Review: HP's 2133 Mini-Note takes on the Eee PC

The latest ultraportable is a bit heavier and pricier than the Eee, but has a better screen and sleek design

Last year, Asustek's Eee PC became a surprise hit by providing far more power and usability than a smart phone for light-traveling road warriors with far less expense and bulk than a traditional laptop. HP's new 2133 Mini-Note PC goes even further, providing a bigger, brighter screen and a host of other advantages that could make the device a mainstream hit.

The new HP mininotebook computer is a bit bulkier and slightly more expensive than the Eee, but it is also more powerful, polished and usable. It does a good -- although not perfect -- job of negating one seemingly immutable law of mobile computing: The smaller devices get, the more sacrifices are required in terms of usability.

In fact, the Mini-Note's big, bright screen, its ability to run Windows Vista and its reasonable starting price of $499 (for a version with a 1.0-GHz Via processor, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, 512MB of RAM and a 4GB solid-state drive) makes it worthy of serious consideration by travelers who need to regularly write e-mails and edit documents but who don't require heavier-duty computing tasks.

Out of the box

I tested a $599 version of the Mini-Note outfitted with a 1.2-GHz Via processor; 1GB of RAM; a 120GB, 5400 rpm hard drive; and, surprisingly, Windows Vista Home Basic. There are two other configurations: For $549, you get the same configuration I tested but with SUSE Linux, while $749 gives you a Via 1.6-GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, Bluetooth, a six-cell battery (rather than the standard three-cell) and Windows Vista Business.

The first thing I noticed when taking the 2133 Mini-Note PC out of the box was its sleek anodized aluminum case. The notebook weighs in at 2.6 pounds and measures a hair over an inch high at its thinnest point. It's 10 inches wide, 6.5 inches deep and 1.05 inches (at the front). That makes it roughly an inch wider but otherwise about equal in dimensions to the Asustek Eee.

That extra width is well used by the Mini-Note's wider 8.9-in. display (versus 7 inches for the Eee). As a result, it is easy for HP to justify its higher price. At $599, this Mini-Note is $100 more than Asustek's current high-end Eee PC, although reportedly slightly cheaper than Asustek's next-generation Eee, which will sport an 8.9-in. screen.

The Mini-Note has one more feature that many road warriors will treasure -- DriveGuard -- which senses when the laptop is falling and automatically shuts down the hard drive to minimize data loss.

Vista ready?

After plugging it in, I was surprised to find that the test unit came with Windows Vista Home Basic. Vista is notoriously resource hungry, so mininotebooks are, almost by definition, light in processing power and RAM departments. (In fact, Microsoft recently extended the life of Windows XP so that it could be installed on small, low-cost notebooks incapable of handling Vista.)

HP 2133 Mini-Note PC

My concerns about a lack of power were initially justified when the Mini-Note took what seemed like forever -- well, 45 minutes, actually -- to go through its first-time start-up routine as it configured itself, installed software and restarted multiple times. I expected subsequent boot-ups to be excruciatingly slow, but restarting the device after that required only about two and a half minutes, which isn't exactly screaming performance but still isn't far out of line for a Vista laptop.

Not surprisingly, applications took longer to load than they would on a typical desktop, but again, performance was quite reasonable given the lack of power (besides, nobody buys a small device like this because of its blazing speed). Still, the Mini-Note's Windows Experience Index score was a relatively paltry 1.7 (higher is better). By comparison, even my 5-year-old 2.8-GHz Pentium desktop computer with a mere 512MB of RAM scored 2.0. And Lenovo's X60 tablet/laptop, with a 1.83-GHz Core Duo processor and 2GB of RAM, scored about 5.

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