Netbook: HP Mini 311
Starts at $399
By: Ed Tittel
As netbooks go, the HP Mini 311 is neither the biggest and fastest, nor the smallest and slowest of the bunch. Instead, this mid-size unit packs a sharp 11.6" 1366x768 screen, along with the Nvidia Ion chipset.
The $399 base unit includes an Intel Atom N270 processor (1.6 GHz, 533 MHz FSB, 512KB L2 cache, single-core with Hyper-Threading), 802.11 b/g wireless networking, 1GB RAM, and a 160GB 5,400 RPM hard drive. HP also makes the more powerful N280 processor available as an upgrade (add $25 for 1.66 GHz and a 667 MHz FSB), as well as 802.11 b/g/n wireless (another $25), along with Bluetooth ($25 more) and various cosmetic touches and finishes. Interestingly, HP now offers buyers two operating systems for this netbook: in addition to the standard Windows XP SP3, there’s also Windows 7 Home Premium edition (32-bit-only, $50).
HP also serves up numerous storage options for the Mini 311. In addition to its stock 5,400 RPM hard disk, 250 (+$30) and 320GB (+$60) 5,400 RPM drives are available, as is an 80GB SSD (+$210). Beyond the 1GB of RAM that’s standard for Windows XP models, buyers who choose Windows 7 can opt for a single 2GB (+$30) or 3GB (+$65) SO-DIMM instead.
Additionally, the Mini 311 can be equipped with HP Mobile Broadband, with service available from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, or Sprint ($125, service charges not included). Our only regret here is that by the time you finish tricking out a Windows 7 unit with added memory and disk space, it’s easy to spend more than $500 on a loaded Mini 311.
The 11.6" wide-screen LCD is one of the best features of this netbook. Its LED back-lighting and crisp 1366x768 resolution give its users a bit more room for surfing the Web, reading e-mail, and running lightweight applications. It even offers HDMI video output in addition to the more standard VGA output. The unit also includes three USB 2.0 ports and an SD/SDHC memory card reader. Buyers who spring for Windows 7 and extra RAM will also find this netbook surprisingly agile with video and very light gaming. All in all, the HP is one solid little unit for those willing to boost its equipage and OS above the base configuration.
Chris' Take: we picked the HP Mini 311 this year after tooling around with the netbook when it first launched. I've been fairly harsh on Nvidia's Ion platform up until now due to its reliance on Intel's Atom. However, this seems like the perfect application of the low-power CPU and chipset combination. When I bought the 311, I even ordered it with the optional USB Blu-ray player (which also happened to come with ArcSoft's TotalMedia Theatre 3). Battery life is impressive, performance is reasonable for a netbook of this size, and the ability to accelerate video playback (and even play World of Warcraft) shows off what Ion can do when it isn't expected to take the place of a desktop PC. Overall, this is another highly-recommended holiday purchase.