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Just like Asus' competing Eee PC or Samsung's N-series netbooks, MSI's Wind range can be relied upon to receive regular refreshes. After a while, one netbook can start to feel much like the next, but to be fair, newer models usually offer some kind of improvement: whether it's better battery life, a more recent OS or slightly faster processor. However, with its new Wind U160, MSI is bringing some more fundamental changes compared to the U115 we looked at last year, including a rather dramatic design overhaul. Let's find out how it holds up.
Unfortunately, on the component side there's little to get excited about, and the specification list reads almost identically to that of most other current 10.1in netbooks, including a sub 720p 1,024 x 600 screen resolution. Intel's N450 Atom processor runs at nearly the same clock speed as the older N270 but uses a slightly faster and more energy efficient architecture, also integrating Intel's basic GMA 3150 graphics chip onto the CPU die. This will do a fine job of 2D video and can cope with 720p HD video acceleration, but Full HD/1080p will usually leave it struggling and 3D gaming is completely out of the question.
It's backed up by 1GB of RAM, which is just barely enough for Windows 7 Starter edition to work smoothly. You can upgrade this by removing a simple hatch at the netbook's base, but as there's only one slot you'll need to chuck the old stick. There's also a 250GB hard drive for storage, which is the standard size for a netbook these days. Wireless-N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 are on-board, though Ethernet is of the non-Gigabit variety. A webcam and microphone complete the feature count.
Connectivity is also as expected, comprising three USB 2.0 ports, an analogue VGA video output, headphone and microphone jacks and a memory card reader. One nice touch is a physical Wi-Fi switch, a good way to quickly save power when it's not needed.
Design is where the Wind U160 takes a bold step away from its predecessor. It now looks like the bastard offspring of an Asus Eee PC 1005PE and a Sony VAIO Z Series, which is no bad thing. The prominent, rounded silver hinge with its chromed edges and blue-backlit power button is this netbook's design focal point, with the rest of it adorned in glossy black or "fancy gold", according to your taste.
However, while attractive and solid, the new design is not all good news. Unfortunately, the aforementioned fingerprint-loving gloss extends not only to the screen but also the palm rests, making this a higher-maintenance machine than its matt predecessors.
At least the screen's glossy coating increases perceived contrast, giving colour that extra little bit of pop. Though you won't get much dark detailing, black looks black and horizontal viewing angles are surprisingly good, with text coming across nice and sharp.
Much the same can be said of the speakers, which while not up to the best of the competition do a respectable job by netbook standards, producing relatively audible volume levels with decent clarity despite their inevitable lack of bass.
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