Hardware

MSI X340 Slim: The best laptop you've never heard of

The MSI X340 is as thin and flashy as the MacBook Air and the Dell Adamo, but costs less than half as much. See how it stacks up as a business laptop.

Netbooks have grabbed a big chunk of laptop sales over the past couple years because they are small and inexpensive. Unfortunately, they also have squished keyboards and screens that make them difficult to use.

On the other end of the spectrum are the sleek premium laptops such as the MacBook Air and the Dell Adamo. Like netbooks, these machines are extremely light and portable, but they are much thinner, have attractive designs and have full sized keyboards and big, bright 13" screens. The problem is that they cost $1500-$2500 and that would break the budget of the average laptop buyer.

However, there's an alternative that is as thin as the MacBook Air, has nearly all of the features of the Dell Adamo, and has a price tag that is closer to a netbook. It's the MSI X340 Slim and here is TechRepublic look at it from an IT and business perspective.

For a quick summary of the MSI X340's strengths and weaknesses, check out this short video clip, and then read the full review below.

For more field-tested reviews of hardware and software in this format, see TechRepublic's Product Spotlight blog. Also, subscribe to the Product Spotlight newsletter, delivered each Thursday. Sign up now with a single click.

Specifications

  • Cost: $699
  • Model number: MSI X340-021US Slim (Black)
  • Operating system: Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Business
  • Processor: 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500
  • RAM: 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 (1 SO-DIMM slot, 4GB maximum)
  • Hard drive: 320GB SATA (5400rpm)
  • Display: 13.4" WXGA glossy LCD (1366x768 pixels) with LED backlight
  • Graphics: Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)
  • Video ports: VGA, HDMI
  • Other ports: 2 USB, Mic, Headphones, RJ45
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000); 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi; Bluetooth V2.0EDR
  • Webcam: 1.3 megapixels
  • Card reader: SD/SDHC/MMC
  • Dimensions: 13"(w)x8.8"(d)x0.78"(h)
  • Weight: 3.0 lbs (1.4 kg)
  • Battery: 4-cell Lithium-polymer (8-cell optional)
  • MSI X340 Slim official product page
  • Photo gallery: MSI X340 Slim

Who is it for?

This will appeal to users who want a slim, highly-portable Windows laptop for under $1000, and don't like the small keyboards and irregular screens that you find on most netbooks.

What problems does it solve?

Ultra-slim laptops like the MacBook Air and the Dell Adamo are light, powerful, and attractive. However, you have to pay $1500-$2500 to get that combination of features. The MSI X340 delivers around 80% of the features and coolness for about $700.

Standout features

  • Thin and light - The dimensions of the MSI X340 Slim are almost identical to the MacBook Air (12.8"(w)x8.9"(d)x0.76"(h) and 3.0 lbs), which awed the technology industry with its thinness and portability when it launched in January 2008. This notebook is a very light load in your briefcase or shoulder bag.
  • Excellent LCD screen - The display on the MSI X340 is one of the most impressive features. It is clear, sharp, and bright, thanks to the LED backlighting. At 1366x768, it is much larger and much more standard than most of the netbook screens. It's not as good as the amazing screen on the MacBook Air but it's close.
  • Comfortable keyboard - With large keys, well-marked function keys, and a decent tactile feel, the keyboard on the X340 is comfortable to use -- far better than any netbook. It doesn't have quite as nice of a feel as the Dell Adamo keyboard but I liked it better than the chiclet keyboard on the MacBook Air.
  • Good battery life - Since the X340 has a low voltage Intel CPU and a power-saving LED backlight, it is a power-efficient system when running under a power-saving mode in Windows. I was able to get 3-4 hours of battery life, which is pretty impressive for a 4 cell battery. That said, since this is pitched as a power-sipping machine, I was actually hoping to get at least 5 hours for those long cross-country flights in the U.S.

What's wrong?

  • Durability - While the Dell Adamo and the MacBook Air both have solid metal bodies, the MSI X340 is made out of plastic. That definitely gives it a little cheaper look. The silver-painted plastic trim around the expansion ports looks especially cheap. Because it's made out of plastic, I also don't expect that this would be a very durable machine, so it if you or the user you're deploying this machine for are hard on laptops or need a little bit more of a rugged system then the MSI X340 is probably not a good choice.
  • Built-in mouse controls - I typically don't like any of the trackpads you find on laptops, but as far as trackpads go. the one on the MSI X340 is not that great. It's not very large, doesn't have any special coating, and it only has one mouse button - you click on the left side for left click and the right side for right click. It's not nearly as good as the large trackpad on the MacBook Air that also includes a great set of gestures to improve navigation. The one saving grace for the MSI X340 is that it also comes with a great little retractable USB mouse.
  • Lack of disc player - Like the Adamo and the Air, there's no disc drive built into the MSI X340. That can make it difficult to install software, play DVDs, or digitize any audio CDs. MSI offers an external DVD drive that you can purchase separately.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

If you really like the lightweight portability of the MacBook Air and the Dell Adamo but don't want to pay a huge premium for it, or you like the small form factor of netbooks but don't like the minimal keyboards and screens, then the MSI X340 Slim might be the product you're looking for.

However, the X340 is made out of plastic, unlike the metal bodies you find on the Air and the Adamo, and that means it's not going to be very durable. I wouldn't recommend it for business users that need an industrial strength laptop and I wouldn't plan for an X340 to last much more than two years.

User rating

Have you used or supported the MSI X340 Slim? If so, what do you think? Rate the device and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. You can also give your own personal review of the MSI X340 Slim in the discussion thread below.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.

43 comments
cm1967
cm1967

What about Linux support? I'm speaking for myself here, but without it, it's worthless. Acer's support of Linux is unknown, frankly. One day they say they support it, and the next, they don't. Microsoft probably doing what they always to do to squash something that this better. They buy off the company that is supporting Linux so that company will no longer support it. They don't make software that is better so they have to do something, I guess.

scoopboys
scoopboys

Discussion on portables drives me crazy, because too often it starts with "what are the features of X device?", rather than "What do I need it to do?" Do you need big and powerful, more portable but less functional, lightweight, small, etc.? As an enterprise we choose to limit SKUs to drive volume pricing with vendors, so we make some compromises in some areas: full size but not 17" widescreen, reasonably weighted but not paying for titanium cases to bring the weight down, powerful enough to handle business apps but not CAD, etc. Start with, "what do I need it to do/have/cost" and you'll find the right device. Start with what the DEVICE can do, and you'll drive yourself crazy (and poor) trying to get everything.

suresh_ponnan
suresh_ponnan

Check out the competition - the new Acer Aspire Timeline series --- similar specs, low voltage processor, gives about 7 hours on battery.

cbellur
cbellur

DELL laptops are already pieces of shizz... I got a new one from work, and the wifi stops working when it gets too warm. After this experience, I bought a Mac for my own home use. It's more expensive, but I have a feeling it won't end up in a landfill in 18 months. You get what you pay for. That said, I have a bad feeling about the durability of this MSI.

KNOWLEDGE464
KNOWLEDGE464

The best Laptops for business but if you want something that would kill the game look and what you could build at Alienware.com you could never imagine you could have a dual video card or hard drive in your laptop just some awesome designs and well build systems. The only thing is really whats on your budget for a laptop and I can show you something that will suit your needs.

vesuvana
vesuvana

6+ hour battery life, 3 lbs, B/G/N, 1.4GHz Intel Core2 Solo Processor SU3500 (3MB L2 cache, 1.40GHz, 800MHz FSB), 2Gb DDR2 667 RAM stock w up to 4Gb possible, discreet graphics, 11.6 LCD all for $450 on amazon.com Best laptop I've owned.

kholt
kholt

Try the Toshiba R500 leaves both the MacBook Air and Dell for dead and they are bringing out a similar lower end machine. The r500 is lighter and sexier than the MacBook and predated it!

GrizzledGeezer
GrizzledGeezer

Metal isn't necessarily "better" than plastic. If the Apple and Dell machines use metal castings, that's great. But stamped sheet metal isn't so hot. It's worse than a molding made of high-quality plastic, as it's much more likely to get bent or dented.

marek1974
marek1974

You better check-out Acer Aspire 3810 Timeline, it's even better price/power ratio!

pathma
pathma

great machine, keyboard a tad spongy

JulesLt
JulesLt

Was pretty hard to miss the rolling adverts for the MSI Slim at Berlin Tegel airport - which seems a very good place to advertise a lightweight laptop (captive audience of business people queueing at gates).

g.guyhorelle1
g.guyhorelle1

Around $400.00 would be the darling of averybody., from students to adults users..nice but no cigar they shot themselves in the foot!!!

fjp
fjp

"it also comes with a great little retractable USB mouse" Kudos to MSI. That's better than any trackpad (which of course you can still use if stuck for space). Nice touch, especially in a budget machine.

ShaggySheld
ShaggySheld

And in english that means? Rubbish rant by the way..

vesuvana
vesuvana

Yes this looks like a very nice machine but at 6.5 lbs it's not in the same category as the ultraportables/netbooks being discussed. Yours would be more challenging to carry everywhere. Of course, it's all relative to what one is comfortable with.

erinbo3
erinbo3

I'm getting ready to start online classes at strayer university to finish my accounting degree. There will be programs that I need to download from the schools site to be able to complete some of my work. I need something with a long battery life, big enough screen that won't strain my eyes too bad, enough memory to be able to save all my school work, wifi capabilities that I'm not waiting 10 mins for it to find service somwherea, durability but not a big issue, and whatever else that will make completing school work efficient. I'm new to laptops and netbooks and there's a lot of good opinions here but what's gona work for me?

rdevon12
rdevon12

The Acer 1410 has better specs, 6 cell & 3 lbs, and much better price than the the one reviewed by Jason. It becomes somewhat competitive with the netbooks which you a 6 cell for for around $300. For me small, cheap, light, and long battery life mean portable and good. The Mac Air and companions are not small and do not have long battery lives and are not cheap. They look fantastic and are great to display in meetings. Jason finds a cheap version that still looks fantastic. It still is not in competition with a netbook, which is a different type of product. The Acer 1401, however, begins to blur the lines on price and battery. It becomes a bigger netbook.

drew.mcbee
drew.mcbee

They've made mainboards for years - never saw systems from them, though.

mikeoconecs
mikeoconecs

Exactly the same situation at Heathrow (London) in June 1998 with massive graphical displays for the gorgeous, much more diminutive original Sony VAIO PCG-505 (not the TX(?) model which came later) Mike

steveschiffer
steveschiffer

This looks like a great consumer laptop; but to me one of the crucial features of a business laptop is a docking solution. Granted, I don't know what type of solution the mac has; but it would be a deal breaker here. On the road a couple USB ports are fine; but at the office people prefer to use a keyboard, mouse, printer, smart card scanner, smart phone cradle, etc. Anyway, my two cents. I know my wife would like one though ;-)

lnevers
lnevers

When is the rest of the industry going to get onboard with Macintosh's solution of using a magnetic tip for power supply connection. I've got a "standard" round plugin slot that the user broke the metal post out of. I would like this laptop if they had gone that route. My wife has the MB Air and that is just a great solution.

modeler4
modeler4

I agree with grizzled geezer, we don't know how much engineering they put into the plastic, so until proven otherwise, it could have higher performance, compared to metal, question is , did the test engineers do their benchmarking tests?

stevebsame
stevebsame

The spec you list says 3 x USB, The pictures only seem to show 2 x USB and 2 is what the MSI web site says - Thats an issue for me - Wireles mouse in one, blackberry in the other and nowhere to go, Also the MSI site says 2GB MAX memory though you say 4GB - 4 would be fine but 2 ? I dont think that flies !!!

dimadom
dimadom

Hmm I don't agree with Jason on this one. Check out the new Asus UL80V : 14" screen, intel dual core, 4096 Mb RAM, 320 Gb HD, NVidia GEFORCE G2, DVRRW, wifi + webcam + bluetooth...and a 6 cells battery. Same price (actually the price is lower in Europe where I live) and better performance... and aluminium casing !! Coming out in a couple weeks.

asharp
asharp

On the draw back list. One of the first upgrades made by a mobile user is the addition of a wireless mouse, for the exact reason that the Track-pads are usually less than desirable on most laptop products, not to mention placement isn't idea for extended Power Point updating sessions. So a Track-Pad that functions to play music or movies is fine in my opinion. Disc player as a detractor is unfair considering the class of machines it is competing against. The Air doesn't have Optical drive to suck down battery power, and it confounds me why Dell put one in there ultra portable. With some movie studios offering digital copies of newer movies this shouldn't be an issue either. All plastic body, well what can you say... it's a $700 laptop that's half the price of other ultra portables. But a $900 all metal case would have been fine as well. All in all I fear that the MSI is a little light on battery and CPU power. A 6 cell battery could have gone a long way in making this a more powerful IT recommendation for road warriors, other than a personal toy for traveling with. All that said the MSI X340 seem like a well rounded machine for the price point considering the competition; and the netbook crowd isn't too far out of reach to grab this up when they get tired of ATOM based machines.

scoopboys
scoopboys

Netbooks tend to be pretty underpowered, and have smallish (and sometimes VERY small) screens. They are best utilized to run web applications (applications that aren't loaded on the hard drive of your system) because they typically aren't very powerful, but they are very portable. Don't go with too big a screen - battery life will suffer. If much of your work will be done at home (I presume that MAY be the case with online classes), you could connect a larger external monitor to get a bigger screen when not mobile. The rest depends somewhat on what applications you may need to run. If many of them are web-based apps, you won't need a ton of power. A lightweight "ultraportable" may be OK if you need to bring it on the road a lot. If the apps you need to run are more client-based (MS Office, other apps that you need to load onto the hard drive with a CD/DVD), then a "heavier" laptop with more processing power may fill the bill. It's a tough question to answer, but I can probably safely rule out a Netbook for you...

vesuvana
vesuvana

I have had two true netbooks and I was really frustrated by the too-small, barely-usable keyboards and the slow Atom N270 processor, even after I boosted to 2GB RAM. So I ended up not using them very often, which defeated the purpose of a carry-around computer. I used safari on my iphone more than my Asus. The Acer 1410 is the first completely usable, yet daily portable, laptop/netbook I've had. Despite not having tried the MSI, I still think that the specs and price for the 1410 make it the more compelling unit.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Years ago I bought several motherboards and components from MSI. Now they're trying to market their own branded products. It's a similar strategy to what manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC have done.

M_Ski
M_Ski

You cannot order any "optional" components on MSI's website (Bluetooth, RAM, 8 cell battery, Vista Business). I tried going through one of the VARs listed on MSI's site who I regularly deal with, but they ran into the same problem. Specifically, I wanted Vista Business so I could upgrade to Windows 7 Pro. The VAR and I got the same response from MSI's sales support: "we can not change the OS to Business as this machine is set to install with Vista Home Premium" Ordering one without an OS doesn't seem to be an option either, so I guess it is not an option for enterprise deployment (unless you don't mind buying a useless copy of Vista Home).

ken.butler
ken.butler

You could always use a Bluetooth mouse, no need to plug anything into the laptop so it won't take up any ports.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Yes, it only has 2 USB ports. I fixed that in the article. Sorry about that. As for the RAM, it has one DDR2 SO-DIMM and comes with a 2GB module installed. According to the manual, there's an option to replace the 2GB RAM module with a 4GB module.

kennyschachat
kennyschachat

I agree that the Asus UL80V seems like it will be a very good machine but I'm skeptical that it will be in the same price range as the MSI X340 Slim. Where did you see the prices for the Asus UL line?

drew.mcbee
drew.mcbee

Nice, Lancrey! I've seen the Asus as well, and thought it was a nice unit. I'm surprised that TechRepublic didn't know about that one....

ShaggySheld
ShaggySheld

Acer Aspire 3935-864G32Mn Laptop Cost me ?699, and its rapid! Very impressed with it. At less than 1? thick and weighing just 1.9kg with a 13.3? display this stylish laptop is as portable as it is powerful, and the 4 hours of battery life means your enjoyment will never be interrupted. * Processor - Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 Dual-Core * RAM - 4 GB (installed) 8 GB (max) - DDR3 SDRAM * Hard Drive - 320 GB * Operating System - Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium - Windows 7 Upgrade? - Click here for more details * Screen - 13.3 in TFT active matrix 1366 x 768 24-bit (16.7 million colours) * Optical Drive - None * Graphics - Intel GMA 4500MHD * Bluetooth - Yes * Notebook Camera - Integrated - 0.3 Megapixel * Warranty - 1 year warranty

erinbo3
erinbo3

I have done some researching myself. The MSI does seem to be the best deal. I couldn't find the ACER 1410 for under a $1000. I don't really have that much to invest in a laptop. Also I like that you can purchase an external cd drive for the MSI. Not sure if I will need it right away but its good to know its available. Thanks sccopboys for your opinion and help. I'm sure I'll be asking for more help when I purchase laptop.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Both are making nice laptops, but the MSI X340 is a good one, too, and not nearly as many people have heard of it.

GoodOh
GoodOh

You "hope" a dual core with 4 gig of Ram will perform at least as well as a Pentium M with 1(and a bit) gig???? I think you can rest assured on that point.

jeyost
jeyost

it is not too difficult to find ~3yo business quality laptops for around $300 or less these days. picked up a dell x300 in the spring with a 1.4ghz pentium M (2mbcache), over a gig of memory and an xp pro license. after upgrading the hard drive and picking up an extended battery good for 3-4 hours i still have less than $400 in it and it is small and light without being cramped. the ultralight thinkpads of the same generation may be built better, but this dell is holding up fine so far despite daily use. if in the market for a new ultralight, i'd probably hold out for a dual core win7 machine with at least 4gb of ram and hope to get similar performance.

ShaggySheld
ShaggySheld

Yes it comes with a FREE windows 7 upgrade, which I have applied for on the acer site. Roll on Oct 22nd. I too was holding out for a good spec laptop with Windows 7. The spec of this laptop is superb, and it already flies with Vista. Can't wait to see it with Windows 7 on. EDIT: Oh and another thing, the screen is OLED, which of course helps with the great battery life.

Linda
Linda

I am holding out before buying a new laptop because I have refused to go with Vista and I am still using XP. I figure give it a few months and Windows 7 will be on all machines. Are you saying this machine comes with a Windows 7 upgrade? I would also like to know what will be available with Windows 7 on it first? Thanks, Linda@ManagerLabs.com

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