OCZ Technology Neutrino Netbook Review

User Experience

By the sheer nature of this being a DIY machine, the user experience with the Neutrino is vastly different than the one you'll find on pretty much any other netbook. From the moment you open the box, you'll be doing things that other netbook buyers won't -- namely, installing the rest of the necessary parts to make it run. We have to applaud OCZ for a great how-to guide for getting the HDD / SSD installed, but we can't help but point out that a screwdriver for the amazingly small screws should have been throw in.

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The OS installation was easily our least favorite part of the experience, but it's not too awful if you've done it a time or two before on a fresh machine. Just make sure you have a spare OS with an unused license (if applicable), a roomy USB drive and a spare PC to facilitate the data transfer. We've used Windows Vista on a typical 1.6GHz / 1GB / 160GB HDD netbook before, and it's not pretty. Clearly, Vista was designed to run on machines with a bit more horsepower than that. Ideally, one would use Windows XP or a version of Linux on the Neutrino, but considering that Microsoft has worked hard to make Windows 7 less resource intensive, we figured we'd give the RC1 -- which was just released days before this machine arrived to us -- a fair shot.

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We won't bore you by detailing our thoughts on Windows 7 again -- for that, feel free to check out our in-depth review here. What we will say, however, is that Windows 7 RC1 really impressed us on this netbook. Of course, 2GB of RAM and a SSD (instead of a comparatively sluggish HDD) certainly helped move things along, but we found ourselves really surprised by how well the Neutrino managed Microsoft's forthcoming OS. Boot time was understandably quick (thanks in part to the SSD we used in the build) and launching applications was speedy as well. In fact, we had no issue multi-tasking with basic apps such as Firefox 3, Microsoft Word and iTunes going simultaneously.

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You'll notice that the Windows 7 User Experience Index rating resulted in a lowly 2.1. In Vista, a 2.1 would mean infinite frustration. In Windows 7 RC1, however, we found overall usability to be just fine. Of course, this machine isn't capable of even light- to medium-duty gaming, and it couldn't play back a 720p video file without skipping and stuttering every three seconds, but it handled the basics with poise and grace.

As for interacting with the machine, we found both the trackpad and keyboard to be a touch cramped. The trackpad in particular was annoyingly small, and the slivers of plastic that OCZ calls "trackpad buttons" aren't very good. For short stints, the built-in trackpad will get the job done, but we can't recommend an external travel mouse enough. The buttons are just too small and too finicky to use for any length of time. The keyboard did manage to grow on us somewhat, with our error rate dropping dramatically as we learned to contract our finger reaches to deal with the smaller-than-usual gaps between keys. It's worth noting that key placement was perfect here -- it's just the size and spacing that took some getting used to.

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The built-in speakers weren't anything to write home about; they handled the usual "bleeps" and "bloops" fine, but there's no bass to speak of when listening to tunes. The 10.1" LED backlit WSVGA display is really a standout feature here. Unlike many other netbooks on the market, this one has a matte panel rather than a glossy one. We feel this was a great choice on OCZ's part. Netbooks, by and large, are meant to be used on the go, and oftentimes that means in broad daylight. Glossy panels are a nightmare to use when the sun's beaming down, as looking through reflections becomes a challenge in and of itself. This matte, anti-glare display is perfect for those who detest screen reflections, and we found the color and brightness to be satisfactory for the average eye. Kudos to OCZ on selecting a matte display.

We'd be remiss of our duties here if we didn't touch on the heat aspect. Unlike Dell's Studio XPS 13, the Neutrino never got warm enough to make us exceptionally uncomfortable. With the machine on our lap, we definitely noticed the increase in warmth over about an hour of use, but even when we were stressing it out with 720p video clips, it never became so hot that we needed to use a laptop stand or cooler. On a flat surface with plenty of ventilation, it fared even better. Overall, we'd say the heat level here was as expected, but nothing to fret over.

We should also point out the severe multimedia limitations on the Neutrino. Under no circumstances would it play back 720p content with any semblance of fluidness. To break it down further, we tested playback of YouTube vidoes in SD (standard) quality, HQ and HD. It handled both SD and HQ with relative ease, but it simply could not play back the HD clip without stopping every few seconds to push out a few more frames. While testing with movie trailers, we couldn't find a single 720p trailer that would play back smoothly. In other words, smaller clips and audio files will work fine on this, but don't expect the Intel integrated graphics and 1.6GHz Atom to handle any heavy multimedia tasks.

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