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Buying a Netbook? A quick look at the HP mini 311

posted Feb 19, 2010, 12:03 PM by Danny Eusebio   [ updated Feb 19, 2010, 12:05 PM ]
Should you buy a netbook? Netbooks have been around for the past few years and have only recently exploded in the market. You can practically find any computer manufactuer outputting some type of netbook/smartbook. But what is a netbook and how is it different from your typical notebook/laptop. Before I begin, I want to touch on a story of how I got my netbook and discuss my current impressions about it.

About two weeks ago I decided to clean my Dell XPS m1210. I normally do this on a montly basis. It was suppose to be a routine clean. Open up the laptop, get the compressed air, and be done with it. However, that didn’t happen. As usual, I’m always fascinated by technology and I like to open gadgets up more than they should. Now, I didn’t open my laptop further just to guaze at it, but it was a suggestion for a complete cleaning method. Long story short, I popped open my laptop to an undesirable level (took about 20 minutes). To clean the fan, I needed to remove the heatsink. Little did I know my CPU was firmly attached to the heatskink because of the thermal paste.  I accidently damaged the CPU holder (or so I thought). After I put everything together I thought the laptop would boot right back up but it didn’t. My first conlcusion was that I totally ruined my laptop. Great I thought (somewhat sarcastically), let’s find a netbook to replace it.

I already knew a lot about netbooks before my research began. I knew about the processor speeds and the capabilities of most netbooks out on the market. Honestly, they weren’t stunning. I was very use to the Intel Core 2 Duo processor which was very capable. How would suddenly jumping to an Intel Atom Processor be great for me? So since netbooks largest bottle neck was its processor, the next best thing was to find one that could manage to play videos really well, particularly 720P or even 1080p for that matter. Fortunately, Nvidia had brought the ion to the table.

The ion came off as a promising discrete card, apparently a 9400m. If used and coupled with the proper software, high def video playing and encoding could be done with record speed. It was because of this notion I decided to pursue the HP mini 311.

When I brought the netbook home I was hoping to witness a wonderous device. However, it was more dismal than wonderful. First the netbook mouse and mousepad were terrible. It’s design caused the cursor to jump to random locations as I typed. Video playback on Youtube was subpar, even with the 10.1 Flash Beta. Although hard disk playback of video is fine, playing videos off the internet were not. I tried playing Hulu videos and that was skippy and 720P videos on Youtube were just as mediocre. I was firmly disappointed.

I did the upgrades that people suggested on forums. Fortunately most of the playback problems have been fairly resolved. With regards to speed and overall performance, a netbook will struggle. Even handling normal browser task through Google Docs posed bottle necks for the netbook. It was very discouraging. My Dell XPS m1210 ultraportable could easily tackle task with little slowdown whatsoever.

When I finally had time on the weekend to look at my dear XPS m1210, I opened it up once more to see if I could fix it. Maybe the CPU chassis wasn’t damaged. So I did a little bit of fiddling in that area and whole and behold, my laptop turned on. I was amazed but also sort of stunned. Because now I had two laptop devices and one wasn’t really doing the job for me.

Don’t get me wrong, the HP mini 311 is a great device, but it doesn’t give me that rugged feel to it, like its kin, the HP mini 210. The HP mini 311 feels very flimsy as though a drop would pretty much destroy it. And although my XPS is getting old in its looks, it’s actually built very tough. I’ve dropped it a number of times, spilled water, and a tire has run over it and it still runs fantastic. If my netbook were to experience any of those, it was practically game over.

My final thoughts:

1.       Buy a netbook you know feels sturdy. Trust me, if you’re a butterfinger at all, you’ll want a netbook that can take a few punches.

2.       Buy a netbook for what it’s intended for. It’s a device to get you online, type some document, and maybe watch some videos.

3.       Check the mousepad reviews before buying. Some netbooks have terrible mousepads. This can be very annoying even if you have to get use to it.

4.       Go for a netbook with good battery life. You’re obviously getting one for all day computing, try to get the most out of it. Some netbooks reach 10 hours.

5.       Even with Ion, gaming with the latest games is ridiculous. If you’re a gamer, keep your games on your desktop and play them there. The framerates and quality are still subpar even with the Ion processor. Maybe when Ion 2 comes out things will change, but the Intel Atom processor really bogs the system down.

6.       Windows 7 runs snappier if you can get it, but expect to lose an hour on your battery life, maybe even a little more.

 

When I use a laptop, I want it to run smooth and fast. Unfortunately, a netbook just doesn’t offer that to me at this point. Sometimes the lag and delays can be very frustrating, especially when you need that speed at important times. If you’re the type that is use to this speed and comfort, I would suggest avoiding the Intel Atom Processor and scoot a long towards an Intel Core 2 Duo at least. The battery life for most might not be as glamorous, but it will do the work you want it to.

HP mini 311 image from: http://www.geeky-gadgets.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/hp-mini-311-netbook_1.jpg

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