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HP's 2133 Mini-Note subnotebook

An Eee PC killer, or perhaps something more?

Manufacturer HP
Model Mini-Note
Price (Street) $499 and up
Availability Now

Asus' Eee PC has defined the budget subnotebook genre, serving up relatively low-end hardware that's just fast enough in an ultraportable form factor with an affordable price tag. It's a simple formula, really, and one that made the Eee PC an instant hit despite its small, low-resolution screen and a Lilliputian keyboard that really only works if you have the diminutive digits of a 12-year-old. Given the Eee PC's instant popularity, it's clear some folks are willing to live with some compromises to get a nice price on a teeny laptop. However, those limitations have surely turned off plenty of potential customers who were hoping for a budget subnotebook that was perhaps a little more, er, notebook-like.

If you're looking for more screen real estate and room to type than the Eee PC provides, HP's Mini-Note may be right up your alley. One of the first would-be Eee PC killers, the Mini-Note directly challenges the Eee's weaknesses with a 92%-of-full-size keyboard and an 8.9" display with an impressive 1280x800 WXGA resolution. The system also features and ExpressCard slot for broadband Wi-Fi users and support for standard 2.5" mobile drives, should you require more than just a few gigabytes of storage capacity. Throw in a brushed aluminum chassis that would make Apple fans swoon and the sort of configuration flexibility you'd expect from HP, and the Mini-Note's potential grows.

Targeted squarely at students, the Mini-Note looks on paper to be a more reasonable compromise than the infectious Eee PC—one suitable for a much wider range of computing tasks. But does it work in the real world? Read on for our in-depth look at HP's first budget subnotebook PC.

A subnotebook with style
Looking at the first wave of budget subnotebooks to hit the market, it's clear aesthetic appeal wasn't a priority for most manufacturers. The Mini-Note, however, has a definite sense of style. Rather than encasing the system in pedestrian plastics, HP splurged on a brushed aluminum shell that has understated but undeniable industrial sex appeal. Yeah, I'm a sucker for anything wrapped in brushed aluminum. Or bacon. But I digress.

Of course, there's more to the Mini-Note's curb appeal than the mere presence of brushed metal. The overall design is very sleek, channeling some of the best elements of PowerBook chic. The Mini-Note feels as solid as it looks, too. A magnesium alloy frame keeps the chassis virtually flex-free, and build quality appears to be excellent. Only time will validate the Mini-Note's durability, but based on our initial impressions, the system should be able to handle the abusive rigors of student life.

The small size of subnotebook systems forces manufacturers to get creative when it comes to placing various system components. On the Mini-Note, for example, HP squeezes the power button—which is really more of a spring-loaded slider than an actual button—onto the front edge of the system. A second slider over on the right-hand side of the front edge controls the system's integrated Wi-Fi and optional Bluetooth 2.0 capabilities, allowing users to toggle wireless networking with the flick of a switch.

Speaking of size, HP says the Mini-Note measures 10" wide, 6.5" deep, and as little as 1.1" thick (255 mm x 165 mm x 27 mm if you're not interested in multiples of the king's forearm). According to our trusty tape measure, however, the Mini-Note actually measures 10.3" wide, making it a good inch and a half wider than the Eee PC. The Mini-Note gets close to 1.26" thick at its beefiest point, and that's before you take into account the additional girth of our test system's optional 6-cell battery, which adds another 0.8" or so.

In addition to being slightly larger than the Eee PC, the Mini-Note is also a little heavier. In its lightest configuration, with a 3-cell battery and solid-state drive, the Mini-Note tips the scales at 2.8 lbs (1.27 kg)—nearly three-quarters of a pound more than the two-pound (0.92 kg) Eee PC. That's a significant difference as a percentage of total system weight, but it doesn't feel like nearly that big of a handicap in the real world, where volume seems to matter more than weight. I certainly don't mind carrying around an extra pound if it's well spent, and Mini-Note has enough advantages over the Eee PC to make the additional weight worthwhile.