MSI X-Slim X340 Review

by Kevin O'Brien Reads (73,109)
  • Pros

    • Super thin and lightweight
    • Nice display
    • Comfortable keyboard
  • Cons

    • No driver support for touchpad
    • Keyboard flex
    • Slower than MacBook Air or dv2z

by Kevin O’Brien

The X-Slim X340 is a new 13.4″ ultraportable notebook from MSI, offering a super thin chassis and powered by the new Intel Ultra Low Voltage SU3500 processor. When the screen is closed the thickest part of the X340 is just over 3/4″, almost mirroring the dimensions of the MacBook Air. At the current price of $899 it is priced between the HP dv2 and Apple MacBook Pro, but can this notebook compete on its looks alone? Read our full review to find out.

MSI X-Slim X340 Specifications:

  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 CULV (1.4GHz, 800MHz FSB, 3MB cache)
  • Memory: 2GB DDR2 SDRAM (800MHz)
  • Internal Storage: 320GB 5400 rpm SATA HDD
  • Display: 13.4-inch diagonal WXGA (glossy, 1366×768)
  • Graphics: Intel X4500M Integrated
  • Wireless: Intel 5100AGN, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Ports and connectors: (2) USB 2.0 ports, VGA, HDMI, 2-in-1 SD-Card reader, RJ-45/Ethernet (Gigabit), stereo headphone/line out, stereo microphone in, 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • Dimensions: (LxWxH) 13″ x 8.82 ” x 0.24″-0.78″
  • Weight: 2lb 14oz (not including weight of AC adapter).
  • Power: 4-cell 32Wh battery
  • Warranty: Three-year standard warranty
  • MSRP: $899

Build and Design
The design of the X340 is super thin, and taking quite a few design cues from the Apple MacBook Air. The shape is sleek, not really taking up much additional space in your backpack over a thick paper notebook. Like the MacBook Air the edges are spread out to a sharp point, making the thin design look even thinner. In a way it reminds me of a MSI Wind that was squeezed through two rollers. Unlike Apple, MSI uses plastic instead of aluminum for the shell of the X340. While plastic might weigh less and be easy to shape, it doesn’t give the notebook a high-end appearance. I think some metal showing, even if it were something simple like a brushed aluminum palmrest, it would have improved the looks significantly.

Build quality is nice when compared to low-cost netbooks, but doesn’t measure up to high-end ultraportable notebooks. The plastic construction shows a good amount of flex in areas like the screen bezel, on the palmrest around the touchpad, and areas underneath the keyboard. Screen protection is average, needing heavy pressure on the back of the screen to show color distortions. While it might not show distortion, the screen can flex a good amount with minimal effort by twisting the corners. This isn’t uncommon for some super thin displays, as we saw the same thing with the Sony VAIO TZ and Toshiba Portege R500.

Screen and Speakers
The 13.4″ glossy display on the MSI X340 is of average quality with decent color saturation and good contrast levels thanks to the glossy screen surface. Colors appear vibrant, but not as vibrant as what you might see on a high color gamut panel like what is found on the new 13″ MacBook Pro. While the two notebooks don’t directly compete against each other, it helps to have a baseline to compare against. Black levels are good for viewing movies, with little backlight bleed noticed in our tests. One thing that looked like backlight bleed was the colors shifting as you slightly move away from the optimal viewing angle. Vertical viewing angles are average, with colors starting to distort 20 degrees forward or back from perpendicular. Horizontal angles were much better with the screen visible up to 70 degrees to the side before the screen bezel and reflection started to interfere. Backlight levels are good for viewing in bright viewing conditions, such as a bright office or classroom, but the screen gets washed out quickly when using it outdoors.

Speaker performance is lackluster, with tinny sounding audio and no bass or midrange. Peak volume levels were also weak, making headphones a required accessory for this notebook.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The MSI X340 offers a full-size keyboard that is comfortable to type on, but lacks proper support to prevent flex. The keyboard starts to flex even before your fingertips supply enough pressure to trigger a key. Once you get past the abnormal flex the keyboard is actually pretty nice. Key action is smooth with a good throw distance, and key movement is minimal. The layout is easy to follow, with correct ctrl/function key placement, and good sizing of the enter key and right shift button. Overall I think the keyboard would be significantly better if it was slightly thicker with better bracing to prevent flex.

The touchpad appears to be an ALPS or similar model, but doesn’t use any special driver, only the native Windows touchpad control. The touchpad has a noticeable amount of lag as you change pointer direction or initially start moving. Without proper driver support you also lack customizable features such as a scroll region for the touchpad, programmable click zones, or any multi-touch support. This was confirmed by going into the MSI support website which says no drivers are required as it is handled natively. The touchpad buttons are loud when clicked, and they take a significant amount of pressure to activate. The button throw is shallow with a solid click when pressed.

Ports and Features
When compared to the MacBook Air the X340 is loaded with ports. It offers VGA, HDMI, headphone and mic, two USB ports, and even a LAN connection while keeping its thin profile. MSI even managed to squeeze in a SD-card slot for expanding internal storage or pulling images off a camera without any cables.


Front: Activity lights


Rear: Screen hinge


Left: VGA, LAN, HDMI, and SDHC card slot


Right: Two USB, audio jacks, AC Power

Performance
The MSI X340 offers an Intel Core 2 Solo processor compared to the standard Intel Atom found in almost all netbooks, giving us the impression that system performance would be greatly boosted. However, for normal daily use the X340 doesn’t feel that much faster than a netbook. While you don’t notice much lag in basic applications such as MS Word or Firefox, the system doesn’t have as much pep as a standard notebook. Some of our benchmarks hint towards this as well, with the ultra-low voltage Intel processor only having a small bump in speed over the Intel Atom, with most of the jump thanks to the much better Intel X4500 integrated graphics.

wPrime, which stressed the processor, showed only a six second lead over the fastest Intel Atom processor. Even with the relatively slow processor, having Intel X4500 integrated graphics allowed this notebook to play 720p HD video with only a few blips in performance. Under heavy movement in some movies the processor load would peak at 100%, and a frame or two would be dropped. Otherwise the movie was completely fluid and watchable.

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Apple MacBook Air (Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 @ 1.6GHz) 68.173 seconds
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.2GHz) 76.240 seconds
HP Pavilion dv2 (AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 @ 1.6GHz)
103.521 seconds
MSI X-Slim X340 (Core 2 Solo SU3500 CULV @ 1.4GHz) 108.530 seconds
ASUS Eee PC 1000HE (Intel Atom N280 @ 1.66GHz) 114.749 seconds
Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)  125.812 seconds

 

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100) 2,478 PCMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 2,446 PCMarks
MSI X-Slim X340 (1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 CULV, Intel X4500) 2,337 PCMarks
HP Pavilion dv2 (1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3410 512MB) 2,191 PCMarks
ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB) 1,851 PCMarks
Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950) 1,555 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 comparison results against notebooks @ 1280 x 800 resolution:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
HP Pavilion dv2 (1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3410 512MB)
1,355 3DMarks
MSI X-Slim X340 (1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 CULV, Intel X4500) 639 3DMarks
Apple MacBook Air (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7500, Intel X3100) 502 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 13 (1.86GHz Intel T2390, Intel X3100) 470 3DMarks
Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950) 122 3DMarks

 

HDTune measuring hard drive performance:

 


Heat and Noise

Heat output from the ultra-low voltage Intel SU3500 processor was minimal, with the notebook taking a long time to warm up in our tests. Under heavier loads the left side of the palmrest and touchpad would warm up, but the rest of the system stayed in the mid 80s. Fan noise was low on this system, even with the processor being tasked while playing HD video or running benchmarks. The only complaint I have is the “warm electronics” odor coming out of the exhaust vent. The fan didn’t seem capable of moving that much air, whereas if it were more powerful the overall system temperatures would have been lower … though at the expense of fan noise.

Battery
MSI included a 4-cell 32Wh battery with the X340 which gave less than impressive results in our battery tests. When we set the system to the “balanced” profile, screen brightness set to 70%, and wireless active the X340 managed 3 hours and 29 minutes before it shutoff. An optional 8-cell battery is offered and would be a wise investment for travelers.

Conclusion
The MSI X-Slim X340 is very thin and lightweight, but lacks some refinement. The keyboard could use some extra bracing and the missing driver support for the touchpad kills many standard features we have come to expect from laptops these days. Basic support for scrolling or defined touch zones is gone, and you can’t even adjust sensitivity. This could be corrected with the release of proper drivers, but as it stands the support site tells you to use native Windows drivers. Battery life with the stock 4-cell battery wasn’t the best with only 32Wh of capacity, but we understand that the smaller battery is thinner and more visually appealing. Overall if you like the looks of the Apple MacBook Air but don’t like the price, and you think the HP Pavilion dv2z is too thick, the MSI X-Slim X340 might be for you.

Pros:

  • Super thin and lightweight
  • Nice display
  • Comfortable keyboard

Cons:

  • No driver support for touchpad (no scrolling)
  • Keyboard flex
  • Not as fast as MacBook Air or HP dv2z


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