As the netbook market has matured, a number of companies have put out cheap ultraportable computers with remarkably similar specifications. And that’s left a lot of folks scratching their heads trying to figure out which netbook is the best bargain. The answer? There is no one-size fits all answer. Odds are if you’re in the market for a $400 – $500 notebook with a 9 or 10 inch screen and an Intel Atom CPU you’ll be happy with whatever you pick up. But for the nitpickers out there, Kevin Tofel of jkOnTheRun and I bring you this semi-comprehensive nitpicker’s guide to the MSI Wind and the Eee PC 1000H.
Kevin and I have been meaning to get together to compare netbooks since last month. But a series of events kept that from happening until yesterday. And since we’re both obsessive tweakers, that means we can’t present you a completely apples to apples comparison. Kevin upgraded his MSI WInd to it has 2GB of RAM instead of 1, while my Eee PC 1000H triple boots Windows XP, Mandriva 2009, and Ubuntu Eee 8.04.1.
That said, these two netbooks are remarkably similar. Each has the following specs which make them look virtually identical on paper:
- Display: 10.2 inch, 1024 x 600 pixels
- CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Atom
- RAM: 1GB (upgradable to 2GB)
- Storage: 5400rpm hard drives (Kevin’s Wind has 120GB, my Eee PC 1000H has 80GB, but both companies are releasing even higher capacity models)
- Battery: 6 cell
- Connectivity: 802.11b/g WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth
- Expansion: 3 USB ports, SD card slot, VGA output, mic-input, headphone out
Another area where the hardware differs a bit is the keyboard. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the MSI Wind keyboard, so I was excited to check it out in person. As it turns out, it’s all a matter of taste.
The MSI WInd has a shift key that’s placed to the left of the right up arrow, making it much easier to hit. The right shift key is also much wider than the right shift key on the Eee PC 1000H. The right Ctrl key on the Wind is also larger than the right Ctrl key on the Eee PC 1000H. But to make up for the extra width, MSI shrunk the size of the period, comma, and slash/question mark keys so that they’re actually smaller than most other keys on the keyboard. I found this more annoying than the tiny right shift key on the 1000H because I use the . and , keys much more frequently than the right shift.
The two netbooks also have the Fn and Ctrl keys in different positions. On the Wind, the key on the far left is the Fn key followed by the Ctrl key. The 1000H has the Ctrl key on the outside, followed by the Fn key.
If the shift key matters to you, as it does to Kevin, the Wind is the clear winner here. But if not, Kevin and I agreed that the Eee PC seems to have a slightly more reponsive feel to its keyboard. The best word we could come up with is that it has a more “bouncy” feel to it, which makes the keyboard feel a bit more like a keyboard you would find on a full sized laptop. The keys are pretty much exactly the same size, but I find typing a tiny bit easier on the 1000H. On the other hand, and I know this is hard to tell from the image, the MSI Wind keys had slightly brighter labels. We think MSI might have used white paint while Asus chose gray.
The Eee PC 1000H also has a few user customizable buttons for launchign applications, as well as a button for toggling the display on and off, which can come in handy if you want to save power without putting the netbook to sleep. On the flip side, those buttons are thin and difficult to press properly, as is the power button. As you’ll see in the video below, I sometimes thing I’ve hit the power button when I haven’t. The Wind has a more typical power button that’s easy to press to turn your PC on and off.
Speakers and Mics
Let me start by saying this. No netbook I have ever seen (or heard) has good speakers. That said, the Eee PC 1000H clearly has better sounding speakers than the MSI Wind. They both output sound at about the same volume, which is to say, loud enough to listen to music or watch a movie in a quiet room. But the MSI Wind speakers have a tinnier sound to them. The Eee PC 1000H provides slightly fuller sound when listening through the speakers. Both netbooks palce the speakers on the bottom of the unit.
The 1000H has stereo microphnes at the base of the screen, while the MSI Wind has a mono mic at the top of the screen. The top placement is better suited for recording audio notes or talking over Skype, if you ask me. But neither mic is particularly good.
The Eee PC 1000H has a wider touchpad with two distinct buttons for right and left clicks. The MSI Wind has a single button that tilts left or right. The touchpad is a bit more narrow. Both are usable, and certainly better than the tiny trackpad on the first generation Eee PC 701. The 1000H trackpad also supports multi-touch gestures. For example, you can scroll up and down by placing two fingers on the touchpad and sliding them up and down at the same time.
Both netbooks have shiny exteriors and matte displays. The Eee PC also has a glossy wrist wrest, which is a bit of a fingerprint magnet. The Wind has more status LEDs, which in theory lets you see what your computer is up to at a glance. But I honestly found the sheer number of LEDs to be confusing.
It’s also easier to upgrade the RAM and hard drive on the Eee PC 1000H, thanks to a panel on the bottom of the netbook that can be accessed by removing two screws. You need to undo 8 screws to disassemble the MSI Wind case so that you can perform even the most basic upgrade like increasing the amount of RAM.
Kevin and I did our best to resolve this issue nearly a month ago by running a series of battery tests on our respective computers. Both have similar specs, and both have 6 cell batteries. With the CPU running at 1.6GHz, and the display and WiFi on, the Wind bested the 1000H by about 20 minutes. The Eee PC 1000H ran for about 3 hours and 19 minutes, while the MSi Wind ran for 3 hours and 39 minutes.
In power saving mode, the difference is even more noticable. The Eee PC 1000H comes with software that lets you toggle the CPU speed between 1.2GHz, 1.6GHz, and 1.7GHz, depending on whether you want to conserve your battery or boost performance. The MSI WInd has just two settings: 800Mhz and 1.6GHz. So in power saving mode, you may see more of a performance hit on the Wind than the 1000H, but it’s not difficult to perform basic tasks like surfing the web or composing documents at 800MHz.
Overall, in power saving mode, the MSI WInd U100 lasted for 4 hours and 59 minutes while the Asus Eee PC 1000H ran for 4 hours and 25 minutes.
It’s worth noting here that all of these results were obtained by running the Battery Eater test, which is designed to put some stress on your processor. In daily use, I’ve gotten close to 5 hours out of my 1000H. But based on these benchmarks, I suspect you could get as much as 5.5 hours from an MSI Wind.
Both netbooks get good battery life. But if a long-lasting battery is your top priority, it looks like the Wind is the winner in this category.
Finally, we decided to compare the webcams. This test was a bit tricky, because we lined up the netbooks side by side and then called each other on Skype.
We saw a better picture on the Wind, but was it because the Wind had a better display, or because the 1000H had a better webcam? Since we’d already decided the displays were similar, we ruled in favor of the 1000H’s webcam. But just by a hair. The truth is, neither webcam was spectacular, but the 1000H webcam seems to provide a slightly sharper picture with slightly more accurate colors. Either one is good enough for making Skype video calls. I wouldn’t record my video resume on either.
Boot times and sleep performance
And finally, we ran a few completely unfair comparisons. As I mentioned, Kevin’s MSI Wind has 2GB of RAM, which is twice what my Eee PC 1000H has. And the 1000H has Mandriva 2009, Ubuntu 8.04, and Windows XP loaded, while Kevin did a fresh install of Windows yesterday. So my Windows boot would probably be slower anyway, but things were made worse by the fact that I have to wait for the GRUB bootloader to run as well.
With that in mind, here’s an unfair video comparing the boot times of the two netbooks:
And we ran a similar test to see how quickly each netbook can be suspended and resumed from sleep mode: