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There's an interesting sub-plot to the netbook craze that 99.9 per cent of consumers have no idea about. It all concerns market share and a battle between what we can now consider the big three of PC manufacturing: Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Acer. Acer, the challenger to HP and Dell's hegemony, has gone into netbooks in a big way, leading the market as a result. And, though Dell and HP have made a lot of noise, they actually hold a relatively small part of this market. This is partly deliberate, large manufacturers have been wary of cannibalising sales of more profitable mainstream notebooks, but with netbooks seemingly here to stay, both have started to treat the segment a little more seriously.
HP's answer, in the UK at least, is the HP Compaq Mini 700. Anyone familiar with HP 2133 Mini-Note PC will recognise its influence on the Mini 700, but while the former was inadvisedly targeted at business users, the Mini 700 is aimed squarely at the large swathes of netbook buying consumers - as evidenced by the use of Windows XP instead of impenetrable SUSE Linux Enterprise OS. This isn't to say that the familiar DNA isn't without relevance, though, with the Mini 700 inheriting the 2133's most redeeming feature: its excellent keyboard.
We'll get onto that a little later, but first a few words about the Mini 700's design. Indeed, it's worth more than a few words, because the Mini 700 is easily the most attractive netbook going these days. We love the subtle imprint pattern on the lid, the slim and elegantly tapered chassis, the "frameless" edge-to-edge display, the funky and innovative hinge section that houses the speakers and the classiness of the silver sliding switches on the front for power and wireless radios. It's all very simple, elegant and cohesive - words that get applied to HP products more and more these days.
Inside, though, the Mini 700 is as steadfastly unoriginal as any other netbook. Powering it all, if that's an apt statement, is a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 and though the likes of the new Asus Eee PC 1000HE and Acer Aspire One D150 boast the newer 1.66GHz N280, the difference is so small as makes no difference. For RAM there's the usual 1GB DDR2 module, while Wireless-G Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 also make the journey. Despite its name, the Mini 700 is based on the now prerequisite 10.2in display, but its 4,200rpm 60GB hard drive is somewhat sub-par given the £300 or so asking price.
This alone might put off the hardcore netbook buyer, but we dare say that many prospective netbook buyers have no real need for a 160GB hard drive in a machine meant for occasional use. As such it comes down to a case of priorities. If you do want to store every item of media you own, music, photos, high-definition video and more, then the Mini 700 probably isn't for you, If, however, if you intend to use your netbook as it is largely intended, as a secondary machine, then you'll probably be okay here.