Look what just blew in... MSI's Wind

Since we first caught a glimpse of MSI's Eee rival, the Wind, we've been eagerly waiting to get our hands on one, and just an hour or so ago, one of our lovely contacts at MSI obliged us.

And while the pictures may have looked promising, the Wind is even more alluring in the flesh. The matte white finish looks good, and feels good too. It's no match for the model looks of HP's Mini Note 2133, sure, but as our recent review made abundantly clear, looks aren't everything.

The base feels sturdy enough, and the gentle curves do look rather attractive in a pleasingly plain, understated kind of way. The lid is a little more pliant, and really tugging on it left ripples waving across the display, but it’s clearly strong enough to fend off the odd knock here and there.

But, flip that lid open, and the Wind starts to reveal its star qualities. Its chassis might be a touch larger than any either of its Asus or HP-branded rivals, but MSI has put the extra space to good use. The 10 inch display is bright, crisp and free from any unsightly graininess, and although the resolution is still a mite on the low side, just 1,024 x 600 pixels, it does equal that of the Eee PC 900 and, on the upside, keeps text nice and legible.

And the keyboard? Well, it's clear that someone at MSI has been listening to the complaints levelled at the Eee and its ilk. The keys stretch right to the edges of the chassis, are well spaced and blessed with a good, impressively positive action. The half-height enter key is a minor annoyance, as is the left Ctrl key being shunted to the right of the FN key, but given the keyboard's surprisingly spacious layout, we think, given time, that we'll be able to forgive such minor transgressions.

The Wind's larger frame also allows for a sensibly sized trackpad. In our brief encounter it proved responsive and true, and the buttons responded with a light click. It’s a far cry from the Mini Note's curious layout, that's for sure.

But despite its larger chassis and screen, the MSI doesn’t give anything away to its rivals in the weight department. It tipped the scales at 1.264kg, but as the model we saw had a six-cell battery, and retail units will ship with a three-cell, we’d expect weight to end up much nearer the 1kg mark.

And going by the six-cell battery, stamina looks like it just may be another feather in the Wind’s cap. Windows’ battery meter is far from accurate, but with screen brightness at minimum and wireless on, it projected a battery life of seven hours and 10 minutes. If that’s to be believed then, sitting idle, the Wind’s three-cell will probably last about the same as Asus’ Eee PC 900.

MSI will be producing two versions of the Wind, one with Linux – apparently SUSE Linux of some description, but no word on whether it’s been tweaked to accommodate the beginner user – and the other with Windows XP.

The pre-production model we tinkered with had Windows XP on it, and the transition from Power On to Windows desktop was impressively swift. We tried loading up standard Windows items such as the Control Panel, Device Manager and Windows Media Player and each sprung into life with appreciable haste.

MSI also mentioned the nifty ability to over or underclock the processor as required, depending on whether battery life or absolute performance is the priority.

But, even without any recourse to overclocking, it’s clear that the Wind’s specification looks to be an impressively potent one. The initial batch of Winds will all be the top of the line models boasting an as-yet unnamed processor, 1GB of memory, an 80GB hard disk, 802.11bg, Bluetooth, a 1.3 megapixel webcam and a three-cell battery. Given that those high-end models will be selling for just £329 including the VAT, the Wind begins to look very reasonable indeed. Cheaper, less well-specified models will start to flesh out the line-up around August time.

Even given our brief encounter, MSI’s Wind could finally be the laptop to claim the Eee’s low cost crown. And, dare we say it, it certainly seems the breath of fresh air that the form factor so desperately needs. With review units promised in a matter of weeks, we can barely wait.

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