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Hewlett-Packard started retooling its efforts today to attract the business user to the promise of more usable, more rugged netbooks with the release of its latest Mini netbook, the Mini 5101.

Designed to be slightly larger than its last netbook iteration, the Mini 5101 addresses one of the key complaints business and consumers users have voiced about netbooks: flimsy, tiny keyboards that are hard to use and easy to gum up in the field. HP added a new spill-resistant keyboard that is approximately 95% of normal keyboard size. The new design uses the company’s HP DuraKeys clear coat, which HP claims will make the keyboard 50 times more resistant to visible wear.

The system features a 10.1 inch back-lit LED screen, available in either WSVGA or high definition, sporting the Mini’s characteristic anodized aluminum case with the added durability of a magnesium allow reinforcement in the bottom case. It will appeal to the remote business user with its videoconference-ready, 2-megapixel webcam, which is integrated into the case. The more rugged case design is complemented by HP 3D DriveGuard, which will automatically shut the hard drive down if the user drops the unit.

Overall, the Mini 5101’s basic configuration will clock in at about 2.6 pounds, slightly heavier if users choose to opt for the six-cell battery, which offers eight hours of continuous runtime.

Looking under the hood, HP chose to power the standard configuration Mini 5101 with an Intel N280 Atom processor and a high-performance 7200-RPM hard drive, with the option to switch out for a Solid State Drive (SSD). Connectivity is offered standard with an Intel or Broadcom WLAN module, Bluetooth 2.0 and the option to add on integrated HP Mobile Broadband powered by Gobi, offering road warriors the greater flexibility of 3G connectivity.

The Mini 5101 continues HP’s path toward attracting business users and prosumers with premium netbook options. It will start at $449, offered both direct to consumer and through resellers.

As a solid number three player in the netbook game, HP hopes this latest gambit will help it gain market share over leaders Asus and Acer. According to IDC figures released in May, worldwide netbook shipments tallied up to 4.5 million during first quarter 2009, a sevenfold increase over the same quarter in 2008. IDC reports that netbooks made up about 8 percent of all PC shipments last quarter.