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Frontpage Slideshow | Copyright © 2006-2010 orks, a business unit of Nuevvo Webware Ltd.
Wednesday, 10 June 2009 15:19

MSI X340 Pro with Core 2 Solo CULV

Written by Eliot Kucharik

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Review: Looks good but costs a lot

While attending an MSI press-event at Frankfurt three weeks ago, Eliot got lucky and won himself an MSI X340 Pro notebook. This lucky turn of events gave us a chance to provide you with our firsthand impressions about the MSI's X-Slim line-up designed to grab a piece of one of the most lucrative and fastest growing segments in the notebook business. Of course we are talking about ultra-slim, very light and still expensive designs, based on Intel's latest CULV platform for thin and light notebooks.

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.


Specifications:


CPU: Core 2 Solo SU3500 1.40GHz ULV
Chipset: Intel GS45/iCH9M-SFF
Memory: 2048MB PC2-6400S 5-5-5-18
Harddisk: 2.5" 320GB
I/O Ports: 2x USB 2.0/LAN/VGA/HDMI/analog Audio out/analog MIC in
Wireless: WLAN 802.11bgn/Bluetooth
Add ons: 2in1 Card Reader (SD/SDHC/MMC)/Webcam (1.3MP)
Display: 13.4" WXGA glare 1366x768
Battery: Li-Ion 2150mAH
Dimensions: 330 x 224x 6-19.8mm
Weight: 1.30kg
OS; Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
Warranty: 24 months
Accessories: USB Notebook-Mouse, 40W external power-supply

Special thanks to Marin Lazarov @Ditech and Andreas Förster-Romswinckel for helping with the notebook pictures.





Inside the case:

During MSI's PR event, Intel explained the new small-factor-platform in details, and obviously everything revolves around its compact size. In the past it was not that easy to make a small platform because the chips took much space. So they changed the packaging to deliver the same chips in a smaller form-factor. The GS45 is the same as the GM45, but instead of 34x34mm the new chip measures only 27x25mm. For a mobile chipset the TDP of 12W is still high, and adding another 2.5W for the southbridge. For months now, we have ranted about the 945GC chipset for the Atom platform which has a six times higher TDP than the CPU. Even in this market segment the chipset is taking about three times the amount of the north and southbridge. The built in Core 2 Solo has a TDP of only 5.5W. At least the graphics core is about twice as fast compared to the one used on the 945G Chipset and does have some HD decoding capabilities.

Look at the chipset, CPU, southbridge and WLAN module old-style. We apologize for the poor image quality.

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.


Now here's the same architecture, but much smaller:

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.


Because CPU-z in its current 1.51 version does not detect the Core 2 Solo correctly, we have used Everest to present you with all the important technical informations.

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The notebook:

With a maximum thickness of 19.8mm this notebook is extremely small and only a fraction thicker compared to the Apple MacBook Air, but it does not feature an aluminium case. While the top looks nice, opening up the lid reveals a quite cheap looking plastic material. The first drawback you encounter is the shiny surface on top of the chassis, which will be covered with fingerprints within minutes. That makes a good tool for CSI people, in case they need the fingerprints to take you down for some criminal activities. At least the lid can be openend one-handed and has a good resistance to keep the position.

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.


Because the notebook is so small, connectivity is rather limited. On the right side you'll find a power connector, microphone in, audio out and only two USB ports.

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.


On the left side you get VGA, LAN and HDMI. Due to the position of the ports, connecting a LAN-cable and using a HDMI to DVI dongle is impossible. And MSI is not kind enough to pack an HDMI to DVI cable into the box. The smarter choice would have been HDMI, VGA and LAN, because the VGA connector is mostly useless, we will explain that later.

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.


The keyboard is nearly full-size and typing on it feels ok. It's slightly bent which improves ergonomics. 

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.


The battery pack is  a disappointment because it holds only 2150mAh. That is way under the standard 4000-4400mAh conventional notebooks have.

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.


Inside the pack you will find a so called notebook mouse, which is ok but in real life only for Lilliputians or kids.

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.






Everyday use:

Working with this notebook was quite ok. Of course we are spoiled brats playing with high-end quad-core CPUs, but for the most important things, like typing or surfing the CPU is fast enough. While this CPU does support 64-bit instructions for some reason MSI decided to install a 32-bit OS version, and we think this is quite lame. Maybe Microsoft does charge the OEMs a bit more for 64-bit versions, but this is an expensive piece of equipment and five more bucks would not have mattered much.

Windows Vista SP1 boots up in about 35s, not that bad. An annoyance is the installing procedure. You have to wait for about an hour till everything is installed. Of course the first thing a Windows users does, is to Update the OS itself. Sadly MSI installs a plain SP1 without any updates, besides an additional installer for IE8. This caused Windows to update another 618MB. Doing that via WLAN you can forget about half a day for sure.

As usual we test how this platform plays a DVD-resolution file and a 720p file. Any media file which is not HD plays without problems. HD content is an entirely different story. The notebook ships in energy saving mode by default, which is too slow to play any HD content. Changing the energy profile to "balanced" makes it possible to play 720p with CPU utilization around 75%. God forbid Windows tries to do something in between, as it then stutters, drops frames, you name it. If you want to watch HD content, disable any network connectivity and it does help to deactivate some services as well.

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Cliick here for a high-res picture.


As you remember we like to test our CPUs with lamemt, and so we did with the notebook. Even using the multi-threaded version, this CPU is a single-core and does not support Hyper-Threading. If you would calculate the same frequency as the Celeron you can see, the Core 2 Solo is only 6.5% faster which is quite disappointing.

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Display:

The most annoying thing on such a small and portable notebook is its glare TFT. I personally think that who ever invented glare displays should be deported to the moon, or even better somewhere farther away, so he can't do any more damage. While most people won't care if they have a glare screen on a desktop display or a gaming-notebook, an ultra-mobile notebook is something we want to take everywhere we go. Would it not be nice to sit in a café outdoors, drink a Melange (Coffee specialty in Vienna) and do our work? Impossible to do, because the mirror effect won't you allow to work in daylight.

The external monitors are also a crude story. If you happen to have a display with HDMI or you have an HDMI-to-DVI cable, you can use a second monitor. Set the external screen as primary and you can work without problems. If you thought you could use the VGA connector for a secondary display you thought wrong. For some reason only one of the connectors is working properly. Using the VGA alone does not make much sense, because you get a clone of the notebook screen and there aren't many VGA screens with a native resolution of 1366x768. The only two monitor solution that works is HDMI with the notebook screen.







Battery life:


With only 2150mAh the battery is a bit too small for our liking. To test how long it will hold, we played an .avi file in standard resolution with 70% brightness. This utilizes about 14-20% of the CPU. Next up was an HD file with about 75% CPU utilization, but with only 60% brightness. And of course we checked out how long it took to replenish an empty battery. We used the balanced energy profile.

DVD-playback: 2h 33mins
HD-playback: 2h 26mins
Charging: 2h 28mins


Conclusion:

Working with this little gadget is quite fun, but sadly MSI did not put all its effort into the designing a must-have notebook.

Nobody likes a glossy surface on the palm rests which gets filled with fingerprints in a matter of minutes. If something is shiny, it must be clean all the time. We have no clue if there are production techniques which will prevent fingerprints on such a surface, but we doubt it. So, the much smarter choice would be a rough, matte surface which is nearly immune to smears and fingerprints.

Also, for an ultra-mobile unit a glare display is the worst possible option. We asked around, and talked to some technically experienced people and some merchants. They all told us, they would buy such products only if they have a non-glare display. One merchant told us his company sells seven out of ten light notebooks with non-glare displays and if they weren't available only three of ten consumer would actually buy them. Most customers would switch models to get a non-glare display. Bottom line, glare screens have no place in ultra-portables and netbooks, a fact which we point out whenever we test such a device.

We are also not happy with the multiple display solution. Why can't the notebook not shut off its screen and use both external screens? For some users, this would be the ideal working platform, because it is power efficient, and the external power supply uses only 20W when the notebook-battery is loaded. Using an external monitor consumption is reduced to about 16W while playing a 720p file - that is cool.

The battery itself is not a selling point either, as 2150mAh isn't nearly enough to be really useful on business trips. Even with the most rigorous energy saving profile the battery holds barely three hours.

While we can forgive such limitations for netbooks, we can't do that on this one because it is very expensive. To call it yours you have to shell out €799,- and compared to its performance this is quite a fortune. Also, the Celeron 723 edition with only a 250GB hard drive sells for €663,-. To put things into perspective, an Acer Timeline 3810T with the same CPU, 4GB of memory, 320GB of storage and a 6-cell battery can be yours for €585,- and even with a Core 2 Duo SU9400 it's still quite a bit cheaper, and costs €720,- and no worries about HD playback.

We hope MSI will do a better version, preferably with an ION chipset. Overall for some users this notebook might be the right one, but we expected much more. Of course if you want Apple Air look a like for the fraction of a price, this is a great alternative. 





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Last modified on Thursday, 11 June 2009 11:49
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