ASUS N10JC-HV013: Lets see what an extra $400 gets you

Apparently the world’s population is slowly turning into Oompa Loompas; we’re all three feet tall with the lifting capacity of a 2 year old child. Why else are tiny computers with keyboards designed for baby’s hand and screens the size of a Gameboy becoming all the rage? ASUS’s N10J is the latest little PC to hit Aussie shores although its price tag isn’t quite as miniscule. At a thousand dollars it’s a little more expensive than other recent ultra-small PCs APC has reviewed recently. The MSI Wind is a great example having very similar specs but a $600 price tag. Let’s see what an extra four hundred bucks gets you these days.

At first glance there’s not much to separate the two. The displays seem identical both being 10.2” across with a resolution of 1024 x 600. Such a low resolution suggests a chunky pixel nightmare for users but due to the overall small size of the screen the result is a crisp and clear display. It’s not the best for program navigation though; most UI designers target 1024 x 768 as the minimum resolution so the narrower monitor of the N10J makes for more side-scrolling than we’d like. We’ve got no complaints about the image quality though. It’s very bright with great contrast and colour reproduction. Watching movies resulted in fantastic image quality though the narrow viewing angles mean movie viewing will be a strictly solo affair. Residing above the monitor is a built-in 1.3 megapixel web camera which had very average performance. Like most ASUS laptops this can be used for facial recognition in place of password protection but it can be fooled easily.

With both displays being almost identical it’s time to look at the overall case and again the N10J doesn’t appear too different to the MSI Wind. It’s got a very similar mini-keyboard with a shrunken space bar backspace and return keys. At first these commonly used keys are hard to find but any capable typist will soon be hitting all the right characters with just a little practice. It’s got the same range of outputs as the Wind as well with one exception. Along with the usual VGA and headphone outputs the N10J also features HDMI and S/PDIF out making it a capable media player. There’s a slight thorn in the side of this being your mobile movie repository though – with no optical disk drive in sight you’re going to be relying upon the N10J’s hard drive to store your favourite flicks.

Thankfully a comparatively spacious 160GB hard drive will give you plenty of room for your movies twice the size of the Wind’s 80GB drive. Getting files onto the drive won’t take too long thanks to the USB2.0 ports (three of them) or the integrated 802.11n NIC. MSI’s Wind only supports 802.11g but then again most home networks are limited to 802.11g as well. Regardless of which laptop you choose you’re still going to need a $100 external DVD drive to install most software something you’ll want to factor into the cost of the entire PC.

The hardware backbone of both machines is nearly identical combining Intel’s 945GSE chipset with the new 1.6GHz Atom CPU and a gigabyte of memory. However the ASUS also includes the GeForce 9300M video chipset providing much more oomph for HD video decoding and very basic gaming duties. Yet it retains the 945GSE’s video capabilities allowing the user to select which video chipset to use via a mechanical slider on the left side of the laptop. For basic net surfing and word processing the Intel chip will considerably extend the battery life. Come World of Warcraft Raid time flicking it to the NVIDIA position gives plenty of grunt for basic gaming at the cost of battery life. With the MSI Wind constrained to the integrated Intel graphics the N10J’s inclusion of an NVIDIA chipset appears to be the defining difference between the two.

There’s one other difference but we’re not so sure it’s a good one. The N10J ships with Vista while the Wind sticks to XP. Thanks to the heavier hardware overhead of running Vista the N10J is left struggling when it comes to multitasking. When running a DivX video in one window Word in another and Firefox in a third responsiveness of the N10J plummeted. Switching between windows took a couple of seconds and clicking on buttons in the active window seemed sluggish. We’re sure another gig of memory would help  – thankfully the N10J has room for another stick if your budget can stretch that far.

The final difference between the two  – that we could gather at least – is the finger-print scanner on the N10J something that the Wind lacks.

As you can see there’s not a lot to separate the N10J from the Wind. As far as we can tell there are only four advantages that the N10J has; a bigger hard drive faster wireless NVIDIA graphics and Vista. And we’re not really convinced that having Vista is actually an advantage given the humble hardware it’s running on. As far as we’re concerned the only noteworthy difference is the inclusion of the NVIDIA hardware which is barely able to run anything released in the last decade. We’re sure you’ll agree that this $30 NVIDIA chip doesn’t warrant a $400 higher price tag.