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HP Mini 311

At a Glance
Product HP Mini 311 Netbook (1000NR)
Summary HP's latest netbook with 11.6" screen, Atom CPU and Nvidia graphics
Pros • Nice keyboard
• Decent battery life
• Properly placed mouse buttons
Cons • Mouse buttons hard to press
• Noisy, frequently-running fan

'Tis the season for me to do my yearly computer buying. And, like last year, I'm on the lookout for a new light and compact laptop. "Light and compact" used to mean expensive (as in $1600 or so that I spent for a Fujitsu P7120 Lifebook not too long ago), but not any more. Netbooks have taken over the portable PC market and are delighting buyers with a combination of decent performance, light weight and (relatively) low price.

The final review of last year's netbook search was HP's Mini 2140. So I guess it's fitting that the first of this year's netbook reviews is the seemingly ubiquitous HP Mini 311.

I got a good deal on mine at my local Office Depot, which had taken $50 off the normal $399 price for the 1000NR model. I initially had passed on it when I first spied it a week or so ago because it is a cheapie configuration that didn't have all the features on my buy list. But with the time required for a factory-built model coming up too close to my annual CES trek, I decided to at least try it to see if it was a keeper.

There have been plenty of Mini 311 reviews, so I'll run through the basics pretty quick and focus mainly on the things that matter to me. All 311's have:

  • 11.6”, 1366 x 768 LED BrightView Widescreen (16:9 format) display
  • NVIDIA ION graphics
  • 10/100 Ethernet
  • HDMI and VGA video outs
  • Three USB 2.0 ports
  • Built-in webcam
  • 6 cell Li-Ion battery
  • Audio in and out 1/8" mini jacks
  • SD / MMC / Memory Stick / xD card reader

The various models offered differ in the OS loaded (you can get Win 7 Home or XP Home), RAM (up to 1, 2 or 3 GB max.), hard drive (160, 250 or 320 GB SATA or 80 GB SSD), CPU (1.6 GHz Atom N270 or 1.66 GHz Atom N280) and wireless options (G or N, with or without Bluetooth). The 311 can also be equipped with a WWAN card for Verizon, AT&T or Sprint).

The loss-leader 311- 1000NR model that I picked up has XP Home, 160 GB hard drive, 1 GB RAM and the 802.11 b/g wireless card with no Bluetooth. The main deal-killer for this configuration is the wireless card because any netbook I buy must have Bluetooth so that I can use a mouse for the extended writing sessions I have while on the road.

I also wanted to be able to swap out the wireless card for the Intel WiFi Link 5300 AGN that I've standardized on for my WLAN performance testing. But it turns out that the 311 requires a combined WLAN / Bluetooth card instead of separate modules that other manufacturers use. Forum posts also indicate that HP uses a BIOS controlled "white list" of wireless cards that controls what can be used in the 311. The list doesn't include the Intel 5300, so my swap-out plan is a no-go.

As with the Mini 2140, the brick-style power supply instead of the small and light "wall-wart" style on my current Dell Mini 12 was disappointing. Although smaller and lighter than the typical power brick, it still is more of a hassle to use and heavier to carry than a wall-wart.

Build quality seemed good, although more plasticky than the 2140 because, well, it is made with more plastic (the 2140's case was silvery gray anodized aluminum). I didn't check the black swirly-pattern lid for fingerprint magnetism because anything with a glossy black plastic surface is a magnet. Note that the six-cell battery doesn't stick out from the back or bottom of the body, so won't pitch the back up for uncomfortable typing.

First boot was a surprise because it turns out that Office Depot had given me (I think, unwittingly) a returned unit complete with password-protected user account. But a quick boot into safe mode to turn off the account password got me in business in short order.

I could have done without the eBay, Snapfish, Play HP Games and HP QuickSync icons gracing the desktop. But some folks may find the 60 day trails for MS Office and Norton Internet Security useful. Adobe Acrobat Reader and MS Works also come installed.

The 311 has adopted the 1366 x 768 (16:9) "HD" widescreen format that seems standard in the new class of 11.6" screen netbooks (Figure 1). Although I thought I might find the resolution too high for comfortable viewing, the larger screen balances it out and the combination is very viewable.

HP Mini 311 Desktop (1366 x 768)
Click to enlarge image

Figure 1: HP Mini 311 Desktop (1366 x 768)

The only thing I miss vs. the Dell Mini 12 (Figure 2) is its slightly larger (32 px) more vertical resolution to cut down on scrolling. But it's not the deal-killer that the Mini 2140's 576 px vertical resolution was!

Dell Mini 12 desktop
Click to enlarge image

Figure 2: Dell Mini 12 desktop (1280 x 800)

The keyboard (Figure 3) seems to be held over from the 2140 and so doesn't make maximum use of the 311's width. Another reviewer said HP told him that customers liked the 2140's keyboard so much that they decided to not mess with a good thing instead of putting in a larger keyboard. But methinks the reason was more cost-savings through quantity discounting.

Mini 311 Keyboard
Click to enlarge image

Figure 3: Mini 311 Keyboard

The function key row is really narrow. But I guess if you need to save space somewhere, that's the place to do it. The faint grey (blue?) ink used for labeling the alternate function key functions is bad, however. It makes it impossible (at least for me) to see the labels unless I look directly down at the keys.

The alternate functions include volume, mute, brightness, sleep, external screen switch and logout. There's a prominently-placed backlit button above the keyboard for turning Wi-Fi on and off. But there are no keyboard shortcuts for controlling Bluetooth or switching quickly between power modes. Number-crunchers should also note that there is no Num Lock key.

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