Top five under $500 ultra-portable notebooks square off

Acer Aspire One Mini-Notebook
Considering its bargain price of $349, the Acer Aspire One is a steal–until you realize that you want the $100 six-cell battery. The included three-cell battery lasted only 2 hours, 16 minutes in our tests.

Acer’s well-constructed, elegant entry is roughly the same size as the Lenovo IdeaPad S10. It weighs 2 pounds, about the same as the tiny Dell Mini 9.

The Windows XP version has a 120GB hard drive and an excellent keyboard. Our WorldBench 6 test results placed the Aspire One toward the back of the Atom-based pack with a score of 34. The Windows-based Aspire One did easily outpace HP’s 2133, whose Via C-7M CPU led it to an anemic mark of 26; but it fell well short of the Lenovo S10’s surprising score of 41.

A couple other issues with the Aspire One are a letdown. The mouse buttons flank the touchpad, a design that can make navigating documents difficult. A more minor issue is software bloat: Our test system came preinstalled with a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, McAfee Security Center, and InterVideo’s WinDVD. But overall, it’s a great bargain despite its few flaws.

Lenovo IdeaPad S10 Mini-Notebook
Faster than its mini-notebook brethren, the IdeaPad S10 offers enough perks to make it a top pick for serious mobility. The Lenovo S10 manages to pack a good deal of power and hard-drive capacity into its small frame.

Though using the S10 won’t match the luxurious tactile response of working with a ThinkPad, it is one of the better experiences among mini-notebooks.

At 3.6 pounds, the IdeaPad S10 is one of the heavier mini-notebooks on the market. But the Lenovo stands out for its relatively beefy specs, such as its 160GB hard disk.

This unit logged a score of 41 in our WorldBench 6 tests, a result that easily makes it the performance leader of this pack.

Asus Eee PC 1000H 80GB XP Mini-Notebook
Asus addresses most of the Eee family’s shortcomings with its newest–and biggest–mini-notebook. It approaches an ultraportable laptop in size and weight, but with half the power.

This hefty unit has a 10-inch display and weighs 3.6 pounds, in part because of the system’s 80GB hard disk and six-cell battery.

The 1000H also has a great keyboard, probably the best in the entire mini-notebook category.

The 1000H’s performance, however, will snap you back to reality, as it is no fully baked ultraportable. The system received a score of 37 on our WorldBench 6 tests, just a point higher than the MSI Wind managed.

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 Mini-Notebook
Dell’s dainty Inspiron Mini 9 looks as if someone left a standard laptop in the dryer too long. Our test configuration included an 8GB solid-state drive stuffed with Windows XP Home and preinstalled software such as Microsoft Works; about 1GB remained free. You should pay the extra $40 for an 16GB drive.

In our battery tests, the Mini lasted about 3 hours, 34 minutes with its four-cell battery. But in our WorldBench 6 suite, the Inspiron Mini 9 mustered an abysmal score of 25.

If big keys are all you care about, this little laptop has incredibly oversize keys that make typing a breeze.

MSI Wind NB U100 Mini-Notebook
MSI’s Wind is a hardy, if vanilla, mini-notebook; for the Windows XP faithful, it offers enough oomph for the job.
MSI’s Wind is probably closest to the Asus Eee PC 1000H: It has the same specs and hard drive, and a similar but slightly smaller design.

The keyboard is small but usable, a sturdy single bar covers the two mouse buttons, and the chassis feels sturdy, too.

The problem is that the Wind offers no real differentiators to justify its price, which is $50 higher than that of the Asus mini-notebook.

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