Product Review: HP's Mini 311-1000NR Netbook

We're still testing it, but so far the first Ion netbook delivers on its promise

Commuting to work this morning, I was playing [Left 4 Dead] on HP's Mini 311-1000NR - that's right, on a netbook. Few netbooks are up to that task, and HP is first to market with an nVidia Ion-based portable. The 3.22-pound, 11.4-by-8.0-by-1.2-inch Mini 311-1000NR has a reasonable amount of power and a US$399 asking price. (Our review unit, as configured, sells for US$450 as of October 5, 2009.)

What's Ion? If you've somehow missed the reams of stories I've already written about the [Ion platform], here's the executive summary: For netbooks or nettops, it marries an Intel Atom CPU (in this case, the 1.66GHz N280) to an nVidia Ion LE GPU, yielding more-powerful, affordable machines that can output high-def video and even allow you to play some games.

Also fueling this machine are 1GB of RAM and a 160GB 5400-rpm hard drive - standard-issue netbook guts. Unfortunately, we don't yet know exactly how much additional juice the Mini 311-1000NR delivers - we're conducting our WorldBench 6 lab tests as I write this - but we do have some preliminary results.

I'm looking forward to the final results to see how an Ion netbook will fare against AMD's tweener-class Neo CPU, which came on board the category-defying HP Pavilion dv2 (a model that earned a score of 45 on WorldBench 6). And now the HP Pavilion dm3, due to replace the dv2, is just around the corner. HP spokespeople say that they expect the Mini 311-1000NR to deliver roughly 5 hours of battery life; we'll see.

Gaming on a netbook is one of the big bullet-point promises of the Ion platform - but don't expect to run Crysis Warhead. I tried: After a lengthy load time, it was a start-and-stop experience at 800 by 600 pixels with everything but the monitor turned off. Though I can say that I "played" the game, but it isn't exactly "playable." I had much better luck with Left 4 Dead and with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. At the same resolution - with visual effects switched to low setting - both were slightly jerky (frame rates bounced along in the high 20s and low 30s), but definitely playable. For laughs, I tried running the ridiculous Resident Evil 5 Benchmark that [challenged the Core i7]; at 1280 by 720 pixels, the Mini 311-1000NR managed 7.7 frames per second. (A $4000 desktop replacement laptop gets ten times that performance - not a huge surprise there.)

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