The mini lightweight notebook has been the holy grail for me for a long time. I just want a machine that offers me the ability to write comfortably in any environment, or web surf and read email. I like connectivity options, wireless, and a high quality screen that doesn’t compromise on readability. If it can play games, fine. But that by no means is a requirement or what I am looking for.
Oh and it has to have a nice build quality and design.
Too often these mini laptops are either oversized (Thinkpads) or they are overpriced (the old Toshiba Libretto series) or both (Macbook Air). I thought I had finally found the perfect machine with the Asus Eeepc 4G. Sure, it couldn’t run Vista but that was no big deal, it ran both XP and it’s own Linux distro pretty quickly. And it was only $399! But after months of using it, the 800×400 resolution of the screen, and the tiny cramped chiclet keyboard began to really wear on me. To the point where I imagined the eeepc might almost be a better first machine hooked to a monitor and keyboard, rather than in its portable format.
Along came the HP Mini Note 2133. It’s a little over two pounds, about the size of a large paperback book, and it ranges in price from $529 to $849 in varying processor and RAM configurations.
So I decided to give it a spin. I’ve been using the HP Mininote 2133 for a week now and can say hands down it beats the EeePC 701 and even the 901 series in just about every way. While there are some compromises to the design, I think I’ve finally gotten the minipc form factor that I will use to judge all further iterations. It’s glossy bright screen is capable of displaying HD video in a bright and clear way, its full sized keyboard means not having to compromise being able to write or edit documents on the go (I’ve been writing almost all my blog entries and twitters and emails on it now for a week). While the processor is woefully underpowered, it’s overall Vista specifications aren’t bad at all. I thought the Eeepc build quality was fine for the price (I got a nice black one and while made of plastic, it was very solid and looked nice.), but the 2133 is just outstanding. A brushed chrome finish, solid hinges, and they didn’t skimp on the style of the design such that in just sitting here in a sushi place in Vegas writing this review I’ve gotten at least three comments on how nice my laptop is. I even gave the manager on duty a brief tour of it running Vista.
The numeric specs on the system running Vista business are as follows:
Graphics (Aero) 3.1
Graphics (Games) 2.5
Hard Disk Perf: 5.3
I’m running the 1.6ghz version with 2 gigs of ram and the 7200 rpm 120 gig hard drive. Doing web browsing and email, the system is snappy and responsive, and the onboard VIA chrome9 graphics DO support Aero, although with a processor penalty. If you have Aero on and decide that, in addition to web browsing and email that you want to open a spreadsheet or document, the system is going to bog for a moment. Once it loads it’s fine, but you can tell the proc is the weak point here. Sound is surprisingly good. I thought the Eeepc had outstanding sound for the form factor but this manages to beat it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tinny and there’s no bass, but for itty bitty little speakers, music listening is basically decent and youtube viewing or other video is just fine.
Battery life is what you would expect for a small form factor machine with no optical drive. I routinely get 4 and a half hours on the six cell battery on Vista "High Performance". In fact I’m considering getting the three cell just because usually three hours of battery is fine for me and it would cut down on weight if I set the power plan to "Balanced".
Don’t let that graphics rating think you can play games however. While the Chrome9 is a very very capable IGP for basic 3d gaming, the processor is the Achilles heel of the system. Valve’s Source Engine video stress test at 640×480 with everything set to low garners a mere 10 frames a second. While older 2d games like Civilization3, Starcraft, or Diablo 2 might run just fine, only very light or very old 3d engine games are going to run acceptably on this system. But that’s ok its meant to be a tiny business PC not a tiny game PC.
A lot of people told me to hold out for Atom based machines. Or told me that the processor in this machine was it’s weak spot. It’s true that the atom appears to be a superior processor for this form factor. But what really sold me on this machine was not the proc, it was the gorgeous 1280×768 bright glossy screen and large keyboard. And you can get it today for a decent price. I can’t say enough about the screen, although its small and runs at high res, websites render perfectly on it, unlike the Eeepc lines which tend to sacrifice height in resolution.
Sure, better machines are coming, but there’s always the next better thing coming along in a few months. So far I’ve not seen one that truly nails the screen/keyboard option. Seriously I cannot say enough about the large keyboard. It’s 92% the size of a normal laptop keyboard. I know that sounds hard to believe given the overall form factor but really it’s true. The keys are very, very close to what you would see on a normal laptop sizewise.
At the tiny business pc part, it works relatively flawlessly. But to really unlock the potential of the hardware on the form factor, Linux or Windows XP SP3 is highly recommended. Overall, that will free up enough resources to make the processor less of the weak spot on the machine, but of course if your business requires Vista, I want to stress it operates on Windows Vista just fine.
So if you currently have an Eeepc, sell it! This machine, for only a little bit more, is well worth the cash for its wonderful large keyboard and beautiful glossy screen.