HP 2133 Mini-Note

I received my new HP 2133 Mini-Note (netbook, if you want to call it that) Friday afternoon. Since then I have been learning, testing, loading, reloading and generally playing around.

I received my new HP 2133 Mini-Note (netbook, if you want to call it that) Friday afternoon. Since then I have been learning, testing, loading, reloading and generally playing around. I like it. A lot. I paid just under 500 Swiss Francs for it - there was just a dramatic price cut on the 2133 here in Switzerland. The promotion I got was from a distributor who essentially cut the price in half, which was one of the things that prompted me to order it; since then, I have heard from another distributor, who cut their price even a bit lower (isn't that the way it always is?). Of course, the 2133 is one of the "older" of the netbook generation, so you need to be aware of what you are buying.

First, here's the highlights of the hardware configuration that I got. The 2133 has a VIA C-7M ULV processor, mine has the 1.6GHz version; it has 2 GB of RAM, and a 120 GB 5400 rpm SATA disk drive. It has an 8.9" display with 1280x768 resolution, and a VIA Chrome 9 display adapter. Perhaps the single nicest thing about it, considering that it is in the "netbook" category, is the keyboard - according to HP it is 92% the size of a "normal" keyboard, and it is quite nice to use. It is the first of the netbooks I have seen whose keyboard doesn't remind me of the IBM PC Jr. (yes, I'm that old). It has a Broadcom Gigabit (!) wired network adapter, a Broadcom B/G Wireless network adapter, and an HP Bluetooth adapter. It has an ADI HD audio codec and stereo speakers, and an integrated VGA webcam. External connections include two USB 2.0 ports, RJ-45 ethernet, VGA monitor (this is really good for those who might want/need to connect to a beamer), mic in and headphone out, Express Card/54 slot, and an SD flash card slot. Oh, and a 6-cell Li-Ion battery pack.

Whew! That's a lot of computer for 500 francs! Please be aware that a lot of that hardware is optional or upgraded in speed or capacity, so if you consider buying one, check the specifications carefully.

Now, the software. I am going to discuss only Windows in this post, as that is what I ordered on it. I will write again in the near future about adventures with Linux on it. Mine came with Windows Vista Business preloaded, and the CDs for a "downgrade" to XP Professional. I did not try to buy it with Linux (SuSE) preloaded, I will be trying various Linux distributions on my own next week.

When I first started and configured the 2133, with it running the preloaded Vista Business, I was afraid that I had made a bad decision. It was literally staggering under the load of Vista. It took many minutes to boot up, and it was ridiculously sluggish when it was finally "ready to use". I was determined to stick with it, and give it a fair chance, but when I tried to set up the wireless networking, it couldn't connect to my Linksys router - the same symptom that I have had with my Lifebook S6510 when it was running Vista. I am not about to waste another bunch of days trying to figure that out, so at that point I decided to simply dump Vista and go with the "downgrade" to XP Professional.

HP has taken the "recovery partition" route for the Vista installation, so rather than including Vista recovery CD/DVD media, they have an image of the original Vista installation in a second partition on the hard drive; for the XP Professional "downgrade", they include CDs. If you choose to install XP, and you think that you might some day want to go back to Vista, you have to make a CD or DVD copy of the Vista recovery partition first. I'm sure there are instructions on the HP web page, or perhaps in the online manuals, as to how to do that, but as far as I am concerned this computer will NEVER be capable of running Vista, so I didn't bother to do it.

The 2133 doesn't have a CD/DVD drive (duh, it's a netbook), so you have to use an external USB drive to load XP. You press F9 while booting to get the boot device menu, but be careful, the USB port only shows up in the list if something is connected to it, so don't get confused (like I did) if you try it the first time just to see what comes up in the list, and USB isn't there. I'll also be making a bootable USB thumb drive later this week, and checking to see if the 2133 will boot from it as well. I assume it will.

Installing XP from the Operating System CD is pretty much the same as it is on any other system. The only small quirk is that you will see the original installation has the Vista partition covering most of the disk, and then a 9 GB partition named "HP_RECOVERY" at the end. The simple thing to do is just install XP over the Vista partition. I seldom do things the "simple" way, and I have bigger plans for multi-booting Windows and Linux, so I deleted both of those partitions and created a new 20 GB partition for XP, leaving the rest of the disk unallocated for Linux use later. After installing XP there was still 13.5 GB free in that partition, so it is plenty big enough.

After the basic XP installation is finished, you have to switch to the Application and Driver Recovery DVD to load drivers for a lot of the hardware - display, both network interfaces, and so on, and to get XP SP2 installed. It autoruns an installation menu, and I just let it load all of the "Hardware Enabling Drivers". Do NOT try to respond to any of the "Found New Hardware" windows that pop up as it does its work; it will run all the way through and install everything without any interaction. Once that is done, and you have rebooted, you can do the same for the "Recommended Software Applications". I chose not to install any of the "Optional Software Applications", but you might choose differently.

Finally, you need to go to Windows Update and pick up all the latest security patches and whatever other updates you want. I let it install all of the "High Priority" patches, including updating to SP3, and it all went very smoothly.

Whew. Sorry this is getting so long...

Once the installation is complete, there are a couple of small steps that you need to take to finish the setup. First, check that the screen resolution has been set to 1280x768. I think the VIA driver might do this automatically, but I actually changed it before installing the HP driver DVD, because the default resolution (I think it was 800x600) was too ugly to look at. You can check/change it by right-clicking on the desktop background, choose "Properties", and then in the Display Properties window choose "Settings". Once you change the resolution, though, you will see that everything looks nearly microscopic (at least it does to my old eyes). You can adjust this by clicking "Advanced" (still in the Display Properties / Settings window), and then change the DPI setting from the default of 96 to 120. You can even put in a "custom" value higher than that; if my quick calculations are correct, at 1280x768 it actually is about 160 DPI, but I find it usable when set at 120.

At this point the 2133 is basically ready to use. The display is gorgeous, bright and crisp. The keyboard is good, the touchpad is a bit shallow and the buttons are on either side, rather than below or above it, but that's the kind of choice you have to make to reduce the size of the system. The stereo speakers are integrated in the lid, on either side of the display, which puts them in a very good position to hear the sound, and the microphones are likewise in the lid, which is a good position to pick up your voice. The ExpressCard and SD slots have covers, rather than being left open to collect whatever dust and garbage they might, as they are in a lot of other laptops. Oh, and for those who hate touchpads, or simply find that their thumbs are constantly moving the mouse pointer or hitting the mouse buttons as they type, there is a "touchpad disable" button between the space bar and the touchpad. Very considerate.

There are two big differences between the 2133 as I have it running now, with XP Professional, and as it was when it came out of the box, with Vista Business. First, it is actually pleasant to use, it responds and loads programs quickly, whereas with Vista it stumbled along, and you could practically hear it groaning under the load while you were waiting for the latest mouse click to register, or a program to load. Second, and equally importantly for me, it connects to my Linksys router with no problem at all, rather than whining about a "Limited Connection", where "Limited" is to be interpreted as "Useless".

jw 25/1/2009

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