The HP Mini 5103 is a corporate-oriented netbook that does just about everything right: It has a plethora of business and security features, an excellent keyboard and touchpad, and a touchscreen. However, performance is mundane, and a larger display would be nice--especially on a unit this pricey. The Mini 5103's configurations, and there are a lot of them, start at $399 and can run up to nearly $1000 even before including extended service and warranty plans. At this writing, the configuration we tested would set you back $649.
If our test suite is to be believed, you gain little in the way of performance with the new dual-core 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 processor. The Mini 5103's WorldBench score of 35 is similar to other Atom-based netbooks. The unit also felt sluggish during evaluation despite having 2GB of DDR3 memory and a 7200 rpm, 160GB Western Digital hard drive.
The lethargic feel is common among business portables, but worse on netbooks. It's caused in no small part by all the "value-added" background apps and services doing everything from encrypting, to face recognition, to protecting the hard drive. The 5103 had several useless startup items pertaining to RAID and the GPU, and the included McAfee security suite, while effective, is also a bit of a performance hog. Though IT might not like it, you can increase apparent performance significantly by weeding out the apps you don't want or use. Windows 7 Home Premium generally performs well on netbooks, but it couldn't overcome the software bloat in this case.
On the other hand, the 5103 came alive when it came time to display video. The unit played every movie I threw at it smoothly, including one at 1080p and a high-bit-rate 720p MP4 file that gives a lot of netbooks, and even some laptops, a hard time. The video also looked quite nice on the 1366-by-768-resolution screen, though for other applications that resolution is a bit high for a 10.1-inch display. Icons and text appear quite small unless you increase their size (go to Screen Resolution\Make text and other items larger or smaller in Windows 7). A lower-resolution 1024 by 600 display is also available.
Increasing the text/icon size also helps considerably with configurations of the Mini 5103 that sport a touchscreen display. The touchscreen is undeniably handy for presentations and the like, but arm fatigue sets in quite rapidly when using a vertically-oriented touchscreen. It would be nice if the 5103's display could lie completely flat, but it tilts back only about 45 degrees.
The 5103's keyboard is the currently fashionable "island chiclet" style; however, it feels a bit crisper than most. It has no numeric keypad, but is otherwise a notch above the norm. One caveat: the large gaps around the keys may collect debris at a rate that requires frequent cleaning. The touchpad is delineated from the rest of the keyboard deck by its shiny finish and is responsive. The buttons have a nice feel and a pleasant click for aural feedback.
It's not often we run across a netbook BIOS that needs discussing, but the 5103's has a number of low-level security features that bear mentioning. They include programmable system IDs (for in-house enumeration of fleets of notebooks), a DriveLock password, and a utility to securely erase said hard drive. You may also secure the three USB 2.0 ports and the connections for gigabit ethernet and 802.11n wireless. The BIOS interface is also one of the nicest-looking we've run across, and better yet, is navigable via mouse or touchpad.
The 5103 is a tad deeper than the average netbook at 7.09 by 10.3 by 0.91 inches. Weight is about 2.75 pounds with the AC adapter, while battery life is quite good at 7 hours, 49 minutes with the large 6-cell, 66-watt-hour battery. Running out of juice will be a rare issue with the Mini 5103 unless you opt for the smaller 4-cell battery--its run time fell just short of 3 hours.
Along with the aforementioned McAfee security software, our test model came replete with Skype and a full version of a capable, lightweight ode to Microsoft Office 2007: Corel Home Office.
Most users will be better served with less-expensive, consumer-oriented netbooks; however, the security and other corporate features make the HP Mini 5103 a no-brainer for IT departments--at least until they see the bill. Expand the screen to 11 or 12 inches, and there's little to quibble over.