Hardware, design & build
We have been impressed with the improvement in the finish of all the recent MSI PC laptops tested. Unfortunately it seems as if the CR650 might have slipped through the net. Wherever you press down on the chassis it gives and the only area that is firmer is on the sides where MSI has placed the connectivity. This is also the only area - keyboard and touchpad apart - where you can place your fingers without leaving marks.
Putting these issues to one side, the keyboard, with separated keys, is otherwise relatively nice to use. The keys are a respectable size overall and are well placed, providing instinctive keying (slightly too responsive for some).
Including a number pad - practical if you're entering a lot of figures - has however forced MSI to reduce the size of the Enter and Shift keys. This sometimes results in a few keying errors but the addition of the number pad is more of a plus than a minus.
You have to say that in spite of its size (7.5 x 4.5 cm), the CR650's multitouch touchpad is precise and allows you to cross the panel's 1366 x 768 pixels in just two sweeps. In spite of the indentations used on the coating, it's nice to the touch, at least according to those in editorial who gave it a try-out (and it has to be said, there were quite a few who wanted to get their hands on it!).
The webcam (720p) gives decent restitution of movements, however brightness isn't managed as well. You have to choose between blocked out black and totally overexposed white. We're talking a fallback solution here but not something you'd want to be using everyday - best to use an external model.
The connectivity covers all the bases. On the right, there's a DVD burner, a USB 2.0 port, a VGA out and an Ethernet (RJ45) port. On the other side you'll find the headphones and mic sockets, two USB 2.0 ports, the HDMI out and the power in.
The CR650 is a relatively quiet model. Even when you push the components hard, noise levels are easily covered by a slight background sound and this isn't at the cost of high temperatures either - it hardly heats up at all. You hardly feel any hot air when you pass your hand in front of the extraction grill when it's fully powered up. Nice for those who like to sit their laptop on their lap!
The CR650's temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
Underneath, with the panel off
Power supply, HDMI out, USB 2.0 (x2), headphones and mic socket
DVD burner, USB 2.0 port, VGA out and RJ45
Processor power: good performance
For the second time on a 15.6 inch machine, the AMD E350 APU (CPU index: 29) has been used. The CR650 hardly gives higher performance than a netbook - very much like the Acer 5253 . It will therefore be limited to office documents and Internet usage. Processing times for more demanding applications are simply too long.
High definition video playback (HD 1080p, Blu-ray equivalent) is no problem as long as you use playback software that supports graphics hardware decoding (recent version of VLC, Media Player Classic HD with the right codes or Power DVD as of version 9). On its own the processor part can't take you beyond 720p, so the graphics part is also required (AMD Radeon HD 6310).
Windows 7 Family Premium edition (64-bit) takes 45 seconds to boot. You then have to wait another 15 to 30 seconds for the various pieces of software and connection to a wi-fi network to launch. It turns off in under 15 seconds.
Gaming: limited capacity
The Radeon HD 6310 that's integrated into the APU rapidly shows its limitations. In practice, the Aspire 5253 does honorably well with a few less demanding games, but more recent titles only work with graphics settings pushed right down and, most often, at low resolution. It doesn't give any improvement on a netbook with an NVIDIA ION 2nd generation graphics chip.
Audio: reasonable performance
Often so poor on laptops, the CR650 gives relatively good audio. The built-in speakers offer a powerful, clean sound, though not as accurate as it could be. We do advise you to leave the SRS mode well alone however, as turning it on gives rather doubtful spatial results.
The headphones out is also good quality with decent stereo results, though the same can't be said for the mic in, which has a lot of interference.