While the netbook market is about to get a lot more crowded, the HP Mini-Note remains one of the most attractive looking low-cost mini-notebooks. It’s got a slick, professional design that makes the Asus Eee PC look a bit like a kid’s toy. But it also has a sluggish VIA C7-M CPU, compared with the Intel Celeron chip in most current Eee PC models and the Intel Atom CPU that Asus, Acer, and MSI will be including in upcoming machines.

So what do you do if you like the HP Mini-Note design, but want a bit of a performance boost? The folks at Geek.com decided to upgrade their unit. The CPU isn’t easily replacable, but by unscrewing the keyboard you can get at the RAM and HDD.

Swapping the 1GB RAM stick for a 2GB stick is extraordinarily easy, while you have to be a bit more careful when replacing the hard drive. Most Mini-Note models ship with a 5400rpm hard drive. And although the computer can handle some 7200rpm drives, the PC already gets quite hot, so you want to be careful about putting any parts that could add to the heat problem inside the case. So Geek went with a 60GB solid state disk, which costs over $400. In other words, almost as much as you’d pay for the cheapest version of the Mini-Note computer itself.

Does it all make a difference? Geek reports that Windows Vista now boots in 1.5 minutes, compared with 2.5 minutes before the upgrades. Benchmarks also show improvements in hard disk performance. Not necessarily $400 worth of improvements, but improvements nonetheless.

For most folks, a RAM upgrade might make sense, especially if your system is running Windows Vista. But I’d probably hold off on upgrading the hard disk until after HP releases a new version of the Mini-Note with either an Intel Atom or VIA Nano CPU later this year.

Or you could just order an MSI Wind in a couple of weeks. It doesn’t necessarily look quite as pretty as the Mini-Note, but it sports an Intel Atom CPU, 1GB of RAM, 80GB of storage, and costs just $399 to $499.

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