Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Mighty Mini...

The early indications seem promising with the new HP mini 311 netbook
( $499 HP quick ship) I purchased for "the wife" to replace her aging, yet still faithfully plugging along IBM X31 laptop. The X31, a 13 inch ultra compact cost over 2 grand when new and was purchased online @ ATR computers (ebay power seller) for $330 used, so the value factor is substantial, it arrived looking almost new and is a beautiful little machine.
( thanks ATR ). (link) ATR-COMPUTERS-INC_

 That said, the Mini 311 sports a 11.6 inch HD widescreen display ( it's stunning ) with a 1366 x 768 resolution and the new Nvidia Ion le graphics chip, a 250 GB hard drive, 2 Gb of DDR3 and the new Windows 7 home premium OS , as opposed to most standard netbooks 10.1" 1024 x 600 display and onboard Intel graphics, 160 GB hard drive, 1 or 2 Gb's of DDR2 and Windows Xp . The Mini 311's display and video processing power are really it's strong point, the increased resolution allows most web pages to display full width, so no side scrolling and the extra 1.5" of screen real estate puts the HP in the pint size sweet spot.

The 311 has an HDMI output so it will drive an HD widescreen monitor, I connected it to a 46" Panasonic plasma tv ( thanks Kacie! ) and it runs 720p flawlessly, try that with a standard netbook, ( feeble attempt to justify $499 price tag ). Actually, aside from the Nvidia graphics  and HD screen, it is a standard netbook with the underwhelming Intel 1.6 ghz N270 Nano processor straining to run Win 7, imagine trying to pull semi-trailer with a golf cart . In all fairness it performs most standard tasks, the web, documents and light multitasking adequately, but just... adequately. I've had a chance to watch some tv and movies on Hulu and the Mini will stream SD full screen and it's watchable with very little glitchiness, the weak point here is flash video and not the 311's strong video capabilities, Adobe has come out with the flash 10.1 beta which promises the ability to stream HD from Youtube, Hulu ect.
( yippee,... hopefully ).

The build quality is good, lots of plastic and not overly robust, but good. The 92 percent size keyboard is decent but could be labeled a little better, backlighting would have been nice. Can you tell I'm an over forty, hunt and peck typist? Battery life is just under 5 hours with the 6 cell battery, but is more like 3.5 to 4 hours with heavy video and HD usage. It has a decent size trackpad with the scrolling feature and multi-touch gestures, which is a little "touchy" but I was able to adjust the sensitivity and it was not too bad. I turned off the multi- touch, and since Machelle prefers a mouse, added a Logitech M505 wireless mouse with the tiny nano unifying usb receiver which sits almost flush with the edge of the Mini and allows you to add a keyboard on the same receiver. One drawback with the nano receiver is that the netbook won't boot up with it installed, so you have to remove it at start up. This is most likely a problem with the computer's bios and hopefully HP will come out with an update. Other than that, the mouse is quite nifty.

 If you like to use the trackpad, there is a clever little utility called "touchfreeze" that disables the trackpad while you're typing, preventing accidental clicking  and it's freakin free! Thanks to all the ingenious people who write software and then give their hard work away to the rest of us. Can you say Mozilla, Firefox, Ubuntu? Having written  a few simple programs in assembly language for the Motorola 6800 chipset back in electronics school ( if I could have avoided it, I would have ), all I can say is software designers are some of the most under appreciated intellectual masochists around.(link) touchfreeze/
 Speakers are stereo and good for a netbook, but good still means puny. Hey, a nice set of earbuds and you're at a concert hall. It's a netbook not a full sized 6 lb. laptop, so limit your expectations reasonably and this little thing is pretty impressive. I broke down and purchased  2GB of Crucial DDR3 @ TigerDirect for $46, which necessitated me removing 1GB of the existing 2GB ( 1Gb is non-removable) maxing the ram at 3 gigabytes, it snapped right in and the HP Mini 311 recognized it no problem. The added ram definitely helps performance and is an easy upgrade. The unit comes with the usual "HP bloatware package" and the somewhat resource hogging Norton security software. A clean install of Win 7 would probably help performance a bit.

All in all, a very nice experience so far, I'll keep you posted if anything interesting crops up.
Transmission ended, Peabody out.....

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