HP Mini 5103: Looking at the Dual-Core Atom N550by Jarred Walton on December 17, 2010 1:05 PM EST
HP Mini 5103 Subjective Evaluation
You can read our impressions of the HP Mini 5102 for additional input on the build quality and features of the 5103. Nothing has changed much in those areas: this is a great feeling little netbook, and outside of the change in color from black to “espresso” (brown) it’s the same. You get the best 10” keyboard I’ve ever used and solid build quality. Our test system does come with the smaller 4-cell battery, so expect to see a hit in battery life, but unless you need 8+ hours we’re okay with the decreased weight and having a battery that doesn’t jut out on the bottom. (Or you can simply purchase the larger 6-cell battery, which comes standard on the $400 SmartBuy model.)
A few other areas have “changed”—or rather, we received an upgraded unit that includes features we haven’t previously tested. The biggest upgrade is the display, so let’s focus on that for a minute. If you’ve used a recent smartphone, you have some idea what capacitive multi-touch displays can do for the user interface. In theory, adding such a display to a netbook would be a good thing; in practice, it’s not so clear-cut.
There are two major issues I have with the touchscreen interface on the 5103. The first is hardly a surprise: speed. While it can be convenient at times to swipe a single finger down/up/sideways in order to scroll, the action is nowhere near as smooth or fast as on a good smartphone. Everything feels just a little laggy, and a large part of that feeling probably stems from the fact that this is Atom running a full copy of Windows 7. If there’s one thing I’d like to see Google get right with Chrome OS, it’s making Atom netbooks feel at least as responsive as smartphones. More on that in a second. And if you want to do something “crazy” like playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook? Forget it! There’s so much lag (mostly from the slow IGP) that your performance will be far lower than normal.
The second issue with the touchscreen interface is precision. Tapping on the screen to “click” often misses your intended target, and the same goes for dragging, selecting text, etc. With a UI build around touch, this could be alleviated, but the standard Windows UI isn’t sufficient. A mouse is a highly precise pointer that targets a single pixel; replacing that with your stubby fingertip that covers perhaps hundreds of pixels and then trying to determine where you clicked is difficult at best, and the result left me wanting.
Chromium OS to the Rescue?
With the above experience, I decided to give the Chromium OS a try on the 5103 (using the latest Flow build by Hexxeh). I actually tried the same build on an Atom Z520 + GMA 500 netbook, and that was a complete bust (likely no good drivers for the GMA 500); the experience with the 5103 was a bit better, but the touchscreen wasn’t recognized so I was left with a standard netbook. Chromium did boot up relatively quickly, but performance and optimizations for something like the 5103 aren’t present so the net result was even worse (in my opinion) than running Win7. Maybe the final shipping version will iron out the wrinkles, but we’ll wait and see.
The final aspect of the touchscreen that I need to comment on is the display quality. Subjectively, the contrast is clearly low, but that’s nothing new. The touch coating on the other hand made things look a lot worse than a standard 10.1” LCD. There’s a ton of “sparkle” across the surface of the display, and colors just look muted in comparison to other laptops. The objective testing results simply don’t tell the whole story here; I like the use of a 768p display on a netbook, because 600 pixels is just too short for typical usage, but with all of the above concerns I’m more than happy to ditch the touch interface for the time being. Perhaps that’s why you can no longer get the 768p + touch from HP, leaving it solely as a 600p option.
Broadcom CrystalHD Redux
The other area I want to discuss before hitting the benchmarks is the CrystalHD card. There was some speculation that my poor experience with Flash 10.1 and the CrystalHD stemmed from some other area. Lack of memory, Win7 Starter, and the single-core N450 CPU were all cited as possibilities. Well, the 5103 covers all of those bases and guess what still doesn’t work properly: that’s right, HD Flash videos. I tried a couple of 720p YouTube videos using both Firefox 3.6 and IE8, and the results were both choppy. It was a bit better than the 5102, so the combination of dual-core Atom and 2GB RAM did have some positive impact, but I still dropped over 400 frames (400 to 800 in multiple tests) in a 2:15 HD video clip. This happened with Flash 10.1.85.3 as well as the newer 10.1.102.64, so nothing has changed in regards to Flash support of the CrystalHD.
It is worth noting that this is purely a Flash issue: using Internet Explorer 8, I was able to grab the MP4 video file out of the cache directory and play that in MPC-HC using the Broadcom video decoder plug-in. CPU usage dropped from an average of nearly 60% to just 12.5%, and there were no issues whatsoever with dropped frames. The Broadcom decoder is capable of doing H.264 decoding at a much faster rate than an Atom CPU; now we just need the driver support/Flash support to make fullscreen YouTube, Hulu, etc. work properly.
I really don’t have much else to add here that I haven’t said in the 5102 review. This is a nice little netbook, but the price puts it into direct competition with a lot of laptops—including substantially faster CULV, Atom + ION, AMD Nile, and upcoming AMD Brazos offerings. We’ll see in the benchmarks next that performance is still a big issue, and the existence of 12.1” ultraportables like ASUS 1215N makes this a very difficult sell from the performance side of things. You’re basically paying for a “grab and go” netbook with software that will keep it in sync with your desktop, and as a small secondary or tertiary computing device it has something going for it. HP has also added a “DayStarter” feature that shows you a static overlay of your calendar while Windows boots, for those times when you just need a quick look at what’s happening. You can get nearly everything you need with the base $400 model, though, and that’s what we’d recommend as anything over $500 for an Atom-based netbook is simply too much.
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puffpio - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkCan I ask a question? Something I always wondered at Anandtech.
When I flip from page to page in this review, the machines being compared in the charts are never the same. For example: The Macbook Pro is not included in the battery life charts but it's in the performance charts and display charts. But it's also never mentioned why the items in the charts vary from page to page..
I have noticed this in other articles as well. My first thought is that it would 1) skew the results too much to make the graph unreadable, or 2) the data is not available. But a more nefarious reason would be to cherry pick competitors to make the graph say what you want it to say.
Thanks for any insight
Stuka87 - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkHmm, I see the Apple MacBook Pro 13 in all the battery results?
JarredWalton - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkThe simple explanation for data missing from various reviews is that we either didn't have it, or we didn't choose to include it in a particular review for one reason or another. For laptops, if we've reviewed a laptop in the past, the usual reason it's not included is simply to avoid bloating the graphs. We have an "unofficial" decision to try to keep graphs to around 10 items to make them readable (at least for laptops). So, as we review new laptops we sort of arbitrarily remove older units from the charts. I try to keep relevant items in the charts, though, which is why the 5102 is there, along with single-core CULV, dual-core CULV, the i3-330UM UL80Jt, 1215N, 1001P, etc. -- basically one each (at least) of the various platforms.
As for how the charts are created, I do need to take some time at some point to make things easier. Right now, we use spreadsheets with results for the various laptops. I have netbook, entry, midrange, and high-end spreadsheets floating around -- multiple revisions of each. Vivek and Dustin have the same thing. So when it's time for a new article, I need to try to collate results from two or three spreadsheets, then add in the results for the test laptop. It's a bit of a pain, and that's why Vivek and Dustin often include different laptops in their reviews.
So now, after writing this, I think I'm going to go fool around with a database and see if I can make something that will handle all our needs better....
pjkenned - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link$700 for a dual core Atom netbook versus $1,000 for a Macbook Air 11.6" (base). It would be cool to see a comparison because the larger 13" Apple designs are targeting full-feature notebooks instead of ultraportable/ netbooks.
vol7ron - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkI think this netbook has the right idea w/ features. I also think it's $200 more than what it's base and configured prices should be. I wonder if there would still be a profit if they knocked $200 off the price.
"just in case you want to watch a 1080p H.264 movie on your 10.1” LCD"
The article makes it seem like no one would want this. I had a portable DVD player that was smaller than this. I would like this feature. It's especially nice for on-the-go, or people who work at places that have a lot of downtime.
JarredWalton - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkYou can do 720p fine without the CrystalHD was sort of my point. Anyway, I'm not saying the ability is bad, but I'm saying the cost for that feature is too much. $100 to do a configurable model, and then $45 more for CrystalHD. I'd rather just get an NG-ION chip in there, or a CULV laptop instead.
vol7ron - Monday, December 20, 2010 - linkI agree with this statement. While I don't have a problem with 1080p, I'm not sure why it's being pushed so hard. 720p is still acceptable, especially given the price differential as you mentioned.
While I somewhat understand the nature of the dimensions (small device + wide keyboard + 1080p for HD video), I still do not completely understand why this is the majority decision.
Still, great article, great product, just hopefully they'll find some way to knock the $$ down.
blueboy_10 - Thursday, December 23, 2010 - linkExactly. I'd jump at the chance to have an 1215N over this netbook, simply for the fact the fact that it has ION it. I'm a little annoyed over the fact that it does hit on battery life, but really it doesn't impact on the battery life as much as I thought, cause my Toshiba Satellite iCore 3-eqipped has about roughly the same amount of battery life as the 1215N does, so I'm not really losing anything. BTW, the CULV laptops are very good in comparison, but I like the smaller footprint that these netbooks provide. Don't get me wrong, this machine is a sound machine with basic features, but there are better choices out there for the price. It's good to check around for prices on the net, who knows, you might find a good deal. This is my thoughts on this. - BLUEBOY
Taft12 - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkI'd love to see 768 vertical pixels become available on more netbooks, but if you can buy 3 other netbooks for the price of this one, a vendor has forgotten the definition of the word netbook.
Don't blame the dual-core CPU for inflating the price, the 1K unit price of the N550 is $22 more than N455.
This will be the marketplace failure it deserves to be.
mino - Friday, December 17, 2010 - linkOn another note, why are there exactly zero SoC Atom's in Bench?
Also, why do you generally not include mobile CPU's in Bench?
I mean, what are 10 flavors of Athlon II X2 good for with no numbers for e.g. K625 ?
Same goes for i* stuff.