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Flash wonder: Netbook makers seem to be particularly keen to shatter the axiom that size always equals power. Their shrunken portables put a premium on being small and light, both in terms of bulk and price, for only a slight tradeoff on performance. Certainly they would also like people to stop describing their mini machines as toys.

Last week, Micro-Star International (MSI) put a new spin on the confusion when it announced its new Wind U115 netbook. Although no shipping date has been announced, the U115 is set to be the first netbook to simultaneously utilize a dual-format storage system — a solid-state disk (SSD) and a hard-disk drive. The idea is to store the operating system and most heavily-used files on the SSD, with the hard drive used for storing the remaining applications and data files. While the company’s boast that this is the world’s first such hybrid system may be stretching the truth a bit, the idea is intriguingly innovative. MSI claims this configuration boosts operating performance, as an SSD has the advantage of being faster than a regular hard drive. SSDs are also less volatile and use less power.

To further increase battery life, the U115 can be operated in “ECO on Mode,” which disconnects the hard drive entirely and leaves it to operate solely from the SSD. In this mode, the netbook can keep going for up to around 12 hours.

The dual system also takes advantage of the fact that hard drives are cheaper and have much larger capacities than SSDs, so at least in theory the U115 combines faster performance with larger storage capacity. The innovative netbook comes in three storage options: 8-gigabyte SSD with 80-GB hard disk; 16-GB SSD with 120-GB hard disk; and 32-GB SSD with 160-GB hard disk.

Beyond its hybrid storage, the U115 is similar in size and design to its sibling, the hard-drive based U100, and has nothing else extraordinary in its specifications. The new netbook uses a 1.6-gigahertz Intel Atom Z530 processor, 1 gigabyte of DDR2 memory and a 10-inch, 1024×600-pixel-resolution screen. It runs Windows XP Home as its operating system.

Hardware-wise it has 802.11 b/g/n wireless support and Bluetooth, a 4-in-1 memory card reader and an integrated webcam. The machine measures 26 cm in length with a width of 18 cm, thickness of 19-31.5 mm and a weight of about 1 kg.

MSI has yet to reveal pricing for the U115, but it is expected to be more expensive than the U100, which sells for between ¥55,000 and ¥70,000 depending on options. The attraction of the U115 over other netbooks rests on the hybrid storage system.

If it does live up to the hype and boosts both performance and battery life, then it will really stand out from the pack. global.msi.com.tw/

Touchy-feely: In the spirit of innovation, HP has in recent times been pushing its touch-screen interface, both for portable computers and, more interestingly, for desktop machines. Perhaps out of another spirit, the company released two new such all-in-one desktops on Christmas Day: the basic IQ521 and its big sibling, the IQ821.

The key to both is their interface, which allows users to control the operating system, videos, music, virtual keyboard for word processing, and other tasks just by using their fingers. A tripod stand gives the machine the proper stability needed for all manhandling.

A separate keyboard and mouse round out the HP packages. The look and interface of the HP pair bring to mind a cross between the iPod touch and iMac. Both HP models run on an Inter Core 2 Duo 2-gigahertz processor with 4 GB of DDR2 memory, although the IQ821 also has a NVIDIA GeForce 9600M-GS graphics chipset. Both of them run on Windows Vista. The key differences between them are their sizes and optical drives. The IQ521 has a 22-inch screen, while the IQ821 has a 25.5-inch screen. Moreover, while the IQ521 has a DVD drive, the IQ821 ups the ante to a Blu-ray drive. Also, the IQ521 has a 640-GB hard disk while the IQ821 packs in 750 GB.

One neat extra is a light at the bottom of the screen that illuminates the keyboard for nighttime typing.

While mobile phones and portable-media players are quickly embracing touch, using it for computers remains something of a novelty. But HP is embracing it, and the combination of ease of use and fun factor that its touch interface engenders suggests that the concept will take off in time.

The problem now is that most applications are not touch-friendly, limiting the software options for the HP creations. However, HP has already set up the IQ521 and IQ821 with a suite of their own touch-screen applications that include a personal scheduler, sticky-notes, RSS reader, photo management and music and video players.

Their sizable memory and touch interface make them ideal choices for entertainment-centered computers and real competitors to the iMac and similar machines, such as offerings from Sony. In this regard, the Blu-ray ability of the IQ821 makes it more attractive than its sibling. Such versatility does cost though, with the IQ521 pretty reasonably priced at ¥129,780 and the IQ821 costing a lot more at ¥219,870. www.hp.com

TEAC creates a looker: TEAC has somehow managed to rise above the crowded iPod dock competition with its new TD-X300i sound system, which incorporates a pair of ultra slim speakers and a chunky subwoofer.

While advertised as a system primarily intended to cradle your iPod, the TD-X300i is closer to the popular “mini-compo” design with its CD player and FM/AM tuner for the surviving traditionalists out there. An upgrade over a previous model allows you to play MP3 and WMA files.

The real genius though is that the speakers mimic the slim and angled back design, making it an arresting-looking glossy black set. The rectangular black form of the subwoofer in contrast looks positively obese, even though it is similar in size and shape to the central unit of a normal stereo system.

Ideally the subwoofer should be positioned separately, leaving the speakers and iPod dock to stand out. In terms of power the TEAC head-turner provides 5Wx2 through its speakers with the subwoofer rated at 15 watts.

Costing ¥34,800, the TEAC unit is due on the market early this month and is compatible with all fourth-generation iPods. www.teac.co.jp

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