Meet the HP Mini 5103

Netbooks are all so similar in terms of performance that it’s difficult to get excited about reviewing “yet another netbook”. Aesthetics and build quality may change, but outside of features like NG-ION or the use of an SSD, there’s not much new under the sun. However, one Atom variant that we haven’t had a chance to actually test in house is the dual-core Atom N550. With support for DDR3 memory and a second Hyper-Threaded core, can this “high-end” Atom change our feelings? If you read our ASUS 1215N review, you probably already know the answer, but it’s always good to get concrete numbers.

Besides being our first look at a dual-core Atom N550 netbook, HP’s Mini 5103 packs in just about every other extra you can imagine. The test unit includes a multi-touch 1366x768 display, 2GB DDR3, Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, and a Broadcom Crystal HD decoder—just in case you want to watch a 1080p H.264 movie on your 10.1” LCD. As with the Mini 5102, the 5103 is also one of the best looking and well-built netbooks to hit our labs. Unfortunately, the pricing puts it into the realm of much faster ultraportables, but if you want the combination of features HP provides—and your company is willing to foot the bill—it’s a decent little machine.

HP Mini 5103 Specifications
Processor Intel Atom N550
(2x1.50GHz + SMT, 45nm, 2x512KB L2, 667FSB, 8.5W)
Chipset Intel NM10
Memory 1x2048MB DDR3-1333 @ DDR3-667 5-5-5-15 Timings
Graphics Integrated Intel GMA 3150
Display 10.1" Multi-touch LED Matte 16:9 768p (1366x768)
Hard Drive 2.5" 160GB 7200RPM 16MB
(Western Digital WD1600BEKT-60V5T1)
Networking Marvel Yukon 88E8059 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Broadcom BCM4313 802.11b/g/n WiFi
Broadcom 2070 Bluetooth 2.1
WWAN (Optional)
Audio IDT 92HD75B2X5 2-Channel HD Audio
(2.0 Speakers with headphone/microphone jacks)
Battery 4-Cell, 14.8V, 1900mAh, 29Wh
Front Side None (Speaker Grille)
Left Side 2 x USB 2.0
Heat Exhaust
AC Power Connection
Right Side SD/MMC reader
Microphone/Headphone Jacks
Gigabit Ethernet
1 x USB 2.0
Kensington Lock
Back Side None
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 32-bit
Dimensions 10.3" x 7.09" x 0.91" (WxDxH)
Weight 2.64 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras 2.0MP Webcam
82-key keyboard
Broadcom Crystal HD (Optional)
Office 2010 Starter
HP DayStarter
HP QuickSync HP QuickWeb
HP ProtectTools
Warranty 1-year standard warranty
Price Starting at $399
As configured: around $688

Outside of the change to the CPU and memory, about the only other noteworthy update compared to the older 5102 is the move to an espresso (dark brown) finish. HP informs us that this was done in response to customer feedback, and the espresso color doesn’t show fingerprints quite as much as the old black. We do have to point out  a few items on our test system that we could no longer find on the HP site. First, our netbook shipped with Windows 7 Professional as opposed to Starter or Home Premium. Second, it has a 768p multi-touch LCD, while we could only find a 1024x600 multi-touch option online now.

With all the upgrades in place, the final price comes in just under $700. For that much money, you can find a wide variety of netbooks and laptops, but HP includes some other value added items you won’t find in most netbooks. As with the 5102, build quality and the keyboard are substantially better than any other netbook we’ve encountered, which adds to the cost. The basic model at $400 lets you get just the build quality and a typical Atom N455 + 1GB DDR3 setup. If you want more, you have to go to a configurable model and start choosing extras (with prices starting at $522). Unless you get a discount code or other special offer, the configurable models carry a hefty price premium; luckily, such codes are frequently available, and you can always try calling HP direct to see if they can make you a better offer.)

Breaking down the upgrades: $40 moves you up to Win7 Home Premium (and Professional would cost even more!), and you also need $25 for the 2GB RAM upgrade (not available with Win7 Starter); add $25 for a 768p LCD, and an additional $25 to go to 600p with capacitive multi-touch; the CrystalHD decoder is a big add-on at $45, and Bluetooth is another $18; finally, the N550 model costs $20 more than the N455 version. Put it all together and you basically get what you pay for—provided you think the starting price is acceptable. As a point of reference, the ASUS Eee 1015PEM-MU17 starts at around $340 online, with an Atom N550 and 1GB, but it lacks Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, and several other features on the HP. Barring any other discounts, you’re looking at a nearly $200 premium to move to the 5103.

As a parting shot on pricing, you can also find pre-configured HP Mini 5103 netbooks from a variety of resellers; the cheapest starts at $384, and it looks like Atom N550 would only bump the price up around $40. Unfortunately, no one appears to offer any pre-configured N550 models, so you have to go straight to the source. We’ve heard comments in the past that suggest you can get substantially better pricing on the configurable models if you call HP (one reader claimed a 28% discount on an EliteBook), so if you’re in the market for this type of netbook it can’t hurt to call; $500 would be far more impressive than the current $700 price tag.

HP Mini 5103 Subjective Evaluation
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  • Belard - Saturday, December 18, 2010 - link

    The quality of the build and the multi-touch screen doesn't make it worth $688~700, thats the point.

    An iPad starts at $500 and is more functional and easily better built. A 3G iPad starts at about $600. Hence, Apple's tablet has destroyed the netbook market over night...

    The point of netbooks was a cheap and light-weight tool access the internet, they were NEVER designed to be your main-computer, even thou they are easily more powerful than the notebooks/desktops from 2001. And for $250~300, they *DO* make good kid computers (5~8) with their small keyboard.

    The iPad make everything a lot easier. Hopefully we'll see even more tablet devices for the $300~500 range that are built well. Check out the enTourage - eDGe Dual Book, its about $500 and has both a B&W "paper" display for ebooks and a color multi-touch. And yes, neither of these devices replace a full size notebook.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    I have to *strongly* disagree with several of your assertions. First, to just go and state that the "iPad is built better" is completely glossing over many things. It's got a better display, and better touch capabilities, but total storage, memory, expansion options, and other features aren't better at all. I can't even tell you how silly it is to pretend typing on the iPad is a good experience... even with the addition of the keyboard dock, it's not something I would enjoy.

    In terms of pure performance potential, Atom N550 is WAY ahead of the iPad processor; it's not even close. In fact, even Atom N450 is way ahead of the iPad CPU. ARM processors of any form are a big step down in performance from even Atom, but they also use a lot less power. But there's more to it than raw performance (see below).

    Another part of the equation is that the iPad sports a pretty decent GPU, all things considered. GMA 3150 is a joke, but I suspect the next generation Atom will improve that area. But a slow CPU with a moderate GPU can be made to work really well when you combine the final piece of the puzzle, and that piece is the OS.

    iPad runs iOS, which is tailor made for the CPU + GPU + RAM combination that iPhone and iPad offer. Windows 7 works on Atom, but it isn't even remotely ideal. This is why I tried running Chrome OS on the 5103 to see what would happen. Even though the build I tried wasn't a great success, when we see the final Chrome laptops I think it could be a greatly improved experience. I'd still rather see something more like Android than basing everything out of the browser. When I boot up Chrome OS and launch into the browser, I'd rather see something like your typical smartphone layout.
  • synaesthetic - Monday, December 20, 2010 - link

    Why isn't anyone trying netbook-oriented Linux distros anymore?

    I bet a lightweight Linux OS would absolutely fly on this thing!

    I just recently put Ubuntu Netbook Edition on an old eee PC 900HD and it is at least twice as fast as it was running Windows XP. And the UBE UI design is somewhere between a smartphone and proper desktop Ubuntu, it really works nicely on these small computers.

    My partner will soon be trading Windows 7 Starter for Ubuntu Netbook Edition on her Samsung N150.

    I understand why Windows gained dominance on the netbook, but I wish it hadn't. Trying to run Windows on these things is what contributes to most folks' misconceptions about their capabilities. A netbook is perfectly capable of being a primary computer for people without extravagant needs--but only if the OS is tailored to the platform. Windows just isn't designed for these things.
  • Belard - Saturday, December 18, 2010 - link

    In case you don't know...

    They make barbie-size Justin Bieber dolls. If I had more money to blow, I would get one and destroy and put it on Youtube :)
  • kilkennycat - Saturday, December 18, 2010 - link

    I happen to have bought the Asus1215N-PU17 12-inch netbook in early October 2010.
    A great product, imho....

    $484 on Amazon.

    For that price, it comes with:-
    D525 1.8GHz dual-core Atom
    2GB Ram
    Win7 Home Premium
    GT218 nVidia GPU with Optimus fully functional.
    ( Zero problem with Bluray playback from an external BluRay drive either to the netbook screen or to a HDMI-connected 1080p display. WoW is very playable at medium resolution.)
    Superb Wi-Fi sensitivity
    1366x768 display
    6-cell 56Wh battery
    Typical 5-6hr battery "life"

    Why anybody would pay any extra for a HP laptop or netbook today is totally beyond me....
    Compared to other major manufacturers, the HP name means absolutely nothing today in terms of product support and HP's bloatware is probably the worst of any PC supplier.

    I have sadly become closely familiar with HP's "wonderful" product support, having purchased a couple of HP laptops for family members, one 4 years ago and one 2 years ago. In the case of the 4-year old machine, there was a systematic motherboard failure in this particular model that results in the Wi-Fi first becoming inoperative, followed by other symptoms such as erratic loss of video. HP did issue a recall for a complete motherboard replacement about 2 years ago , but would only accept machines IN WHICH THE WI-FI ACTUALLY FAILED and BEFORE A SPECIFIC CUT-OFF DATE around mid-2009. Well, the Wi-Fi in our machine became inoperative in early 2010.... and the video started very occasionally but randomly blanking 3 months ago.The machine now bears a close resemblance to a door-stop... it cannot be trusted ever again. "Hard luck" says HP.. "the recall period has expired... only a $400 (or more) repair...." There was a time when a HP warrantly meant 100% lifetime support for ANY manufacturing defects discovered after shipment. That time is long since gone... it went when Carly Fiorino arrived at HP, it went with all the layoffs and the bottom-line focus....

    The seconf HP machine I bought 2 years is still working fine, but I am keeping a close eye on product recalls...

    Sorry, no more HP machines for me or our family.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    Personally, this is why I would never buy a consumer desktop offering from most OEMs. It's also one of my major concerns with laptops. Lucky for me I can use any one of a number of laptops, and I'm able to frequently move between models, but if I had to buy my own laptop I'd almost certainly get a business offering. They're usually made to last, come with better support, and don't go with the silly consumer fads. Unfortunately, they also cost a lot more and it's still tough to find a good LCD.
  • Belard - Saturday, December 18, 2010 - link

    I'm not a Mac user... but this is why Apple does very well...

    Apple would NOT come out with a product that is such a POOR user experience (not the same as defective yellow LCD screens on iMacs) - in which things DON'T work the way they should.

    Really? $700 for this thing? For $525 or so, a person can pick up a 14" Thinkpad Edige which has about a 4hour battery and a far more powerful dual core CPU. Hitting about $700 - and you start hitting close to a bottom line $850 Thinkpad T410 series.

    Of course, anyone can pick up any 15" wal-mart class bottom end notebook for about $400~500 with a more powerful CPU... yes yes, its not 2-3lbs with a decent battery....

    netbooks work at the market with a $250~350 price range, anything more - a person should just get a normal notebook or a high end thin-notebook.
  • damianrobertjones - Saturday, December 18, 2010 - link

    "The second issue with the touchscreen interface is precision. Tapping on the screen to “click” often misses your intended target, and the same goes for dragging, selecting text, etc. With a UI build around touch, this could be alleviated, but the standard Windows UI isn’t sufficient. A mouse is a highly precise pointer that targets a single pixel; replacing that with your stubby fingertip that covers perhaps hundreds of pixels and then trying to determine where you clicked is difficult at best, and the result left me wanting"

    Ok, I've owned a Latitude XT and XT2, Acer 1820ptz and 'even', an Archos 9. They all had one thing in common... an SSD drive fitted by me and a re-install of windows 7. I obviously did a small amount of tweaking, Windows search turned off etc.

    I then CALIBRATED the touch option. I then changed the Display DPI to 125%.

    Why can't reviewers MENTION these things instead of bashing something that, in all honesty, if perfectly fine, acceptable, easy to use as Windows touch? Baffles me
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, December 18, 2010 - link

    Right. It would be great if Windows' calibrate option actually made things better. It works *okay*, but running the calibration tool (where you click on the crosshairs in the corners of the display) made things worse when I tried it. Maybe it's just this particular display/netbook, with a 1/8" ridge around the panel that makes targeting the edges difficult? As someone who uses an iPod Touch regularly I can say for certain that it's nowhere near as pleasant an experience. I've gone into the Windows Pen options, and there's nothing in there that I've tried that made the precision better.

    To better explain my complaint, if you're trying to "click" on a large button, the interface works well. Clicking on small targets is where you run into difficulties -- like say I misspell a word like "caibrate" and I want to go back and click in between the "a" and the "i" to insert the missing "l". Yes, you can do it, but it will often require several tries to get the cursor right where I want it. (And for the record, the iOS "magnifier" tool that helps you position the cursor feels equally clunky.)

    But that's just one example; tapping on a hyperlink on a webpage when there are two close together is imprecise and you might get the top link when you were aiming for the bottom, or vice versa. There are radio buttons and check boxes where you'll "miss" because you didn't click right where the program wanted to.

    Changing the DPI can help in some instances, and do nothing in others. An SSD will help speed up some things as well, but it certainly won't make Flash suddenly run smooth as butter. To pretend that such things are a panacea is disingenuous. To imply that "I'm doing it wrong" just because I don't like the way it works is just as good as Steve Jobs' comments on antenna-gate.

    I've used a pen-based device before and that was better than using my finger on this netbook, but it still wasn't perfect. So far, every touch interface I've tried with Windows has worked fine for some things but not as well for others. It's a lot like the TrackPoint and Touchpad compared to a mouse; some people love the experience and others don't. But trust me when I say that I've done plenty of optimizations to make this netbook run about as well as it possibly can (i.e. disabling nearly all of the HP utilities and software, turning off Windows services that aren't necessary, defragging the hard drive, etc.) It's still sluggish and could benefit from an OS and UI optimized for netbooks and touch rather than a full copy of Win7.
  • NCM - Sunday, December 19, 2010 - link

    damianrobertjones writes:
    "Why can't reviewers MENTION these things [SSD, Win7 reinstall, OS tweaks, recalibrate touch, search turned off] instead of bashing something that, in all honesty, if perfectly fine, acceptable, easy to use as Windows touch? Baffles me"

    You may as well ask why some Chevy econobox isn't higher rated considering how fast it would go with suspension and engine work.

    Why ever should a buyer be expected to do those things, and why should AT evaluate a product on that basis? Baffles me...

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