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Figure 4 shows some of the items in Device Manager expanded so that you can see key component details. Broadcom supplies the 11g radio both with and without Bluetooth. The service manual lists the available modules as Broadcom 4322AGN 802.11a/b/g/n and Broadcom 4312G (for b/g). It also lists the Intel WiFi Link 5100 "for use in Pakistan, Russia, and the Ukraine". But I suspect there's a region-specific BIOS that goes with it.

Mini 311 Device Manager

Figure 4: Mini 311 Device Manager

Other notable parts are the 10/100 Ethernet and SATA controllers, which are NVIDIA nForce, 160 GB Hitachi HTS545016B9A Travelstar 5K500.B 2.5" drive and NVIDIA ION LE display adapter. Although the webcam is shown as an HP Webcam-50, the properties show the manufacturer as Silicon Motion. The touchpad, which supports a few multi-touch features, comes from Alps, not Synaptics. And finally, I want to point out that the card reader slot lets a regular-sized SD card fully nestle snugly inside.

Figure 5 shows the Mini 311 side-by-side with my Dell Mini 12. I lined up the screens so that you can see that the HP is noticeably shorter and has a smaller footprint than the Dell, due primarily to the Dell's taller screen form factor. The HP is just a tad (1/4") narrower than the Dell, too.

Dell Mini 12 and HP Mini 311
Click to enlarge image

Figure 5: Dell Mini 12 and HP Mini 311

But, despite its smaller size, I didn't feel that the HP was any less usable than the Dell. In fact, the HP is a step up from the Dell because its keyboard doesn't have the narrow . , and / keys that have been driving me crazy for the past year. This was a very dumb move on Dell's part, since its main keys are otherwise the same width as the HP's much-praised keyboard.

While they didn't change the keyboard, HP did move the mouse buttons from their cramp-inducing side-o-the-trackpad placement to their proper place below it. And kudos for using two keys instead of the single-bar that really don't like at all. Unfortunately, HP still got something wrong, making the mouse buttons pretty stiff and requiring more pressure than I prefer.

In Use

Truth be told, the main reason I picked up the Mini 311 was to check out its fan noise. One of the things I like about the Dell Mini 12 is that it doesn't have a fan. So I've gotten used to blissful silence when using it in the quiet of hotel rooms and my home office.

I had previously gotten in an Acer Aspire 1810T timeline, which I'm on the fence about keeping (and I'll also be reviewing), because its fan runs more than I like and is noisier than I like when it is running. So I wanted to see how the 311 did in this department.

Unfortunately, fan noise is the deal-killer for the Mini 311. Even after setting the BIOS Fan Always On setting to Disabled, the fan still takes only an occasional break. Otherwise it runs pretty much all the time and revs up to a definitely audible level when playing even low-res web video. I'll admit that it doesn't scream as much as the fan on my old Fujitsu S2020 (boy, I don't miss that whiner at all!). But the constant drone is very annoying, and it can't be helping battery life much either.

Speaking of battery life, I took my lead from Laptop Mag's Battery test method and switched to a more realistic web-surfing method instead of the music streaming method I've used previously. I cobbled up a Windows batch file (you can download it here for your own testing) that opens eight different web pages in Firefox, the last of which is a video stream, which runs for a minute. The script pauses between each page opening with times between 15 and 62 seconds. At the end of the loop, the script kills Firefox to close all the tabs that were opened, then starts all over again.

For the test, I set the screen at three or four clicks above minimum brightness, which provided a low, but comfortable working level. I don't let the screen power off or dim during the test or the machine go into sleep or hibernation. But I do let the hard drive spin down after 3 minutes, in case the 311 can work from available RAM. I also let the machine go into hibernation when it reaches the 3% battery power remaining default critical battery notification level.

With the settings above and starting with a full battery charge, the 311 ran a respectable 6 hours and 24 minutes, which is significantly better than the 4 hours and 56 minutes that I got from the same test run on the Dell Mini 12.

A few other things worth mentioning:

  • Sound from the Altec Lansing speakers mounted out of sight below the screen was surprisingly good. I found I had to have volume cranked most of the way up when watching videos, however.
  • The system goes to sleep or hibernation when you close the screen. But it doesn't wake up properly when you open the lid. It seems to start to wake up, then shuts down so that you have to reboot
  • Full-screen Hulu videos were definitely smoother (but not glitch-free) after installing the Flash 10.1 pre-release that is said to have improved NVIDIA Ion support.
  • I couldn't find a restore partition or any mention in the online help of how to do a system recovery. And, as is standard today, no restore disks came with the product.

Verdict

While the HP Mini 311 is a better machine than the Mini 2140 (except for the plastic case), it's not the machine for me. The latest crop of 11.6" screen netbooks can actually get quite pricey, especially those with Dual-Core Celerons like the Lenovo U150 or the Acer Aspire 1810T and TZ.

With its Atom / Ion combination and lowball configuration, the 311 lets you start out at $399 (or $359 with the sale price I found). But by the time you configure it with Bluetooth, N wireless, Win 7 Home Premium and max out the RAM at 3 GB, you're up to $620. While that's still a better deal than a Lenovo U150 Red Sky Star (690968U) at $649 (and that's with b/g wireless and no Bluetooth), it ain't cheap. But it isn't quiet either, and that's the main reason it won't be taking up residence in the SNB lab.

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