I’ve used a lot of different netbooks. That’s one of the good things about the work that I do — I get to try a lot of different gear. Notably, I’ve tried netbooks of all different sizes, and have been able to compare the difference that higher-capacity batteries can make. Which has led me to conclude that they all perform pretty much the same. That is, until I got hold of the HP Mini 5101 netbook. It is easily the best-performing netbook I’ve tried to date, and after a lot of thought, I believe I know why.
Netbooks all have some flavor of the Atom processor; most have 1 GB of memory, either a solid-state disk (SSD) or a standard hard drive (HDD) inside and run Windows XP. They’re decent performers for most tasks, which makes sense given that they’re all configured basically the same.
But the more I use the HP Mini 5101, the more impressed I am with its performance. It seems faster than other netbooks. It consistently plows through everyday work with little lag. At first I thought it might be the N280 Atom processor, which is a little bit faster than the N270 in most netbooks. I started paying close attention to determine how the Mini 5101 burned through tasks and came to the realization that it’s the hard drive that’s responsible.
HP made an interesting choice in choosing a 7,200 rpm HDD for the 5101. I don’t see any other drive option available for this model, so it’s a conscious decision on HP’s part to go with the fastest HDD available. I believe this was a good decision, as I find the performance boost gained by the faster drive to be noticeable during regular use.
So the Mini 5101 spends less time chugging away with the HDD than other netbooks, and this makes things happen faster. It impresses me the more I use it; I find it to have a real advantage over other netbooks. The 5101 may be a little more expensive, but the faster HDD is worth it to me. And it’s not that much more expensive — the model I’m testing is $425 as configured, which includes the fast HDD and a 6-cell battery.