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 Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about how technology is changing the way we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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