Review: MSI X340

Let’s cut to the chase and hit you with the sell: The MSI X340 is a MacBook Air at half the price. Interested? R ead on.

Netbook shop MSI has deconstructed Apple’s pioneering three-pound wedge and built what is, put simply, an amazingly credible knockoff. Like the Air, the X340 transcends many of the limitations of the netbook world, though it still has a few of its own flaws to contend with.

For starters, the X340 (aka the X Slim) is considerably better muscled than your typical netbook, featuring a glossy 13.4-inch (1366 x 768 pixels) screen, 320-GB hard drive and 2 GB of RAM. Like Apple’s ultralight, it’s incredibly thin — about 0.8 inches at its thickest —and it actually weighs slightly less than the Air, just 2.9 pounds. The only real departure from the Air’s specs is the new 1.4-GHz ultra-low-voltage SU3500 chip, which is based on Intel’s Core 2 Solo CPU. The Air offers a full Core 2 Duo, by contrast. Still, the SU3500 ekes a lot of performance out of its mere 5.5 watts of power: The X340’s performance wasn’t much worse than the MacBook Air’s in our testing.

Foes of Apple’s non-replaceable battery design decision will appreciate that the super-slim cell in the X340 can indeed be removed. You also get two USB ports instead of just one, an SD card slot, and both VGA and HDMI output ports. As with the Air, there’s no optical drive, but more than anything else, that’s the price that must be paid to achieve such weight and thinness.

Before you start salivating over the prospects of a half-price Air, note that Apple’s laptop does trump the X340 in a few significant ways. The Air includes Nvidia graphics, while the X340 is stuck with Intel’s integrated chipset. The screens are night and day: The Air is renowned for having one of the brightest LCDs available, while the X340 is merely average in this department. And then there’s battery life. The Air will run for more than three hours before dying, while the X340 sputters out before it hits two. For a machine with no optical drive, that’s a little disappointing. Of course, the X340 doesn’t run MacOS, either.

Still, it’s hard not to be enchanted with the X340, and that $900 price tag looks like a typo when it’s put side by side with a $1,800 Air. Put simply: This laptop is a true head-turner, and if squeezing every last ounce out of your bankroll is your game, this is — by a wide margin — the best value going in the world of ultralights.

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