MacBook Air competitor packs thrifty Intel chip

A notebook from MSI portends the crush of lower-cost, Intel-based MacBook-Air-like laptop designs to come.

A notebook from MSI portends the crush of lower-cost, Intel-based MacBook-Air-like laptop designs to come.

The MSI X-Slim series
The MSI X-Slim series herald Apple MacBook Air-like laptops without the luxury laptop tax MSI

As I've written before, consumer ultra-low-voltage (CULV) chips will arrive in earnest this summer. The X-Slim X340 from MSI (Micro-Star International) is using the ULV SU3500, a precursor to lower-cost CULV Intel chips to come.

(Note: On April 19, Intel cut prices (PDF) on a wide range of processors. Though the SU3500 didn't see any cuts, the prices on its low-power cousins, the SL9400 and SU9400, were reduced 10 percent and 9 percent, respectively.)

What is CULV exactly? Well, one thing it's not is the Netbook-centric Atom processor: the 1.4GHz SU3500 is based on Intel's higher-performance mainstream Core 2 architecture. But like the Atom, it's a single-core chip. Single core means low power. In this case, the SU3500 draws only 5.5 watts, more than the Atom but a fraction of the dual-core mainstream Intel mobile chips rated at 25 and 35 watts. It also comes in a small 22mm chip package.

And what does all this mean? Better performance than Atom-based Netbooks. And in a well-designed system, longer battery life than a mainstream laptop.

Oh, and lower prices than luxury laptops like the Apple MacBook Air and Dell Adamo, which start at around $1,800. The MSI X-slim 340 with the SU3500 was launched this week in Japan and the higher-end version starts at around $1,000. U.S.-based reports say it is priced at $1,100.

The ultra-thin HP Pavilion dv2 laptop powered by AMD's Athlon "Neo" chip is also in this price range. AMD CEO Dirk Meyer said Tuesday that the single-core Neo processor will get a dual-core sibling dubbed "Congo" by summer.

Let the low-cost laptop competition begin.

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