Once upon a time, you'd have to sell a vital organ to afford tasty components in your new laptop, and you'd probably be stuck with an immovable, 17-inch behemoth to boot. But no more. Now you can get some rollicking kit packed into a fairly portable shell, at a price that won't melt your credit card. The 15.6-inch MSI CX623 is one such machine. Our sample had an Intel Core i5 processor, the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, and a £660 price tag, although you can also find a Core i3 version for around £550.
Earn your stripes
Looks aren't everything. That's what years of kids' TV, wise words from grandparents, and staring at our co-workers all day has taught us. It's just as well the notion is so strongly ingrained, because the CX623 is no oil painting.
A bold pinstripe pattern covers the lid and wrist rest, but a glossy black, plastic chassis means this laptop doesn't look very classy. It's more estate agent than secret agent. Still, a few twinkly blue and green LEDs jazz the laptop up slightly, and there's also an attractive speaker grille at the top of the keyboard.
The CX623 isn't the slimmest of laptops nor the lightest, measuring 374 by 35 by 248mm, and weighing 2.48kg. Although we've seen more portable machines, it's not disastrously chunky and you won't suffer too much discomfort if you have to lug it around all day.
The CX623's keyboard is comfortable to use, with a generous gap between each key meaning you won't find yourself making too many typos. The trackpad is on the small side, but it's responsive and we like its scrolling mechanism -- tapping the top or bottom right of the trackpad will scroll up or down. This feature works really well, and makes browsing Web pages without a mouse far easier than it is on most laptops. Sadly, though, the click buttons are pretty stiff -- you'll soon find your thumbs bulking up to Popeye proportions.
The 15.6-inch display is noteworthy. Its maximum resolution of 1,366x768 pixels is pretty bog-standard, but it's exceptionally bright and colourful. MSI's default blue desktop wallpaper was rendered so vividly that we felt like we could don our swimming trunks and dive right in. Videos and photos will look great. You will, however, notice a few annoying reflections from time to time.
Around the sides of the CX623, you'll find an Ethernet port, HDMI and VGA outputs, two 3.5mm sockets for headphones and a mic, Memory Stick Pro and multi-format card-reader slots, and three USB sockets, one of which doubles as an eSATA port. A webcam sits pretty above the display, and there's a Blu-ray player jammed in the side, which is great to see on a machine of this price.
Such connectivity options are all pretty standard. Our only complaint is that the USB port placement is weird. One port is stuck on the lower-right-hand corner of the laptop, while the other two are around the back, making them hard to reach. These two sockets are also close to the power port, so you might find the CX623's power cable gets in the way of your USB devices. That's irritating.
Core high five
Under the hood, our CX623 rocked a dual-core Intel Core i5-460M CPU, clocked at 2.53GHz. This Core i5 chip is no longer the very latest mid-range processor from the boffins at Intel, but we've seen excellent performance from laptops sporting CPUs like this one. The CX623 also has 4GB of DDR3 RAM and an Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics card.
So how did the CX623 perform in our benchmark tests? Unfortunately, the results weren't massively exciting. In PCMark05, the CX623 achieved a respectable score of 5,174. In 3DMark06, which tests a laptop's 3D performance, it managed a decidedly average score of 3,452.
Based on these scores, we'd expect this laptop to handle multimedia content capably, and the odd spot of gaming too, as long as you're not planning on playing any cutting-edge games at the maximum settings. Indeed, we found the CX623 handled high-definition video without any problems, and its performance was generally slick. It never stalled while we were multi-tasking.
The CX623's performance is decent, then, but there are other laptops that offer better performance for about the same amount of cash. Check out the Medion Akoya P6625, for instance, or the Samsung Q430, which is just as powerful but really light.
When we ran the CX623's CPU at a constant 100 per cent in the Battery Eater Classic test, the laptop held out for 1 hour and 49 minutes. You can expect longer battery life if you use the laptop less intensively.
The MSI CX623 is a cool little laptop. Its display is excellent, its performance is sound, and even its quirky looks will grow on you. But, again, you'll find machines that offer better performance for roughly the same price.
Edited by Charles Kloet