While the MSI Wind U115 may not look special at first glance, this is not a typical netbook.

It has a very long battery life, 802.11n wireless networking (Ralink 1t2r), Intel GMA 500 graphics, and two storage devices: a solid-state drive and a conventional spinning hard drive. As far as netbooks go, the MSI Wind U115 is a very interesting proposition but it's not without its problems.

The main issue is the netbook's balance. The 10.2in screen is heavy and makes the MSI Wind U115 fall backwards. This is especially a problem when you use the MSI Wind U115 on your lap while you are on public transport, for example. Taking your hands off the palm rest for a moment could spell disaster as the laptop topples over. This problem isn't unique to the U115, though. We have seen it in the Wind U100, Wind U120 and Wind U123T, too.

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Apart from the balance problem, the MSI Wind U115 feels well built and it has a good keyboard with 16.5mm keys. However, the comma, period and slash keys are only 12mm wide and can initially make it uncomfortable to type for a prolonged period of time. You do get used to the undersized keys after a while. We don't like the placement of the Fn key at the bottom-left corner, as we are used to the Control button being there.

The touchpad is 5.1x3.8cm, so it's a little small. However, it's responsive and feels good to the touch. We wish its left- and right-click buttons were separated instead of being a single piece of plastic, and also that they were better defined against the palm rest (it is very hard to feel for them).

You can't easily upgrade the MSI Wind U115. To access its memory and storage devices you have to remove the base. The U115 ships with 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM by default, but can be expanded to 2GB.

The MSI Wind U115's solid-state drive has a capacity of 8GB (6.88GB formatted) and is used to run the operating system, which is Windows XP Home. When installing programs, you need to place them on the D drive or you'll quickly eat up the SSD. The D drive is a 5400rpm hard drive (a Western Digital 1600BEVT-22ZCT0) with a capacity of 160GB (145GB formatted). It was slow in our tests, recording a data transfer rate of only 10.92 megabytes per second.

However, the MSI Wind U115 performed solidly overall. It took 7min 58sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s, which is approximately 1min better than the average encoding time for a netbook. The CPU in charge of the Wind U115 is an Intel Atom N270 with a 1.6GHz frequency, a 533MHz front-side bus, and it has Hyper-Threading, which aids multitasking.

You can run a web browser while you chat on IM and listen to MP3s without noticing too much lag. Of course, you won't be able to perform taxing photo editing tasks, and the encoding or transcoding of media files will be very slow, but the MSI Wind U115 isn't designed for those sorts of CPU-intensive tasks.

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What this notebook is designed for is surviving a long time away from a power outlet. It has a 58 Watt-hour battery (6-cell) that sticks out of the spine and contributes to the netbook's overall weight of 1.3kg. It lasted 5hr 22min in our video rundown test, in which we loop video files with the screen brightness at maximum and the wireless radio enabled. This is the longest battery life we've recorded from a netbook with an Atom CPU, and you should be able to get even more life out of it if you employ a sensible power-management scheme. For example, it lasted 5hr 39min when we switched off the wireless radio.

Balance problems aside, the MSI Wind U115 is one of the most desirable netbooks on the market. Its battery life is stellar, it has fast wireless networking and we like the inclusion of the SSD in addition to a regular hard drive (it means that the netbook can be up and running in 30sec from a cold boot).

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MSI Wind U115: Specs

  • Intel Atom 1.6GHz
  • 1GB DDR2 RAM
  • Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition
  • 10.2in, 1024x600 TFT display
  • 8GB solid state drive, Intel GMA 500 graphics adaptor, 160GB, 5,500rpm hard drive
  • Touchpad, Buttons, Keyboard, supports Secure Digital (SD)
  • Slot For Cable Lock
  • built-in camera, microphone
  • Rechargeable - (Li-Ion) battery
  • D-Sub, Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack, RJ45, 3x USB 2.0
  • Bluetooth 2.0, Wireless 802.11n, Wireless 802.11b, Wireless 802.11g
  • 2x speakers
  • 260x180x40mm
  • 1.3kg
  • Intel Atom 1.6GHz
  • 1GB DDR2 RAM
  • Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition
  • 10.2in, 1024x600 TFT display
  • 8GB solid state drive, Intel GMA 500 graphics adaptor, 160GB, 5,500rpm hard drive
  • Touchpad, Buttons, Keyboard, supports Secure Digital (SD)
  • Slot For Cable Lock
  • built-in camera, microphone
  • Rechargeable - (Li-Ion) battery
  • D-Sub, Headphone Jack, Microphone Jack, RJ45, 3x USB 2.0
  • Bluetooth 2.0, Wireless 802.11n, Wireless 802.11b, Wireless 802.11g
  • 2x speakers
  • 260x180x40mm
  • 1.3kg

OUR VERDICT

For travellers — or anyone who wants to work for long periods of time away from a power outlet — the MSI Wind U115 is perfect. Its battery life is the longest we've seen in an Intel Atom-based netbook, lasting well over five hours. We also like the inclusion of an SSD drive, but we wish it had a larger storage capacity.

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