When you spend time reviewing mobile computers, you need to address the question of what sort of laptop/mobile device you are reviewing. Simply stated, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for laptops/netbooks/notebooks (or MIDs/cell phones/PDAs/etc.) Instead, most devices have a target audience. If you happen to be among the target audience for a particular device, you'll probably appreciate what it offers a lot more than someone with different wants/needs.

Take the netbook. Frankly, anyone looking for a laptop that can do everything they need is almost bound to be severely disappointed by what current netbooks offer. Yes, they're small, light, and generally deliver great battery life. They are also slow — painfully slow. If you have used any reasonable computer built in the past four years, a netbook will typically be half as fast (or less). You definitely shouldn't plan on doing anything computationally intensive. That limitation precludes gaming, video encoding, 3D rendering, and often HD video decoding. It's still possible to do some of those tasks, but the overall experience is frequently far from ideal.

NVIDIA's ION attempts to mix things up in the netbook market by introducing much faster integrated graphics. ION is essentially GeForce 9400M for Intel Atom processors. In the case of the HP Mini 311 we received, it uses ION LE, the difference being that the LE version doesn't support DirectX 10. While gaming is now more feasible than other netbooks using GMA 950 graphics, the Intel Atom processor is slow enough that a huge number of games are still unplayable, so losing DirectX 10 support isn't a huge issue. If you feel otherwise, there are other netbooks (i.e. the Lenovo S12 and Samsung N510) that include the full ION with DX10.

Gaming performance doesn't appear to be a huge concern on any Intel Atom netbook right now, but the video playback acceleration is definitely a benefit for a lot of users. A single-core Atom N270 is generally able to handle 720p x264 decoding (using CoreAVC), but CPU utilization is well above 50%. With more demanding video files (1080p for example), Atom will need help. If it were just x264 videos, the case for ION netbooks might only be moderately interesting, but with the recent release of the Flash 10.1 Beta we finally have GPU accelerated video playback for Flash videos. If you're a frequent YouTube or Hulu user, the case for ION just became a lot more compelling.

Besides gaming, graphics, and video decoding, ION also supports NVIDIA's CUDA technologies. NVIDIA is big on touting the benefits of CUDA, with a few notable applications that leverage the technology to provide improved performance on tasks such as video transcoding. We'll take a look at a few of those applications as well to see if the argument for CUDA applications is compelling.

HP Mini 311 — Specifications
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  • ninjackn - Monday, November 23, 2009 - link

    I think a more fair comparison would be to mention all 3 tiers: netbooks, netbooks with video acceleration and CULV laptop. Netbooks have tempted me for a long while but the lack of ability to watch practically any video have long been a turn off from them.

    The ION netbooks are something like $100 more over a netbook without video acceleration. That $100 gets me the ability to watch youtube, hulu, 1080p H264 content and play games like plants vs zombies, WoW or Quake Live. Then for another $100 more I can get a laptop that can possibly do the same but have better battery life, build quality and start office faster? The $100 more is seeming less appearing, especially since it is a non-primary system.

    It seems like an interesting trade off, a weaker GPU and more powerful CPU (CULV + 4500MHD) or a strong GPU and weaker CPU (Atom + ION). The ION is defiantly a stronger GPU than the 4500MHD but I’m interested as to how the balance of CPU/GPU will play out in benchmarks for reasonable games.

    Also, if you buy a mini 311 with Windows 7 then it comes equipped with the full ION. Granted that ION LE really IS a full ION with the DX10 disabled through drivers but it can be enabled either through a BIOS hack or forcing full ION drivers. The Windows Experience Index score for gaming jumps from 3.9 to 5.4 I'm curious how that plays out (311+full ion vs timeline for "light" gaming).

    As for video playback I have no idea if the 4500MHD is any good for H264 decoding. All I’ve heard about it is from forums or comments and I would really appreciate if there was a more definitive source (anandtech) discussing the matter. I glossed over the flash 10.1 article and it would seem that either are fine for youtube or hulu but what about videos we acquired through other means?

    And talking as a "typical" anandtech-reader/power-user type of guy: The ion is more interesting over the 4500MHD because no apple laptop comes with a 4500MHD but they do come with a 9400M.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 23, 2009 - link

    4500MHD provides enough GPU acceleration of x264/H.264/Flash decoding that when combined with a CULV CPU you can easily watch 1080p videos.

    The real comparison is Acer 1410/Gateway EC1435u (essentially the same thing) vs. the HP Mini 311. All are ~$400 base price, with a slight advantage in specs (i.e. RAM) to the Acer/Gateway CULV laptops.

    I can't say for sure how the Celeron SU2300 stacks up to the Pentium SU4100, but half the cache and 100MHz should mean it's about 80-85% of the performance. That should still be enough for video decoding (I'll verify with Flash 10.1 on SU4100 in the next couple days).

    For graphics, GMA 4500MHD is about 1/4 the gaming performance of 9400M, but Atom really holds 9400M (ION) back it seems. If the 9400M can only run at ~1/3 it's regular gaming performance because of CPU bottlenecking, we have a real fight. If it's more like 1/2 speed, it's not as close.

    I'll be looking at all of this in the next week or so....
  • AstarothCY - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    The HP Mini 311 is multitouch-capable. Yes, the Windows 7 models ship with a driver that inexplicably does not recognize multitouch gestures, but if you install the following driver, they will work:


    You may experience an issue with the function of the left touchpad button being unset from "Click", causing some issues after you wake up from hibernate, just make sure it is set properly. HP should really release a proper Mini 311 ALPS driver for Windows 7.

  • BelardA - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    Yeah, it sucks that some idiots decided that WE would want glossy LCD screens for our portable computers. *I HATE THEM*.

    But there are notebooks with WindowsXP & Windows7 with excellent matte screens.

    They are called THINKPADS. Some of the cool-looking, lower end SL series has non-glossy screens. And the other series: R / T / X / W come with matte screens by default (Some are/were optional gloss).

    So starting at about $550 (SL) or a typical SL / R with core2duo at $600~700 are matte screens.

    I love my ThinkPad, and the screen was the #1 reason I bought it for $650. Many of my friends buy them now because of the screens and of course the quality. Something that HP can't touch.

    BTW: I also like netbooks... for $250~300, willing to deal with the glossy. But it looks like a ThinkPad Netbook may come out and it has glossy :( (rumored)
  • cgramer - Monday, November 23, 2009 - link

    FWIW, the Asus Eee PC 1000HE has a matte screen, though its case is as glossy as any of them (i.e., a fingerprint magnet).
  • AstroGuardian - Monday, November 23, 2009 - link

    ThinkPads are marvelous piece of technology. Definitely untouchable by competition. But costly also!
  • fokka - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    dell (and afaik hp) buisnes-lineups also offer matte sceens, though at least in the dell vostros, they arent that great considering viewing angles, contrast, colour.
  • Etern205 - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    The HP mini 311 uses DDR3 not DDR2 as you guys have stated in the specifications table.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    Sorry... typical cut/paste typo. :)
  • irev210 - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    Lots of talk between comparing the Acer 1810 to the ion platform.

    You can get the 399 dual core celeron CULV for 399 in the acer timeline 1410.

    The HP ion platform vs the Acer celly CULV platform is a no brainer comparison, as they are both 399.

    Acer celly CULV is by far the best value in the netbook space atm.

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