New Laptops Take Mini to the Max

Asus and Eee have released tiny, swift and powerful models in the fast-growing netbook market.
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I told you mini-laptops were hot.

Beginning with the first


Eee PC model announced just a year ago, the market for small, lightweight, super-portable computers has exploded.

Don't take my word for it. The

Financial Times

says these little laptops, also known as "netbooks," are all the rage. They're talking sales of nearly 11 million units this year and sales projections of more than 20 million units in 2009. Analysts say these low priced units are making it easier for families to own more than one computer.


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told the


that virtually all new PC sales growth in the developed world in recent months has come from mini-laptops.

According to Wikipedia, the first "netbook" was released back in 1997 as the


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Omnibook 800. It ran on Microsoft's Windows 95 operating system. The British firm


, whose Symbian operating system is now owned by


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, originally coined the phrase "netbook."

In recent history, Asus was first to market a modern-day netbook and has now been joined by nearly every other laptop manufacturer on the planet.


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will soon be joined by a terrific-looking line of new models by H-P. For the record, the MSI Wind, Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and H-P 2133 are all made by one of the largest computer makers on the planet,

Compal Electronics

of Taiwan. The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) computer is also considered a netbook and should soon be able to run a special version of Windows XP as well as its standard Linux OS.

I've tested two new netbooks in the past few days that you should know about. Both have a 10-inch screen, Windows XP Home OS and an


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Atom processor, but they differ in fit, finish and price.

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MSI's Wind is a great device, especially for the price. In addition to the common features listed above, the Wind has three USB ports, an Ethernet port, memory card slot, audio-in and earphone-out jacks, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a Webcam, a good-size keyboard and a terrific screen. My test sample came with 1GB of RAM and 80GB of storage.

The Wind is among the fastest netbook models I've tested, especially the ones that run Windows XP. Think in terms of 10- to 15-second start-up times and super-quick Web pages loads.

On the other hand, I was not the first tester to use this particular computer, which though quite new was beginning to show its age. The left-click button under the touch pad was somewhat difficult to find and vague in action. Also, the touch pad was starting to look shiny and worn, which is unusual for a new design. I've also encountered a problem with the system Wi-Fi not restarting on its own when the computer was started up a few times.

Otherwise, the Wind is a terrific, well-priced computer. Prices for all these netbooks seem to drop as soon as they hit the market. Expect to pay a little less than $400 for a Wind similar to my test model.

Asus, not to be outdone by anyone has just released its top-of-the-line Eee PC netbook, the S101. Overall it is beautiful. Fit and finish are top rate. This is not to say that other Eee PCs are not great; this new model is just something special.

Size wise, the S101 is somewhat similar to the MSI Wind, except that the Asus has more space for a large touch pad as well as easy-to-distinguish left- and right-click buttons. For those keeping track of such things, the S101 weighs only 2 pounds and is just 0.7 inches high. Asus also has a new feature called the Super Hybrid Engine, which it says greatly enhances energy efficiency. That means as many as five hours of continuous use per charge.

The other nice feature is the program storage. Not only is there 16GB of solid-state storage (no hard drive) but there's also extra 20GB of online storage that Asus makes available to S101 owners.

My test unit was shiny black graphite. It comes in a nifty copper brown, as well. The S101 will officially retail for $699 when it's released on Nov. 1. As with all these new, competitive designs, expect lower prices in the very near future.

Gary Krakow is's senior technology correspondent.