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MSI Wind U115-025UK- 10in Hybrid Netbook review

Andy Vandervell

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Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

6

Innovation can be a double-edged sword. While we've been frank in our criticism of netbooks for their lack of just that, it's as much a reflection of the sector and its demands as the strategy of any manufacturer - when you're trying to make low-cost devices there isn't a great deal of wiggle room! It's a problem that's amply demonstrated by the MSI Wind U115 (U115-025UK), which MSI terms a 'hybrid netbook' due to its use of both solid state storage and a mechanical hard drive. This is without doubt an innovation, but it comes at a price.

That price is £450 - yes, you did read that correctly. That, in anyone's book, is a lot of money for a netbook, but MSI has thrown the book at the U115 where features are concerned. Notwithstanding the hybrid storage element (which we'll get onto in a moment) the U115 joins a select group of netbooks that use Intel's GMA 500 graphics chipset. Unlike most netbooks this offers a hardware video decoder for HD video, just provided it's encoded in MPEG-2, VC-1, WMV9 or AVCHD (h.264) codecs. It's also very dependent on a software player that supports this hardware decoding, so there are a few hurdles to jump over before you can benefit from this feature.

This change of chipset even necessitates a change of processor, though don't get too excited, since it's still a 1.6GHz effort, the Intel Atom Z530. This is joined by the usual 1GB of RAM, but Draft-N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth also make the trip - as does a 1.3 megapixel webcam. Also included in the box is a very smart slip-case, among the best we've seen with any netbook. It's a well-padded effort that also features a useful accessories pouch that's perfect for carrying the power supply, a pen and a notepad.

Clearly it's the storage configuration that's the key component, though. In the U115 you get an 8GB internal flash drive, onto which Windows XP is installed. This is then supplemented by a 160GB hard drive for data storage. This means that the mechanical drive, which creates heat and draws more power, is only accessed when you're looking at data stored on the hard drive. This all has a cumulative effect in improving battery life, something that should be pretty good given the six-cell, 5,200mAh capacity battery supplied.

In fact, the U115 is among the best netbooks around where battery life is concerned. During web browsing we managed a projected 10 hours of use, which could be increased further by reducing the screen brightness from 40 per cent (the level at which we tested) to the minimum available. Moreover, an anti-glare finish to the 10in, 1,024 x 600 resolution display ensures it's easily viewable in normal household lighting at this level, so this needn't be an irritating compromise.

This 10-hour figure is impressive, but our video playback testing demonstrated rather well how effective MSI's hybrid configuration is. When playing a video from the 160GB 'data' drive the U115's battery life is reduced to around five and a half hours. This is still a decent result, but clearly using the hard drive has a noticeable impact on battery life. More's the pity manufacturers seem to have turned away from SSD storage on netbooks.

Ohmz

May 26, 2009, 5:14 am

Looks like manufacturers have forgotten what a netbook was supposed to be.





So this a $700 netbook? What the hell happened to the $300 netbook?





If I wanted a bit more power I'd opt for a proper thin and light like this one http://u.nu/5ud7





And I don't get the argument that it's smaller and lighter so you have to pay more for it. Absolute nonsense in my book! Like a 4 pound notebook is significantly harder on the back than a 3 pound netbook.

Ohmz

May 26, 2009, 7:40 am

Oh wow I made a grammatical error! Oh the irony! :)

basicasic

May 26, 2009, 1:13 pm

£450 for a netbook! Has the world gone stark raving mad?

Andy0d2

May 26, 2009, 3:54 pm

For this money it should look the seashell and have a touch screen an optical drive and the hybrid storage

Epic

May 26, 2009, 3:55 pm

Assuming it's the same touchpad as on the bog standard Wind netbooks you can get a replacement Windows driver that brings scroll functionality and other settings. See msiwind.net. The touchpad is still not brilliant though.

TheVoice

May 26, 2009, 5:34 pm

Netbooks are getting far too expensive. Surely the entire purpose of them being produced in the first place was to offer low-cost, portable systems that were smaller, slower and cheaper than normal notebooks? Instead, it seems like they're just getting bigger, more expensive and slightly better-specced, whilst becoming essentially the same price as a full-size notebook that full-size performance and features.





It's good that Dell have realised that there is a market for the ~£200 netbook by releasing the Mini 10v, but it seems every other manufacturer is just driving up the cost by making them better (and consequentially, more expensive) than they actually need to be.

Andy Vandervell

May 26, 2009, 7:19 pm

@TheVoice: You're quite right, though ironically I think some this has been in reaction to consumers. After all, we regularly see people commenting that they want a netbook with HD video, or an HD screen and so on and so forth, but the same people will probably complain when the price is suddenly much higher. It's a vicious circle all this.

pimlicosound

May 26, 2009, 7:39 pm

@Andy: It shouldn't be the same people complaining both ways. That would be ridiculous. I'm on record as having said I'd happily pay £500-600 for a laptop (call it whatever you want) in the approx 10" form factor with enough power to play Flash video properly, with a solid keyboard and which doesn't look like a piece of plastic junk.





There should still be a place for budget netbooks, but I don't understand why so many people are complaining about the existence of better specified, higher priced netbooks. Surely there's a place for products at both ends of the market.





And to pre-empt the retort that for £500-600 I could get a proper 15" notebook, I don't want one. Too big, too heavy, too short battery life and so too pointless for me.

Andy0d2

May 26, 2009, 7:57 pm

The problem is is that it doesn't cost another £150 for an 8gb flash drive I mean an 8gb flash card can be had for under ten pounds so one that's fit for a netbook cannot be more than £50 as standalone manufactures have announced 16gb drives that boast 100mb/s read write speeds that this certainly doesn't have at about £50. Therefore MSI are taking a massive profit from this version.





PS there would not need to be any space issues since touchscreen controllers/usb hubs used in mods take up far less space than this.





PSS Is


1/2gb ram


2ghz processor/ 1.6ghz dual core


32/64gb ssd (above 50mb/s)


ION


touchscreen


good keyboard/track pad


good looks (<3cm) and less than 1.5kg


really too much to ask for by Christmas 09 with windows 7 for £500

TheVoice

May 27, 2009, 1:59 am

@pimlicosound: Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there shouldn't be higher-end netbooks available (although just how much higher-end they are over the standard ones is debatable), I just think that the manufacturers have lost sight of the purpose of a netbook and have all but abandoned the lower-end of the netbook market.

Leonardo

May 27, 2009, 5:02 am

@TheVoice: There can't be much profit to be had in the lower end of the netbook market, it only makes sense for a huge manufacturer and distributor like Dell to get involved in that sector in a big way. Technology is always moving forward and the manufacturers are trying to innovate in order for their product to stand out.





I'm in the market for a netbook right now and I would be willing to spend up to £500 on one if it was worth it. My priority is the ability to decode 1080p HD in order for it to double up as a media center, as well as being under 1.3kg and over 6hrs of battery life for mobility and a very good keyboard, screen and touchpad as it will see plenty of use

Ed

May 27, 2009, 2:40 pm

@Andrew Violet: While I'm sure you're correct to a certain degree, one really can't equate the cost of a flash drive to the extra cost of this netbook. For a start there's the change in chipset that you've completely forgotten about and Intel may be charging more for this. Then there's the fact the whole machine would have to be retooled (this isn't just a Wind with bits tacked on, despite how it looks) which adds to development and construction cost, then there's simple economies of scale. MSI is probably producing far fewer of these than its other netbooks (or any other manufacturers netbooks for that matter) because it knows this is a niche market so production costs are kept relatively high.





The fundamental mistake MSI has made here is not charging too much (for the reasons stated above) but rather not taking the opportunity to rejig the design so this looks like a premium machine - if this looked like the Asus 1008HA (sea shell) but still had all its features, I think there would be far fewer complaints.

pimlicosound

May 27, 2009, 8:30 pm

@TheVoice: your comment begs the question of what is the purpose of a netbook? The purpose you ascribe to it likely doesn't match my purpose. A low-cost, budget netbook might suit your purpose. It doesn't suit mine. We shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that netbooks exist to serve one purpose only.





To elaborate, you, like many other people, might have looked at the first netbooks and thought, "great, finally I can buy a real computer for less than £200". And that became its purpose to you.





When I saw the first netbooks, I thought, "great, finally I can buy an ultra-portable computer for less than £1,000".





You can see how our different interpretations ascribe different purposes to netbooks, and so we look for different things in the development of netbooks. You would like to see the netbook market develop towards lower-costs. I would like to see it develop towards premium features, while remaining comfortably beneath the magic £1,000 entry point of the traditional ultra-portable market.

Andy0d2

June 11, 2009, 3:11 am

@ed If you read my post you would understand that the flash itself would cost MSI about £50 maximum and i'm pretty sure that this is by no means a complete retool since they can easily use the spare mini pci-e slot used in the mobile broadband versions. Hell I could probably make this netbook for £350 using an 8gb ssd and a mobile msi U100 or any mobile broadband netbook for that matter! There would be no chipset problems whatsoever however the bios would need to be tweaked for the low power mode

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