Linuxgruven > Hardware > HP Mini-Note 2133

HP Mini-Note 2133

2008.06

Welcome to my review of the HP 2133 Mini-Note.  I am writing this as an owner of an EeePC 4G Surf, a previous owner of an original EEE 701, and as someone who's main laptop has been a 13" MacBook, with a 12" PowerBook before it.



I, for one, thank Asus for showing everyone that an inexpensive subnotebook has a place on the market.  Before the EeePC exploded on to the scene with projections of sales between 3-5 million units, systems of its ilk were seen as luxury items.  True, traditional UMPCs such as the OQO and Sony UX series are not in the same league as the emerging NetBooks, but they were the only choice.

The EeePC showed another way.  Now, everyone is hopping on board.  Acer, MSI, Everex, Dell and HP have all either released or are developing systems that can only be seen as EeePC competitors.  The HP 2133 Mini-Note is one such competitor.  While it's not as market-rocking as the EeePC, it offers many excellent innovations in such a diminutive and modestly priced package.

The HP 2133 is a Via C7-based NetBook.  It comes in  many configurations, from a Linux-based 4GB SDD model for $499 all the way up to $849 models with Windows Vista, slightly faster CPUs and 160GB 7200RPM drives.  This review is for the KX896.  It costs $549 with the following specifications:

  • 1.2GHz Via C7 CPU
  • 8.9" 1280x768 display/Chrome9 IGP
  • 120GB 5400RPM Toshiba HD
  • 1GB RAM
  • 3-cell/2hr battery
  • 2 USB 2.0 ports
  • VGA
  • SDHC card reader
  • PC Express Slot
  • 100MB Ethernet
  • Broadcom 802.11a/b/g WiFi
  • Skype-compatible webcam (unpublished)
  • Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10
  • $549
The short version of this review is that this machine is a different beast entirely when compared to the EeePC.  It is a shrunken, full-fledged laptop without many of the compromises or conveniences of the EeePC.  It doesn't boot in seconds, it has a traditional hard drive, it costs the same as low-end full-sized machines, and yet I am certain that I will be using this as my main machine.  Read on for more...


Hardware


In terms of hardware, many things differentiate the 2133 from the EeePC, most are positive, though not all.  The build quality is fantastic, the screen is crisp with a great resolution, the keyboard is a no-compromise affair.  However, battery life is shorter:  A solid two hours on the 3-cell battery.  No more, no less.  Also, it gets warmer than the EeePC and, due to this and the standard hard drive, isn't silent.

Build Quality

The build quality is simply stunning.  In sharp contrast to the plastic, almost toy-like EeePC, the 2133 looks and feels like a shrunken 12" PowerBook.  The last computer that I was really happy with happened to be a 12" PowerBook.  For it's time, it was a perfect balance of size and weight with uncompromising hardware design and stellar build quality.  Most of this could be said of the 2133. It's brushed metal look makes it feel like a much higher-quality, even luxury device. For the most part, the hardware quality and choices matches the machines looks. 

Keyboard

The look is followed up by the best laptop keyboard that I have used since my PowerBook.  The keyboard is virtually full-sized (HP claims 92%) but more to the point, they layout is perfect, at least for me.  Now, I didn't have a problem with the EeePC keyboard.  True, it was small, but the layout was sound and I found that I made no more mistakes with it than I did with my MacBook or the Toshiba U300 I use at work.  However, the 2133's keyboard is just right:  Not too big, not too small, everything where it should be, very quiet, very easy to see.  The only possible improvements that they could make to the keyboard would be to add a backlight, as found in MacBook Pros, and to replace the prominent Windows key with something more generic, like Asus' "Home" key on the Eee.

The trackpad is fine.  HP has moved the buttons to the sides instead of the traditional placement underneath the trackpad.  This is because the keyboard is so large, and the computer is so small.  If they hadn't placed them to the sides, the trackpad would have to have been tiny, with ridiculously small buttons.  After two days, I've already adjusted, though I sometimes find myself hitting the Alt key by accident.  Odd, I know.  I think it's a throwback to right-clicking in Linux on my PowerBook.  (Mac works well with one button, Linux, not so much.)


Screen

The screen is also fantastic.  The 1280x768 display is very crisp and bright.  A piece of plexiglass sits in front.  This is a double-edged sword:  On the one hand, it protects the screen and gives great contrast, on the other, it is almost a mirror, making more glare than I've seen on any other laptop.  Still, it's a huge improvement over the 7" EeePC and is still higher-resolution than the 9" 1024x600.  The screen is practically the same resolution as the screens found on my 13" MacBook and other 13, and even some lower-end 15" laptops.  They typically run at 1280x800 as opposed to 1280x768.  The biggest downside with the screen is that it doesn't bend back as far as I would have liked.  A minor complaint, I know.  It's hinged Apple-style, so the screen lifts in behind the back of the laptop.  This is a very sensible design.  HP says they did this so that the screen sits lower and doesn't block a child's view of the teacher.  (Remember:  They're claiming that this is for the educational market, not EeePC competition.)

Battery life

As mentioned above, the three cell battery that ships with my 2133 gets a very solid two hours of battery life.  This is less than I'm used to with either the MacBook or the Eee, but it's sufficient.  It seems to drain very constantly, with little fluctuation up and down.  On the plus side, when I put the 2133 into standby at night, it had only lost 8% of battery overnight.  The Eee had about the worst drain for a standby, the 2133 is much better in this regard.  Some 2133 models come with a bigger 6-cell 4 hour battery.  They are twice as thick, so they hang out the bottom.  This does have the advantage of putting the keyboard at a nice angle, but adds to the weight and bulk.  Another note on power is that the 2133 includes a standard laptop power adapter. I miss the tiny, phone-like adapter of the EeePC 701, though the HP's charges the battery very quickly.  The biggest downside with the charger is that is uses a three-pronged plug, which is a problem in some places.

Performance

Next we come to the CPU:  Rather than using Intel's new Atom CPU, or even their low-end Celeron M found in the EeePC, HP have opted for a Via C7-M with speeds ranging from 1-1.6GHz.  According to benchmarks, the 1.6GHz model should be slower than my 630MHz EeePC.  Given this, my 1.2GHz should be noticeably slower.  It's not.  Rather, it's different.  To be honest, the performance reminds me very much of running Linux on my old 1.5GHz G4. It's difficult to quantify.  Some things seem slower:  Disk operations for sure, launching applications is certainly is not faster than the Eee, though some of this is because of software differences.  When running 6+ large apps, it's certainly not as fast as an Intel dual-core, but I haven't seen the C7 fail at any tasks.  It plays youtube videos well, it can easily hand music tasks while I edit files in Jedit and browse in Firefox, applications are quite snappy once they are running, but there's no doubt that this isn't a top-of-the-line CPU.  Via have announced a dual-core backwards compatible successor, this would be a nice upgrade.

One final note is that the 2133 runs hotter than the EeePC, though not atypically hot for a laptop these days.  The proper hard drive also adds to heat and noise compared to the EeePC.  On the plus side, when a motherboard failed in  my original Eee, the data on the drive was forever lost, as the SSD was soldered on.  The 2133 has a very accessible, totally standard hard drive, so that won't happen.  There are even aftermarket SSDs, so if you feel very strongly about SSDs, you have options.  Anyway, during normal operation the 2133 is very quiet.  I'd say it's quieter than my MacBook.  Still, quiet isn't silent, and I liked that about the EeePC.


Software

Now we come to software, the completely avoidable Achilles heel of the 2133.  At the time of writing, HP ships the 2133 with two OS choices:  Windows Vista and Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10.1 (SLED)  I'm convinced than these choices are responsible for most of the negative things said about the 2133.

First, there's Vista.  Vista is a heavy OS demanding fast, new processors.  Via's C7 is not one of these processors.  Early reviews criticized the 2133 for not even being able to playback YouTube videos.  The system chugged under all but the lightest tasks, and this was the 1.6GHz 2GB version with a 160GB 7200RPM drive.  Vista is a terrible choice for this hardware.  HP has announced that they will be shipping some configurations with XP Home.  Fantastic.  Windows users rejoice.

Then, there's SLED.  I'm a Debian guy, mostly Ubuntu of late.  Suse has always been slow and overly heavy.  SLED takes this to new extremes.  In my opinion, shipping the 2133 with SLED 10 is almost as bad as shipping it with Vista.  SLED is horrible.  It is slow, old, has very limited software options, and is a very difficult OS to install new software on.  I was unable to add repositories or update the machine, and I'm a Linux sysadmin.  Yes, I'm sure I could have figured it out, but come on.  If I can't sort it in five minutes or less, what chance does a new user, used only to Windows have?

No, I'm not finished my SLED rant yet.  Other problems include sub-par media support, no obvious way to rectify this, no sudo (which is really a change, not a problem) and the list goes on.  This is a plain SLED 10.1 install with no help, no manuals, no modifications, and no obvious way to update or add software.  I can't really understand why HP ships with this version of Linux.  Yes, the kernel has been tweaked to support (almost) all of the 2133's hardware, but even then it fell short by not properly handling suspend and resume and providing no webcam drivers. 

If HP had selected SLED for system integration reasons, the choice might have made sense and the OS's other compromises may have been justified.  However, as it stands now, suspend and resume work at least as well in Ubuntu, the video camera works, wifi works better, and the system runs cooler and quieter.  In the end, there was no clear advantage to going with SLED that I could see.  Asus' choice of Xandros was odd, but was justified given the extensive modification Xandros did for them.  The result was a very pleasurable user experience.  SLED misses most of the software, and all of the customization and performance tweaks.  Despite this, based on early reviews of the Vista version of this machine, SLED was still better than Vista on the 2133.

A better software option...

By comparison, Ubuntu, once configured properly, is a dream on this system.  While disk operations seem slower than they should be, the rest of the performance has been stellar.  It's true, when pushed with many open applications the 2133 is noticeably slower than my MacBook, but under "normal" use, the performance is entirely adequate and I would say significantly better than the Eee's 630MHz Celeron M running Ubuntu.

On configuring Ubuntu properly:  The two biggest stumbling blocks are the Broadcom WiFi driver that requires manual installation with an updated version of ndiswrapper and Via's integrated video that needs to be reinstalled for each kernel update.  Thankfully, excellent instructions are provided by the Ubuntu Laptop Testing Team.  I'm confident that the required changes will be properly integrated into the next stable release of Ubuntu and, if HP is lucky, perhaps even into the inevitable 8.04.1 release. 

For me, I have found the 2.6.24-16 kernel packages to work brilliantly with the 2133.  I've read reports that -17 and -18 have a few problems, so I'm sticking with the original kernel.  One other tweak that I should add to the wiki entry is that wifi doesn't always come back on resume.  I have found that the following post completely solved this problem for me.  With this minor addition, I can honestly say that the 2133 is the best lapop I've used at suspending and resuming in Linux since my old G3 iBook.

One final word on software:  HP, please provide Windows XP and Ubuntu 8.04 rather than Vista and SLED.  The 2133's hardware is fantastic, the software is the pits.  Asus' EeePC was a runaway success because it was cheap, small and super-easy to use.  As it stands now, the 2133 is slightly larger, more expensive and the bundled, completely unoptimized software is the pits.  The form-factor is spot on, the machine is a pleasure in Ubuntu.  The hardware is tough to fix this time around, the software isn't.

Wrapping Up

Overall, I'm incredibly pleased with the 2133.  The hardware is fantastic, approaching Apple's G4s in terms of build quality,  This laptop feels like a pro machine.  The software, however, is another story altogether.  Vista and SLED are probably the two worst choices HP could have made.  If you decide to buy a 2133, factor in replacing the default OS.  XP reportedly runs quite well and Ubuntu 8.04, with minor tweaks, is absolutely fantastic.  I'm perfectly happy with the performance of the machine under Ubuntu and am pleasantly surprised at how well the power management works.

The price ranges from cheap ($499) to expensive ($850+) with the best options being on the cheap side.  The traditional 120GB drive is nice, the connectivity is great, even the battery is okay. It's not as quiet as the Eee, it does get a bit warmer, and I'd like better battery life, but for my needs, the 2133 makes a good full-time laptop replacement.  This is something that the EeePC struggled and ultimately failed to do, though this was not Asus' intent with the Eee.

The $750 version seems overpriced to me, but this $550 variant is great. Not perfect, but it's the closest thing for me at the moment.


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