Explosive performer it is not, but the price is right and this little laptop makes a sweet, portable web browsing rig.
At Maximum PC, our main concern is speed—we like to call it pure PC power. But, as much as we love the massive power available in a desktop replacement notebooks today, our shoulders just won’t let us tote those über-powerful, über-heavy rigs any further than from the sofa to the fridge and back. Even worse, high-powered, ultra-portable rigs are just too damn expensive. And it’s tough to pay more than $2000 for a machine with integrated graphics, even if it weighs only 3 pounds.
Lucky for mobile nerds, there’s a new breed of ultra-cheap ultra-portables on the rise. Thanks in large part to the success of the aggressively priced Asus Eee PC, these new rigs pair lightweight designs and extremely aggressive pricing with a natural performance compromise. The latest entrant is the HP Mini-Note 2133, which costs between $500 and $750, depending on the trim. All four models share the same 1280x720 screen, full-size keyboard, and slick aluminum shell. We’ve spent the last few days testing the high-end, $750 model, which sports a 1.6GHz VIA CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a higher capacity battery.
So, exactly how much do you sacrifice under the hood with a $750 subcompact? We wouldn’t expect the 2133 to be a Ferrari, but we didn’t expect a Yugo either. In fact, if we had to compare this rig to one machine, it would be the trusty Taurus. It’s functional, but doesn’t include any of the bells and whistles that fancier laptops sport, and it’s sure as hell not going to set any speed records. The high-end Mini-Note works great for web browsing, email and other simple desktop tasks. It completely failed at DVD-quality H.264 video playback, and was only able to play Xvid-encoded movies by dropping a ton of frames. We tested the battery with a fairly unrealistic test in retrospect—we pegged the CPU at 100% by playing video and got a mere 78 minutes of playback. We should also note that it’s not entirely fair to say the 2133 didn’t set any benchmark records: it turned in the worst score we’ve ever seen in our Photoshop script.
Mediocre performance aside, the Mini-Note delivers a tight, well-designed package in its slick aluminum chassis. It sports a keyboard that’s almost full size, and the screen looks great. We’re concerned that the hinge doesn’t actually rotate enough to make the screen easily viewable, especially with the standard three-cell battery attached (the larger-capacity battery sticks out the bottom of the laptop enough that the screen can rotate further. Still, this is a perfect rig for around-the-house web browsing, and it would make a killer first laptop for the kids, or even a supplemental rig for those times you need Internet access, but don’t want to sit at your desk.
While we reviewed the high-end $750 model, the Mini-Note is available in a variety of prices and loadouts (check the breakdown at the bottom of the page). The key differences are the operating system (you can choose between SuSe Linux or two flavors of Vista), the memory config, CPU clock speed, and hard disk. While it’s tough for us to recommend any rig with just 1GB of memory, the $550 SuSe config is very interesting.
There are still a few kinks to be worked out in the hardware, and we’d like to see a powerful enough CPU/integrated chipset that the rig will actually play Xvid and H.264 video before we can wholehearted recommend the 2133, but if you’re aware of the gotchas inherent in the device, it could nicely fill a vacant niche in your computing infrastructure.