Basic Netbooks are a fairly simple formula to pull off. Combine an Intel Atom 450 processor, 1GB of RAM, Windows 7 Starter, and a 250GB hard drive, and you’ve got any of an army of products from Asus, Acer, HP, and others. MSI was another early combatant in the Netbook wars, and its Wind models have typically followed the usual trends in components and pricing, making them perfectly acceptable alternatives.
The current version of the MSI Wind, called the U160, happens to stand out from the crowd in a couple of ways. It boasts some of the longest battery life we’ve seen, at 7-plus hours, and it ran some of our benchmark tests just a few seconds faster than other Netbooks. It’s not enough of a performance difference to notice in real-world use, but if you’re looking for the maximum possible battery life, the Wind is certainly up there.
This extralong life, however, comes at a price. First, the system’s massive battery sticks out significantly from the bottom of the chassis, like some kind of awkward kickstand, and second, the Wind U160 costs $380 (although the official list price is even worse: $429), which is $80 more than largely comparable machines from other PC makers.
Our MSI Wind U160 had a glossy dark brown finish that the company calls “Fancy Gold.” It’s at least a nice break from the usual glossy or matte black finishes we see (although a black version of the Wind is also available). The interior is a lighter, almost faded gold color, and there’s an MSI logo cut into the back of the lid and backlit in white.
The keyboard is a standard flat island-style design, and works for most of our usual typing needs. There’s a bit too much flex under the fingers around the middle, and there’s a shrunken right Shift key–our biggest problem with Netbook keyboards–but we’ve also seem more egregious offenders. The touch pad is underwhelming, composed of tiny raised dots in the wrist rest (similar to most Asus Eee PC touch pads). We don’t find that style to be particularly comfortable to use, although your mileage may vary.
One odd note, instead of the touch pad having a scroll bar section along the right side of the pad for vertical scrolling, it instead has scroll points in the top and bottom right corners of the pad. Just hold your finger on the corner and the page automatically scrolls up or down.
The 10.1-inch wide-screen display has a 1,024×600-pixel native resolution, which is standard for nonpremium Netbooks. The look and feel is beginning to seem a bit cramped, especially with more and more HD Netbooks available all the time, some for only $20 more than this system.
With three USB ports, an SD card slot, and audio in/out jacks, the connections and ports on the Wind U160 are about as typical as it gets. On the plus side, you also get Bluetooth, which is sometimes left out of entry-level Netbooks.
The performance difference between Netbooks with Intel’s 1.66GHz Atom N450 processors is going to minimal between brands and models. In this particular case, however, the Wind U160 came out a few seconds ahead of the pack (which includes recent Netbooks from Sony, HP, and Asus) in our Apple iTunes encoding test, and essentially tied for the top spot with the HP Mini 210 in our Jalbum photo conversion test. On the other hand, the system was slower, by an even larger margin, in our basic multitasking test.
Despite these differences, the real-world performance difference between N450 Netbooks is minimal, and you’re unlikely to notice much differentiation between brands when sticking to Netbook-friendly tasks such as Web surfing, e-mail, or working with office documents.
The Wind’s biggest win is in battery life, where it ran for 7 hours and 18 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. That’s close to the top of the list, bested only by the Asus 1005PE and the Dell Inspiron Mini 1012. Unfortunately, the MSI Wind achieves this through a hugely bulky battery that sticks out from the rear of the system significantly, whereas the Dell and Asus models manage to incorporate their batteries into the design of the laptop body.
MSI includes an industry-standard one-year parts and labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a phone line (but not a toll-free one), which is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST. Online support requires you to register with the company first, and the FAQ page lists only a single question about the system’s Function keys.