Gadling gear review – HP Mini 5101 netbook

In this review I’m going to introduce you to one of the newest netbook computers from HP. The Mini 5101 is a very compact machine designed with the business traveler in mind. When building a computer for business use, HP obviously put a lot of time into making the machine able to stand up to the rough environment.

Because of this, the entire machine is built around a magnesium frame, it also features an aluminum screen lid, near full size keyboard, hard drive drop protection, a special keyboard coating and an easy to upgrade memory bay.
The basics

Lets start with the basics – inside the entry level HP Mini 5101 is an Intel Atom N280 1.6G6Hz processor, 1GB of ram and a 7200RPM 160GB hard drive. These specifications are nothing special, and are what you’ll find in almost any netbook nowadays.


The design of the 5101 is where you start to notice major differences between most other netbook computers. As soon as you pick the 5101 up, you know that it isn’t just another all plastic computer. A metal screen lid, rubberized bottom, and not a squeak to be found (many cheap machines squeak a bit due to all the poorly joined plastic pieces).

On the bottom of the unit is a memory slot and the battery compartment. One the left side is the power port, a VGA D-SUB monitor connector and 2 USB ports. On the right is where you’ll find the Kensington lock port, 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, a high power USB port (for devices like a DVD drive), audio in/out and an SD memory card reader.

Once you open the Mini 5101, you find the real treat this machine has to offer – a 95% full size keyboard. For the first time (as far as I can tell), the HP designers were smart enough to design the keyboard without any bezel around the edges. This means all the keys come up right to the edge of the machine. Typing on this thing is absolutely amazing, and I can honestly say that it has the best keyboard I have ever used on a laptop. Not just on a netbook, but the best on any laptop.

The trackpad is equally well designed – for some reason, many manufacturers manage to screw up the trackpad design (I’m talking to you Dell). The Mini 5101 has the perfect trackpad – not too big, not too small, buttons on the bottom with a nice click. Seriously – the combination of the great keyboard with the well designed trackpad means you can actually get some work done on this machine. Above the display is a 2MP camera, which is also a step above the crappy low res webcams found on many other machines.

Software and OS

Because the Mini 5101 is targeted towards business users, it is only available with Windows XP Home or SUSE Linux. A third option delivers the machine with nothing but the FreeDOS operating system, which is great if you want to put your own operating system on it.

In addition to XP, the machine I reviewed also came complete with Corel Home Office (a very decent word/spreadsheet/presentation package) with full Microsoft Office compatibility. This package normally retails for $69.99, so it really does provide a good value for your money.

Also included is the HP 3D Driveguard monitor software. This application works alongside the built in accelerometer to protect your hard drive in the event the Mini 5101 falls.

And finally, the Mini 5101 also comes with a file syncing application, designed to help keep the files on your netbook in sync with those on your (home) office desktop PC.

Battery life

On my Mini 5101 review unit, a 29Wh 4-cell lithium-ion battery was included – when running the machine as normally as possible (WiFi on, browser open), I reached 3 hours 25 minutes before it shut itself down. This is very normal for a battery with those specifications. The 6 cell battery increases power to 55Wh (and just over 5 hours of use).

The battery has a small status button and a couple of LED’s to show its current power level.

Expansions and optional extras

In its basic form, the Mini 5101 features a 1024×600 matte display, 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and 1GB of memory. Once you start thinking about getting one, you can order it from the HP site with a whole host of extra features.

The following are some of the options available when you pick a customized Mini 5101:

  • HD display (+$25) – increases the screen resolution to 1366×768
  • HP Mobile Broadband adapter – (+$125) powered by GOBI – allows for 3G (GSM and CDMA) connections
  • Bluetooth adapter (+$18) – integrated inside the machine
  • 6 cell lithium-ion battery (+$25)

Of course, the site also lets you order a variety of additional software, chargers and cases. The only memory configuration available from HP is 1GB, but you can upgrade that memory module to 2GB in a matter of seconds, thanks to the easy-access memory port. Unlike other machines, you do not need a screwdriver to access the memory bay on the 5101.

Final thoughts

The HP Mini 5101 starts at $399. This will get you a machine with Windows XP Home, 160GB hard drive, Bluetooth and a 4 cell battery. This is surprisingly cheap, as machines with these specifications, (but without all the extras HP includes) are normally around $350. You obviously pay a premium for the rugged design and other features, but considering how well this thing is built, I’m convinced that it is well worth it. Especially if you travel a lot, you’ll need a machine that can survive the airport. Design aside, what makes this machine well worth its price is the keyboard.

Of course, once you start configuring the Mini 5101 just how you like it, you’ll creep towards $750. This will add mobile broadband , the 6 cell battery and the HD display.