MSI Wind U135 Netbook with the Latest Intel Pinetrail Platform
MSI has gained a strong market since it launched its first 10" netbook in 2008.
It has also released many new notebook products in the last two years and these have helped to boost the image of the MSI brand.
When MSI released its first netbook, the only netbooks on the market were in the 7 to 8.9" range.
For most consumers, MSI's first 10" U100 Netbook offered a bigger screen compared
to the other 7~8.9" netbooks at the time while weighing around the same as 8.9" models.
MSI then continued to refine their netbook offerings with some offering longer endurance while others emphasized 3.5G support.
Consumer response was quite positive and the MSI brand has come up in the conversation
when some of my friends were looking for new netbooks.
The last two to three years have obviously made MSI's notebook and netbook offerings more visible in the market.
After all, having another brand to choose from is good for the consumer!
The new model from MSI is a special edition based on Intel's latest Pinetrail platform to celebrate the sale of one million 10" U100 netbooks.
The special edition is available in either blue or red.
Let's take a look at what improvements MSI has made for the Wind U135.
First, we have the product packaging.
The icons in the lower left corner put the emphasis on the keyboard, styling, power and touchpad.
Featured on the back is the previous U100 in black and white.
The two netbooks on the front show off the two colors available for the Special Edition U135.
Product warranty, driver CD and user manual.
The MSI Wind U135 itself. This hands-on review will feature the red version.
According to the manufacturer, the striped design uses Color Film Printing technology.
The U135 looks a little more stylish than its preceding U100.
The design of the base looks similar to the U100.
There is no convenient access to the RAM or HDD. Users looking for an upgrade will have to remove the entire lower casing.
A 6-cell battery rated at 4400mAh 49Wh is included.
Judging from the experience with U100, MSI will properly offer both a 4400mAh and a 5200mAh version.
The transformer uses the smallest size available on the market.
It's made by LITEON, another well-known brand.
The AC transformer is only slightly warm to the touch when charging so they've obviously paid attention to this area.
There are eight status lights to the lower right of the keyboard.
You need to hold down the Fn key to turn on some of the functions.
The sticker on the left side shows the hardware specifications.
The 20% wider touchpad will be more comfortable to use.
The glossier finish means it feels nice as well.
This is the chiclet keyboard and one of the biggest differences between the U135 and U100.
The power button is to the top right of the keyboard.
It turns blue when the power is on.
The hinge between screen and the chassis is also located nearby.
The 10" 16:0 mirror LED display with a resolution of 1024x600.
At the top is a 1.3M webcam and on the left is the microphone.
The I/O ports on the left side of the chassis
Keyhole/ AC power in / larger heat vent / USB 2.0 x 2
Right side of chassis
USB 2.0 x 1 / SD slot / Audio out/in / D-Sub display output / Network port
Close up shot of the keyboard. It looks a little different from traditional keyboards.
The keys don't feel too soft or too hard when typing.
The 6-cell battery used with the U135 weighs 1275g.
The official specs say 1.3kg. It's good that they didn't exaggerate on weight.
This shows the inside of the U135 with the bottom casing removed.
If you want to install DDR2 ram or other hardware upgrades, the word from online forums is that you can take it to a MSI support center.
Removing the casing yourself is not recommended because you might damage the manufacturer warranty stickers and lose the warranty protection.
The U135 offers one DDR2 DIMM slot for expanding the DRAM.
The included Hynix DDR2 667 1GB is soldered directly to the IC. The Nm10 chipset supports up to 2GB of DDR2 memory.
The cooling fan on the U135 is larger than those on other netbooks.
One advantage with the U135 is that while the fan seems to produce a lot of air flow when it's running, there is no real noise.
The HDD is a FUJITSU 250GB. We'll look at how it performs a little later.
The U135 features a very eye-catching color scheme.
MSI Wind U135 uses Intel's latest Pinetrail platform.
The ATOM N450 CPU is clocked at 166x10 = 1.66GHz with 512K of L2 cache. The single core CPU supports HT technology.
The NM10 chipset reduces the number of chips from the three in the previous 945GSE to just two.
The U135 is loaded with Windows 7 Starter edition as its operating system.
The hardware information in Device Manager:
The default factory-loaded desktop software
Upgraded to Windows 7 Ultimate 32bit edition.
Windows 7 performance benchmarks
CPU performance benchmarks
Super PI 1M => 1m 50.714s
CPUMARK99 => 115
Nuclearus Multi Core => 1704
Fritz Chess Benchmark => 1.65/791
CrystalMark 2004R3 => 27926
1 CPU => 559
x CPU => 861
OpenGL => 291
The N450 CPU's performance is about the same as the previous N280 and both are clocked at 1.66GHz.
I am personally not too surprised that there has been no major improvement in CPU performance.
The OpenGL scores were around the same as 945GSE as well.
The 3MARK2003 results were also in the 700 range just like the 945GSE.
FUJITSU MJA2250BH G2 5400rpm 250GB
The new 250GB FUJITSU HDD performs well even if it's just the 5400rpm version.
The peak transfer rates of 84~89MB/s in fact approach the performance of last generation's 7200rpm 2.5 HDD.
It looks like 2.5 HDD products are now evolving more quickly and their performance is getting better as well.
CPU temperature performance
Core Temp – 25˚C
CPUID Hardware Monitor - 31˚C
Under full load
Core Temp – 35˚C
CPUID Hardware Monitor - 50˚C
The temperature near the exhaust vent feels close to the Core Temp but the actual temperature is probably a few degrees higher.
The CPUID Hardware Monitor's temperature readings seem a little high. Even when running at full load the exhaust felt only slightly warm.
MSI performs well when it comes to system cooling and noise. This was already demonstrated on the preceding U100 model.
Power consumption benchmarks
The battery is removed and the AC transformer connected
Standby – 9W
Full load – 13W
The power consumption is probably around 5~7W lower than the previous 945GSE platform.
This is a strength of Intel's new platform and the NM10 chipset effectively reduces netbook's power consumption even more.
It's unfortunate that the integrated GMA 3150 chipset doesn't support hardware decoding of 1080p.
CPU load when playing test videos
For 720p the CPU load was around 50~70% though it occasionally went up to 80~90%.
For 1080p the CPU load was around 70~85% but sometimes went up to 90~99%.
The CPYU load was quite high when playing 1080p video with occasional lags and skipped frames.
After shutting down Task Manager and all unnecessary applications, it was possible to play 1080p videos at an acceptable rate.
The frame rate then stayed above 24 frames per second and there was almost no obvious lag.
6-cell battery tested with Battery Eater Pro V2.70 (Wireless networking disabled, Bluetooth enabled, LCD brightness set to 50%)
Full load – 4:03:03
Standby – 6:15:32
The Battery Eater Pro benchmark runs the CPU load with 3D graphics so this should produce the shortest endurance.
In cinema mode, the U135 can run for 4 hours and 50 minutes. Standby performance was above average.
My previous personal experience with various netbooks running on 6-cell batteries suggests a battery life of around 5~7 hours under normal use.
MSI Wind U135 Conclusion
1. The U135 looks better compared to previous MSI netbook models
2. The keyboard feels better and the chiclet keyboard is now the preferred NB deign
3. The AC transformer doesn't heat up as much as other models on the market while charging
4. Good HDD performance so the system boots up and shuts down more quickly. Software applications also launch faster as well.
5. Good cooling system that doesn't produce any obvious noise at full load or in standby. The chassis also has good temperature control.
5. The 6-cell battery doesn't weigh more than 1.3kg and the official specs didn't round off the weight to make it look lighter.
7. The NM10 chipset uses less power compared to the 945 GSE.
8. Good video conferencing quality so quality webcam components were obviously used.
1. The Intel Pinetrail platform doesn't offer any improvements on CPu and 3D performance
2. The Intel Pinetrail platform costs 20~30% more than the previous Atom platform at launch
3. The Special Edition U135 doesn't retain the matt display from the U100.
4. The glossy coating is eye-catching but also shows finger prints
5. The sound quality from the speakers leave something to be desired
When it comes to the speakers
The mid-range is clear but not rich enough
The upper range can go very high but sounds too sharp
The bass performance feels fuzzy and flat.
This is the weakest link.
While most users don't expect too much when it comes to sound quality on netbook products,
Consumers will probably prefer better speaker units.
Color and brightness during video conferencing looks good and the overall presentation works well.
When set to 1.3M, the U135 offers good resolution and video quality.
The MSI Wind U100 netbook offered excellent C/P value when it was first released.
Now priced at between NT$10,000 ~ NT$11,000, it continues to offer high C/P value in a saturated market with many competing vendors.
The new special edition released after two years uses the latest Intel architecture
but unfortunately offers no real improvements on Atom's performance.
This indirectly impacts the attractiveness of the MSI U135.
Since the U135 is being priced at around NT$13,900, this is probably due to the higher price of the new chipset.
When the other manufacturers release their own Pinetrail-based models, their prices will probably not be any cheaper.
All that the Intel Pinetrail platform appears to offer is lower power consumption.
In all other aspects it is practically identical to the previous Diamondville platform.
One wonders why Intel is releasing what it claims to be a new platform in 2010 yet it is basically just the old architecture in a new packaging.
Maybe they are trying to push up Atom prices?
I personally feel that the Diamondville-based Netbook products now flooding the market offers better value for consumers.
As for MSI, it seems to be catching up to the big names when it comes to NB products and is very fast on product updates and releases.
It has certainly been quick to launch NB products for 10" Netbooks, CULV and the more recent Core i7 and Pinetrail platforms.
While the new U135 is handicapped by the high cost of Intel's new chipset, it does show how much effort MSI is putting into the market.
If they can go back to using the matt-finish LCD or making the chassis even thinner, once Intel reduces its chipset prices,
the MSI Wind U135 may become a netbook product that offers good C/P value.
Once again, I've used the Spyder2 color calibrator to produce a color calibration file for all U135 users.
windwithme - msi Wind U135
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