HP Mini 311 netbook

HP Mini 311 netbook

A large Windows 7-based netbook with powerful NVIDIA ION graphics

HP's Mini 311 is an 11.6in netbook that weighs 1.4kg. It's one of the first netbooks to come with Windows 7 Home Premium preinstalled. It's also one of the first to use NVIDIA's ION platform, with an NVIDIA system chipset and integrated GeForce 9400M graphics processor.

NVIDIA claims that ION-based netbooks can provide over 10 times the graphics performance of regular netbooks. Usually, we'd dismiss such a claim two seconds after reading it. And we were right to do so this time, because NVIDIA's claim was inaccurate. 3DMark06 benchmarks showed the HP Mini 311 is approximately 15 times faster in the graphics department than a typical netbook, such as Samsung's NC10.

The extra graphics grunt means that Windows 7's slick graphical user interface runs very smoothly and high-definition video content can be viewed without tearing and stuttering. The HP Mini 311 has an HDMI port that allows you to display Full HD videos on a big screen, and the 250GB hard drive lets you store content on the netbook rather than having to use an external drive. It's worth mentioning that the hard drive is a Samsung HM250HI, with a 5400rpm spin speed. It was very fast in our file transfer tests, recording an average speed of 27.89 megabytes per second. In essence, you could use the Mini 311 as a makeshift digital video and music player for your living room, and, if you plug in a USB-based digital TV tuner, as media centre.

However, the Mini 311 is still a netbook at heart, albeit with stronger arteries. It runs a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280 CPU, which is not unusual, but it also has 2GB of DDR3 SDRAM, which is slightly faster and less power-hungry than the DDR2 memory present in most netbooks. Nevertheless, the netbook will be slow at media encoding and multitasking. This was shown clearly in our iTunes (MP3 encoding) and Blender (3D rendering) tests. It took 7min 36sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s, and 6min 58sec to render a 3D image. Compared to other netbooks, these are quick times and they make this one of the fastest netbooks on the Australian market; they are still slow results for users looking to primarily conduct these sorts of tasks, however.

In our WorldBench 6 benchmark suite, the Mini 311 recorded an overall score of 31, which is what we expect of a netbook. It was particularly slow in the multitasking portion of this benchmark, during which it took 1394sec to complete the task. Even so, the Mini 311 felt responsive as we navigated Windows 7's menus and launched programs. It definitely didn't feel sluggish during regular use — only when we undertook taxing tasks such as the afore-mentioned MP3 encoding and 3D rendering tests.

The Mini 311's 11.6in screen makes it more comfortable to use than most netbooks. Its native resolution of 1366x768 gives a wider and taller view of Web pages and it means tall dialog boxes aren't cut off by the edge of the screen. It also helps when editing images. Its contrast and brightness are good, but it's a glossy screen, which will make it a little annoying to use in bright conditions.

We like the keyboard: the keys are 16.5mm wide, except for the shrunken arrow and function keys. The touchpad is large (8.2x3.8cm) and has a conventional design with the left- and right-click keys located at the bottom, rather than either side of it. The palm rest is also a good size and makes the netbook comfortable to type on for long periods of time.

The netbook's keys possess good travel and felt good to the touch. However, the keyboard and the notebook in general don't feel as solidly built as HP's previous efforts. The keyboard moves ever so slightly when you hit its keys, and the netbook's chassis bends when you hold it from the corners. That's not say it's a flimsy netbook, it just doesn't feel as solid as the other HP Minis we have tested.

The bending chassis can be attributed to its thin, sloping profile, which is only approximately 10mm at the front and 20mm at the rear. It looks good, but it does compromise connectivity slightly. You get three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, D-Sub (VGA), an SD card slot, a 10/100 Ethernet port, and a combination microphone/headphone port. This type of microphone port is becoming increasingly common on HP Minis (the HP Mini by Studio Tord Boontje features one, too) and it is annoying if you want to plug in a microphone and a pair of headphones. When connected to a TV via HDMI, audio will travel via the HDMI port.

You can connect to a network using the built-in 802.11g wireless networking adapter or the 10/100 Ethernet port. These features are a disappointment for a netbook that has so many other good features. We would have liked an 802.11n wireless adapter and Gigabit Ethernet for quicker file transfers over a LAN.

Battery life was good in our tests, with the Mini 311 lasting 3hr 29min. You can get even more life out of it if you employ a power saving scheme and let Windows 7 automatically regulate the screen brightness during idle periods. It comes with a 6-cell battery.

You can use the HP Mini 311 comfortably while on the road, and it's big enough to be used for extensive typing. We like its powerful graphics chip, fast hard drive and HDMI port, and think it's a good unit overall — Windows 7 runs very well on it. The only real disappointment is the lack of faster networking, but we can live with that.

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