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MSI puts the Wind up Asus

MSI's Wind U100 mini laptop is almost upon us. I saw a near-production sample yesterday and liked what I saw.

Everyone's talking about the next generation of next-generation ultraportables. These compact laptops run full versions of popular operating systems such as Windows or Linux desktop, yet are small and light enough to fit in any bag.

And they're cheap. Or rather, 'affordable' when set against the £1000+ mini-models that are priced beyond the impulse/gift-buy pricepoint of circa £200-350.

Asus has set a benchmark with its Eee PC, now in Windows-packing, 9in-screen form. The MSI Wind is conspicuously taking the same £329 price tag - and builds on the spec is just about every area.

MSI Wind U100

Early sample of MSI Wind

First there's the processor, which I was told by MSI's UK product marketeer I could not name. But it's probably the web's worst-kept secret that this notebook will take one of the first 45nm atomic-powered processors from Intel - with nary a chance of radioactive contamination.

Where the Eee PC uses an old-school 900MHz Intel Celeron, the Wind is fuelled by a low-power Intel 1.6GHz chip. This should bring tangible benefits to both performance and battery life.

Then there's the storage. Where Asus has taken the trendy line of pure solid-state memory, MSI has upped capacity by taking tried-and-tested 80GB hard disk storage. This means a better value product so long as SSD of any decent capacity demands a premium price.

Finally, for this user, there's the human interface issues. MSI has taken a slightly larger screen at 10in, with the same res of 1024x600, and one that's usefully brighter and with better contrast. The trackpad was that much more precise too, with easier to click buttons. To make a portable that's a pleasure rather than ordeal to use, these are crucial details.

Sat side-by-side, the Asus Eee PC 900 and MSI Wind U100 could have come from the same factory, in terms of general look and feel. Witness the pearlescent white plastic casework and general layout of keyboard, indicator LEDs and ports. But the MSI, and probably Medion's take on the same design, may be the ones to wait for, unless you're wedded to the dinkier Asus size and no-moving-parts philosophy.

Additional clever features on the Wind U100 include an overclocking turboboost button on the F keys, designed to ramp CPU up by around 20%. When running from battery, the same key actually drops CPU speed and introduces further power saving measures, such as deactivating USB ports and reducing wireless range.

First units in the UK will be in black or white finish only, loaded with Windows XP and 1GB of RAM. Expect to see SuSE Linux pre-installed and smaller 8.9in screen versions (U80) later in the year. And this £329 Windows model? Second week of June in the UK.

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