HP Mini 311 Ion-Based Netbook Review

Introduction and Specifications

HP's Mini range of netbooks have been well respected in the industry, and while they were never as instrumental as Asus in the explosion of the netbook as a whole, they've really managed to nail their niche. From the start, the HP Mini was one of the most fashionable netbook lines out there, boasting subtle curves, a uniform keyboard, gorgeous styling cues and a larger-than-average trackpad. By and large, the Mini lineup hasn't changed too much since its introduction, but that has mainly been the case because Windows XP was pretty much the only operating system available for it (Linux alternatives notwithstanding). Couple that with the limited Atom CPU lineup and the struggle to keep costs down, and we're left with a colorful line of machines that don't actually differ much from one another, save for designs and accents.

Now, there are two major reasons to pay close attention to the Mini 311. It may follow the prior Minis in terms of size and style, but it's the differences within that promise to make this a new, refreshed machine. For starters, HP has loaded Windows 7 onto this machine. We waited for what felt like forever to finally have Windows 7 available for netbooks, and we can confess that it really adds a touch of style and functionality compared to older models with XP. The second major addition is NVIDIA's Ion technology, which--according to NVIDIA--is "essentially the same chipset as our GeForce 9400M used in higher end products like the MacBook line." It's labeled Ion, but if you were wondering what GPU was actually under the hood, there's your answer. This is obviously superior to more generic integrated options like Intel's GMA500, but we were curious to see exactly how much of a difference it made. The CPU is still a lower-end 1.6GHz Atom N270, so can a bolstered GPU really make an average netbook a netbook that's better-than-average? Let's find out.

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HP Mini 311 Netbook
Specifications and Features (as tested)
  • Intel Atom N270 CPU (1.6GHz)
  • 2GB of RAM 
  • 11.6" LCD (1366x768 resolution)
  • NVIDIA Ion Graphics (Based on NVIDIA GeForce 9400M)
  • 250GB (5400RPM) Seagate Momentus 5400.6 Hard Drive
  • 802.11b/g Wi-Fi
  • No Optical Drive
  • HP Webcam
  • VGA and HDMI Outputs
  • USB 2.0 x 3
  • RJ-45 (Ethernet 10/100)
  • Headphone / Mic Input Jacks
  • SD / MMC / MSPro / xD Multimedia Card Reader
  • Stereo Speakers
  • 92% Full-Size Keyboard
  • Gesture-Enabled Multi-Touch Trackpad
  • 3.2 Pounds (with 6-cell battery installed)
  • Removable 6-Cell Li-ion Battery
  • 11.4" x 8.03" x 0.78-1.20" (Dimensions)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Price (street): $530.99

You'll notice that the specifications here are somewhat more advanced than on the Mini 311 that shipped back before Windows 7 was out; the 2GB of RAM is a welcome addition, as is the Ion GPU and spacious 11.6" display. You'll also notice that these extras cost dearly, as this is one of only a few netbooks that break the $500 barrier (heading north, that is).

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