The Wind U160 is the latest Intel Pine Trail based-netbook from MSI boasting an impressive 15 hours of battery life. Like its sibling, the U135, which we reviewed in February, the U160 is equipped with the Intel Atom N450 and Intel GMA 3150. With a slightly larger battery and nearly identical parts configuration, can this new model beat the U135's battery life of six hours and 30 minutes? Read our full review to find out.
MSI Wind U160 Specifications:
The MSI Wind U160 has a very good looking appearance with a glossy piano black finish inside and out. Compared to the U135, MSI went with a cylindrical hinge design on the U160, which allows the extended battery to blend with the shape of the back of the netbook. Gateway and Sony have also used a similar design on some of their notebooks. The common trend with these configurations is including the power button at the end of the hinge, which MSI also does.
The battery design on the U160 elevates the rear of the notebook with the rear half of the battery pack sticking out under the computer. ASUS uses a similar scheme but works the wedge shape into the design making the lift less noticeable.
Users looking to upgrade the Wind U160 will find easy access to the system memory, which is a common on most netbooks that only include 1GB of RAM-with an access cover on the back side. The hard drive and wireless card require the entire back panel to be removed to access them. Going that extra step isn't terribly difficult, but it may be overwhelming for someone who hasn't previously dismantled a computer.
Screen and Speakers
The Wind U160 offers a 10-inch glossy LED-backlit display that rates below average compared to other similarly sized netbooks. On our review model, we noticed significant backlight bleed around the edges when the brightness is near the top of the scale. During the boot sequence, this is especially visible when the backgrounds are black.
Turning the backlight down to 50-70% reduced bleed, but it was still slightly visible if you were in a dark room watching a movie. Color and contrast are comparable to other competing netbooks thanks to the glossy screen surface. If there was less backlight bleed, it would be a great machine to watch movies on while traveling.
At peak brightness, the screen is easy to read in bright office conditions and outdoors if you are in an area that the sun wasn't reflecting off the screen. Viewing angles are average with the vertical viewing range spanning 15-20 degrees forward or back before colors started to invert. Horizontal viewing angles are better, keeping colors looking true even at steep angles.
The speakers on the U160 are lap-firing, meaning that if you have the netbook on your lap, the speakers sound muffled since they can be easily blocked by your clothing. When sitting on a flat desk surface, the speakers sound very crisp with clean high notes and some midrange. Low-frequency response is nonexistent, but expected for almost all smaller netbooks and notebooks.
The MSI Wind U160's keyboard is a nearly identical to the keyboard on the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE. They are Chiclet-style keyboards and share the same layout, key size and key shape. The only visible differences are the printed labels that appear bolded on the MSI version. Comparing both models side-by-side and the U160 feels more solid and attached to the frame, whereas the 1005PE's keyboard bounces slightly. Tactile feedback is nearly alike, with the same key strength and noise when fully pressed.
Ports and Features
Port selection on the MSI Wind U160 follows the industry average with three USB 2.0 ports, VGA-out, a SDHC-card reader, audio jacks, LAN and a Kensington lock slot. The Wind also features a dedicated wireless on/off switch to quickly disable the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth card without fumbling with keys or software settings.
Performance and Benchmarks
System performance of the Wind U160 with the Intel Pine Trail N450 processor and newer GMA 3150 integrated graphics is better than previous generation netbooks, but still leaves a bit to be desired after seeing CULV-based notebooks we reviewed recently. The system can handle low-stress activities without problems; including listening to music, watching SD and HD movies, browsing the Web, and using office productivity applications. HD video decoding was limited to 720P files as 1080P movies would start falling behind in sync. HD flash was unplayable even with the newer Adobe Flash 10.1 plug-in.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
Thermal performance of the MSI Wind U160 was slightly below average when under load. The system fan, while active under many situations, seemed to flow less air than needed to keep the netbook cool under heavy demands. We found a few hot spots near the processor and wireless card reaching upward of 100 degrees Fahrenheit while stressing the system. Under a light load, temperatures remained reasonable. Fan noise was noted throughout our review, with the fan staying on at idle load as well as full load. The noise, while minimal, could still be heard in a very quiet room.
MSI claims the Wind U160 can reach up to 15 hours of battery life, but in our mild-duty battery test it was only able to get a fraction of that. With the screen brightness set to 70%, Windows 7 on the Balanced profile, and wireless active the U160 stayed on the 8 hours and 21 minutes. This is an improvement from the 6 hours and 30 minutes we saw on the U135, but still well under the 12 hours on the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE. With all these netbooks having nearly the same hardware configuration our only guess is the level of power tweaking on the MSI Wind U160 is not as great as the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE
The MSI Wind U160 is essentially a redesigned U135 with a slightly larger battery. System components are nearly identical between the two models, with the U160 having a 7Wh larger battery. While MSI advertises an impressive 15 hours of battery life, in our tests we only managed to see 8 hours and 21 minutes with very light activity. MSI prices the U160 $100 above the U135 with the only changes being the design and an increase of about two hours of battery life. Consumers interested in picking up a Wind netbook should probably pocket that extra $100 and get the U135, or look at the Asus Eee PC 1005PE, which costs only $379.99.