At a Glance
MSI X600-031US Notebook
The MSI offers a terrific keyboard and excellent graphics in its class, but a big screen laptop combined with a single core processor makes for an anemic showing.
At first blush, the MSI X600 is intriguing. At 4.6 pounds with a 5400-milliamp battery, the X600 offers a truly full-size keyboard (including a separate numeric keypad) and a 15.6-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel screen driven by an ATI Radeon Mobility 4330 discrete graphics chip. Overall, that sounds like a pretty terrific combination, right? Well, there are a couple of warts.
A machine this big sporting Intel's Core 2 Solo low-power U3500 processor would be one of those oddities. This is a CPU you'd typically find in an ultralight laptop, like MSI's own X340. And while the X600 does sport a discrete graphics chip--something that certainly helps visual quality on DVDs--the actual pixel resolution is no more than that on the smaller, lighter X340.
Performance is just what you'd expect for a single-core, low-voltage U3500: On WorldBench 6, the X600 notched a score of 62. That's actually better than the X340, but it still trails the Aspire Timeline, which ships with a dual-core processor.
One thing the X600 does have more or less in common with other all-purpose-class machines: battery life. It lasts 3 hours, 50 minutes in PC World lab tests--about 20 minutes under the average. OK, so we've got two strikes coming out of the gate. On to some better news.
When running light office and Web apps, the system offered pretty good responsiveness, considering the limited CPU resources. We started to see some fairly serious lag when paging through a large PDF file while Firefox 3.5 was running with a dozen tabs open. Running standard office apps, like Word or Excel, ran fine. And, really, if you're thinking of buying the X600, this is what you're probably going to use it for, anyhow. Think of it as a netbook with privileges.
Wi-Fi performance was good for a laptop in this class. Even complex Web pages loaded quickly, and we saw no significant issues in our 802.11n environment.
The X600 offers a fairly typical set of expansion ports. It has three USB 2.0 ports, though one of them does double-duty as a combo eSATA port--very handy for connecting external hard drives with eSATA support. The memory card slot is limited to SD cards (including the higher capacity SDHC cards) and MMC cards; it doesn't handle Sony Memory Stick. The two dedicated USB ports, the memory card slot, and the audio input and output jacks live on the right side of the unit, while the combo eSATA USB port, HDMI output, VGA connector, and ethernet jack are on the left side. The back has no ports.
MSI's software bundle is limited to Nero's OEM software suite for DVD burning and video playback, plus a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office and Webcam software. Interestingly, Nero adds a dock at the bottom of the screen that's reminiscent of MacOS's Dock.
Video performance is better than many notebooks in this class, probably due to the ATI Mobility HD 4330 GPU. DVD visual quality was excellent, though the screen itself offered limited viewing angles. We used the external USB DVD drive to watch parts of Serenity, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Raiders of the Lost Ark. DVD upscaling looked accurate, and we detected no artifacting. Audio was good enough, but you'll be better off with a good set of headphones. Photographs also looked quite sharp. MSI does supply a slimline, external USB DVD burner that's USB powered--but adding it will push the weight past 5 pounds, and the drive requires two USB ports--one for data, one for power.
In the end, the MSI X600 suffers a bit from platform confusion. Is it an ultralight? The performance is about on a par with systems in that class, though the battery life can't compare. Is it a thin and light? Well, it's thin, while having a discrete graphics chip and a big screen. But performance will suffer next to some other systems in its weight and price class. What this MSI model does have going for it: An elegant form factor and a full-size keyboard with a numeric keypad. If you spend a lot of time typing and doing data entry, the MSI may fit the bill. But we'd like to see a beefier CPU or a lighter package. Pick one.