Colin Charles Agenda

Laptop/netbook for a university student and a HP Mini 311 quick review

I recently asked on Twitter:

For a college/university student, would you get ’em a laptop or a netbook? Need opinions ASAP. Thanks!

The Twitterverse was quick to respond. Thank you all for responding! A little summary:

  1. @sniffit suggested that netbooks are underpowered, but might change with Linux being on them.
  2. @redsheep went for a laptop, unless I planned on being a mean uncle that didn’t want them to play games/do graphics/etc. Why, I can’t be a mean uncle ;-)
  3. @spinzer said go with a laptop because students have diverse working nature, and a netbook wouldn’t cut it.
  4. Both @alphaque and @brianritchie suggested to watch for the coursework: Computer Science, Graphics, Statistics deserve a laptop, otherwise, go for a netbook.
  5. @saimatkong suggested a 12″ notebook, but those tend to be quite expensive, to the best of my knowledge.
  6. @sureshdr, @tjunkie, @thechannelc, @liewcf, @bleongcw, @r0kawa all suggested a laptop would be better. In fact, @liewcf suggested a MacBook.
  7. @jerng brought up a good point: it should depend on the preferences of the user as speed tends to be a secondary issue.
  8. @biatch0r was the only one that outright said go for a netbook, lugging around a 10KG laptop is so 20th century :) I tend to agree.

So a bit from where I’m coming from, which I didn’t say in the original tweet. This laptop/netbook is for a complete stranger, whom I’ve never met. We do however, know her father. His daughter had just been accepted into a university somewhere up north in Malaysia, and she clearly needs a laptop/netbook for her coursework.

Anyway, all that aside, and with much thanks to the Twitterverse, I set out to pick up a machine quickly (think, 0.5hr). I had to be near MidValley for another reason, so hopped in. Checked out the Asus, and Acer stores, and found laptops and netbooks to exist, and you’d average around RM2,100 or so. Dell had a laptop for RM1,999, but it was a 14″ clunker, and it seemed really heavy. This seemed to be the large problem with a laptop: they came with everything (including a DVD-RW drive), but would come with a 13″ or 14″ screen – and they were all mighty heavy. Acer seemed to offer OS-less laptops, but I didn’t want to spend more time than need be, so wanted an operating system.

I went over to the HP store, my last stop, thinking in my head, I’d pick up the Dell. But I was taken aback when I saw the HP Mini 311. The specifications were amazing: 1.66GHz N280 Atom processor, 2GB RAM, 250GB hard disk, an external 8x DVD-RW drive (!), 11.6″ screen boasting a resolution of 1366×768, 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11b/g WLAN, 92% full-size keyboard (with great tactile feedback – I spent a lot of time in the store trying it). But that’s not all, it comes with 3 USB ports, HDMI output (why?), VGA output (and no need for any silly cable like their previous items), a multimedia card slot (for SD’s, etc.) and a built-in webcam.

The exact model is the HP Mini 311-1002TU. It seems like its an edition only available in Asia, and it comes with Windows 7 Starter Edition. Did I mention that it cost a mere RM1,799?

More goodness about it. It doesn’t come with an Intel graphics chipset, but an nVidia ION. Video performance is pretty darned good, in comparison to what Intel doles out, even on the netbook that I own (an Asus 1000HE). In my quick experiments, I was getting a good 5 hours of battery life running Windows 7.

First thing I did was install: Mozilla Firefox (and set it to be the default web browser), avast! anti-virus (to protect the PC), and with the JRE. It comes with a 60 day trial version of Microsoft Office, but who needs that when is free and should suffice. The system is quite snappy, and while the guy at the store told me that Windows 7 Starter Edition will not allow me to run more than 3 applications at a time, it works fine for me. In fact, the only thing that seems annoying is that you can’t change the desktop background – Microsoft is intentionally crippling their software for netbooks. From what I understand, a dual monitor setup will not work either (useful to have an external monitor on a netbook), but I did not try this.

I can confirm that Ubuntu works pretty well on this machine – I tested it when I got home, using the LiveCD and it seemed to “just work”. More information available at the laptop testing team HP Mini 311 on the Ubuntu wiki. A forum post to help with suspend/resume magic.

In conclusion, I didn’t get a laptop, but a netbook. But a netbook with an amazing screen size, a resolution that exceeds my expectations, a good graphics card, and an external DVD writer. Windows 7 Starter does not come with Aero, and I wrote a little README file informing the new owner that it might be better to just install Linux and she’ll be better for it at the end of her three year university course :-)