MSI’s X-Slim X340 ultraportable notebook

Manufacturer MSI
Model X-Slim X340
Price $799
Availability Now

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 1366×768 resolution—roomy, 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 (1366×768) resolution and
LED backlight

Storage Fujitsu MJA2320BH 320GB 2.5″ 5400 RPM
SATA 3Gbps hard drive
Audio Stereo HD Audio via Realtek ALC888S codec
Ports

2 USB 2.0
1 VGA

1 HDMI
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Ethernet via Realtek RTL6168C

1 analog headphone output
1 analog microphone input

Expansion slots

1 SD/SDHC/MMC
Communications

802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Intel Wi-Fi Link 5100
AGN
Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR

Input devices Keyboard
Trackpad
Internal
microphone

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.

Into the thinness

I’ve not taken these pictures from the convenient angles used in MacBook Air promotional photos, so the X340 may not seem to be all that thin at first glance. You may have to hold one in your hands to truly grasp its sleekness. But compare the X340 to the Eee PC 1000H that sits atop it in the picture above, and you begin to get a sense of things. The X340 occupies very little space on the Y axis.

Compared to a 10″ netbook, the X-Slim is substantially wider and a little bit deeper, too. The black finish on top is just as glossy, though, which allows me to embed semi-hidden images of myself into my reviews. Thanks for that, computer fashion people!

All of the indicator lights on the X340 are driven by pure white LEDs, which makes for a distinctive and quite suave look overall. Although they may appear to have a blue tone and be a bit flat in the pictures, these LEDs glow brilliant white in person. Kinda nifty.

Further proof MSI was looking over Jonathan Ive’s shoulder during the exam: an MSI logo on the lid of the system illuminated by the display backlight. Regardless of its origins, though, one can’t help but appreciate the look.

Here’s a closer view of the SD media reader on the side of the unit. Those wrap-around vents pull double duty as exhaust ducts for warm air and as the speaker openings.

User interface elements

The wide-aspect LCD on the X340 joins the trend of computer displays migrating to a TV-style 16:9 aspect ratio. This display has a 1366×768 resolution, which feels positively roomy next to a netbook and is quite nice for playing movies and the like. However, coming from a 13.3″ 1280×800 laptop I use daily, the X340 feels cramped on the vertical axis. I’ve accepted the move from 4:3 to 16:10 as better generally for how laptops and keyboards are shaped, but this next little leap to 16:9 feels unpleasant. For any sort of web surfing, reading, or writing, I’d take the additional vertical pixels at 1280×800 any day.

Happily, though, the X340’s display is otherwise quite good. The transreflective coating isn’t among the best I’ve seen, but it doesn’t reflect background light as sharply as some. And it allows a tremendous amount of light through from the LED backlight, which rivals any I’ve ever seen for peak brightness. This thing has some candlepower. The LED backlight does give the display a bit of a cool color temperature, but for LCDs of this type (looks to be a TN panel), the color contrast is quite good, with a broader range of optimal viewing angles than we saw on the Samsung NC20.

My own personal litmus test for an LCD is to check the blue and beige tones in the TR design, because we seem to have chosen colors that are particularly problematic for cheap panels. The X340’s display passes that test reasonably well, without turning the khaki tones pink or making the deep blues look ridiculously electric. A true 8-bit display still looks noticeably superior in a side-by-side comparison, but the X340’s LCD doesn’t offend.

I wish I could say the same for the keyboard, but it’s a major disappointment. Even a light key-press produces a visible flex in the surrounding keys, and the whole thing tends to bounce rather disconcertingly as you peck away. Typing accurately at speed is a chore that can only be accomplished with a relatively light touch, if at all. One would think MSI had killed SpongeBob and stuffed him under this keyboard. I’m notoriously picky on this front, but you don’t have to take just my word for it. I checked around, and several other online reviews of the X340 all unanimously decry the keyboard. One reviewer even called it the single worst keyboard he’d ever used, which constitutes scientific proof that he never owned an Atari ST.

The shame of it is that it didn’t have to be so. The X320 prototype we manhandled at CES had a more traditional laptop keyboard mechanism in it with a sturdier feel and better positive feedback. Not only that, but the X340’s keyboard is cosmetically quite unexceptional, with few layout quirks and a decidedly full-size feel. Versus our reference “full size” keyboard, the X340’s is 98% of the width, 94% of the height, and 92% of the full area. The alpha keys, though, are 98% of the width and height and 97% of the area. Compared to a netbook, they’re enormous.

Yet all things considered, I’d rather type on my Eee PC 1000H.

Part of the problem isn’t the keyboard itself, but the enormously large touchpad that lies just below it. Normally, we’d take all the touchpad area we could get, but this one is an exception. MSI chose a bit of an unknown, a company called Sentelic, to supply the X340’s touchpad. The result is a decent enough finger-sensing pad that lacks the driver maturity and functionality you’d find elsewhere. Exhibit one is the input filtering while you’re typing. My first act on the X340 was to input my user name during Vista setup, “Scott”. Simple enough, right? But I got halfway in, “Sco”, and must have brushed the touchpad inadvertently. Instantly, I was transported two steps down the setup wizard path, with no ability to step back. “Sco” would be my username. Quite the introduction—and such episodes are all too routine while typing on the X340.

What’s more, the touchpad has no apparent multi-touch capability and no dedicated scrolling area, like zillions of other laptops with Synaptics touchpads have. In fact, out of the box, the touchpad has no scrolling function whatsoever, amazingly enough. When I asked MSI about it, they pointed me to some Sentelic drivers that offer a dedicated tap-to-scroll area in the top and bottom right corners of the pad. As in: tap once in the top corner, and it’s as if you’ve pressed the up-arrow key. Tap in the bottom corner for a down arrow. Hold down, and it repeats like a key would. That’s all you get—no swipes, no smooth motion of any kind. The eye doesn’t track well while scrolling via this method, and even the taps don’t always register reliably with the pad, in my experience. Sometimes, tapping in the bottom corner of the pad produces an upward movement, or vice-versa. Using it is slow and cumbersome for anyone who’s used to a dedicated scroll area, and it feels positively like the Stone Age compared to a multitouch device.

The Sentelic driver does have an option to filter out stray inputs while typing, at least; it helps, but isn’t as effective as one might expect based on experiences with other touchpads.

I’m also no fan of the touchpad surface, which is a little too grippy for fast motion. Furthermore, because the surrounding area has the exact same texture, there’s little tactile indication, other than the touchpad’s slight indentation, that you have your finger in the right spot.

MSI does include a mouse with the X340, but it’s a USB job with a retractable cord, which seems like an odd inclusion with a stylish laptop that has Bluetooth support.

On a less depressing note, the X340’s 1.3-megapixel webcam is pretty good for what it is, and the system’s speakers have enough volume to allow you to share that choice YouTube clip in a busy room or coffee shop without your companions having to strain to hear it. The sound quality isn’t stellar, with no more bass than you’d expect from such a small chassis, but it’s passable. Audio quality via the headphone jack is decent and free of audible interference at normal volume levels.

Power management software

Since the X340 comes with Vista Home Premium installed, it has the benefit of Vista’s mobility features, including pretty darned granular control over power management options. MSI’s own System Control Manger software, invoked by a hotkey combo, hooks into Vista and injects a series of custom profiles designed for specific tasks: gaming, movies, office, presentation, and a “turbo battery” mode. Oddly, the MSI software offers no apparent way to modify these profiles to your liking. That limitation becomes problematic when you prefer your profile to, say, hibernate the system when the power button is pressed, or refrain from going into sleep mode when the lid is momentarily snapped shut. As a result, I suspect many folks will find themselves using and modifying Vista’s power profiles directly rather than using MSI’s software.

Incidentally, both Vista’s “power saving” profile and MSI’s “turbo battery” profile cap the X340’s CPU frequency at 700MHz. Doing so doesn’t noticeably hurt performance in simple tasks like web browsing, and it should extend battery life somewhat.

Under the hood

Flip the X340 over, and you’ll see immediately that its battery is, blessedly, user-replaceable.

The default four-cell, 2150 mAh battery is incredibly slim, and MSI rates the X340’s run time at about three hours with it installed. MSI plans to offer an eight-cell battery starting in August or thereabouts for $100. With that installed, MSI expects the X340’s run time to extend to about five and a half hours.

There’s little else to see on the underside of the unit, mainly because the X340 offers no trap-door for expansion, a compromise likely dictated by its ultra-thin design. Instead, the entire underside of the unit appears to be comprised of a single piece of plastic, held in place by at least nine different screws. One of those screws is covered by a “Warranty void if tampered” sticker. I tried removing all of the screws and opening the unit, but the shell wouldn’t budge with the amount of force I was willing to use. The X340’s manual offers no instructions for opening the unit or upgrading the memory or hard drive, either. The only good news on this front, such as it is, is that the X340’s standard complement of 2GB of RAM and a 320GB, 5,400-RPM hard drive will probably suffice for most folks for some time to come.

Despite its trim profile, the X340 won’t burn your lap with extended use. In fact, it’s really quite tame on the thermal front, with no major hotspots on the surface of the unit. We measured the temperatures above after a fairly typical web surfing session over Wi-Fi, and the X340 barely felt warm to the touch at that time.

The X340 is typically fairly quiet, too, but its internal blowers will kick up to very audible levels when the system becomes too warm. If you have it in the same room with you but aren’t using it, you will be aware of whether any applications left running are chewing up CPU time. Anything that warms up the system will cause the cooler to emit some noise. The coolers on our review sample typically gave off a quiet hiss, but from time to time, one of them produced a rough, lower-pitched growling sound, denoting internal friction of some sort. I worry about its long-term reliability.

Our testing methods

We’ve compared this system against several competitors: the Eee PC 1000H (the quintessential netbook), the Samsung NC20, and another netbook-notebook tweener, HP’s Pavilion dv2.

With the exception of battery life tests, all tests were run three times, and their results were averaged.

System

MSI X-Slim X340


HP Pavilion dv2


Asus Eee PC 1000H


Samsung NC20
Processor Intel Core 2 Solo U3500
1.4GHz
AMD Athlon Neo MV-40
1.6GHz
Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz Via Nano ULV 2250 1.3GHz+
System bus 800 MT/s

(400MHz)

HyperTransport

800MHz

533 MT/s

(133MHz)

800 MT/s

(200MHz)

North bridge Intel GS45 AMD RS690E Intel 945GSE Via VX800
South bridge Intel ICH9M AMD SB600 Intel ICH7M Via ID8353
Memory size 2GB (1 DIMM) 2GB (1 DIMM) 1GB (1 DIMM) 1GB (1 DIMM)
Memory type DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz
CAS latency
(CL)
5 5 4

RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)
5 5 4
RAS precharge
(tRP)
5 5 4
Cycle time
(tRAS)
18 15 12
Audio codec Realtek ALC888S codec
with 6.0.1.5804 drivers
IDC codec with 6.10.6138.62 drivers Realtek
ALC6628
with 5.10.0.5683 drivers
Realtek codec
with

5.10.0.5740 drivers

Graphics Intel GMA 4500MHD with 7.15.10.1599 drivers ATI Mobility Radeon HD
3410 with 8.563.3.1000 drivers
Intel GMA950 with
6.14.10.4926 drivers
Via Chrome9 IGP with
6.14.10.182 drivers

Hard drive
Fujitsu MJA2320BH 320GB
5,400 RPM
Western Digital Scorpio
Blue 320GB 5,400 RPM
Seagate Momentus 5400.4 160GB
5,400 RPM
Samsung Spinpoint M
HM160HI 5,400RPM

Operating system


Microsoft Vista Home Premium
x86 with Service Pack 1


Microsoft Vista Home Premium
x64 with Service Pack 1
Microsoft Windows XP Home
with Service Pack 3
Microsoft Windows XP Pro with Service Pack 3

We used the following versions of our test applications:

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Performance

We’ve cooked up this quick suite of lightweight applications in the hopes of testing some relatively typical uses for laptops like these. The first two tests are FutureMark’s Peacekeeper, a web browser benchmark that uses JavaScript, and GUIMark, which measures Flash performance.

We tested the X340 using two power profiles: Vista’s “Balanced” profile that uses SpeedStep but shouldn’t compromise performance, and MSI’s “Turbo battery” profile that caps the CPU speed at 700MHz. The “Balanced” profile was used when the system was plugged into a wall outlet, which is why it’s labeled “Wall” in our results. The “Battery” results denote both battery power and the “Turbo Battery” profile.

Peacekeeper is an online benchmark, of course, and it has changed since we tested the other laptops we’re using for comparison. I was able to re-test the Eee PC 1000H, but the others have since left us. As you can see, the X340 scores over twice what the Atom-based Eee PC does on on wall power. With both systems in their battery-saving modes, the performance delta narrows a bit but remains considerable.

The X340’s Core 2 Solo processor firmly outruns the competition in this test of Adobe Flash performance. Even the Athlon Neo is no match for it.

Don’t be too concerned by the X340’s relatively poor performance on battery power, either. These results simply indicate that its power-saving capabilities have some real dynamic range, which should mean that they’re effective. I should note that the Samsung NC20 does have a power-saving mode that caps CPU speed, as well, but alas, I didn’t test with it. Instead, I just used the default profile on battery power. Looking back, that was an oversight on my part. Ah, well.

Next up is 7-Zip’s built-in file compression and decompression benchmark. Decompressing a large file is one of those places where a slower CPU can leave you waiting for a few seconds, so we thought it would be a fitting application to test.

The X340 asserts its performance dominance over the other laptops in the 7-Zip compression test, but it falls to the middle of the pack with decompression. Amazingly, the Atom-based Eee PC scores higher there, also giving the Athlon Neo a run for its money, probably because Hyper-Threading proves very effective at increasing the Atom’s instruction throughput in this task.

Video playback

Our next set of tests focuses on the X340’s ability to play back video in various formats. I did quite a bit of testing, so I’ve compiled the results in a table below that should be fairly easy to read. The CPU utilization numbers come from Task Manger and are approximate; I simply watched and recorded utilization percentages as the videos played.

The more notable columns are the ones that show how well the X340 played each video format. I’ve broken the results into several tiers and color-coded them for easy digestion. Green means playback was acceptable, yellow is borderline, and red signifies notable problems. Note that “perfect” playback means complete fluidity, with zero apparent hitches. “Smooth” playback is still quite acceptable, with only the occasional dropped frame. As above, we used the “Balanced” power profile on wall power and the “turbo battery” profile when on battery power.

CPU utilization

on wall power

Result

on wall power

CPU utilization

on battery power

Result

on battey power

QuickTime 480p 50-72% Perfect 50-72% Perfect
QuickTime 720p 55-98% Smooth ~100% Some dropped frames

No loss of audio sync

QuickTime 720p
w/acceleration
24-33% Perfect 16-30% Perfect
DivX PAL SD 39-56% Perfect 39-56% Perfect
H.264 1080p 67-100% Smooth ~100% Dropped frames in fast
action
H.264 1080

w/acceleration

24-44% Perfect 19-31% Perfect
Hulu 360p windowed 47-62% Perfect 56-72% Perfect
Hulu 360p full-screen ~96% Regular dropped frames 100% Major dropped frames,
pauses
Hulu 480p windowed 64-76% Smooth 93-97% Some dropped frames
Hulu
480p full-screen
~96% Regular dropped frames ~97% Regular dropped frames
YouTube HD windowed 82-93% Regular dropped frames ~100% Long pauses

Let’s talk first about the QuickTime results. As usual, we tested QuickTime playback using the Star Trek trailer in both 480p and 720p formats with Apple’s QuickTime player for Windows. This program doesn’t appear to take advantage of any sort of GPU or chipset-based hardware acceleration for video playback, so it’s a good test of CPU power. The X340 handled both formats competently on wall power, but in “Turbo battery” mode, we saw dropped frames with the 720p video. To see whether the GMA 4500MHD’s video acceleration would help, I then loaded up the same 720p QuickTime video in PowerDVD. Happily, CPU utilization dropped precipitously, and playback was pristine even with the “Turbo battery” profile.

Our standard-definition DivX video, of the sort one might grab via BitTorrent, was easy work by comparison. Using Windows Media Player, CPU utilization ranged from 39 to 56%.

A video in 1080p format encoded via H.264 should be more of a challenge, though. For this task, we chose a trailer for The Bourne Ultimatum and again used the PowerDVD player. PowerDVD allows one to disable hardware video decode acceleration, and we tried doing so. Without any extra help, the X340’s Core 2 Solo spiked at 100% CPU utilization but managed to play the clip smoothly. “Turbo battery” mode was iffy, with constant 100% CPU use and dropped frames during fast on-screen action. This clip’s bitrate ranged from about 8-15 Mbps, so it wasn’t the most intensive possible, but the X340’s performance was still quite promising. Even better, turning on hardware acceleration enabled flawless playback with either power profile. (Incidentally, the higher CPU utilization numbers with the “Turbo battery” profile are in earnest, though I’m unsure why.)

Flash-based video formats were another story, as they often are. We tested Hulu video with a recent episode of Fringe. As you can see, at either 360p or 480p, Hulu videos were a no-go in full-screen mode. You’ll have to stick to windowed mode on the X340—and to 360p when using a power-saving battery profile. The Core 2 Solo wasn’t up to the challenge of decoding YouTube HD video, either.

As you’ve probably gathered, the X340 is capable of playing even some of the most intensive video formats around. That’s a clear advantage of the X340’s Intel “consumer ultra low-voltage” processor and chipset over netbooks and other lesser solutions. But its success depends on having the right software, software that takes advantage of the GMA 4500MHD’s hardware video acceleration. The X340 doesn’t ship with PowerDVD 9, but we installed it here to give you a sense of the possibilities. Without such assistance, the X340’s Core 2 Solo will deliver smooth playback with some video formats, such as QuickTime 720p and perhaps even H.264 1080p, that will overwhelm an Atom or Nano processor. Yet it can’t handle all of the video formats you may be used to viewing on a multi-core desktop PC.

Gaming

We’ve tested the gaming performance of a number of recent laptops using Quake Live, but unfortunately, that didn’t work out on the X340. At the lowest quality video settings we could use, frame rates in Quake Live averaged around 8 FPS, too slow for play-testing. That’s quite a bit slower than we’d expect, even out of Intel integrated graphics, and I believe the problem was somehow related to a sound driver issue. Sound stuttered severely in the game, and an audio-related process in Vista would consume 25-33% of CPU time even after we exited the game. We tried three different sound driver revisions, though, with no improvement.

Fortunately, some other games ran just fine. The excellent World of Goo ran fluidly at the X340’s full screen resolution, and frame rates in Guild Wars at 1366×768 averaged in the high 30s and low 40s, which is quite playable. I decided to push even more and try Call of Duty 4, but that was too much for the GMA 4500MHD. The game did run without crashing, but even at its very lowest quality settings, frame rates remained firmly planted in the single digits. That’s more or less as one might expect from this class of GPU hardware. Although it claims to be DirectX 10 capable and might meet the feature set qualifications, the GMA 4500MHD doesn’t have the graphical horsepower required by recent console and PC titles with robust per-pixel lighting and shader effects.

Battery life

Each system’s battery was discharged completely and recharged before each of our battery life tests. We used a ~30% screen brightness setting on the Eee PC, which is easily readable under normal indoor lighting. That brightness level is roughly equivalent to the 40% brightness settings we used on the NC20 and dv2. The X340 was tested using the “Turbo battery” profile, though with custom brightness. Oddly enough, the X340’s 50% brightness level is closest to the Eee PC’s 30% setting, so that’s what we used, but then the X340’s brightness increments don’t appear to be evenly spaced percentages. From 50% to 100%, the brightness easily more than doubles.

For our web surfing test, we opened a Firefox window with two tabs: one for TR and another for Shacknews. These tabs were set to reload automatically every 30 seconds over Wi-Fi, and we left Bluetooth enabled as well. Our second battery life test involves movie playback. Here, we looped a standard-definition video of the sort one might download off BitTorrent, using Windows Media Player for playback. We disabled Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for this test.

The X340’s matches MSI’s three-hour battery estimate exactly in our web surfing test, putting it right in league with the Pavilion dv2 with its six-cell battery. The X340’s run time was a little shorter in our movie playback test, but it surpassed the dv2 pretty handily. Not bad at all for a relatively fast system using a small four-cell battery.

Conclusions

We’ve taken a pretty close look at the X340’s performance in some key respects, but I should probably pause to mention the overall user experience in Windows Vista. Although Vista can feel sluggish on some hardware, the X340 seems well suited for this OS. The GMA 4500MHD has no apparent trouble with the Aero desktop theme, and the system generally feels relatively snappy during web surfing, program launching, and software installations. Given Vista’s additional provisions for mobile computing and power management, I think it was easily the best choice for the X340. My only complaint is the fact that MSI picked the 32-bit version over the 64-bit one, although with this system’s limited expandability, that may never be an issue.

With that said, our picture of the X340 is nearly complete. In many ways, the X340 lives up to its promise to bridge the gap between underpowered netbooks and pricey ultraportables. This system strikes a compelling balance of portability and capability at its $799 price point. And it does so in style, even if that style isn’t entirely of MSI’s own creation. One can’t help but look at the X340 and see a bright future for a host of laptops based on this same hardware platform.

MSI got nearly everything right. That’s why its fateful choice of a clearly sub-standard keyboard and touchpad for this unit stings so much. I’m not sure how one could get around the fact that the keyboard flexes like a gymnast and the touchpad has no swipe-to-scroll gesture. Perhaps those facts somehow wouldn’t bother you, and if not, the X340 is an otherwise excellent system with a decidedly above-average display. Most folks, though, will probably expect to be able to do real work on a laptop like this one, and the X340’s imprecise input devices will needlessly frustrate that ambition.

Comments closed
    • Veerappan
    • 10 years ago

    Battery life chart for movie playback has the Eee PC and NC20 labels or bar colors switched from the web surfing chart right before this. I’m assuming this wasn’t intentional, and that the labels are correct.

    • Tarx
    • 10 years ago

    Just heard about the Gateway LT3103u – hope to see a review!
    The spec sheet looks good for a $400USD “netbook+”.
    i.e. 3lbs, 11.6″ 1366 x 768 LED backlight, AMD64 1.2GHz (single core), 2GB RAM, ATI X1270 graphics (dx9b), ~5 hr battery, 250GB HD.
    Unfortunately (for some), as MS doesn’t offer XP Home to this category, it comes with Vista Basic.
    §[< http://www.gateway.com/systems/product/529668268.php<]§

      • Creamsteak
      • 10 years ago

      Late to the game, but I’d like to see a review of that product as well. Preferably in the next two weeks since I have to buy before the 25th.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 10 years ago

    l[

    • Prototyped
    • 10 years ago

    FYI, MSI uses the same Sentelic (note, not Sentilec) branded touchpads on newer Wind U100 netbooks as well. (Maybe the U115 and U120 as well, though I can’t say for sure.) That’s one of the gripes Wind users have — no multitouch.

    (I have an Advent 4211c that, like older Wind U100s, uses a Synaptics v6.5 touchpad. This also lacks multitouch unlike “v6.2” touchpads as found on some other netbooks, but apparently it’s better at tracking a finger.)

    • eitje
    • 10 years ago

    someday in the future, everyone should just be allowed to built their own laptop completely from scratch. it will cost $3K in parts, but then everyone will get exactly what they want, unequivocally.

      • vikramsbox
      • 10 years ago

      Custom built notebooks will not cost $3k as you put it. When open platforms are introduced, both the mobo/cooling system and keyboard shapes and sizes will be standardized for each form factor, and the costs will come down. Right now- these 2 items make substitutions in notebooks very difficult.

    • grantmeaname
    • 10 years ago

    This system strikes a compelling _[

    • Anonymous Coward
    • 10 years ago

    I’d either get the real deal from Apple ($1500), or I’d get a conventional 15″ laptop with proper performance. A bunch of obsolete parts packed into a small form factor does not make a compelling product. In my opinion.

    • kj_tr
    • 10 years ago

    Great review. I am very curious about upgrading my asus 1000h.

    Two questions

    1. What is (performance) difference between the U2x00 and the SU3X00? From the intel website I can see that they are all rated at 5.5W and the price difference is negligible and (45nm vs. 65nm) . Researching on the web says that intel is selling the lower end chips (U2X00) for A HUGE discount $65/chip.

    2. I have an ASUS 1000h and love it. Except for flash and sometimes sluggish response overall, I love it. When are more CULV chips coming (particulary the $65 CULV U2X00 Chips)? Prefer a 11″ with discrete or AMD/NVIDIA chipsets.

    • FireGryphon
    • 10 years ago

    Great review, Sco!

    This is getting there. A 16:10 panel and more attention to the input devices make this a winner. My only concern is that with such little power, things like HDMI — while awesome to have — might be wasted.

    • Palek
    • 10 years ago

    I don’t doubt Scott’s technical prowess, but I cannot get over the results of the 1080p H.264 playback test.

    When I play a 1080p H.264 trailer in Quicktime on an Athlon X2 2.5 GHz I get some stuttering with both cores basically pegged at 100% utilization. Yet somehow in this test the b[

    • Corrado
    • 10 years ago

    The lack of swipe to scroll doesn’t bother me. Is the keyboard WORSE than a Wind U100? Thats what I use every day now, and wouldn’t mind upgrading to this machine. The U100’s keyboard is fine for me though.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 10 years ago

    Great review, -[

    • Convert
    • 10 years ago

    I just don’t understand the appeal of these things.

    Are small laptops really that heavy and large?

    A 13inch laptop is plenty small for travel.

    So really the complaint could be weight. I fail to see how utterly butchering the hardware is worth losing ~1.5-2 pounds.

    I mean seriously, every review I see of these netbooks or ultraportables there are glaring issues but surely the perfect one is around the corner. Why bother, just buy a small laptop that can handle the tasks you want to perform and call it a day.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love a paper thin portable device that could game and play HD video and have awesome battery life but call me crazy if you must because I buy based on function in the real world.

    • georgeou
    • 10 years ago

    “I should note that the Samsung NC20 does have a power-saving mode that caps CPU speed, as well, but alas, I didn’t test with it. Instead, I just used the default profile on battery power. Looking back, that was an oversight on my part. Ah, well.”

    And I complained about this to you when you wrote the NC20 review, and you wouldn’t acknowledge it as a problem back then. It’s good that you acknowledge this now, but more people will unfortunately just look at the charts and not the actual fine print. So you should really put an asterisk in the charts next to the NC20 “battery” performance that it wasn’t put into low power mode.

    • funko
    • 10 years ago

    Acer Timeline reviews seem like their new ultraslim is far superior to the msi x340, especially since they offer core 2 duo’s as an upgrade, and have substantially longer battery life when comparing the core 2 solo models. not to mention a decent keyboard and trackpad. and subjectively, i think they look better.

    • barich
    • 10 years ago

    Adobe really needs add DXVA to Flash. It’s totally unacceptable that a system that can easily play 1080p video can’t play 480p video in Flash.

    • swiecki
    • 10 years ago

    I thought this was the system guide for june and I got all excited, and then I realized it was a review.

    Its like trading gold for silverish gold, please release the system guide soon!

    • WillBach
    • 10 years ago

    Interesting product. Any word on the battery life?

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      …page 7?

    • UberGerbil
    • 10 years ago

    I expect we’ll see more of this sort of form factor. I’ve heard it called TLC — thin, light, cheap.

    And this one was looking pretty good until we got to the screen and keyboard. 16:9 is a no (at least when the 9 is just 768) and bad keyboard is a hell, no. And that’s even before we get to the touchpad. I guess that’s where the “cheap” comes in. It’s too bad. But on such failures are the eventual successes built.

      • malicious
      • 10 years ago

      *[

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 10 years ago

      I was the same way… I saw the picture on the first page (2nd pix) and saw that the keyboard was not even straight! I thought, “Oh, bad shipment…” Then find out it is a corner-cutting keyboard. Then the mouse pad… Then the screen size… I’m like WTF!

      First, how in the hell did they f**k up the keyboard and mouse pad!?! How? Do they even test it? Even look at it? Shit! If I saw this, I would have fired the head honcho who finalized this!

      But all that aside, the price/performance is awesome! Getting there…

      Anyway, Sco-[

      • muyuubyou
      • 10 years ago

      Which is why the Macbook Air gets away with being so expensive. It’s not just the details (lit keyboard, quality screen, multitouch etc) it’s just basics like resolution, keyboard and a decent touchpad.

        • DrDillyBar
        • 10 years ago

        1/3.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 10 years ago

    Definately more appealing then an Atom based system. Video playback is a requirement for my usage patterns.

    • Ryhadar
    • 10 years ago

    Great review as always guys. It has certainly peaked my interest into the ultra portable segment.

    Question: Were you making sure AMD’s cool ‘n quiet technology was working on the dv2? I only ask because I recently built an AMD system for my brother using a 5050e and noticed CnQ wasn’t working. After doing some reading I read that in XP you have to set the power saving options to at least “Minimum Savings” for the down-volting/clocking to occur. Then I read this on notebookreview.com:

    l[

      • Dissonance
      • 10 years ago

      Cool’n’Quiet was working properly on the dv2.

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