MSI's X-Slim series focuses on lightness and aesthetics. So it uses low-energy-consumption processors and limits extras to a minimum (there's no DVD drive, for example). This model, the X340, is described by its maker as "the notebook that gives you style!"
Handling & Connectivity
The X340's thin profile is the first thing that stands out. To achieve netbook-like weight, the shell had to be thin, and it definitely is. The area around the keyboard has a matte finish (that's good), but the bezel and back of the display are glossy (that's not so good). In the aesthetics department, we'll end with one detail that sticks out - the shiny, imitation-metal connector surrounds. They really detract from the notebook's overall appeal.
The keyboard is only average and doesn't take up the full width of the available surface. About 2 cm of space is wasted on each side. The keyboard sinks down under pressure and doesn't give the impression of being very sturdy. The touchpad managed to impress us, however. It's large and blends in with the shell nicely, since it has the same texture. The click bar just below it includes both left and right clicks. We'd have liked it to be a tad quieter, however.
The webcam is fairly good. The image is reasonable and holds up well in various light conditions, though it does tend to burn out the brightest-lit areas. The microphone avoids the error of being set near the keyboard and produces average quality sound.
The noise level is generally low, but if you listen closely you can hear a high-pitched scraping coming from the hard disk. People with very sensitive ears will find it bothersome. Also, under heavy use, a fan kicks in. But its noise is muffled, moderate, and only noticeable if you're sat right next to the computer.
The following connectors are set along the edges of the case: 2 USB, 1 VGA, 1 HDMI, 1 Ethernet, 2 audio, and 1 SD card reader. That's fairly limited connectivity, especially in the USB department, so you'll have to be discriminating in your choice of peripherals. For video output, use the HDMI over the VGA. On our test model, the latter showed disturbances in the display of white areas.
Under the unit, the only removable component is the battery. There's no flap for access to the RAM or the hard disk.
|2 USB, Audio in and out
||SD Card Reader
|VGA, RJ45, HDMI
The single-core Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 processor is not what you can call ultra-powerful. The results of our tests showed 2 to 3 times less speed than on our reference computer, a Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Xi3650. Of course that's disappointing, but that should be put into perspective. You'll still be able to perform all types of tasks, including video editing, file compression, photo retouching, etc. But you'd do better to stick to office applications if you're the impatient type.
Playing heavy HD video (such as Blu-Ray) is possible provided you use graphics-chip hardware acceleration. With acceleration, CPU use was around 50% and power consumption was at 19 Watts. Without it, CPU use jumped to 100% (with a loss of fluidity) while power consumption remained stable.
A GMA X4500MHD graphics chip isn't ideal for gaming, so forget about recent 3D games and stick to less demanding titles and 2D offerings.
In the audio department, the X340 typifies exactly what ought to be avoided. The speakers are mediocre, they lack power, and they saturate at high volume. The headphone output is abysmal. It lacks precision, there's a constant hiss in the background (with or without an audio signal), and you regularly hear parasitic noise from disk accesses and other sources. As for sound processing circuitry or an optical audio output, they're both non-existent.
Portability & Battery Life
The X340's battery life is disappointing. Despite its energy-efficient processor, we only got 2 hours 12 minutes of continuous video playback out of it (with the display at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in, and Wi-Fi disabled). The unit's light weight adds a few positive points - only 1.3 kg. That's an excellent weight, lower than some netbooks - like the Asus 1000HE. And yet, it's important to note, that unit has a battery life of close to six hours.