Design and features
Like anything that is in miniature, the Joybook Lite U121 Eco is cute (290x209x26.4mm) and light (1.3kg). It has a shiny blue lid, black body and grey trim along its sides that continue inside around the keyboard. The full-sized keyboard is comfortable to type on. (If we had to nitpick we'd mention the function key found on the bottom row of the keyboard. It is the same size as a standard shift key and sits beside the left CTRL key, which means the Windows and ALT keys have been nudged to the right and may take some getting used to.)
Indicators along the curved lip of the laptop cater for WLAN/Bluetooth, system status (eg, sleep or hibernation mode), battery (eg, charging, fully charged, running low, etc), hard disk activity, and caps and num locks. Just below the lights are the speakers on its left and right directing sound downwards, and with the volume set to high the sound doesn't carry too well nor is it loud.
The netbook has an Intel Atom CPU Z530 at 1.60GHz (512K cache, 533MHz). The U121 is available in two versions: Linux and Windows XP. The Linux model uses Linpus Lite (but only for start-up purposes) with a 250GB hard drive and 2GB RAM, while the Windows XP Home version has a 160GB hard drive and 1GB RAM, with both hard drives rotating at 5400rpm. Connectivity-wise, the U121 has Bluetooth 2.1, 802.11b/g/n wireless networking and 10/100 Ethernet.
It was rather ironic that the netbook comes with a CD that has the drivers and applications when the U121 doesn't have an optical drive. In the Linpus version's case the CD didn't even include network drivers nor were Linux drivers provided on BenQ's site (BenQ claims this is because the Linux distribution is aimed at developers). We assume this means they're either expected to find their own, or blast out Linpus and install their distro of choice. To this end, the XP version was benchmarked.
Port-wise, along the left edge are the AC power port, 15-pin D-sub video jack, two USB ports and an air vent. On the right are a four-in-one card reader (SD/MMC/MS/MS-Pro), USB, mic, headphone and LAN ports.
As the name of the product suggests, the U121 Eco has certain features that make it environmentally friendly. The netbook comes packaged in recycled materials with minimalist cardboard and plastic. It also consumes less power than other netbooks on the market due to the inclusion of Intel's lower power Atom Z530 processor.
The Atom Z530 only requires a maximum amount of 2 Watts thermal design power (TDP) as opposed to the majority of other netbooks that have an Atom N270 processor that require 2.5 Watts. Besides the TDP, specs-wise, both chips are near identical with 512KB L2 cache and FSB at 533MHz. This, however, does not mean the performance will be the same.
The 11.6-inch screen is also "mercury-free" and uses a "low-energy LED" backlight. And according to BenQ, "75 per cent of the mechanical elements and 70 per cent of packaging are also recyclable", and this has entitled the U121 to Certified Energy Star and EPEAT ratings.
Like every other netbook on the market, the U121 is more than capable of running office and networking tasks. However, don't expect to be playing any graphically challenging games as the 3DMark test returned a measly score of 89. Unlike other netbooks we have tested in the past, the U121 had no problems running PCMark05, which ran smoothly and got a score of 1310.
According to BenQ, the U121's battery life is estimated at eight hours for a six-cell battery and half that for the three-cell version. Our review model came with the six-cell battery, which lasted approximately five hours and 36 minutes with screen brightness set to max, all power-saving features turned off and an XviD file played in a loop. Of course, this is a worst-case scenario, and with normal use the battery should last a lot longer.
Whether you're a business person, eco-conscious or just someone that wants a small netbook that can be relied on, the AU$899 BenQ Joybook Lite U121 Eco with Windows XP is a good choice to make.