MSI’s latest venture into the netbook market offers slightly faster performance than the rest of the netbooks we’ve tested with much longer battery life to boot, but the nine-cell battery that makes that possible sends the MSI Wind U123 into the heavyweight range. It makes us wonder: How heavy can a netbook become before it stops really being a netbook? Do we buy them for their formfactor or their performance? Or is it just the price?
The battery is the first thing we noticed about our Wind review unit. The dang thing juts from the back of the netbook, raising the back end more than an inch from horizontal and adding more than a pound to the total weight—making the lap weight three pounds, four ounces. But it’s worth it if battery performance is king. In our full-screen DVD-video battery rundown test, the U123 far outlasted the competition, achieving just over seven hours of playback. The previous netbook record was shared by two Eee PCs, the 901 and 1000HE, both of which clocked in at five and a half hours. This means a nine-cell-powered Wind U123 will likely get eight to nine hours of light usage on a single charge.
Battery life wasn’t the only area in which the Wind U123 outperformed the competition, though. In both Photoshop and our newly instituted Quake III benchmark, it squeaked out small but perceptible leads on the competition—beating our previous Photoshop winner, the Asus Eee 1000HE, by five percent, and running Quake III 5fps faster than the Samsung NC10.
If you don't mind a bit of junk in the trunk, the Wind U123's nine-cell battery will fast win you over.
The Wind U123’s internals are exactly what we’d expect from this newer generation of netbooks: 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280 CPU, 1GB DDR2/667 RAM, 160GB 5,400rpm hard drive, Bluetooth 2.0, and 802.11b/g wireless card. Its external features are similarly standard: three USB 2.0 ports, a multicard slot, VGA, audio in/out, and 10/100 Ethernet. The LED backlight on the Wind U123’s screen is one of the brightest we’ve seen on a netbook; at 60 percent it was brighter than the 1000HE at 100 percent.
MSI has outfitted the U123’s lid with a color scheme it calls Midnight Blue—we call it Sparkly Blue Fingerprint Magnet. The rest of the netbook is matte black and much more smudge-resistant, except for the LCD bezel and the area above the function keys, which are glossy black, and the touchpad buttons, which have a brushed-metal look. The touchpad itself is responsive, if a bit small; you have to download drivers if you want to enable touchpad scrolling. The keyboard is a standard scissor-switch mechanism keyboard, as opposed to the chiclet keys we’re used to seeing on netbooks these days, but it’s quite comfortable to type on, and is nearly full-size. Indeed, our only gripe is the same one we have with every MSI keyboard: the damn Function key is where the Ctrl key should be, and vice versa. This has screwed us up more times than the 1040-EZ.
The Wind U123 boasts user-upgradeable memory and hard drive, though it involves removing 10 screws and punching through a warranty sticker, then removing the entire bottom of the chassis. At least you don’t have to take the whole computer apart, as with the original Acer Aspire One, but it’s not exactly as simple as removing two screws and popping off a panel, à la the Asus Eee 1000HE.
The Wind U123 brings a lot of muscle to the netbook arena: It’s slightly faster and has a much longer battery life than any we’ve previously tested, though the nine-cell battery adds bulk to the otherwise sleek netbook. And the bright screen is sure to win fans. But there are certainly netbooks out there that are lighter, easier to upgrade, and offer similar performance, even if they can’t quite match the battery life.