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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  • JarredWalton - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    I have a Timeline 1810 for review, so I actually have practical hands-on experience. Plus, when you consider the RAM upgrade on the 311, and a few other sundry extras, you quickly get a more realistic base price of $450 to $500.

    At that point, comparisons with anything from the 1410 (and the Gateway EC 1435u I mentioned) through the $650 Timeline/EC models are all valid. Unfortunately, I don't have the $400 laptops in for review. I can come up with a fairly reasonable idea of how they'll perform, however, and the Celeron SU2300 is by far the best option for a small netbook right now.
  • QChronoD - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    Do you guys run a default calibration on all of the displays before you test them or are those numbers OOTB?
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    Those numbers are using ColorEyes Display Pro to calibrate the LCDs. I have tried in the past to come up with an "out of box" result, and either the LCDs are all horrific (typically Delta E will average around 12 to 15), or I'm not doing the test properly. Without a way to be 100% sure what was going on, I decided to just stop doing those tests.

    Ultimately, I think most users will adapt to however a display looks, unless they're really serious about color quality. When we're looking at netbooks, I think the vast majority of users never really pay attention to the LCDs. Obviously, I do pay some attention, but unless a display is really good I'm not going to spend much time on that area. Right now, most of the laptop LCDs are junk.
  • hyc - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    Amen to that. I find it incredible that vendors are selling 15" displays with only 1366x768 resolution. (While these 11" netbooks have the same resolution.) When I buy a 50% larger screen, I expect 50% more workspace, not 50% larger pixels. WTF...
  • Lord 666 - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    I own two HP 311 Mini's (one custom built and other 1037NR from VZW)and one HP 1151NR from VZW and can say the keyboard and touchpad placement were compromised on the 311s from older versions. The smooth keys and angle due to 6 cell make it challenging to type on than the 1151's matte finish and flat bottom. Plus, the left/right mouse buttons on the bottom make it tough to click compared to 1151.

    However, compared to the older 1151 there are many advantages (screen size, larger stock battery and RAM, easy access to internals) and the reason why I picked up a second HP 311. The HP 1151 is being traded in tomorrow.
  • fokka - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    jarred, you act like an atom limits the performance/experience even in simple day to day applications. i have to admit, i had similar gripes before my gf got her asus 1005hah, but now i learned, that this standard atom-netbook is delivering quite well in everyday tasks.

    (of course) i had the pleasure to set this thing up installing software etc and i also did a lot of web-browsing and not even in this new youtube 1080p video-sample (fullscreen) i had slow-downs while bettery life was exceptional (8-10h) because i could use the super-power-save mode.

    boot and hibernate etc also were much faster than on our standard notebooks (dell vostro c2d).

    so while atom is extremely slow in raw numbers compared to other cpus, the everyday tasks of the average user dont suffer from this limitation.

    just want to make things clear ;) otherwise excellent review, thanks!
  • Mint - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    Not to mention that for more compute intensive operations (other than games and multimedia authoring) there's always VNC or remote desktop. Works well for a bunch of engineering and scientific software.

    Netbook+desktop is a very good alternative to a single power notebook, and often comes in cheaper and more portable to boot.
  • ssj4Gogeta - Monday, November 23, 2009 - link

    I bought this dv6-1154tx for INR 67,000 (approx. US $1400) when I joined uni this year. Should have got a $1000 desktop and a $400 netbook instead. Now I'm stuck with this notebook for another couple years or so at least.
  • Lonyo - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    I got an Asus 751h with the slower 1.33GHz processor, and apart from being sluggish on Youtube and some other unnecessarily intensive sites, for what I actually use it for, writing papers in the library, it's perfectly functional.
    Most of the time is spent checking websites for resources, looking at pdfs and using Word 07, and for all those tasks it's fine.

    Sure I can't encode stuff, but who would dream of doing that?
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, November 22, 2009 - link

    But have either of you tried something like a Timeline 1810? I have, and I can tell you that the experience is better than Atom -- quite a bit better in many instances. It's not just about raw, CPU intensive performance; the 1810 boots faster (marginally) and loads applications faster. Trying to open a dialog while a video is decoding as one example is horrible on Atom -- better to pause the video first.

    Basically, Atom *can* do what you need, but so can just about any other CPU currently out there.

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