MSI Wind U230: One Last Hurrah for the AMD Athlon Neo X2 Congoby Dustin Sklavos on August 4, 2010 7:00 PM EST
The MSI Wind U230 isn't hideous, but it's not exactly the best looker in the world either. MSI notebooks have, at least in our experience, generally been questionable where styling is concerned. While their X-Slim lineup is typically pretty attractive, their more functional lines tend to be just that: fairly cheap looking and functional. They're not the glowing glossy eyesores that Toshiba continues to foist on an unwilling populace, but it can't be denied that many of the Taiwanese OEMs (MSI, Asus, Compal, Clevo) are short some of the style that other companies not named Toshiba can produce. Asus has only recently made waves with the G73's chassis, but everything else has always looked functional first and foremost, with styling a secondary consideration.
Take the lid, for example. MSI uses the same glossy plastic we've come to expect from modern notebooks, black with a silver MSI logo emblazoned in the center. Recently we reviewed a Samsung N210 netbook that had a similar design cue, but just by shrinking the logo and justifying it to the left makes the unit feel more distinctive.
When you open the machine you find the same tired hinge style that's become the de facto standard on netbooks and ultraportables, but the bezel is at least a lot thinner than you typically see on netbooks with 10.2" panels, and MSI opted to employ a black matte plastic here that's much appreciated. The understated silver MSI logo at the top left of the bezel is also a nice accent. At the top you'll find the built-in microphone and the webcam, inauspiciously placed where you've come to expect them.
Moving on to the body of the U230 is the standard glossy surface plate and matte plastic "undercarriage." The glossy plastic is at least an understated gunmetal gray color that's pleasing to the eye, and while most manufacturers just love their blue LEDs whether they make sense or not, the blue really does work in the U230's favor, contrasting beautifully with the color of the inside surface.
MSI also makes sure to use the full width of the unit's body to produce a healthy-sized keyboard, and Jarred and I went back and forth briefly in e-mail about it. Jarred was very impressed with it, especially coming off the dismal keyboard on the Acer Ferrari (seriously Acer, just stop! That keyboard style is horrendous and we don't know why you insist on using it on everything and polluting your Gateway line with it.) I actually had retail experience with this same chassis in a different configuration at a local Fry's and found the keyboard there curiously mushy, but the one on this review unit seems a lot firmer. MSI even managed to fit the navigational row typically seen on larger notebooks onto the right side of the keyboard without severely hampering usability. While it can't compete with the keyboard on Lenovo's ThinkPad x100e, the U230's keyboard is still very usable.
The touchpad planted just beneath the keyboard is also a simple, clean, easy design: it has a lightly textured matte surface that's comfortable to use, and heaven forbid, two dedicated mouse buttons that offer just the right amount of click and response. It's a nice change of pace from seeing countless machines that use rockers for the mouse buttons, or worse, the dreadful "unipad" style on HP and Dell netbooks that apes the clicking touchpad from modern Mac portables without actually being any good. Put simply, it works and works well.
When you get to the bottom of the U230 you'll find one simple access plate for swapping out (or adding) RAM, the wireless minicard, and the standard issue 2.5" hard disk. The six-cell battery tilts the unit up (as is common on notebooks this size), and that's good...because the bottom of this thing gets very hot, and that vent on the left hand side spews heat like you wouldn't believe when the fan has to kick up. It's very audible, very hot, and unfortunate given how functional the rest of the U230 is.