Review part I: Excellence in notebooks
When someone mentions MSI, the first thing that comes to mind is probably motherboards and maybe graphics cards, but usually your first thought won't be a notebook. As the times are changing and the big three, MSI, Asus and Gigabyte, want an even bigger piece of the market, they had to go after some alternative markets.
MSI decided to go for notebooks and the Micro Star International did an excellent job in a very short time frame. The new MSI PR200 is a notebook that got MSI the prestigious red dot design prize in 2007. Best of all, the company really deserves it.
This prestigious design award certainly means something, but we have been a bit skeptical about it. We received the test sample with a grain or salt and we wanted to try to see how good this notebook really is.
At first glance this notebook really did impress us. MSI certainly paid a lot of attention to every single detail of the design. The PR 200 is a 12 inch notebook with crystal clear display, 1280x800 resolution and excellent brightness. As it is the case with every notebook, the brighter you go, the less battery life you get. The standard model will be delivered with 8 cell 4500 mAh battery and it will be enough for about four hours or work with wireless turned on.
The tested model was equipped with a 160 GB Western digital hard drive, 1 GB Intel Robson flash memory and 2 GB of "real" 533 MHz memory. It is powered with Merom based T7300, 2 GHz Core 2 duo that worked between 800MHz and 2GHz at an average 0.9V.
The notebook ships with Windows Vista Home Premium and it will have Vista Aero up and running. Aero Glass really looks nice on this notebook and it suits its futuristic design. It looks that Vista has a lot of battery power management and even with Vista's power hungry Aero this notebook could survive about four hours with wireless and about 4.30 to even 5 hours without wireless and contrast tuned down.
We have to mention that this is a Santa Rosa platform and that this notebook has the new 802.11n wireless. The new wireless module worked well in G mode with most of the networks we tried it on. The notebook also has a Realtek 1GB LAN card that works just fine.
Santa Rosa is now known as Centrino Duo, and this platform performs really well.
The Realtek HD audio served its purpose well, and the sound was clean even when paused. We cannot complain about this one either as it works well.
In Vista performance tool the weakest link is Intel's 3100 integrated graphics, since this notebook scores 3.4 in Aero performance and 3.5 in gaming performance. You can forget about playing future games on this notebook as its simply not good for that purpose. It will be great for watching video and flipping windows in Vista.
The CPU scores quite well 4.9, the memory 4.8, while the hard drive scores 4.8 in Vista performance index. The notebook uses a Western digital hard drive and, depending on the region, it can be equipped with drives of up to 240GB capacity.
This notebook is one of the first 12 inch models to have an HDMI port and MSI still budles VGA on the oposite side. We expected some troubles with Intel and its implementation of HDMI port but the thing worked from the first time we plugged it in. Once you plug it into an HDMI capable TV the IGP 3100 graphics recognizes the second display, you tell Intel integrated graphics whether you want to extend your desktop or clone and the thing works. The integrated graphics are a part of the mobile 965 chipset.
The second thing we admired on this notebook are its three USB 2.0 ports, two at the right hand side and one at the left hand side, if you face the notebook display. Right hand side also hides a memory card reader that can read SD cards, MMC and Memory stick cards. We noticed that it is quite slow with MS Stick pro card via MS stick adapter but this can be adapter's fault.
The modem is also on the right hand side and so is the HDMI and DVB-T antenna port. Depending on the region this notebook comes with DVB-T card inside which is a real multimedia miracle. Last in the line is the DC port. The back side is completely occupied by an 8 cell battery.
One important thing about this 12 inch notebook is that it didn't overheat. Heat is usually the main thing that makes you want to stay away from the small ones as we burned our thighs with a notebook too many times. The heath exhaust is on the right hand side and the fan blows the air out continuously but its very quiet, so you won't mind it even in a quiet room. If you use this notebook in your lap it won't burn your legs and this is definitely a plus for 2GHz dual core.
The left hand side hides a DVD multi standard recorder, one more USB, LAN port and a VGA port.
The notebook has a fingerprint reader and this nice security device is placed between the left and right touchpad keys. The touchpad is nice, and it's easy to get used to it.
The power button is positioned just above the very functional keyboard, along with three stats indication keys such as caps lock, num lock and scroll lock.
There is also a button where you can turn the wireless off, two P programmable buttons, and on P1 you turn the camera on or off.
If you've never used a 12 inch notebook it will take you a while to get used to it, but as I already used one for quite a while it was very natural to get used to this one. 16x10 format really fits this notebook. Home, page up, page down and end are placed on a logical place at the end of the keyboard so you will get use to them quite fast.
On the front of the notebook you will find a microphone and a headphones port, as well as a few other stats button that will tell you if your battery is empty, the hard drive is working, the notebook went to sleep or the bluetooth and wireless are turned on or off.
A 1.3Mpixel camera is integrated above the screen, as well as a wide range microphone. The camera works quite well at least during the daylight and you get some yellow color distortions when using it in poor lighting conditions. It's great for MSN and Skype and you won't need to buy a new one unless you want a high end one such as a Creative Opti AF that can do some crazy video effects.
The exterior of the notebook really looks great, but we found at least one thing to complain about. The nice black plastic that surrounds the notebook will leave your fingerprints quite visible and this is the biggest complain we can think of so far. MSI does ship the notebook with nice fiber cloth so this will easily solve this problem. We also have to mention that MSI ships a nice and attractive notebook bag along with a small cable mouse.
The speakers are quite good but we would like them to be just a bit louder. They will serve their purpose nicely but they will be easily beaten by any traveler's speakers.
Vista will boot in about 45 to 60 seconds and it works very fast. You won't have any performance issues with this notebook, as it boots fast and works faster when it's turned on. The notebook has Hybrid drive with 378 MB cache memory that will further speed up the system.
We believe that this is just about enough for our first impression. To summarize, MSI did a great job with this notebook. Let's mention some of the great features such as up to 5 hours battery life with 8 cell battery in airplane conditions and wireless turned off, HDMI that works out of the box, three USB 2.0 ports, crystal clear AVC display with a nice contrast and picture. It's a really fast machine that boots Vista in 45 to 60 seconds, 802.11n wireless LAN works quite well in a 802.11G environment, bluetooth is there too, a fingertip reader for security and last but not least, it looks great.
We are about to do some more testing, but even now, with this first preview, we can easily give MSI a Fudzilla recommended award as this notebook is really an exceptional piece of hardware and it surely deserves the Red Dot award.
One more thing, Vista on notebooks really looks good, and swapping windows in Aero will never bore you as it always looks great. With a 12 inch laptop this UI improvement is welcome, going over windows showing you a preview what's inside is always fun and it will even render a live video feed in the small window.
You'll read more about it soon. This model is worth the €1300 which is its retail price. If you want a real battery saver with awesome looks, and you don't want to spend as much as €3000 for a brand like Sony this is very good choice.
For approximately €3000, or some €1700 more, you will just get a different brand, and we doubt it can get much better than this. Truly excellent value for money.