Included software and Windows performance
The MSI Wind U100 comes equipped with Windows XP Home Edition SP3, not unlike some of its peers. Performance within Windows is typical of what we've seen from the Atom platform, which we've covered in greater depth several times. Suffice to say the Wind is snappy enough for its intended purposes: Internet usage, word processing, and standard-definition video playback.
As is becoming typical of netbooks, the U100 keeps bloatware to a minimum. Some software is included, though, and it ranges from reasonable to downright perplexing.
One nice change of pace is that the Wind doesn't come with antivirus software. Most systems tend to come bundled with bloated trial versions of Norton or McAfee, but not the Wind. Users are free to choose from the mountain of free antivirus apps available on the market, or side with their retail product of choice. Not having a bloated trial version of something most folks will probably remove keeps the U100 running snappy out of the box.
MSI does include a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2007, and my feelings on this are decidedly mixed. Office 2007 is certainly a great software suite, but the time-limited install means that users are going to have to shell out money for the full version at some point. A freeware office suite like StarOffice or OpenOffice would probably suit the Wind much better. The theory behind netbooks thus far has been to offer the essentials in the box while minimizing fuss; bundling trial software feels counterintuitive.
After Office 2007, MSI's bundled software decisions get increasingly bizarre. The recovery software suite burns CDs, yet the Wind has no optical drive. Even more perplexing is the inclusion of Ulead's disc burning software. Again, the Wind has no optical drive. I can understand the inclusion of recovery software, but it would be nice if it allowed for the installation of a recovery partition on a flash drive, which the U100 can boot from. The inclusion of the Ulead burning software makes less sense, since if a user is going to need an external burner, that drive probably came with its own software.
Back to recovery software, MSI includes a built-in recovery feature that can bring the contents of the Wind's hard drive back to its factory defaults in the space of a half hour. When the unit boots, there's an "F3..." prompt before it goes into Windows. If you press F3 at this time, the Wind will take you to its recovery program. This is a nice little touch, but labeling the prompt "Press F3 to enter Recovery Manager" would be less apt to confuse the mainstream audience that the Wind is trying to attract.
Within Windows, network connectivity was perfectly stable. The Bluetooth adaptor proved finicky, having incredible difficulty initially connecting to my Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000. In fairness, the mouse had the same issues with my HP dv2500t. Once the mouse drivers have been installed and an initial connection made, reconnection is a breeze.
Heat, noise, and battery life
In a welcome change of pace, the MSI Wind is by far the coolest-running notebook I have ever used, made all the more impressive by its diminutive form factor. The keyboard and wrist surface barely get warm to the touch, and the bottom remains equally comfortable. These reasonable temperatures are likely aided by the Wind's fan, which runs constantly. We've seem similar fan behavior from the Eee PC 1000, and like that system, the Wind's fan is fortunately only faintly audible.
The Wind may be quiet and cool, but the careful balancing act notebook designers continually struggle with tends to inevitably result in something getting short-changed. With the Wind, it's battery life that pulls up a little short. With the Wind idling with its screen at a reasonable 50% brightness, its wireless networking enabled, and its Bluetooth module disabled, battery life tips up at a little over two-and-a-half hours. The culprits for this mediocre battery life are likely unit's 3-cell battery along with the power draw of Intel's less than frugal 945 chipset. The U100's abnormally bright screen may have something to do with the system's uninspired battery life, as well, but with LED backlighting it should consume substantially less power (and produce better colors) than a CCFL-backlit screen. And keep in mind that we're only running the screen at 50% brightness here.
MSI's 3-cell battery just doesn't give the Wind the mileage a computer of its diminutive stature demands. A netbookor any notebook, reallyshould get at least three hours of battery life. The Wind's sub-three-pound weight and small form factor are designed for portability, and that encourages users to run on the battery rather than being tethered to a wall socket.
Students, in particular, may find the Wind's battery life an issue. There's enough juice for quick jaunts or a couple of classes, but if you're going to be out any longer, you'll need to bring the A/C adapter.
As you can see, the adapter is pretty tiny, but the use of a beefy three-pronged power cable is suspect. A netbookespecially one running off of an Atomshouldn't need such a heavy duty cable. It's hardly an inconvenience, since most outlets are three-pronged, but the Eee PC 1000 runs just fine with a much smaller two-prong cable.
Discussion of the battery life brings us to one of the Wind's more curious features: a "turbo" button. When turbo is enabled while running on the battery, the power light glows green instead of blue, and battery life can be further reduced. Beyond that, there are two problems with this function. First, and most obviously, having a turbo function for the Intel Atom feels somewhat silly. The Atom offers minimal computing power to begin with, leaving little room for improvement through overclocking. Underclocking seems equally ridiculous, since the Atom's modest thirst for juice is far from the chief power draw in the Wind. Also, MSI's documentation of this turbo feature is minimal at best. The key used to toggle turbowhich is only usable while running on the battery, we might addis dubbed the "ECO" key, and no mention of it is made anywhere else in the manual. We asked MSI to provide more information on the Wind's turbo mode, but its response wasn't any more detailed than what's available in the limited documentation that comes with the system.