HP Mini 311 Ion-Based Netbook Review
Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary: In our SiSoftware Sandra tests, the Mini 311 did well in comparison to the reference systems in the CPU benchmarks, and it matched up well against rival components in other areas too. Bootup was a painful experience (particularly with Norton's anti-virus hogging all of the resources right from the get-go in an attempt to get you to register), and until applications were loaded into memory, multitasking was also a bit sluggish. Windows 7 does a good job of managing this as best it can, but there's only so much you can do before the Atom CPU within begins to drag. We would have liked to have seen a faster hard drive or an SSD in the system over the 5400rpm drive that is included, but we understand the need to keep costs down. The decision to insert 2GB of RAM (compared to 1GB in most netbooks) really helped out, as switching between applications was far easier on this system compared to netbooks we tested just a few weeks ago. We were impressed with this unit's ability to handle our more advanced benchmarks, thanks to its Ion GPU, but this puppy can't handle high-end gaming or heavy 3D tasks. It played back 720p and 1080p content without stuttering, but doing so really pegged the CPU. The 6-cell battery lasted just our 4 hours in our "real world" test simulation, which is definitely respectable for a machine with more than just a plain GMA500 GPU.
If you're in the market for a netbook, it's hard to recommend any machine right now. Intel is widely expected to launch at least one (if not two) new Atom models at CES in just a few weeks, and while they probably won't be huge steps up from the existing N270/N280, they'll still be somewhat more capable. The 1.6GHz N270 in this machine is feeling old at this point. The Ion GPU definitely breaths new life into it, but at over $500, the particular configuration we tested still isn't as potent as we would like it to be. It will handle 720p and 1080p playback but bootup and application loading is still sluggish thanks to its single-core Atom chip.
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If you can get past its somewhat aged processor, most everything offered here is really refined. The keyboard is amazingly solid, the screen is beautiful and larger-than-average for a netbook, and 2GB of RAM certainly helps out. Windows 7 also makes a positive difference here, but the 5400RPM HDD won't break any records. Replacing that with an SSD would certainly help cover up the low-end 1.6GHz Atom CPU but would also add to total solution cost significantly, obviously. HP's Mini 311 is stylish, solid and classy with top-notch fit and finish, but it's one of the most expensive netbooks on the market at around $530 (street). With CES just around the bend, we can't really recommend sinking that much money on a CPU that was shipping in netbooks over a year ago, unless you simply can't afford to wait and see what happens in early 2010. That said, with the enormous success of Dell's Mini 10v this holiday shopping season, this is a welcomed alternative from HP that packs a bit more punch for the multimedia-driven end user.