Pros: Great keyboard; durable; portable
Cons: Gloss finish; mouse buttons in a weird place; slow Atom CPU
Back in 2009, my wife gave me one of the better Christmas gifts I've received -- a Compaq Mini 110c. Back then, netbooks were all the rage -- they were cheap, capable and offered users a great option for mobile computing. Netbooks have fallen out of favor in the wake of the Apple iPad and other tablets for a number of reasons. Tablets are faster, boast better resolution and are actually more portable.
Still, I'm a fan of netbooks and the Compaq/HP Mini 110 line for a number of reasons and still use mine regularly. Granted, netbooks are very limited right out of the box, but you can turn one into a very capable second computer for around $40 (tack on another $20 if you want to make it even more useful).
First off, let me explain why I like the Mini 110 line so much. When it comes to netbooks, the specs are very similar. The Compaq Mini 110c has the same underpowered, 1.6 GHz Intel Atom CPU that was common in netbooks and that thing is quite slow (don't worry -- I'll mention how to get more speed out of it in a bit). In fact, it's often hard to tell the difference between netbooks because the features are so similar.
The Mini 110 line, though, offers enough differences to make it worthwhile. For one thing, the keyboards on these things are superior to just about any other netbook out there. The keys are larger and, after a time, you'll feel as comfortable with it as you would with a full size keyboard.
Second, these things are very easy to repair. I've fixed a few netbooks over the years for friends, and there are times when opening them is a bit of a chore. If you know what you're doing, you can have a Mini 110 disassembled in about 10 minutes. There are times when you might want to do that because these little machines are cheap to fix -- parts are plentiful and ridiculously inexpensive. Here's another bonus that comes with the Mini 110 line -- the power jacks are not soldered in place. If one breaks, you simply order a new wiring harness for about $5, unplug the old one from the motherboard, plug the new one in and then secure the input jack in a plastic "cradle" that's built into the netbook for that specific purpose. This is, believe it or not, a big deal because those DC jacks tend to fail (people usually break off the center pins in them for one reason or another).
Also, I can testify to the fact that the Mini 110 line is durable. I've dragged mine all over the place over the past four years and the thing just keeps running. Other netbooks may be as durable, but I don't own any of them so I can't say for sure. It's also worth mentioning that the system, as limited as it is, can keep up with a Skype conversation very well and the built-in Web cam is good enough.
Everything else is pretty standard. You get 3 USB 2.0 ports, a reliable WIFi card, a VGA out port, ethernet port, SD card slot and the typical headphone jack. Yawn. The hardware features, as I said, are very typical.
Now, there are some things that aren't so great about the Mini 110 line. First of all, the gloss black cover attracts fingerprints like crazy. Second, the mouse buttons are located on either side of the track pad rather than underneath -- that takes some getting used to. Third, the standard, three cell battery will only hold up for two or three hours under heavy use and that could be a problem if you don't have a spare battery or are away from a plugin. Fourth, I have to buy a new AC adapter yearly for my Mini 110c because the ones I have keep wearing the heck out or simply breaking. Fortunately, replacing an AC adapter costs around $10 on eBay for a good one, so at least fixing that problem doesn't cost much. Finally, the speakers in this thing are simply awful. They are overly tiny and underpowered, meaning hearing audio in even a quiet room can be a challenge. When you can hear something well, the audio is usually tinny and the sound quality is right up there with an AM radio. Yuck.
Oh, and if you want to run HD video on this thing, forget about it. The resolution just isn't there and the graphics chipset isn't fast enough to handle it, anyway. And, you guessed it -- those resource-intensive, 3D games will simply crawl on this due to the underpowered CPU and the modest graphics capabilities of the 110c.
Still, the Mini 110c is my "go to" computer for traveling and it is a great system on which to display documents, notes and research when I'm writing an article (I do quite a bit of freelancing in my off hours).
Still, the Mini 110c isn't that great out of the box. But there are some things you can do to make it a much better system.
First off, max out that RAM. The MIni 110 comes standard with 1 gigabyte of ram, but you can up it to 2 GB for around $40. This is a critical upgrade in my mind because that slow computer will speed up noticeably when the maximum amount of RAM the system can hold is installed.
Second, dump WIndows in favor of a Linux distro. After you've spent the cash to upgrade the RAM, the next thing you'll want to do to speed up the system is get rid of the Windows XP or Windows 7 starter operating system that came with your Mini 110c. Of the two operating systems, Windows XP is the fastest, but it still isn't great and Microsoft is phasing it out, anyway.
Adding a lightweight Linux distro will make the Mini 110c a lot snappier. And, remember -- Linux is free. I'm using Linux Mint with the Xfce desktop and settled on that one after trying out several other ones. I like it, but you might want something different. Here's the good news on Linux distros -- you can install a distro to a USB drive, boot from that and then test drive the distro before you install it to your system. That process is pretty easy and most distro homes will step you through it (the Mint Linux site is, possibly, the best at explaining how that process works).
Here's a word of caution. During the Linux installation process, make sure to connect your Mini 110 to an Ethernet port because the driver for the Broadcom networking card used in these little machines will not be included. That is a proprietary driver and, as such, must be downloaded and installed separately. Don't worry, though -- Linux Mint has a very useful hardware configuration tool that will help you with that. The same is true of Ubuntu, Puppy Linux and another one I tried (I won't mention it because it's no longer actively supported).
Oh, and if you're worried about compatibility with Windows, Linux has come a long way on that front. Linux Mint and most distros come bundled with LibreOffice -- an office suite that can read and write Microsoft Office Suite files (Word, Excel, etc.) with ease.
Want to make your Mini 110 even better? Dump the three cell battery in favor of a six-cell one. You'll be able to keep running for five to six hours between charges and that is ideal for a computer that you want to be portable.
Also, a lot of Mini 110 computers come with a 16GB solid state drive. If you're lucky, you picked up a netbook with a 160 GB hard drive. If you have the solid state one, dump it and install a standard hardrive (that is an easy process and drives are pretty cheap).
So, that's about it. I love my Mini 110c and still use it, but I did have to spend just a little bit of money and do a little bit of work to make it the useful tool that it is.
Don't toss that old netbook in the trash. Tinker with it a bit and make it a great second computer.