HP Mini 311 Ion-Based Netbook Review

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User Experience

Let's be really clear here: using the Mini 311 is a far nicer experience in pretty much every aspect when compared to using the Windows XP netbooks that have preceded it. Windows 7 is a pleasure to use, and it's great to see such an advanced operating system running like butter on the same 1.6GHz Atom N270 CPU that couldn't even run Vista adequately. So right away, you're left with a much better experience just by having Windows 7 onboard; in other words, you could add Win7 to any other older netbook and likely be more pleased with the overall experience.

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But Windows 7 is only a part of the equation. This netbook also ships with 2GB of RAM, which is double what we're used to on machines in this class. This is a huge help. Applications load faster, multitasking is more feasible and everything is just generally less sluggish thanks to having more memory on tap.

We will say, however, that you won't forget that you're using an Atom-based machine. Even though things are somewhat faster, the machine is still noticeably slower to restore a Firefox instance with ten open tabs than on a Core 2 Duo (or faster) machine. The Atom CPU is certainly the bottleneck here, and until we get a new wave of faster Atoms, it's just a reality that we have to deal with. The notebook is plenty fast to handle basic duties (Word processing, email, web browsing, etc.), but don't expect to handle any advanced tasks here. Gaming, A/V editing and serious multimedia usage is still out of reach, even despite the Ion GPU.

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Speaking of the Ion, it's a real boon to netbooks. On other netbooks that we've reviewed that use Intel's integrated GMA500 graphics, we couldn't even get our 720p and 1080p test clips to run at a reasonable rate. On this machine, each and every test clip played back perfectly smooth. Even the 1080p trailers were played back with ease, enabling us to watch high-quality videos on a machine small enough to fit on a coach-class tray table. As you'll see in future pages, the CPU was nearly pegged while playing these videos back (so you can't really multitask when watching them), but at least it's possible. That's far more than we could say about the non-Ion netbooks that we've tested in the past.

We should take this opportunity to reassure you: gaming isn't possible on this machine, even with the Ion. We fired up Half-Life 2, and during our test demo loop, we never saw the game play at over 12 frames per second. It was incredibly laggy and utterly unplayable. Unless you cranked the resolution down to the lowest possible level and disabled all special effects, you won't be playing a serious 3D title--and even after that, it's a toss-up as to whether even an older game will actually be quick enough on the system to be enjoyed. At the end of the day, the Ion enables multimedia playback that cannot be achieved on other netbooks, but that's about it.

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Moving on to the keyboard and trackpad, we can safely say that the typing experience here is second to none. The well-built, rigid keyboard honestly feels full-size (though it's only 92% full-size), and we had no issues typing on it for long periods. You could easily write up page-long reports on this sans issue. That can't be said for most netbooks. The layout is also fantastic, and we had essentially no "adjustment period" to speak of. The trackpad, however, was another story. It's rather large, but it's too slick and not sensitive enough. It's also not a true multi-touch pad; it only supports scrolling on the side, so pinch-and-zoom gestures are out. Moreover, the right/left click buttons are too close to the edge and too small in general, which makes them awkward to press. That'd be fine if the pad was good at recognizing right-clicks and double-clicks, but it's not. In other words, you better bring along an external mouse if you plan to use this machine for long; otherwise you'll quickly grow frustrated with the mousing scheme available.

The 11.6" (1366x768) display is bright and crisp, and the viewing angles were on par with other netbooks that we'd seen. We greatly appreciated the extra screen real estate, and considering that 720p video playback is no issue here, it comes in handy. We will say that the glossy panel attracted lots of dust in our testing, and it's not the best screen for outdoor use due to intense reflections. But good luck trying to find a netbook out there with Ion and a matte panel.

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