One of the laptop component developments we've been most eager to see hit the market has been Intel's new ultralow voltage CPUs. Dubbed CULV (for Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage), this new line is differentiated from the classic ULV chips by lower prices, clearly aimed at consumers looking to step up from an Atom Netbook CPU.
The $799 MSI X340 is the first laptop we've reviewed with the single-core SU3500 processor, and it seems like an excellent test case--a superslim 13-inch that reminds us of much more expensive systems such as the Dell Adamo or MacBook Air, albeit with a much more plastic feel.
At the same time, the X340 ends up in the same murky middle ground as systems with AMD's new Neo processor that are aimed at Netbook users who want to trade up to a bit more power for a bit more money, but without buying a standard sub-$1,000 Intel Core 2 Duo mainstream laptop, or Apple's $999 basic 13-inch MacBook. We've never met anyone who admitted being part of this highly specific target demographic.
But while the X340's price may seem excessive viewed through the prism of low-power 11- and 12-inch Netbooks, it seems much more reasonable when compared with traditional ultraportable systems or the aforementioned slim 13-inch models, which can cost $1,500 to $2,000 or more.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$799|
|Processor||1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500|
|Memory||2GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||13 inches wide by 8.8 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.9/3.6 pounds|
|Category||Thin and light|
The MSI X340 scores points for feeling much lighter than it looks like it should. It's also among the slimmer 13-inch systems we've seen, matching up nicely with the MacBook Air and Dell Adamo. The somewhat schizophrenic chassis mars the look a little, with a glossy black lid and screen bezel, but a matte black keyboard tray and wrist rest.
The large flat-key keyboard is similar to what you'd find on an Apple or Sony laptop, and is well laid out, with the exception of a shortened right shift key and a shortened backspace key, which made it far too easy to hit the "Home" key just to its right. Our main complaint was that the keyboard flexed a great deal while typing, making the entire system feel flimsy.
The large, indented touch pad gave us plenty of room to mouse, but we'd prefer separate left and right mouse buttons, rather than the one long rocker-style button included here. The F5 key is also labeled "Eco," and using it with the Fn function key cycles through several screen brightness presets, including a very dim "turbo battery" mode.
The 13.4-inch display has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, standard for a 16:9 display this size. While it lacks the clean-looking edge-to-glass of more expensive 13-inch systems, this display was clear and bright, and not excessively glossy.
|MSI X340||Average for category [thin-and-light]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA, mini-HDMI or Mini-DVI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth,||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
While a superportable system such as this may cry out for an optional mobile broadband connection, at least you get 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus three USB ports for plugging in an external 3G dongle. The lack of an optical drive seems standard for a superslim 13-inch laptop, although both Dell and Apple offer specially designed external optical drives for their similar 13-inch models.
The X340 is especially notable for being one of the first laptops to incorporate Intel's CULV single-core 1.4GHz SU3500 CPU. As a step up from the Atom and a cheaper alternative to Intel's previous dual-core ULV processors, we were both impressed and disappointed in the MSI X340's performance. In our multitasking test, the X340 faired about as well as a cheaper Netbook, owing to the SU3500's single-core nature. However, in single applications, such as Photoshop or iTunes, the system was much faster than Atom-powered Netbooks. In either case, a standard Core 2 Duo mainstream laptop will offer significantly better performance. Anecdotally, it's worth noting that the system ran Windows Vista well, with no slowdown or stuttering during normal use.
The MSI X340 ran for 2 hours and 41 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included four-cell battery (an eight-cell battery will be available as an option). That's less than our general baseline preference of 3 hours, and a little disappointing, considering the low-power claims of the Intel CULV line. That said, our battery test is especially grueling, and you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office work.