Review: MSI CR650

 
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Published: June 2, 2011 11:00 PM
By Alexandre Botella / Pierre Anzil
MSI has now launched the CR650, a 15.6 inch with an AMD E350 APU that has a built in HD 6310 graphics chip. According to MSI, "the CR650 has been designed for demanding users who wish to combine the latest technology and high performance in as elegant and affordable a solution as possible". Sounds good doesn't it? Let's see how it performs in practice.

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.

CR650


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!).  

Compaq Mini 311cThe 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
  
CR650
Underneath, with the panel off

CR650 Hood


CR650
  Power supply, HDMI out, USB 2.0 (x2), headphones and mic socket
CR650
 
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.

Battery life okay but lower than expected

With a similar configuration, the Acer 5253 mentioned above lasted 4h30 in our battery life test, but the CR650 only managed 3h35. This isn't however too much of a problem because, at 2.6 Kg and 38 x 25 x 4 cm, you probably won't be carrying it around with you all that much anyway.
3/5 MSI CR650 DigitalVersus 2011-06-03 00:00:00

Pros

  • Good quality speakers and headpones out

Cons

  • Panel with very low contrast (250:1) and inaccurate colours
  • Limited processor performance
  • Finish could be better

Conclusion

For £100 more than the Acer 5253, this laptop delivers similar levels of performance but lower battery life. Only its audio quality is better than the Acer model.

OUR SCORE 3/5
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