Even though the HP Mini 1000 is only a few months old, HP was actually an early player in the netbook field. The company's business system side came up with the Mini-Note 2133 in April 2008, with a solid, brushed-metal chassis and a nearly full-size keyboard. Unfortunately, this predated Intel's Atom CPU, and rather than use the Celeron processor that came with the very first netbooks, HP went with an underpowered VIA C7-M, which pretty much killed any chance it had of becoming a mainstream product.
Now that the plastic-clad, Atom-powered consumer version has become a hit, HP's business side is taking another crack at the netbook market with a radically updated version, the HP Mini 2140.
It keeps the aluminium construction and big keyboard, but updates the components to an Intel Atom CPU, adds an accelerometer for the hard drive, and a full ExpressCard 54 slot — a netbook first (Lenovo's S10 has a smaller ExpressCard 34 slot). Thanks to those added features — concerns about the added weight aside — the 2140 is currently our favourite netbook.
The HP Mini 2140 shares the same basic silhouette as the earlier Mini 1000 and Mini-Note 2133 systems. Because it has an aluminium case, like the 2133, it's a little heavier than the plastic Mini 1000; it's a trade-off that may be worth it, however, as the metallic Mini 2140 feels as if it'll stand up to the rigours of the road better than a plastic netbook.
The biggest selling point for HP's netbooks has always been the fantastic keyboard, which HP claims is 92 per cent of the size of a full-size laptop keyboard. Other netbooks have been plagued by tiny Chiclet-like keys which make typing a pain and typos plentiful. By expanding the keyboard right to the edges of the system, HP has been able to fit bigger keys into the tray than other netbooks (and even ultraportable laptops). The result is a comfortable typing experience that takes a tiny bit of adjustment (as the keys are very close together), but one that is, thus far, our favourite on a sub-12-inch notebook.
The touchpad has an unusual shape, stretched into a letterbox-like wide rectangle, and the mouse buttons have been moved to the left and right sides of the touchpad. This permits the system to have a minimal amount of wasted wrist rest space, but it's a somewhat awkward compromise, especially if you do a lot of vertical scrolling or right-clicking. The 10.1-inch widescreen LED display has an unusual 1024x576 native resolution, which is a few pixels shy of the 1024x600 we typically see in netbooks. The end result is largely unnoticeable, but a Windows XP pop-up window expressed concern that we weren't running at a standard resolution. A higher resolution version, pegged at 1366x768, will cost a little more and be available later in the year.
Performance and battery life
While the US gains a 2GB option with Vista, a 1GB option with Windows XP Home, Suse Linux and FreeDOS alternatives, Australia gets Windows Vista only, with 2GB RAM and downgrade rights to XP. It is currently offered with a 160GB mechanical hard drive, although an 80GB SSD option should surface soon, commanding an approximate additional price of AU$1060.
Intel's single-core 1.6GHz Atom CPU offers enough computing power for the basic tasks for which netbooks are designed — namely web surfing, working on documents, and some basic multimedia playback. A dual-core ultraportable, such as Lenovo's U110, was clearly faster, especially when multitasking, but the Mini 2140 offered better performance than Sony's new Atom-powered Vaio P-series Lifestyle PC, thanks to the latter's Windows Vista operating system.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
The Mini 2140 ran for three hours 11 minutes on our video playback battery drain test using a six-cell battery. That battery sticks out from the back of the system somewhat, and the basic three-cell battery was only about 35 minutes shy, so you'll have to decide between longer life and easier portability.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Mini 2140
Windows XP Home SP2; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel GMA 950; 160GB Toshiba 5,400rpm
Lenovo IdeaPad U110
Windows Vista Home Premium; 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L7500; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 965GM Express; 120GB Toshiba 4,200rpm
Sony Vaio VGN-P15G
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel GMA 500; Samsung 64GB SSD
HP Mini 1000
Windows XP Home Edition SP3; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 945GM; 60GB Toshiba 4,200rpm