  • Price
  • Starting from $350. As tested $359.
  • Category
  • Gadgets and Tech
MSI Wind Configuration

The test unit was the U100 model configured as follows:

  • MSI Wind U100-422CA
  • Intel Atom 1.6 Ghz processor
  • 160GB SATA hard drive
  • 10″ LED display (1024 x 600)
  • 3 USB2.0 ports
  • VGA out
  • Wireless 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • 4-in-1 memory card reader
  • 1.3 megapixel webcam and microphone
  • 6-cell lithium-ion battery
  • Power adapter
  • Weight: about 2.6 pounds

For the price it’s an impressive feature list. An ExpressCard slot would be welcome as it would allow for future expansion, such as a mobile broadband card.

Unfortunately, it came with the international keyboard (422CA) which makes some unfortunate (and unacceptable) trade-offs in key placement that renders touch typing almost impossible. More on that later.

First impressions

I was surprised how small the box and packaging was, but then again I had just finished reviewing a 15″ laptop and so the tiny proportions of this 10″ netbook was novel. The overall build quality is very good. It feels solid in my hands and there isn’t flex or any creaks in the casing.

Aesthetically I like the black glossy finish. It lends a classy, business-like appearance without unnecessary flash. The “MSI” logo is imprinted on the top in lower case letters. A minor gripe: I wish the colored microphone, headphone and VGA jacks were monochromatic or something other than the old school pinks and purples.

When I carried it around, it felt similar to carrying a hardcover book.

The battery snaps neatly into place along the backside, and the star-shaped power switch to the top-right of the keyboard brings the Wind to life.

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