Hewlett-Packard Mini 5101 netbookPrice: about $400
Pros: Bigger screen than many netbooks, excellent keyboard design, hard drive, under 3lbs.
Cons: Under-powered for compute-intensive tasks, no optical drive, only fair Wi-Fi performance
Netbooks have come a long way, baby.
The resulting video did play flawlessly on the 5101, however.
And with the tasks most users will want to perform on this type of computer, the 5101’s processor is perfectly adequate.
With less intensive operations, even when running a couple of programs at the same time—word processing while watching streaming video in another window, for example—the 5101 had no difficulty.
It was also able to play streaming video from the Web in supposedly HD resolution.
Wi-Fi: not so great
Wi-Fi functionality, however, was only fair.
We tested raw throughput by measuring time to copy a large file (about 500MB) from a network hard drive to the 5101 over a 2.4GHz 802.11n wireless network. We compared the results to throughput with the Dell XPS 1330, which has a built-in Intel 802.11n (2.4GHz) adapter.
Although the 5101’s adapter reported higher network speeds than the Dell computer— never a very reliable measure of actual speed—throughput was significantly lower in most tests.
With both machines about 18 feet from the router, with one plaster wall between, the Dell computer reported a network speed of 130 megabits per second (Mbps) and moved the file in 64 seconds (actual throughput of a little under 60 Mbps).
The 5101 reported network speeds from 160 to 270 Mbps, but took almost three times as long—183 seconds—to move the file. Actual throughput: about 20 Mbps.
It’s not clear if this was due to the 5101’s slower CPU not being able to process the incoming bits fast enough or an inferior wireless radio—or a combination of the two.
In a room where we typically have poor wireless coverage—less than 30 feet from the router, but with a couple of walls in the way and probable interference from a nearby neighboring Wi-Fi network—the Dell computer reported the same 130 Mbps network speed and copied the file in 64 seconds again. The 5101 reported 108 to 160 Mbps, but took 232 seconds this time.
The 5101 fared better in tests where the two computers were further from the router and with brick walls in between. At about 30 feet, the Dell computer was still faster, but not by as much. At 70 feet, both, predictably, were very slow, but the 5101 was faster.
The 5101 also measured faster download times—by about 2 Mbps—in Internet speed tests conducted at Speedtest.net, using a server 50 miles away. The somewhat surprising results from this test—which transmits relatively small, so easy-to-process files—suggests the result from the file-copy test was due more to a slow processor.
The HP Mini 5101 is an impressive little machine, even if Wi-Fi is not its strongest suit. It’s by no means a desktop replacement, but that’s not what netbooks are meant to be.
If you’re mobile much of the time and find yourself trying to use a BlackBerry or similar for tasks that really require a bigger screen and proper keyboard, this class of netbook is a great alternative to traditional small-and-lights. And this one in particular, has much to recommend it: very good and good-sized screen, excellent keyboard design, processing power adequate for most mobile tasks, and fair Wi-Fi functionality.
Gerry Blackwell is a veteran technology journalist and frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet. To stay up-to-date with new reviews, follow Wi-Fi Planet on Twitter @WiFiPlanet.