The MSI Wind U123 netbook ships with Windows XP and is the follow-up to the MSI Wind U120. It's available in three different versions: there is the plain MSI Wind U123, the 3G-equipped MSI Wind U123H, and the MSI Wind U123T, which has a built-in digital TV tuner. We tested an engineering sample of the Wind U123T. It's designed for users who want a light and convenient netbook that can also be used to watch and record digital TV programs.
It's the first netbook we've seen with a built-in digital TV tuner card (AF9015 BDA), which lets you watch free-to-air standard definition channels. Because it only has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, the MSI Wind U123T can't handle high-definition stations. Even though it finds HD channels during its channel scan, it can't actually display them. The software interface used for decoding TV is CyberLink's PowerCinema and it can only be used for watching and recording; it doesn't support time-shifting. Its performance is sluggish on the Wind U123T (understandably, due to the slow CPU), so changing settings can be a slow process. Nevertheless, it decodes SDTV (576i) and plays back recorded files without any dropped frames or out-of-synch audio.
You can comfortably watch TV on this netbook, but we're still trying to figure out why you would want to. We can only surmise that it's a useful feature to have on hand if you want to record programs directly onto the netbook and then watch them while you're on the road. The MSI Wind U123T has a 160GB hard drive for this purpose and if you play back recorded shows while on the road its 3-cell battery will last for 1hr 43min (you might want to consider getting the optional 6-cell battery for when you travel).
The MSI Wind U123T weighs 1.1kg and measures 26.2x17.8x3cm (WxDxH), so it's very easy to carry. Its 10in screen has a native resolution of 1024x576 pixels (which means standard-definition shows will fit perfectly) and it has an LED backlight. Its horizontal viewing angles are adequate, but like almost all netbooks we've seen its vertical viewing angles are narrow; colours are rich and the screen is bright enough for viewing videos even while outdoors in shaded areas (but not in direct sunlight).
At the top of the screen sits a webcam that can be used to log you in to the system via face recognition. This is done through MSI's Easy Face Manager software (we had to download it from MSI's Web site). All you have to do is run Easy Face Manager, let it take 16 photos of your face, enter a password, and then enable 'Login System Status'. With the difficulty slider in the middle, face detection worked almost too quickly; log-in commenced just as the registered face entered the camera frame. When we made it difficult (by moving the slider to the left), the result was much the same. The webcam has a resolution of 1.3 megapixels; the pictures are clear and frame rates are smooth.
Even though the MSI Wind U123T is small, it isn't particularly uncomfortable to type on. Despite its keys being only 16.5mm wide, touch-typing is easy; the only problem is that the comma, period and slash keys are only 12mm wide, which can lead to a lot of typos. You don't get any fancy shortcut keys for launching applications, nor any manual switches for the WiFi and Bluetooth modules. If you want to disable the wireless radios, you have to use the Fn key along with its corresponding function key (F11 in this case); the webcam and touchpad can be disabled, too. The volume level has to be adjusted in a similar manner (using F7 and F8).
The touchpad is 5.5x4cm and responsive, but its buttons are a little hard to press; this might be something to do with our unit being a preproduction model.
We like the fact that the MSI Wind U123T has an 802.11n wireless adapter (Atheros AR928X). We were able to log on to our wireless network at the full rate of 300 megabits per second.
With its 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, integrated Intel GMA 945 graphics, 2GB of DDR2 SDRAM and a 5400rpm hard drive, the MSI Wind U123T won't break any speed records. It recorded a time of 8min 16sec in our iTunes MP3 encoding test (where we convert 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s), which is a little slower than the MSI Wind U120 (7min 58sec); it was on par with the Wind U120 in the hard drive test, where it recorded 20.78 megabytes per second. It has a 2.5in hard drive, but it's not easy to replace — you have to remove the keyboard first. You also need to remove the keyboard to access the DDR2 memory slot.
During prolonged usage the MSI Wind U123T doesn't get overly warm, so you can use it on your lap without feeling uncomfortable. However it is a top-heavy unit, so if you have the screen tilted all the way back the base will lift up and the whole unit may tip backwards. Its balance is still better than the MSI Wind U100's.
The MSI Wind U123T is almost identical to the U120, except that it has slightly lower resolution screen and it weighs 200g less. The addition of a digital TV tuner allows you to record programs directly onto the netbook and watch them on the road — making it the ideal netbook for the TV junkie who wants to maximise viewing time while travelling to and from work.
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