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HP Mini 2140: A Nice Netbook With SUSE Option
Packed With Features, OS Choice
March 31, 2009
Pros: 802.11a/b/g/draft-n Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; perky performance; first-rate keyboard.
Cons: Awkward touchpad; smallish screen; pricier than competitors in its class.
A year ago, HP jumped into the netbook market. Well, stepped in. Well, put a toe in. The HP 2133 was a 2.9-pound portable with a glossy 8.9-inch display and one of the nicest, nearest-to-full-sized keyboards--92 percent of full size, HP bragged--yet seen in the segment.
But while the 2133's specifications more than stood up to the 7-inch screen and crowded keyboard of the pioneering Asus Eee PC 4G, it was saddled with a sluggish VIA C-7 processor and marketed mostly as a backpack buddy for students in grades K through 12. Not until last fall did HP step up with a full-fledged consumer netbook, remodeling the 2133 around Intel's ubiquitous Atom CPU and a 10-inch screen to make it the Mini 1000 (and giving it a glossy red case and artistic frills to appeal to fashionistas with a pricey Vivienne Tam Edition).
Like other netbooks, of course, the 2133 and Mini 1000 have been purchased and used by bunches of businesspeople as well as kids and consumers--the idea of an easy-to-afford, easy-to-carry PC companion for checking e-mail, browsing the Web, and doing a little touch-up work on a report or presentation created on a desktop is what's made the category a smash.
But now HP has gotten around to getting specific: The 10.1-inch-screened Mini 2140 is the company's first netbook aimed specifically at mobile professionals. Externally, this means an aluminum rather than plastic case--plain silver-gray, without the squiggle-and-swirl patterns that decorate HP's (and other vendors') consumer notebooks or the Crayola red, blue, and pink hues available on other netbooks. We find it handsomely understated, or understatedly handsome if you prefer.
There's also some extra engineering done with reliability in mind, led by a technology HP calls 3D DriveGuard--a three-axis accelerometer that senses a sudden drop or shock and instantly parks the hard drive. We've seen this safety feature in HPs, Lenovos, and many other business laptops. It's a pleasure and a plus to see it in a netbook, although you shouldn't mistake any 2.6-pound compact for a truly ruggedized system. Our test unit sailed through a few bumps and fumbles, but we refrained from dropping it more than an inch or two onto a desk.
If you're truly terrified by the prospect of a hard disk crash, you can custom-order a Mini 2140 with an 80GB solid-state drive. However, that no-moving-parts solution costs $575 more than the 160GB, 5,400-rpm Hitachi drive in our model. Actually, our model in its entirety cost $449.
Your OS of choice
That gets you a Mini 2140 with the abovementioned 160GB hard disk, Windows XP Home Edition, and the same Atom N270 processor seen in nearly every netbook at your local electronics outlet--a 1.6GHz single-core chip (well, one-and-a-half-core for applications that can take advantage of Intel's Hyper-Threading Technology) with 512K of Level 2 cache.
One gigabyte of DDR2 memory is standard; the system maximum of 2GB is a $50 option, and also requires a change from Win XP Home to another operating system--HP offers Windows Vista, Vista with a "downgrade" to Windows XP Professional, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. The McAfee online security suite and trial version of Microsoft Office 2007 are preinstalled.
On the HP's left side you'll find microphone and headphone jacks, a USB 2.0 port, and a VGA connector for an external monitor. A second USB port is at the right, along with an Ethernet jack and Secure Digital and ExpressCard/54 slots--the former for a flash memory card, the latter just right for a wireless broadband add-in. That's not to say the 2140 doesn't have wireless chops of its own--Broadcom's 802.11a/b/g/draft-n adapter covers every Wi-Fi variation, and Bluetooth is built in as well.
The flush-fitting, three-cell battery pack barely gets a passing grade: HP claims it provides up to four hours of life, but our real-world work sessions (with WiFi switched on and screen brightness at its next-to-top setting) ended after two and a half hours. A six-cell battery that juts slightly from the back of the case is a $25 option.
Netbooks are all about convenience, not colossal benchmark scores, but the Mini 2140 proved perky and responsive in all the usage scenarios we threw at it. For the record, it narrowly outran the 8.9-inch Acer Aspire One with the same Atom processor and Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics that we tested last August.
The HP posted a PCMark05 score of 1,539 (CPU 1,293; memory 2,159; hard drive 4,719; graphics 576), with a CrystalMark 2004R3 rating of 29,210. Would-be gamers looking forward to anything racier than Minesweeper will be predictably disappointed, with a 3DMark06 score of 122 and a leisurely seventeen and a half minutes to render Cinebench R10's sample image.
HP was wise not to meddle with the first-rate keyboard that debuted on the 2133: The flat, floor-tile-style keys span 7.5 inches from A to apostrophe, just half an inch less than on a desktop keyboard, and have a soft but fairly snappy typing feel. HP says that a clear coating over the board, dubbed DuraKeys, protects the finish and printed characters from wearing off with time.
As with many larger laptops, the cursor arrows team with a Fn key to replace dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys, but there are no other cramping compromises. And the Ctrl and Delete keys are properly located in the lower left and upper right corners, respectively.
The 2140's touchpad works smoothly but is slightly less appealing--it's rectangular rather than square (like a widescreen HDTV compared to an old 4:3 aspect ratio set), which leaves it a little short on vertical maneuvering room, with rubbery mouse buttons placed on either side rather than beneath. You'll grow accustomed to it with a little practice, however.