Review: MSI Wind Top AE1900

After a few grim years ceded to the iMac, PC-based all-in-one desktops are making an LL Cool J-esque comeback. Their next move: Make the switch from semi-luxe gear designed for highly-aesthetic environments to the mega-cheap world that the netbook has built.

MSI, creators of the popular Wind netbook line, actually has its toes in both worlds with the Wind Top AE1900, which combines a somewhat Mac-like, white-and-clear design with an ultra-cheap $589 price tag.

Specs look exceedingly promising at first: 250GB of hard drive space, 2GB of RAM, integrated Wi-Fi, DVD burner, an SD card slot, and a very bright 19-inch touchscreen display. If nothing else, it’s one of the best-looking touchscreens (non-capacitive; a stylus works better than your finger) we’ve seen at this screen size. Windows Vista Basic is preinstalled, and MSI also tosses a finger-friendly program-launching skin on top of that. (It’s easy to get from the skin to Vista and back.)

But the Achilles’ heel of the Wind Top is its baffling choice of an Atom 330 processor to power these guts. Although the dual-core 330 is known as the “fast” version of the Atom (it draws 8 watts instead of the 2.5 watts used by the netbook standard Atom N270 and has double the L2 cache), it’s still woefully inadequate for a computer this ambitious. The Wind Top AE1900 struggles with just about any task you throw at it, from starting up to launching anything more complex than Notepad. Benchmarks are rock bottom — on par with actual netbooks — and those otherwise impressive specs make you long for something far snappier.

Even in environments where performance isn’t a concern — a kid’s room or the kitchen, both spots where you might actually put the Wind Top — the lengthy lag times are going to get frustrating. I frequently found myself tapping an app to open it, assuming I hadn’t clicked quite right, and clicking it again a few more times, only to have the same application launch itself five times in a row over the next few minutes. Now try to imagine how frustrating that would be when you’re trying to get Disneyopen for a screaming toddler.

Advice to MSI: Drop in the cheapest Core 2 Duo CPU in lieu of the most expensive Atom here and you’ll have yourselves a real winner.

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