capsule review

MSI X340

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At a Glance
  • MSI X340

AMD can't catch a break. First to market with a tweener processor (more powerful than a netbook, but cheaper than the usual fare found in ultraportables), its Athlon Neo CPU is now under fire from Intel's new Ultra Low Voltage chip, and one of the first note- or netbooks to use this Intel CPU is MSI's little X340. Or, as I like to call it, the average Joe's MacBook Air.

The way I'd best describe the X340 is as a PC's take on the MacBook Air, cast in plastic (it measures 0.78 inches at its thickest point and weighs 2.86 pounds). The crisp screen, the bezel, the clamshell shape, and even the touchpad all look an awful lot like its source of inspiration. Oh, that's not an insult--not by a long shot. I mean, this machine only costs $899, and while it trims a few features (no super-cool backlit keys, no optical drive), it more than makes up for those sacrifices with reasonable performance in Vista.

So, back to that big news, the 45nm CPU. Intel's 1.4GHz SU3500 chip allows this machine to kick out reasonable performance for the price. In fact, this CPU, partnered with 2GB of RAM, earned a 56 in our WorldBench 6 tests. Compare that with the Neo-fueled HP Pavilion dv2, which is about to get dethroned as a netbook speed demon: The dv2 scored a 45--despite packing 4GB of RAM in the configuration we tested. Well, it was fun sitting pretty and alone while it lasted. But don't expect the X340 to trounce every test--it still runs lean with an integrated Intel GPU. So don't have any great gaming expectations. We didn't.

As for the "Ultra Low-Voltage" claim, initial tests indicate that the X340 will last 3 hours, 42 minutes on a single charge. While it won't run marathons with a score like that, the X340's four-cell battery manages to hang in for a major chunk of a cross-country flight.

That brings us to a question we're going to find ourselves pondering even more as the affordable small portable market continues to fragment. How do you categorize this machine? As a large netbook or as a notebook? Well, it's 13.4-inch-diagonal screen forces us to place it in the ultraportable category, and it may get dinged a little unfairly for its CPU score as a result. Just know that you're still getting a good deal here.

The flat, wide keys make for good typing with the main QWERTY keys, although some buttons I seem to use a lot (like Delete and Backspace) get short shrift. Considering that there's extra plastic on the sides framing the keyboard, I find myself wishing for just a hair more room to operate. Otherwise, a solid showing. I wish I could say that I liked the touchpad as much. It has a nice, large target zone and a decent-sized mouse button-bar (again, eerily reminiscent of the first-generation MacBook Air), but the only indicator that you're near the pad is a slight dip in the plastic casing. Hint: Textures help!

On the bright side, unlike the Air it's trying so hard to emulate, the X340 hosts a number of handy ports. HDMI and VGA video-out ports sprout from the left, alongside an ethernet jack and a media card reader. On the left are two USB ports and headphone and microphone jacks. (An interesting side note: The mic jack will sense if you plug in headphones and serve as a second headphone jack.) The only snag I could spot is that the two USB ports are so tightly packed on top of each other that it's difficult to plug in more than one thing at a time--especially if you're working with USB flash drives or have odd-shaped dongles dangling. It also provides a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, built-in Wi-Fi (802.11n, Bluetooth), and optional support for WiMax.

The 13.4-inch backlit LED screen is suitably sharp with really good color reproduction. And since this machine has a 1366-by-768-pixel native resolution (and HDMI output), I had to see how it would handle 720p video. This high-def mode took a couple of seconds to get going, but once in action, the video flowed smoothly--no frame drops and no noticeable lag or on-screen funkiness.

Sound was a bit of a surprise. While a little on the hollow side (hey, this is a superslim machine lacking proper bass--it happens), I was happy that the audio didn't come across as completely tinny. Consider that alone a minor victory.

What matters in the end, though, is the value. For those who want a larger screen, maybe to watch a couple movies, and also to get some light typing done, this is a more powerful machine than a conventional netbook and will do you just fine. If you've been an admirer of the Air but couldn't get over its lack of ports (or its high price tag), then you'll be fine. Now, if MSI packed in a discrete GPU, this machine would be a killer all-around choice. But as it stands, you're getting a good deal of portability and reasonable power at a price that most ultraportable users can afford.

--Darren Gladstone

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At a Glance
  • MSI’s slim ultraportable X340 is the average Joe's MacBook Air.


    • Decent performance
    • Good size and lightweight


    • Feels like a MacBook Air tribute
    • Mediocre mouse control
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