MSI Wind Review (Verdict: At Last!)

While the rest of the world has been enjoying the MSI Wind, the US release has suffered multiple delays due to battery shortages. Finally, after months of waiting, the little Asus-killer laptops are shipping. So while some of you may already have a Wind in your hands, I thought I'd take this chance to share my own impressions with you all the same. But maybe it's best summed up by my wife as she walked in the room, grabbed the computer off of my lap and said, "This is what I wanted the Eee to be." Seriously, she really said that.

She was immediately drawn to the two most important upgrades that you'll notice over the first gen mini-notebooks like the Eee 701—the screen and the keyboard.

Sure, the Wind packs a 1.6Ghz Atom processor that's pretty speedy at operating XP (as well as a generous 80GB of storage), but honestly, those first gen systems were probably fast enough for most of us. What makes the Wind a pleasure to use is its bright 10" screen (it's not SUPER sharp even at 1024x600, but it's decent and has a surprisingly good viewing angle) and a larger keyboard than you see in a lot of mini-notebooks. It's not quite as comfy as the HP Mini-Note's fatty keyboard, but it's very usable after a few minutes of typos.

So you read that right. I love the Wind for its bigger screen and a bigger keyboard—call me superficial.

I simply never became comfortable using the Eee 701 for more than a few minutes at a time. I was digitally claustrophobic. And while I still couldn't do my job with the Wind, it's great for sitting in your lap while you watch some TV. (Oh, and side-note, it runs quite cool.)

As for the performance, as I said above, it really is quite speedy. I'd probably be tempted to throw another gig of RAM inside for the occasional multitasking glitch, but I never got the impression that the system was dragging its feet. Trust me, we've all had to use much slower systems.

And when I tested out Skype, I was quite impressed with the incredibly fluid experience. I mean, the integrated webcam worked well capturing my mug in not-so-optimal lighting conditions and the incoming video framerates were solid, but I had a perfect conversation through the onboard mic and speakers, too. It's really a great Skype machine.

If there's one real complaint anyone will have with the Wind, it's the battery life. I tested the system pretty hard with nonstop Wi-Fi browsing, 3/4 bright screen, some application installs and a bit of Skyping, and I only walked away with 1 hour and 47 minutes of use before it died. This number is right around where I expected, honestly, but I definitely see the appeal in waiting until a the Wind is released with a bigger battery (6-cell, twice the capacity) in September. Then again, a 6-cell Wind is heavier, too.

So this brings us to the inevitable question, "should I get the Asus Eee 901 instead?" In full disclosure, I have not used an Eee 901. But I do know that it costs US$100 more than the Wind. And looking at the spec list (which includes a smaller screen), I'm dumbfounded as to where that extra cost may have been utilised—solid state storage, I guess.

But comparing the Wind to a first generation Eee is like comparing a sporty compact car to a scooter. There is a world of difference in comfort, even among these compact cruisers. (Hopping back on my MacBook Pro later felt like driving a unabashed, gas-guzzling Cadillac.)

I'm not sure that mini-notebooks are for everyone, but I do like where the niche is heading with bigger screens and more storage without much added weight, size or cost. And the Wind definitely represents its class well in these respects, helping convince us that maybe one day we won't need laptops that are so freaking huge.

Oh, and if US$499 is simply too much and my review really sold you, then just wait until September. Pick up the same hardware loaded with Linux for US$399...and install XP yourself.

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