Review: MSI Wind U270

 
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Published: June 2, 2011 11:00 PM
By Pierre Anzil / Alexandre Botella
MSI is launching a new netbook. For this 11.6 inch (1366 x 768 pixels), the manufacturer hasn't gone for the usual Intel Atom and graphics chipset but rather the AMD Brazos APU. Note also that USB 3.0 has also been included, a very unusual addition on netbooks.

Hardware, design & build: USB 3.0 and HDMI socket

While the finish on MSI products can be touch and go, here the designers seem to have applied themselves well. The plastic shell is sturdy and there's no play between the different parts. The keyboard does still have a slight tendency to give when you press on it however.

U270

The separated, or chiclet style, keys are nice to use overall. Keying is quiet and instinctive but once again, there is something of a fly in the ointment. The Enter and Shift buttons would have merited being slightly bigger, even if, of course, compromises are bound to be called for on a machine this size.
    
We weren't so impressed with the touchpad. While the coating is fine in terms of the glide, it's too small for comfortable usage, even on an 11.6 inch netbook. This is especially so as the screen has a resolution of 1366 x 766 pixels compared to the 1024 x 600 pixels to be found on more standard 10.1 inch models. You have to take several sweeps at it to get your cursor across the screen. Note that this is a single-touch touchpad (as opposed to multitouch). For those used to scrolling with two fingers, it's difficult to get used to this step backwards and you feel as if you're losing time whenever you have to move across to the scroll bars on the side of the screen.

Compaq Mini 311cThe webcam (720p) didn't impress us. The image is quickly pixelated, the blacks blocked out. Only the restitution of movements is a success. At best it can serve as a fallback solution but for daily usage we recommend a higher performance external webcam.

The connectivity covers all the bases. On the right, there's a power socket, the HDMI and VGA outs and the USB 3.0 port mentioned above that is still a rarity on laptops. On the other side are the RJ45, the SD card reader, two USB 2.0 ports and the headphones and mic sockets. Remember that USB 3.0 has not caught on in netbooks yet and, if our memory serves us right, this Wind U270 is the first we've seen with a USB 3.0 connector.

It looks as if MSI has under-sized the cooler fan. At idle, everything's fine but when you push the components a bit harder, the noise levels increase considerably and you'll need to turn the music up a bit to cover it.

When it comes to expelling hot air from the machine, MSI has made the same mistake as much of the competition, namely hot air is funneled out the gap between the keyboard and the screen and your knees therefore heat up a great deal when you're using this netbook on your lap.
 
The U270's temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
 
 
FX700
Underneath, with the panel off

U270 Hood


U270
  Power supply, VGA out, HDMI out, USB 3 port
U270
  Headphones socket, mic, USB 2.0 port
(X 2), card reader and RJ45


Processor power: good performance

We've already come across the AMD E350 APU on the MSI CR650 and the Acer Aspire 5253 (both 15.6 inch models). On running it through our test procedure, we found the U270 gave similar results to these other two machines.

Once again, then, a model to be reserved for office documents and Internet usage rather than demanding tasks such as 3D modelling. While nothing stops you from launching this type of application on the U270, the lengthy processing times required mean you won't want to do so unless forced to under duress. In general, the U270 is pretty much on a par with the 12 inch models equipped with an Intel Atom D525 (Asus VX6 and 1215N).

High definition video playback (HD 1080p, Blu-ray equivalent) is no problem as long as you use playback software that supports graphics hardware decoding (recent version of VLC, Media Player Classic HD with the right codes or Power DVD as of version 9). On its own the processor part can't take you beyond 720p, so the graphics part is also required (AMD Radeon HD 6310). This is a positive for the U270 as many netbooks equipped with Intel Atom processors and 3150 graphics chipsets aren't able to go beyond 720p.

Windows 7 Family Premium edition (64-bit) takes 51 seconds to boot. You then have to wait another 10 to 20 seconds for the various pieces of software and connection to a wi-fi network to launch. It turns off in under 20 seconds.

A few gaming options

The graphics component also does better in gaming than many integrated graphics chipsets. Note that it still isn't enough to give the Wind 270 wings. In practice, it does honorably well with a few less demanding games, but more recent titles only work with graphics settings pushed right down and, most often, at low resolution. It doesn't give any improvement on a netbook with an NVIDIA ION 2nd generation graphics chip.

Audio: mediocre ins

While the MSI outs are pretty good, the ins are very average. There's plenty of background noise when you're talking on Messenger or Skype. The speakers are pretty standard for a compact computer.

Battery life okay

Although a little larger than the 10.1 models, 11.6 inch netbooks are still small enough to slip into a bag or rucksack. Here, at 1.3 Kg, the U270 will be no problem to carry around. In contrast to MSI's claim of six hours, the Wind U270 only lasted 4h50 in our battery life test (video playback, wi-fi off, brightness at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in). While this isn't outstanding, it is probably good enough for your average student's day of notetaking or to entertain you during a longish trip.
4/5 MSI Wind U270 DigitalVersus 2011-06-03 00:00:00

Pros

  • HDMI out and USB 3.0 port
  • Decent battery life (4h50)
  • 1366 x 768 pixel matte panel
  • Good overall performance

Cons

  • TN panel with very low contrast and inaccurate colours
  • Small touchpad (not multi-touch)
  • Webcam somewhat lacking
  • Fan audible during demanding tasks

Conclusion

Although not perfect, the U270 offers above average performance for netbooks, a comfortable keyboard, a matte 720p panel, almost 5h battery life and HDMI and USB 3.0 connectivity. Not far off a 5-star rating, MSI still need to sort out a few issues with the touchpad, screen quality, noise and battery life to get a perfect 5.

OUR SCORE 4/5
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