This summer, fortune seems to be shining on those of us who are aficionados of ultraportable laptops. A number of affordable new systems are hitting the market, a rung or two above traditional netbooks, that offer some potent mixes of computing power, price, and portability. Those choices are being made possible by new hardware, in some cases. Already, we've taken a look at the Via Nano-powered Samsung NC20 and the Athlon Neo-equipped HP Pavilion dv2. Both are bigger and better than a netbook, and we've liked them both for different reasons.
Now comes another novel entry from MSI, the X-Slim X340, that features a sleek but familiar design and, yes, another new type of mobile CPU. Inside of the X340's svelte enclosure beats an Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500, a 1.4GHz single-core processor that serves as a distinctive step up from the Atom CPU inside of darn near every netbook on the market. Yet the X340's underlying hardware remains cheap enough that you can pick up this painfully stylish MacBook Air clone for a penny under 800 bucks, well shy of the cost of the real McCoy.
MSI has concocted an awfully potent formula, then. Does it deserve to detonate your credit card balance? Let's have a look.
The X-Slim shady
Yeah, I wasn't kidding about that MacBook Air thing. MSI has taken more than a few cues from the thinnest MacBook, pretty closely replicating its basic dimensions and looks, yet draping this rendition in a deep shade of Cash-meets-Vader black. The X340's transreflective LCD measures 13.4" from corner to corner and features a 16:9 aspect ratio with a 1366x768 resolutionroomy, by most standards. Yet the chassis is 0.78" at its thickest point, and the whole package weighs only 2.86 lbs. That adds up to considerable portability, of course.
For those who prefer to an even stronger nod to Cupertino, MSI makes another version of the X340 with a predominantly silver finish. The firm also plans to sell an Atom-powered system in this same chassis, dubbed the X320, for "under $700," although we don't yet have any more specifics on pricing or availability for that product.
The X340 isn't a Mac and isn't quite the premium laptop experience that is the MacBook Air, but it definitely isn't a netbook, either. In fact, the X340 has a number of virtues its unwitting inspiration lacks. For a sense of those, let's go to the spec sheet.
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 1.4GHz processor with 800MHz FSB|
|Memory||2GB DDR2-800 (1 DIMM)|
|Chipset||Intel GS45 MCH/ICH9M|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Display||13.4" TFT with WXGA (1366x768) resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||Fujitsu MJA2320BH 320GB 2.5" 5400 RPM SATA 3Gbps hard drive|
|Audio||Stereo HD Audio via Realtek ALC888S codec|
2 USB 2.0
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Ethernet via Realtek RTL6168C
1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input
|Expansion slots||1 SD/SDHC/MMC|
802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100
Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
|Camera||1.3 megapixel webcam|
|Dimensions||13" x 8.8" x 0.8" (330 mm x 224 mm x 20 mm)|
|Weight||2.86 lbs (1.3 kg)|
|Battery||4-cell Li-Ion 2150 mAh|
The X340 punctures the RDF with a trio of ports for VGA, HDMI, and Gigabit Ethernet. "Take that, Apple snobs," it would seem to say, although in an incredibly hypocritical way. Nonetheless, the X340 has the right hardware. You have to give up any chance of an internal optical drive to go this slim, but otherwise, all of the major I/O options are represented.
The highlight of the specs list for us netbook refugees is the Core 2 Solo SU3500 processor. This CPU is essentially a "Penryn" chip with one of its two cores and half of its L2 cache disabled. The result is a processor with a maximum thermal rating, or TDP, of just 5.5W. That's quite low for such a capable CPU. The Atom N270 that powers a great many netbooks has a 2.5W TDP. Yet the SU3500 at 1.4GHz should pretty much blow away the 1.6GHz Atom N270 when it comes to performance, and Intel hasn't artificially crippled this Core 2 Solo in any notable way. The SU3500 supports 64-bit extensions, SpeedStep, and Intel's VT virtualization acceleration. These CPUs cost $262 in bulk, according to Intel's price list, and that no doubt contributes substantially to the X340's price premium over a netbook.
The differences don't stop there, though, because the X340 teams the Core 2 Solo with Intel's GS45 mobile chipset. This is a much newer core logic solution than the 945G chipset in the Standard Netbook Platform, and happily, its GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics processor has much more robust video decoding capabilities built in, just as the "HD" in the name would suggest. The GMA 4500MHD claims to support DirectX 10-class graphics and can purportedly assist with the decoding of VC-1 and H.264 video, including Blu-ray discs with bit rates up to 40 Mbps. Video playback performance is a hot topic among lightweight netbooks and notebooks, so this capability is very much welcome.
Beyond that, little is missing from the spec sheet that one would expect to see. Wi-Fi support is of the "b/g/n" varieties, and Bluetooth is included, as well.
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