Poor man's MacBook Air or rich man's netbook -- call it what you want, but the MSI X340 is definitely worth talking about. It's a super-thin, super-light laptop that will appeal to users who either think netbooks are too small, or the MacBook Air is too expensive. It's available now for around £750.
Once we'd freed the X340 from its cardboard box, it took us several minutes to realise we were involuntarily drooling all over it. It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, but that's mainly because it borrows so heavily from the Air's wardrobe.
It's so slim that it almost puts Victoria Beckham to shame. It measures 19.8mm at its thickest point, and just 6mm at its thinnest, which isn't far away from the Air's figures of 19.4mm and 4mm. It's difficult to notice the extra thickness, because MSI has used the clever technique of sloping the edges of the laptop inwardly towards the centre, which creates the illusion that each edge is razor sharp.
The X340 lacks the Air's sexy aluminium body and instead makes do with plastic. This has the obvious drawback of being less attractive, but it makes the X340 very light. It weighs 1.3kg, which is slightly less than the Air's 1.36kg. It has the edge over the Air in several other areas, too. The extra 0.4mm thickness has allowed MSI to fit in an Ethernet port, two USB ports and an HDMI video output. We'd take that above the ability to fit the laptop inside a manila envelope any day.
One thing we're not so keen on is the keyboard. It flexes considerably and has a spongy feel. Pressing the 'C' key, for example, causes the '4', three rows up, to move. This, unsurprisingly, decreases typing accuracy and is also a sign of poor build quality. We're not saying keys might be falling off after a matter of months, but, if they did, we wouldn't be that surprised. The mouse could be better, too. It lacks multitouch gesture inputs and dedicated scroll zones, which we're not too happy about.
The X340's most interesting feature is its brand new Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500. This runs at a rather modest 1.4GHz, which isn't even as high a frequency as an Intel Atom N270 CPU. But it has significantly more L2 cache memory than an N270 -- 3MB as opposed to 512KB -- and a faster front-side bus -- 800MHz versus 533MHz. What's more, it doesn't use significantly more energy than an Atom. The SU3500 has a thermal design power (TDP) of 5.5W, which isn't much more than the 2.5W used by an N270.
Memory comes in the form of 2GB of DDR2 533MHz RAM -- more than you get in your average netbook -- plus a 250GB hard drive. Both forms of memory are ample here. The Air has far faster DDR3 1,066MHz memory, but the X340 has more than twice as much storage -- perfect if you're the sort of person that likes to stash a wealth of multimedia content.