01 January 2010

HP Mini 311 Review

This is probably the first true blue netbook review to be ever posted on My MacBook Mini. True, I've written tons about all the other netbooks I owned (five up to this day: EeePC 701, EeePC 900, MSI Wind U100, HP Mini 1001TU, HP Mini 311), it would be the HP Mini 311 that I'd attempt creating decent review for - à la LaptopMag? Not really. But it does come with a hackintosh twist for sure.

So my beloved HP Mini 311 has won netbook of the year at LaptopMag, I wonder how it would fare as a "hackintosh netbook". :D

Specs Sheeet:
Intel Atom N280 1.66 MHz
2 GB DDR3 SDRAM (Max up to 3 GB)
nVidia Ion LE
250 GB SATA Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
11.6" Wide Screen glossy LCD (1366 x 768)
Here is the HP Mini 311-1002TU's Product Specifications direct from HP's site.

The following comes from a conversation with a friend who was asking about the 311 (he's thinking of getting one as well and is also a hackintosher hence the prevailing consideration of Snow Leopard compatibility)
First Impressions
The  Mini 311... is a rather good machine. I don't feel like it's a netbook - more like an ultraportable, a laptop even. When I got back home and picked up again my 1000, I was surprised at how light it was, being used to using only the 311 for an entire week. Build quality is decent. I'm loving the feel of the upper deck of the chassis which seems to be metal-like or treated with some metal finish. The screen is amazing - that's from the point of view of someone who's fed up dealing with a 1024x600 screen for hours on end.
Input Devices
The keyboard is the same as in the older 1000's - except for the different finish which is the same as the upper chassis deck. The trackpad is another story though, it's mediocre but usable it performs in OS X as good or as bad as it did in Windows 7.
It was already a pity that HP didn't equip the Mini 311 with a multi-touch capable pad but it's more deplorable that they've decided to skip Synaptics. The Alps GlidePoint does not only not have proper support in Mac OS X - it's recognized as a PS2 Mouse not a real trackpad - but it's also a pain the arse to use. It's surface is sensitive in ways you don't expect it to be; that is its tap-to-click functionality feels very awkward (I still can't get hang of it - sometimes it clicks sometimes not) but I also find my cursor jumping to lines where it shouldn't cause the pad picks up input when the base of palms accidentally brush on it. Before, I was questioning if the 1000 really needed an On/Off switch for the trackpad because I thought it was unnecessary since the pad was almost microscopic. Now I'm seriously asking "where is the trackpad switch on this HP Mini 311????!!!??" to save my sanity.

nVidia Ion LE
People have actually figured out how to unleash the full functionality of the graphics chipset in the Mini 311. But then that's for Windows cause the whole premise relies on installing hacked drivers so the OS sees the chip as full Ion - not LE.
I'm not sure what the exact situation on hackintoshes is but all I know is that importing a video clip in iMovie takes noticeably faster than it did on my IntelGMA950 equipped Mini 1001TU running Snow Leopard. Though I've a hunch the faster DDR3 memory also has a contribution to the over all smooth experience.

OS X Comptability (Snow Leopard 10.6.2)
. . .you'd be amazed at how compatible it is - even the internal mic is working! Installation has never been easy and that's owing to the great work done by the HP Mini 311 Darwin Project team at InsanelyMac. You just go over the thread page, download the CD .iso which you use with a Snow Leo retail DVD for installation and which also contains the .pkg that you run after installation. The installer conveniently sets up EFI in the internal hard drive and you're good to go - Quartz Extreme, bluetooth (good thing it's a Broadcom, it's classified by System Profiler under Macintosh portable category of device), webcam, toggle keys for brightness and volume (needless to say, audio works - via dsdt assertion so it's seen as built-in). The speakers are Altec Lansing which offers really good base and is better than in any netbooks I've owned or had my hands on.
I got my unit with stock 2 GB ram and right now, it's sleeping fine. They've even done a good job with getting the high-speed USB devices right in the dsdt cause I don't get that horrid "Device Removal Error message" when I put the machine to sleep and a drive is left plugged into the usb port.
What does not work in Mac OS X Snow Leopard 
Battery life is a terrible 2 hours maximum. It does last longer - 4.5 hrs average - in Windows 7 and even longer in Windows XP, well, allegedly - 5-6 hrs.
WiFi - it's the same (almost) dead end case as in the Mini 110. I tried extracting its firmware via Linux using the b43-fwcutter tool and it just won't let me do that - the card is recognized as Broadcom 4312 802.11 b/g card all right but when I try to pry its firmware it causes the machine to freeze. Even my trusty all-hack-purpose MSI Wind can't stand that card. So I'm currently using my 1000's WiFi card on my 311, the 311's stock card which is a WiFi+BT combo card, I transferred to the extra full-height pci slot so I still have BT.


Seb_or_Sam said...

Nice review! This is a VERY compelling computer.
By the way, you can say that it was me who you were emailing. I don't mind at all :)

HP 2600n toner said...

I think the most enticing feature of the new HP devices, is the newly developed facial recognition feature. It can follow and zoom-in on a specific person. The HP mini is light-weight too so it makes the for the perfect traveling companion.

JoeMac said...

I bought my Mini 311 the week that they became available. Within a couple of days I had Ubuntu Jaunty loaded up and I've rarely boot XP since. I've upgraded Ubuntu through Karmic and now the Lucid beta. Linux on the 311 is the only way I travel with a computer and I can get about 4-5 hours battery unless I'm playing a movie (~2.5 hours). The reduced weight compared to the boat anchor my workplace provides was very welcome when I spent a month travelling across Asia late last year. The 1080p video outuput is stunning - I played movies using VLC to a 42" flat panel TV in a hotel room on one of my trips and the nVidia Linux driver makes setup fairly simple.

Kamagra Jelly said...

Can I hackintosh a HP mini 210 just as good as this one, I just bought it and all the crap from Windows 7 starter is really making me uneasy.