It's not quite a netbook and yet not quite a laptop, if you're a stickler for definitions—but it's exactly the sort of thing I'd like to have. MSI's X320 laptop was one of the stars of CES for yours truly, thanks to its sleek design, ample screen real-estate, and netbook-class guts.
MSI was showing the X320 under glass in its booth at the show, but we were able to get a peek underneath. The X320's most prominent feature is probably its 13.4" display, which features a 16:9 aspect ratio and a 1366x768 resolution—happily, that's substantially more screen real estate than what traditional netbooks like MSI's Wind deliver. And yet this machine weighs in at only 1.3 kg (2.87 lbs.) with a four-cell battery. The eight-cell battery will undoubtedly weigh more, but then MSI claims it will allow the X320 to run as long as 10 hours on a single charge.
The X320's long run time is due in part to its Atom processor, along with the unconventional choice of the Menlow platform, which has a lower-power chipset that few netbooks have used. The default CPU will be an Atom Z530 (1.6GHz), and MSI plans to offer the Z560 1.86GHz version of the Atom as an option. The default config will also include a 2.5" SATA hard drive, and MSI says it's aiming to make these systems available in the second quarter of this year for "under $1000." The plan is to ship these with Windows Vista, believe it or not.
Our brief encounter with the prototype on display told us several things. The blessedly full-sized keyboard was solid and felt quite good, and unfortunately, the large touchpad was not multi-touch capable. Oddly, though, the prototype reported 2GB of RAM installed, apparently erasing the 1GB max RAM limitation that has hamstrung Dell's 12.1" Menlow-based Inspiron 710m netbook. We've understood this limitation to be imposed by the Poulsbo chipset, so we'll have to confirm the X320's max memory capacity on a final, production model to be sure.
If MSI has somehow made room for 2GB of memory, the X320 looks to offer just the right combination of size, weight, and battery life for those who find current netbooks a little too cramped, and it should cost less than half as much as a typical ultraportable Centrino-based system with this sort of battery life.