Nov 162010
 

Searching for the second, slower home laptop, I didn’t really want a netbook because I had a problem with small screens and small keyboards, so I was considering tablets for a while, as mentioned in one of my previous posts. However, having had an iPad in the past, I’d rather wait for the second generation.  The Android or Palm OS tablets are not yet serious contenders, thus I finally focused more on laptops and netbooks due to their versatility.  After browsing several stores and reviews, I found an opportunity I couldn’t pass: the 11.6” MSI  U230-870 Light netbook on sale for $350 minus $50 mail-in rebate at my favorite local electronics superstore, the “temple of electronics”, AKA Fry’s.  This thing is packed with good deals – quality 250 GB HDD, a HDMI port, 11.6″ anti-reflective LED backlit screen, one 2 GB RAM chip (add another chip to upgrade to 4 GB), 3 USB ports, etc.

We have been running this netbook mostly connected to power and it has been performing great.  However, we gradually discovered that the online videos of higher resolution were terribly choppy whenever this netbook was not on AC power.  One of Windows 7 gadgets, “All Cpu Meter” by Addgadget.com showed that the CPU was constantly running at 800 MHz on battery, which is one half of its rated speed of 1.6 GHz.  No matter what I tried and which power plan or lack thereof I chose, I wasn’t able to increase the CPU clock without plugging the laptop into the power grid.  It seems that the manufacturer has halved this system’s CPU clock when not connected to the power supply to get seemingly better battery life.  I was able to find a workaround by going into BIOS (pres Del key during bootup) and disabling “PowerNow”, but after that the clock remains at 1.6 GHz all the time, so I expect the battery life to suffer a lot.  The speed change as necessary for optimum performance should be happening automatically on balanced power plan, while constantly running on highest speed should be happening only on maximum performance plan as is usually the case with other laptops.  Perhaps a BIOS firmware upgrade will fix this, so hear me out, MSI.  Netbooks are not speed kings, and so it’s a shame that the manufacturer furthermore halved its performance in order to “cheat” on battery life without giving end user an easy choice between either the full CPU speed or longer battery life.  There’s a lot of information about this and similar MSI netbooks in various netbook forums and some people have underclocked them for longer battery life, while others have overclocked the CPU even up to 2 GHz and above for better performance.

Pros:
– Anti-reflective screen, a rare find in consumer notebooks, usually $50-100 extra
– Big 11.6″ LED backlit screen with 1366 x 768 resolution
– 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium (unlike slow Vista, Windows 7 does great on Netbooks)
– 2 GB RAM with additional empty slot for memory upgrade (I upgraded it to 4 GB)
– 1.3 Megapixel webcam
– b/g/n WiFi
– CPU faster than ATOM
– Good graphics chip
– Many ports: 3 USB, 1 HDMI, multi card-reader (SD/MMc/MS/XDSU)
– Same power supply as on my Toshiba Portege laptop (even better, w/ LED indicator and angular plug)
– Speakers louder than expected for such a small machine
– Quality 250 GB 2.5″ 5400 rpm WD HDD (can be easily upgraded to faster or bigger capacity hard drive)

Cons:
– CPU speed halved on battery power
– A bit tight keyboard takes time to get used to if you’re a touch typist.
– no 802.11a (5 GHz band) WiFi capability
– Yesteryear CPU (AMD Athlon Neo MV-40), but still faster than Atom
– Hot bottom left side after prolonged use
– The fan can be heard, but it’s not too loud

Summary: Although advertised as a notebook, this is a netbook due to its single core netbook class processor.  However, it can be a laptop surrogate or a great nettop, due to its solid performance on AC power (the Athlon Neo is quite faster than Atom).  Yes, it’s not a speed king, but that’s why it was so affordable.  It is more than sufficient for web browsing and email or text processing, youtube videos and netflix movies (low resolution on battery power and HD on AC).  It only lacks one p for perfection – the HDMI goes up to 1080i, but it’s still an impressive feature for a netbook.  I have a big problem with most consumer laptops, netbooks, smartphones and tablets having highly reflective screens (this machine’s bigger brother, the 12″ version MSI u230-086, somewhere also listed as MSI Wind12 u230 has that problem). When I saw the anti-glare screen on this netbook, I had to buy it because these are very hard to find.    Unlike those daylight-challenged devices, this one can be used outside or in a bright office.  Considering the price I paid for it ($300), it was an amazing deal.

So, here we are, I still miss the iPad but this thing is so much faster and more versatile.  iPad or an Android tablet will have to wait for a new job, so those of you out there with hiring skills to recognize a good IT executive, help me out here 🙂

Please note that I didn’t plagiarize this review from Amazon.com because it’s my own – I post there under name DrZ.

View this netbook on Amazon.com

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