Ah, netbooks. We remember when Asus whipped out the very first super-tiny laptop, the Eee PC 701. It wasn't long before other manufacturers followed suit, and now everyone and their mum is trying to push their own models. With so many of the blighters out there sporting largely identical specs, how does a netbook distinguish itself from the rest of the herd? In the case of the 10-inch MSI Wind U160, available for around £330, it does so by slathering itself in gold paint.
The U160 is certainly more visually arresting than many of the netbooks that come our way, thanks to its glossy gold coating (it's also available in black). It sports a much darker hue on the lid, with a lighter, caramel tone adorning the interior.
The rounded edges do much to lend the netbook a classy look, and we're especially fond of the hinge. It's silver, with bright metal caps on either end. The cap on the right-hand side hosts a blue LED power switch.
Around the sides, there's a VGA output, three USB ports, an Ethernet port, a multi-format card reader, and 3.5mm sockets for attaching headphones and a microphone. Above the display, you'll find a 1.3-megapixel webcam.
The chassis itself feels very solid and well built. This machine doesn't feel like it'll fall apart in your hands during that all-important board members' meeting. The U160 is also lighter than many rival machines, weighing 1.24kg. That means you can easily fling it into a satchel before gallivanting off into the sunset.
The battery pack at the rear of the U160 is bulbous, and raises the netbook's frame so that the keyboard is tilted slightly forward. The keyboard is of the isolated variety -- each individual key floats in a sea of golden plastic.
Although the keys are quite small, the gap between each one means that rattling off long emails or typing at speed is comfortable and easy -- we managed to avoid making too many typos. We weren't at all happy, however, to discover some flex when we applied pressure to the keyboard. That's especially disappointing considering how well built the rest of this netbook is.
The U160's trackpad is better than most. Applying a finger to the trackpad's lightly dotted surface feels much like reading Braille, and it delivers a really responsive and smooth mousing experience. The trackpad isn't particularly big, but the textured surface makes it easy to tell when your finger has strayed off the edge, and you're just poking fecklessly at the chassis.
The U160's 10-inch display is a shade disappointing. Its 1,024x600-pixel resolution seems pretty low when you consider that other netbooks offer a higher-resolution display for a similar price. At this resolution, you'll struggle to fit much of a Web page on the screen at any one time, meaning you'll have to do plenty of scrolling or zooming in and out -- something guaranteed to make your blood boil. On the plus side, the screen doesn't suffer from the presence of too many annoying reflections, despite being quite glossy and not all that bright.
All in all, the U160 is very usable. The low-resolution screen got on our nerves, but, for the most part, actually performing tasks on this machine is a pleasant experience.
Inside, the U160 is entirely standard netbook fare. It has a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 CPU, 1GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, and runs Windows 7 Home Basic.
When we ran our PCMark05 CPU benchmark test, the U160 scored a middle-of-the-road 1,503. That's very much in line with the scores achieved by other netbooks. The U160 will handle simple tasks such as document editing, but don't expect it to perform complicated jobs with any kind of grace. When we tried playing some high-definition video, it looked extremely choppy.
In the intensive Battery Eater Classic test, which runs the CPU at full belt until the battery dies, the U160 held out for 5 hours and 13 minutes. That's a pretty impressive score. We found the battery lasted 8 hours and 14 minutes when we ran the less demanding Battery Eater Reader's test, which simulates light usage.
The MSI Wind U160 is bog-standard netbook fare on the inside, but it scores some extra points for its natty design. More importantly, this netbook is easy to use, although we have a few gripes with the display. At £330, it's also quite reasonably priced. Before you splash out, however, check out the similarly specified and priced Dell Mini 1012, which sports a higher-resolution screen.
Edited by Charles Kloet