MSI X340 ultra-thin laptop

MSI's X340 is a 13.3in laptop that weighs 1.3kg and has a sub-$1500 price tag

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MSI X340
  • MSI X340
  • MSI X340
  • MSI X340

Pros

  • Only 1.3kg, slim design, 13.3in screen, fast networking features

Cons

  • Screen has poor vertical viewing angles, keyboard is too 'bouncy'

Bottom Line

The MSI X340 is one of the best ultraportable notebooks on the market and should be a desirable option for anyone who wants something very light and affordable, yet bigger and easier to use than a netbook. It still doesn't have as much power as a non-ultra-thin notebook in the same price range, but with the X340 it's all about the light weight and ease of use, and having enough power to undertake tasks that aren't too intensive.

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The MSI X340 is one of the first Windows Vista–based ultra-thin notebooks we've seen to date, and it ships with an Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 CPU. This has a clock speed of 1.4GHz, 3MB of Level 2 cache and a thermal rating of only 5.5 Watts. This thermal rating is 50 per cent less than that of a Core 2 Duo SU9400 CPU with the same clock speed, and approximately 20W lower than a 2GHz Core 2 Duo CPU such as the P7370.

It wasn't long ago that Intel was pushing multi-core computing down our throats saying it heralded the future and that single-core options will be a thing of the past. That's not the case, as can be seen in the newest notebook craze to hit the market — ultra-thin notebooks — which have started off using Intel's Core 2 Solo-based CPUs.

The Core 2 Solo is a single-core CPU (it doesn't have Hyper-Threading either) that's designed to have low power consumption in order to minimise the amount of heat produced in a thin-chassis laptop. It's part of Intel's Consumer Ultra Low Voltage platform, which allows vendors to produce thinner-than-usual laptops while still using a relatively powerful CPU. Furthermore, these ultra-thin laptops are designed to be full-sized, and therefore comfortable to use, yet won't cost you an arm and a leg.

This CPU, combined with 2GB of DDR2 SDRAM, a 320GB hard drive, and Intel GMA Series 4 graphics, gives the MSI X340 enough grunt to run basic office and Web applications, as well as media tasks. This was shown in our WorldBench 6 application benchmark, which returned a score of 57. This score indicates that the MSI X340 can handle Photoshop tasks, basic video editing and file compression without many problems. However, it will struggle with 3D graphics rendering and multitasking. In fact, the multitasking portion of the WorldBench 6 test recorded 839 seconds, which is twice as slow as what we usually see with a dual-core laptop.

In the Blender 3D and iTunes tests, the MSI X340 recorded times of 4min 8sec and 3min 21sec, respectively, which is twice as long as what a Core 2 Duo with a similar CPU speed can achieve, and approximately two and a half times faster than a netbook with a Hyper-Threaded Intel Atom CPU. We got a good result from the MSI X340's hard drive, which recorded a transfer rate of 23.29 megabytes per second. That's approximately 3MBps faster than we expected. In 3DMark06, the X340 scored 643, which means you won't be able to play any 3D-intensive games on it.

The design of the X340 is what makes it stand out from the crowd (unless that crowd is full of Mac users). It's a thin laptop that weighs only 1.3kg, yet it has a 13.3in screen and a keyboard with full-sized (18mm) keys. This is no netbook, that's for sure, but it's not far removed and actually has a similar level of connectivity options.

Because the X340 is so thin, it doesn't have an optical drive, as this would increase its asking price (the Toshiba Portege R600 is the thinnest laptop we've seen with an optical drive in it). The array of ports you get around the X340's edges include two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, a Realtek RTL816168C(P)/8111C(P) Gigabit Ethernet port, a D-Sub port, and headphone and microphone ports. You also get an SD memory card slot and 802.11n wireless networking (Intel WiFi Link 5100 AGN). You don't get an Express Card slot, nor do you get a facility for a cable lock; if business users were interested in this laptop up to now, those two omissions might be deal-breakers.

The MSI X340 is easy to carry and won't take up too much room in your laptop bag or backpack. It's 33cm wide, 22.5cm deep and only 2.4cm thick (when the laptop is closed — the base itself is only 1.5cm thick), but it looks even thinner than that because the laptop's edges are tapered. It looks a lot like the MacBook Air in this respect, but the Air is more powerful and expensive (almost double the price); the Air is also better built. The MSI X340 is made out of plastic (the Air is aluminium) and has a white lid with an MSI logo that illuminates when the laptop is on. The screen is glossy and has a black bezel. The notebook is lighter than the MacBook Air; 1.3kg versus 1.36kg! It looks good overall, and feels strong enough when you pick it up by the edges and when you open and close the lid.

After it has been running for a few hours, the left palm-rest will get a little warm, as will the left side of the base, but it's not enough to be too uncomfortable. The MSI X340 has a fan which pushes air out of the front vents, instead of the rear (there are no vents on the rear) and this also contributes to the heat you'll feel while using the laptop on your lap. It's an audible fan, and the X340 uses a conventional spinning hard drive rather than a solid-state drive, so while it's rather quiet it's not a silent laptop.

What we hate about the X340's design is its keyboard. It has full-sized keys that are hard to miss when touch-typing, but the keyboard bounces too much when you type, making typing uncomfortable. We wish the keyboard had better mounting points towards the middle in order to keep the board from bouncing around, but this is easier said than done because it is designed to be the panel through which you access the RAM slot and hard drive. Indeed, there are no access panels on the base of the X340, so the keyboard has to be removed if you want to tinker with the internal components.

The battery life on the X340 turned out to be just over two hours in our video rundown test, where we loop standard-definition videos in Windows Media Player with the screen at full brightness and the wireless radio enabled. This is a fair result for a laptop with a 32 Watt hour–rated battery.

Its 13.3in screen has a native resolution of 1366x768 and looks great — as long as you have it tilted at the perfect angle. Like most laptop screens, its vertical viewing angles are poor. The glossy coating will reflect room lights if viewed from an angle, but it didn't fair too badly in our office.

At only $1499, the MSI X340 is one of the best ultraportable notebooks on the market and should be a desirable option for anyone who wants something very light and affordable, yet bigger and easier to use than a netbook. It doesn't have as much power as a non-ultra-thin notebook in the same price range (such as the ASUS F6V), but with the X340 it's all about the light weight, ease of use, and having enough power to undertake tasks that aren't too intensive.

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