Handling: simple but effective
The design of the MSI X-Slim X610 is identical to the X600 we tested last September. It's an elegant, thin laptop with a minimalist design. All of the fixtures and fittings are good, despite the exterior of the case being made entirely of plastic. The back is glossy and grey in colour, while the rest is matte grey with an aluminium look. It's only the border round the outside of the screen that will be easy to get dirty, as it's in glossy black plastic, which is likely to attract dust and greasy fingerprints.
The machine itself is quite wide, and won't slide easily into a smaller bag. The 22 mm-thick border around the display only reinforces the impression that it's sizeable, as if the 15.6'', 16:9 display wasn't enough.
The wide keyboard has everything you'll need, with flat, responsive keys measuring 17 x 18 mm. Typing is firm and quiet, apart from the space bar which is louder than the other keys. Although we would have preferred backlighting, we suspect it was something MSI skipped on to save costs. Also absent are multimedia hotkeys, although there's plenty of space to include them. Here, we imagine that MSI's motivation was more concerned with maintaining a simple, clean design.
The touchpad fits in nicely with the shell, with the same grainy texture. Sliding your finger over it is easy and it's large enough for everyday use.
The webcam is reasonable in good conditions, but very bad if there isn't enough light. It could be a lot more fluid, the colours are saturated with overexposed areas burning out and the contrast is weak. Putting the good quality mic to the right of the webcam was a good idea, as it avoids picking up the noise of typing.
You can certainly hear the sound of the X600. A fan turns the whole time, and is particularly noisy when you give it a lot of work to do.
Along each side, you'll find the various connectivity options: a VGA input; a Gigabit Ethernet port; HDMI; a combined USB/eSATA input; two USB 2.0 ports; the mic and headphone jacks and a three-in-one memory card reader. 802.11b/g/n is also included.
Underneath, a single large panel opens up to reveal almost all of the internal components, although MSI warns that the guarantee is no longer valid if you open it: a sticker covers the only screw that holds it in place.
|VGA, RJ45, HDMI and USB/eSATA
||Memory card reader, headphone, mic, 2 USB, power
||Inside the X610
Processor Power: almost a netbook
Windows 7 Index: 3.1. Details: CPU 4.5 - Memory 4.2 - Graphics 4.2 - Gaming graphics 5.9 - Main hard drive 5.7.
Be warned: the processor inside the X610 is a single-core model! The AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 which powers the X610 is not a particularly strong performer. Although it's more powerful than the Intel Atom that you'll find in most notebooks, it's still around two and half times less powerful than the SU9600 that was in the X600. Don't be too disheartened, though, as it's perfectly adequate for office use and browsing the web. Editing photos and encoding video is possible, but you'll need to be armed with a lot of patience.
Compared to our reference laptop, indexed at 100, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (which has an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400), the X610 came in at 21 in our processor tests, and got an overall score of 48 (3D excluded).
Playing 1080p HD video--the equivalent of Blu-ray disc--requires a little helping hand from the graphics card. You'll need to rely its graphical acceleration to decode video. We found PowerDVD and Media Player Classic HC worked fine, providing you use the right codecs.
3D Gaming: forget about recent titles
The Mobility Radeon HD 4330 graphics card is very much one of ATI's entry-level models, which will only leave room for some very old titles. Some more recent games are still possible, as long as you turn the details down to minimum, which isn't a particularly attractive option. That said, it's still much better than and Intel chipset, and as long as you're reasonable about which options you turn on, you can have a reasonable time with games that rely on relatively undemanding 3D engines. Those that use Valve's Source Engine--Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead, for instance, are all playable if you set the detail to 'medium'.
Audio Quality: an optical audio out saves the day
Once again, the sound quality isn't up to the rest of the laptop. The speakers produce a high-pitched sound with no bass. The headphone jack gives a clean signal, despite a slight hiss that disappears when you start playing music. It doubles up as an S/PDIF optical audio output, although you'll need an adaptor to us it.
Portability & Battery Life: reasonable for a screen this size
We found the X610's battery life a little disappointing. We were expecting more, given that it's less powerful than the X600. It managed 2 hours 57 minutes of video playback (with the screen at 100 cd/m², the headphones plugged in and WiFi turned off), powered by a six-cell 5400 mAh, 6 Wh battery. That's thirty minutes less than the X600, and also behind the 15'' MacBook Pro, despite offering far less power than the latter.
Weighing in at 2.1 kg, the X610 is light for a laptop with a screen of this size, and at just 25 mm, it's very slim.