The MSI CX640 may not be the prettiest 15.6-inch laptop around, or the sveltest, but it certainly offers decent performance. Running on an Intel Core i5 processor, it'll set you back around £600.
While not exactly ugly, the CX640 isn't the most beautiful laptop we've seen. The MSI logo on the top of the casing is the only feature that identifies the CX640 as a laptop, rather than a massive slab of slate sat on the desk. The shell is made from sturdy plastic, so it doesn't feel as though a light breeze will shatter it into a million tiny fragments.
As a 15.6-inch laptop, the CX640 isn't the sort of chap you'd want to pull out on a busy bus, and, at 35mm thick, it's not particularly thin either. Still, weighing 2.4kg, you could probably get away with carrying it in a bag to and from work without causing serious shoulder damage.
The port options are pretty standard. The CX640 offers Ethernet, HDMI and VGA outputs, 3.5mm headphone and mic sockets, three USB ports -- one of which doubles as an eSATA port -- and a multi-format card reader. Also included are a 1.3-megapixel webcam and a DVD drive -- there's no Blu-ray player.
The keyboard has isolated keys that provide a pretty comfortable typing experience. It's quite a wide keyboard, though, so you may struggle slightly if you have tiny hands. There's a separate numeric keyboard on the right-hand side, which will be welcome if you make a habit of entering data into spreadsheets.
The trackpad can be found slightly left of centre beneath the keyboard. It's perfectly usable, if a little on the small side -- MSI could have used more of the spare space around it. The trackpad has a ridged surface that's pleasing to finger. The rocker button beneath the trackpad isn't too stiff, so you can happily go on a long clicking mission if you wish.
The screen maxes out at a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, but it's pleasingly bright and displays text clearly. It doesn't offer the deepest blacks we've ever seen, but colour reproduction is good, and high-definition videos are handled adequately.
We're not a fan of the super-glossy coating MSI has slathered over the screen, though. Under indoor lighting, we found ourselves frequently staring at our own reflection, and, in bright sunlight, this problem will be even worse.
MSI has also chucked in a shock-protected 500GB hard drive. Still, you'd be best off not dropping this machine.
Go, go, middle ranger
Under the hood of CX640, you'll find a 2.3GHz, dual-core Intel Core i5-2410M processor, paired with 4GB of DDR3 RAM. To help the laptop along with gaming, MSI has slapped in a 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 520M dedicated graphics card.
When we ran the PCMark05 benchmark test, the CX640 returned an impressive score of 7,183. In 3DMark06, which tests a laptop's ability to chew through polygons in 3D games, it managed to rack up 5,095.
These scores aren't top-of-the-line by any means, but they're far from rubbish. We expect the CX640 to be able handle all kinds of office chores, as well as more intensive tasks, like video editing. It should also be able to handle some gaming, although don't expect it to tackle the latest titles with the settings ramped up to the maximum.
Overall, the CX640 offers good performance for the price. But, while it beat the benchmark scores of the similarly specced MSI CX623, the CX640 couldn't match the 3D performance of our version of the Dell Inspiron 15R, which scored 8,098 in 3DMark06. If your budget is strict and you want some gaming grunt, the 15R may prove a better investment.
When we ran the Battery Eater Classic test, which runs the CPU at a constant 100 per cent until the battery dies, the CX640 managed to last for 1 hour and 39 minutes. With normal usage, you'll be able to get more juice out of this machine, but the battery life still won't be great, so you probably won't want to stray too far from a power socket.
If you're after a relatively affordable desktop-replacement laptop, the MSI CX640 is worth considering. Just bear in mind that you'll have to learn to love its appearance.
Edited by Charles Kloet