In the U.S., at least, MSI isn't known as a purveyor of business notebooks. While its ultraportable X-Slim series is light enough for executives on the go, the brand-new MSI P600 (the P is for "Professional") is the company's first North American notebook marketed toward the small- and medium-size business market. With a powerful Core i5 CPU, long battery life, fantastic webcam, and budget-friendly $650 price tag, the P600 has benefits anyone can appreciate, but not much in the way of business-friendly features.
At 15.4 x 10 x 1.1 inches and 5.4 pounds, the MSI P600 isn't the lightest notebook on the block, but it's on a par with other 15.6 systems in the same price range, such as the Dell Studio 15z (5.4 pounds, 15 x 9.9 x 1 inches) and the Toshiba L505-GS5035, which is heavier at 6 pounds.
The P600's chassis has a conservative look that fits in the home or workplace. Its light-gray lid has a subtle grid pattern and hardly shows fingerprints, despite its glossy plastic finish. The black interior of the system sports a classier design as its textured deck and palm rest combine with an attractive island-style keyboard.
Buttons for the power, web browser launch, custom configurable shortcuts--and something rarely seen, an eject button for the optical drive--all sit above the keyboard. Strangely, there is no button on the optical drive itself.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The island-style keyboard looks attractive, has a numeric keypad, and offers an acceptable, though unexceptional, level of tactile feedback. However, the palm rest is so deep we felt like we had to reach too far to get to the home row. We also found the CTRL and Fn keys to be a bit undersized, making it difficult to do things such as lower and raise the brightness without looking. We were able to achieve our typical rate of 80 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, though our 2 percent error rate was a bit higher than normal. Considering that the MSI P600 is marketed as a business notebook, we were surprised that its keyboard is not spill-resistant.
The 3.1 x 2-inch touchpad seems small in relation to the P600's giant palm rest. The pad has an attractive dotted surface that offers a bit too much resistance. As we tried to navigate around the desktop, our finger kept getting stuck on the textured dots. Multitouch gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom, work but aren't as smooth as we'd like. The two discrete mouse buttons were just a little bit stiff, but more inconvenient was their placement nearly an inch deep into the palm rest, wasting valuable space and forcing us to reach farther than we'd like to click. If you choose to use an external mouse, there's a touchpad lock button located directly above the pad.
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The P600 stayed cool throughout our testing. Even after playing 15 minutes of full-screen video, we measured the touchpad at a pleasant 86 degrees, the keyboard at 90 degrees, and the underside at a frigid 85.5 degrees Fahrenheit. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees acceptable and those below 90 degrees so low that you can hardly tell the system is on by touch.
Display and Audio
The 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel glossy display provided sharp images and reasonably bright images, though colors began to wash out at a 45-degree angle to the left or right. Whatever video we played on the system was sharp and smooth, from a streaming 720p episode of "Fringe" and a 1080p WMV file from Microsoft's HD Showcase to a DVD of "Dark City."
The sound quality of the speakers, mounted below the front lip, leaves a lot to be desired. When we streamed an R&B song, "Forget Me Nots" by Patrice Rushen, the bass was drowned out by a drummin that sounded like someone banging on tin foil. Even maximum volume wasn't strong enough to make a hard rock tune, "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple, loud enough to fill a room.
Ports and Webcam
The MSI P600 has a pretty standard array of ports. On the right side are a USB 2.0 port, an Ethernet port, and a VGA-out connection. On the left are Kensington lock slot, audio in/out jacks, an HDMI port, an eSATA/USB connector, and one more USB port for a total of three. The front lip has a 3-in-1 card reader.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam provided bright images even in low light. When chatting on Skype in a dark area, we found the image was still visible and smooth though a tiny bit noisy. Even with just a dim light behind us, the image remained strong.
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Click to enlargeWith its 2.4-GHz Core i5 CPU, the MSI P600 offers strong performance for a sub-$700 system. Whether surfing the web, navigating the globe in Google Earth, or playing HD video, the notebook is more than up to the task. On PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that measures overall performance, the P600 scored a strong 5,021, close to 20 percent above the category average for mainstream notebooks (4,488). That's also a bit higher than the Core i3-powered Toshiba Satellite L505-GS5035 (4,918) and the Core i3-powered Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 14 (4,293), though the Core i5-enabled Dell Studio 15z managed a slightly stronger 5,122.
Out of the box, the 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive took a slow time of 1 minute and 35 seconds to boot into Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit). However, once we removed trialware such as Norton Internet Security, that time dropped to a reasonable 55 seconds. The drive took just 3:23 to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 25.1 MBps, slightly higher than the mainstream notebook average of 23.3 MBps.
The MSI P600 is definitely good enough to compress video, as it took only 51 seconds to transcode a 114MB MP4 file to AVI using Oxelon media encoder. That's 12 seconds better than the mainstream category average of 1 minute and 2 seconds, and way ahead of competitors like the Dell Studio 15z (63 seconds), the ThinkPad Edge 14 (67 seconds), and the Toshiba Satellite L505-GS5035 (77 seconds).
With its integrated Intel HD graphics, the MSI P600 is no gaming rig, but it gets the job done on basic graphics tasks and can even play full 1080p video. On 3DMark06, a benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess, the P600 scored 1,401, far below the category average of 3,470; but that average includes a number of notebooks with discrete graphics. Competitors with integrated Intel graphics scored higher, including the Dell Studio 15z (1,932), Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 14 (1,486), and Toshiba Satellite L505 (1,743).
If you want to play high-speed games, don't get the P600. The system managed 50 frames per second in World of Warcraft at 1024 x 768 resolution, which, though much lower than the category average (71 fps) is playable and better than competitors like the Dell Studio 15z (32 fps), the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 14 (46 fps), and the Toshiba L505 (31 fps). When we turned up the resolution to 1366 x 768 and cranked up the effects, however, that rate dropped to an unplayable 14 fps.
On the more demanding game Far Cry 2, the P600 was overwhelmed, managing only 10 fps at 1024 x 768 resolution, 21 fps below the category average of 31.6 fps. It could not even play the game at its native resolution of 1366 x 768.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Click to enlargeWith its 8-cell battery and power efficient LED screen, the MSI P600 lasted an impressive 6 hours and 17 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi. That time is more than 80 percent better than the category average of 3 hours and 50 minutes and comfortably ahead of the Dell Studio 15z (4:58), the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 14 (4:42), and the Toshiba Satellite 505-GS5035 (3:07).
The Atheros AR9285 802.11n radio managed reasonable transfer rates of 34.6 and 23.5 Mbps at a distance of 15 and 50 feet from the router, respectively. Those numbers are about on par with the ThinkPad Edge 14 (30.4/24.2 Mbps) and slightly behind the Dell Studio 15z (39.7/23.7 Mbps) and Toshiba L505-GS5035 (43.9/27.2 Mbps).
Click to enlargeThe MSI P600 took 2 hours and 44 minutes to reach 80 percent of battery charge capacity and a total of 3 hours and 51 minutes to reach a full charge. During that time, the notebook used an average of 43.4 watts. That gives it a LAPTOP Green Efficiency rating of 26.9, a bit better than the 32.8 category average (lower is better).
MSI doesn't let you custom configure its notebooks. According to the company's site, the P600 is available with both 4- and 8-cell batteries, with a $30 difference in price. However, all the P600s we've seen for sale contained the 8-cell battery. If you're shopping, be sure to get the 8-cell unit, because long battery life is a key benefit of the P600.
Software and Warranty
Despite its description as a a solution for the "businessman on the go," the MSI P600 doesn't come with the kind of small business-friendly software we've come to expect from competing lines like the HP ProBook or Lenovo ThinkPad. There's no special security software, no encryption, no password manager, no remote management application, and nothing like HP's file shredder. The only security feature is a facial recognition program we've seen on more consumer-oriented MSI systems such as the X350. The included version of Windows is Windows 7 Home Premium, not Windows 7 Professional.
That said, the MSI P600 has a few solid applications for consumers. MSI EasyViewer provides an attractive photo gallery UI that looks a lot like Google Android's gallery and is a bit more functional than Windows 7's built-in image viewer. MSI BurnRecovery allows you to create a restore disc. Arcsoft Webcam companion lets you shoot photos and videos with the webcam.
Less useful is the MSI S-bar, which places a large dock on the bottom of your screen with shortcut icons you can configure to launch your favorite programs. While third-party docks like this were useful in Windows Vista and XP, Windows 7's built-in taskbar provides better functionality without eating up additional screen real estate.
The MSI P600 comes standard with a one-year warranty on parts and labor. This is shorter than the 3-year warranty MSI offers with some of its other notebooks, such as the MSI X350. To see how MSI fared on our tech support showdown, click here.
While it doesn't have any features that mark it as a business notebook, the $650 MSI P600 is a great value for consumers and a reasonable choice for small businesses that don't require any kind of additional security or support. Companies looking for stronger security and more business features would do better with Lenovo's ThinkPad Edge series, which offers a more comfortable keyboard and touchpad. Regardless, if you want a great 15.6-inch Core i5 value, the MSI P600 is a solid choice.