MSI 1013 Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (44,981)

By Sunil Goklani

The MSI 1013 is the barebones version of the MSI S270 — ultra portable notebook powered by an AMD Turion.  Out of the box it provides you with a 12.1″ WXGA glossy screen, built in DVD DL RW drive, ATI RS480 (or RS482) chipset with X200 integrated graphics, SD/MMC/MS card reader, PCMCIA slot, and optional wireless with Bluetooth.  You get to choose your hard drive, processor, RAM, and wireless card.  The 1013 is the ODM for Averatec’s 2100 Series, PC Club’s ENP413 and VooDoo PC’s Envy a:228 notebook computers.


MSI 1013 (view large image)

Assembled Specifications:

  • MSI 1013 Barebone System – $640 from acnt.com (I found their service to be better than what resellerratings portrays it as).  They had the computer the next day after I had ordered it and I picked it up from one of their local stores.
  • AMD Turion MT-40 cpu – $285 @ buy.com with coupon
  • OCZ 1GB DDR400 ram – $130 @ newegg.com
  • Seagate 5400.2 60 gig hd – $90 @ newegg.com
  • MSI MS6855 wireless/Bluetooth mPCI card – $35 @ buy.com

Total parts cost came out to less than $1200, however tax and shipping pushed it a hair under $1300.

Reasons for Buying:

Recently, the laptop bug bit me.  I have a very capable desktop at home however, sitting in front of the computer at work makes it cumbersome to do the same at home.  I wanted something powerful because I do some software and web development, however I was willing to settle for less as this computer would be secondary to my desktop.  I initially considered Thin & Lights such as the Asus Z63a, HP DV1000, Sony VGN-FJ170.  I ignored the Compaq V2000z series because I had heard quite a few bad things about Compaq, but now after taking a serious look at Compaq they seem to be making high quality products.  Besides the Compaq, neither of these laptops offered the AMD Turion 64 processor.  Finally, after looking long and hard, I decided I wanted something smaller than a Thin & Light.  This would be a secondary computer, so I ventured off into Ultra Potable land.  With a flexible budget of $1200 I came across the MSI 1013.  The 1013 seemed to offer exactly what I had wanted in a computer.

I wanted to go with an AMD 64 bit processor because I feel that AMD produces superior products than those of Intel.  It could be a possibility that 32 bit applications will outlive my use of this notebook, but hey, I like to live on the cutting edge in hardware and software.  I also wanted a decent integrated graphics since future/Vista proofing is also important for me.  The MSI 1013 fit the bill.  It had a 12.1″ LCD with a nice high resolution of 1280 by 800.  It supported my desired AMD processor and had integrated graphics which surpasses that of integrated Intel graphics.  It also had Bluetooth — a feature I was wanting on the Z63a.  Weighing around 5 lbs with a battery, this computer called my name and said, “BUILD ME!”


Pictured with an 8.5″ by 11″ sheet of paper on top.  Yeah, its THAT small. (view large image)

Inputs and Outputs:

My only complaint is that the power port is on the side versus being out of the way in the back.  Unfortunately, this notebook includes a PCMCIA slot.  I have a feeling that there will not be many 64 bit drivers available for PCMCIA devices as PCI-E and 64 bit OS’s starts to move more mainstream.


Left Side: DVDRW, USB port, memory media reader, & PCMCIA slot. (view large image)


Front: IEEE1394 port, mic, & audio out (view large image)


Right: USB (2), modem, Ethernet, VGA out, & power. (view large image)

Build and design:

Overall, this laptop is well designed for the price.  The compact size is very appealing for those on the go.  Looks aren’t something to brag about.  This computer is also available in white.  I decided to go with black because since black is easier to maintain and if it were to fade, it would not be very noticeable.  The 1013 feels quite solid as there is minimal flex when I pick it up by the corner.  The Sony FJ170, HP DV1000, and Compaq V2000z exhibited more flex than the 1013.  The screen hinges are quite solid.  The screen is nice and thin, and the top casing is made of metal.  However, I find that this screen ripples easily if I grab a side and try to close it.  It also ripples if I set the notebook down a little hard or if I pick it up by the front corner.

Heat and Noise:

This computer does get warm during use, but nothing extreme.  The CPU fan will spin up when it needs to.  If I were to run some intense graphics or processing the fan stays on.  During DVD playback on VLC media player the CPU fan did kick in about half of the time.  However through AMD’s power monitor, the CPU remained at 800mhz.

Screen:

This screen is absolutely beautiful.  Being 12.1″ and 1280 by 800 resolution, this screen definitely delivers.  I am indifferent about the glossy coating as the colors are nice, but in direct sunlight it has too much glare.  The text is very fine on the screen, so if you have trouble reading small fonts, this may not be the screen for you.  For me on the other hand, this resolution is perfect for the screen size.  Only downside is that there is a bit of light leakage at the top and bottom of the screen.


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Optical Drive:

For its compact size and price, I am happy that it has a built in dual layer DVD burner.  The drive does get a bit loud when a CD is inserted.  I wish it were a modular bay, it would have been nice to slap on an extra battery.

Audio:

The speakers are located on the screen which I would definitely consider a plus.  Sound is directed at you where on other computers the speakers are placed below the palm rest.  Sound quality is ok, as expected when trying to fit them in ” depth of the screen.

Kensington Lock:

This is a pretty pathetic lock slot.  Not only does the included 8 cell battery occupy the space around the lock, but the lock is comprised of where two plastic panels meet.  If someone wants this laptop, they can have it without causing any significant damage.


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Keyboard:


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If this laptop were to fail in winning any awards, this would be the breaker right here.  I definitely feel that something was held back on this portion of the computer.  My only positive note is that the alphabet character keys are 100% the normal size.  Other than that, the Fn button is where I am used to where the Ctrl button should be.  I am used to the Ctrl button being the lower left.  Asus laptops also have a same setup.

The keypad feeling isn’t too great either.  The keys feel a bit stiff as I type.  I’ve read some complains about the keyboard flexing.  This can easily be solved by removing the keyboard and bending it to the contours of its resting location or by placing double sided tape underneath.  There is also some other flaw which I have discovered.  Even if making a full press on a key, sometimes this computer will miss registering the key.  For example, I know I pressed “www” very quickly to type in a web address, sometimes I may end up with “ww”.  I tried another trick, I pressed all of the home keys at once “asdfjkl;” instead about 3-4 will register.  I tried this on other laptops in the store and to my surprise, Sony, Gateway, Avertec, and Acer exhibited this issue where Toshiba, HP, and Compaq were free from it.  However, I have yet to read of any issues of missing keystrokes from those brands, so I am not sure what to conclude from this.  Hopefully this will cause the rest of you looking at laptops be more aware of any possible keyboard issues.

Touchpad:

No Complaints on the Synaptics touch pad.  Sensitivity is perfect.  It doesn’t miss any initial strokes.  I would prefer it to be in a wide to match the screen aspect ratio.

Wireless:

Wireless reception is ok.  It seems to be just slightly worse than my dad’s Dell Inspiron 5100.  My cousin’s HP business laptop recognized that my Netgear router was 108mbps capable and made use of that.  This card does not.  However this card has a built in gem, – Bluetooth.  Being the technology freak that I am, I had to have this feature in my laptop.  I plan on purchasing a Bluetooth mouse in addition to making sure I have it on my cell phone when time comes to upgrade.

I have used Bluetooth to interface with my mom’s Motorola Razr and it had no problems doing so.  Bluetooth did not work after I had built this computer.  I had to RMA the wireless card twice until this issue was resolved.

There are 4 wireless modes controlled by the wireless button: both off, wireless on, Bluetooth on, both on, all of which are toggled by the wireless button which is next to the power button.  Only downside to such a setup is that you will interrupt one of the wireless features if you need to turn the other one on or off.

Power adapter:

This adapter is very compact and uses a non polarized two pin plug.  Ac input is 100-240v 50-60hz.  Cabling is also generous giving you just over 11.5 feet from plug to plug.  This adapter is definitely a travel friendly adapter.  For greater portability, you could purchase a retractable power cord.  Additional AC adapters sell for $35 on buy.com (currently on backorder at the time of this review), which is a definite steal when comparing to other laptops.

Battery:

Included with the 1013 is an 8 cell 14.4v 4400mah battery.  The 8 cell sticks out in the back about of an inch and raises the back of the laptop — either of which I could live without.  I have been averaging around 3.25 hours of life from the battery.  That isn’t bad as it met my requirements, however this may not be up to par in comparison to other Ultra Portables and some Thin & Lights.  My only argument against that is other Ultra Portables are using ultra low voltage processors and will not be able to hold a candle to the processing capabilities of this machine while maintaining a low price.  Other machines are slightly larger than this laptop so living with a 3 hour battery life is a compromise I am more than willing to make.

Microsoft’s Power Meter (Win XP 64):

  • Dim screen: 3:40
  • Full Bright: 2:50

Performance:

Performance on this laptop is remarkable despite the ultra compact size and $1300 price tag.  I “could” do with less power, but my Tim Taylor complex disagrees.

Benchmarks: MSI 1013 Benchmarks (click to view)

The Build:


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If you are like me and love to build things this computer is a blessing at first as long as you don’t run into any problems.  After trying to diagnose the Bluetooth wireless card problem, I may choose not to build another laptop until I am aware of all known issues up front.  The build was not very difficult as long as you take your time and do things carefully.  I have removed the processor about 4-5 times of this computer and could probably put one of these together in half an hour by now.  Here is some pitfalls/advice you should be aware of if you plan to build one:

If you use artic silver, use it only on the CPU.  Do not use article silver on the ATI CPU/GPU or any of the other contact points.  The heat sink will not be close enough to make proper contact with a thermal conductor like artic silver, so stick with the provided thermal pads. 


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The connector on the top panel for the power buttons is very delicate and difficult to put back.  You may be better off leaving that connector connected and slipping out the keyboard and panel underneath the keyboard, then disconnecting the other end of the connector from the motherboard.

The sponges can conduct electricity.  Make sure they do not fall off or move while working on the computer.  If they do, place them back where they came from.

Screws are small, be very careful when removing and installing.  I had to remove half the motherboard to free a lost screw.

The magnetic wireless antennas can easily be moved, so when reinstalling the top panel which has the power buttons, make sure the antennas are properly placed.
Make sure to plug the CPU fan into the motherboard.  After taking this thing apart for the 3rd time, I forgot to do this…ONCE :-X

On a good note, the ram, wireless card, and hard drive are accessible by removing the palm rest which is held on by 6 screws and about 4-6 tabs.  It can be removed in a minute once you know where all the tabs are without breaking anything.  The wireless card and hard drive are under the palm rest.  You can lift the keyboard up to access the ram.  This isn’t too bad if you plan on maintaining a fleet of these laptops.

White Screen of Death:


(view large image)

I bought this computer without even knowing that there was a 27 page thread on Laptop Logic about this problem.  I may have reconsidered after reading it, but now I have yet to run into that problem after I have updated my bios to the Beta v4.31 (I have ATI RS480 chipset) and down clocked my ram from DDR400 to DDR333.  The AMD MT-40 Turion processor was not around when this computer was designed.  Memory latency is less while running at 333mhz, so any performance impact should be minimal.  So far no stability issues whatsoever.  I feel that this issue is no longer a concern if you are looking to purchase this laptop.

MSI Customer Service:

I have had to use MSI’s customer service for this computer.  I reported my three issues to them, keyboard, Bluetooth, and white screen of death.

While Screen of Death was solved quickly after I talked to the right person.  I had sent an email, then called a few hours later.  Upon calling, I ended up talking to a tech whom knew nothing about this computer.  From my email response, I was contacted by Raymond who is the notebook expert and he provided me with v4.31 beta bios which solved the problem.

Bluetooth was a different story.  MSI has two chipsets for their Bluetooth/802.11bg wireless cards, Improcomm and Ra Link.  It is a known issue that the Bluetooth on the Ra Link cards may not register on this computer.  I ended up with an Ra Link card from purchasing from buy.com.  I RMA’ed the card from MSI’s website thinking Bluetooth was defective and MSI sent me another Ra Link card.  Finally, I got fed up and talked to Raymond in tech support.  He was aware of the issue and I had a replacement card in 2 days rather than the 2 weeks it took for the first replacement.

In regards to the keyboard problems, I have communicated to Raymond about pressing multiple keys and not having them register.  However since this is neither a functionality nor stability issue, I can learn to live with this keyboard.

Overall I am very satisfied with the tech support from Raymond.  If you have any issues, make sure you talk to the right person otherwise you will end up wasting your time.

Software:

Barebone system, no OS included.  I installed windows XP and ran the benchmarks.  In an effort to diagnose my Bluetooth problem, I installed XP 64.  MSI has an rar archive on their website for the 64 bit drivers.  For some reason I could not find the driver for the memory card reader, nor have I had time to look into it.  I have no comments on the included IVT Blue Soleil Bluetooth software as I don’t own any Bluetooth devices yet.

Recommendation:

It would be hypocritical of me to recommend this computer I had had tried to return everything after first encountering those three issues mentioned above.  I decided it would be too much of a hassle RMA’ing everything so I stuck with it.  After my second wireless card filed, I tried to RMA everything, but I missed the timeline for returns on the MSI 1013.  Finally after Raymond resolved my Bluetooth issue I am quite happy with this computer.  I am still getting used to the Fn and Ctrl keys being in reversed locations.  My keyboard still misses some key strokes; however I have decided that at a $1300 price tag with the features and performance, everything cannot be perfect.  MSI has not been in the notebook game very long, however offering performance and price in such a small package, they have definitely hit the nail on the head for being a first generation notebook.  I suggest you try to play around with this model before purchasing either by going to a PC Club or finding a store which sells Averatec products.

Bottom line:

There is no other offering by any company which supports an AMD Turion 64 in such a small package at a very reasonable price.  Despite the set backs as I have mentioned above, I am happy with this notebook.

Pros:

  • Only Ultra Portable available which supports AMD MT Turion processors
  • 12.1″ WXGA 1280 by 800 resolution screen
  • Built in DVD DL RW
  • Alphabet keys are full sized
  • Bluetooth available
  • Excellent value
  • Exceptional performance

Cons:

  • Keyboard has poor feeling on keys and lacks proper key pickup
  • 3 hour battery life with 8 cell battery
  • No S-Video out
  • Optical drive is fixed, no modular bay
  • Light leakage on screen
  • Screen ripples easily
  • Kensington slot offers little security


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