The $849 Intel Core i5-powered MSI X460DX packs plenty of power into an attractive 1-inch thick aluminum chassis. The 14-inch X460DX's vibrant display and Nvidia GPU make watching videos and playing games an engaging experience, while a powerful battery and Nvidia Optimus switchable graphics allow the notebook to last nearly all day. But are these pros enough to overcome a few issues with build and keyboard quality?
The MSI X460DX's Metallic Black brushed-aluminum finish is simple but elegant. A raised chrome MSI logo in the center and a plastic black bar across the top give the lid a small flourish. When we pressed down on the front portion of the lid, we noticed a small but disturbing amount of flex. We also could feel some friction on the hinges as we opened and closed the lid, a sign of shoddy build quality.
While the palm rest has the same brushed-aluminum finish as the lid, the remaining interior is done in glossy black plastic surrounding a black matte keyboard. A slim chrome bar rests across the speakers with a smaller bar across the clear textured power button. Additional chrome accents can be found on the buttons for the S Bar and Turbo Battery + feature, a thin strip surrounding the touchpad, and the mouse button.
The MSI X460DX should slide easily into a medium-sized purse or messenger bag. At 4.4 pounds, the X460DX is lighter than competitors such as the 4.6-pound Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-6847, the Dell Inspiron 14z (also 4.6 pounds), and the 4.8-pound ASUS U41Jf-A1. The 13.4 x 9.4 x 1-inch MSI is a hair smaller than the 13.3 x 9.8 x 1.1-inch ASUS, as well as the Inspiron 14z (13.6 x 9.7 x 0.9 inches) and the Acer 4820TG (13.5 x 9.6 x 1.1 inches).
Keyboard and Touchpad
Cramped is the first word that came to mind when we started using the X460DX's island-style keyboard. We immediately noticed the undersized Backspace, Enter, and right Shift keys. Although we got firm feedback from the flat black keys, their small size made for an error-ridden typing experience. It's a shame that MSI didn't think to make use of the inch of space surrounding the keyboard and extend the deck about a half inch to give the keyboard room to breathe.
In contrast to the cramped keyboard, the 3.1 x 1.7-inch touchpad gave us plenty of real estate to navigate the desktop and use multitouch gestures. The palm rest was warm but comfortable, as was the slightly raised texture of the touchpad. Pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scrolling, and rotation gestures on the Elan Smart-Pad were rapid and accurate. The button beneath, a silver plastic bar, was stiff, but it loosened up with continued use.
Display and Audio
Images on the MSI X460DX's 14-inch glossy 1366 x 768-pixel display were bright and vivid. Watching the camera pan over Brett Reid's enviable classic car collection in The Green Hornet DVD was awe-inspiring. Brilliant blues, reds, and yellows caught and held our attention, but the deep rich black of the Black Beauty car stole the show. Explosions were big and bright, but appeared slightly washed out against the night sky. Wide viewing angles meant that we were able to watch movies with a couple of friends without everyone having to crowd the notebook.
Despite the adjustments for dialogue and music via the THX TruStudio Pro Settings software, audio sounded a bit tinny on the RealTek High Definition Audio speakers. With the speakers at full volume, we were able to fill up a small room, but sound did get a bit distorted. Jack White's vocals and guitar sounded tinny as we listened to "Seven Nation Army." Nicki Minaj and Rihanna fared slightly better on "Fly," but the bass was weak and Rihanna's vocals sounded a little distorted at maximum volume.
After we ran a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the X460's touchpad measured a reasonable 89 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys was a little cooler at 86 degree, but the notebook's underside measured an uncomfortable 106 degrees, 11 degrees above what we consider acceptable (95 degrees).
Ports and Webcam
On the right side of the notebook sit a USB 2.0 port, a 2-in-1 card reader, a headphone jack, a microphone jack, a DVD player, and a secure lock. Two USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI, and a VGA port are located on the left.
The X460DX comes equipped with a 1.3-megapixel BisonCam NB Webcam. While MSI did not include proprietary software for the webcam, it can operate with a number of third-party video chat programs including GChat, ooVoo, and Skype. During a Skype session, our caller reported a clear image with sharp details with loud, clear audio.
Powered by a second-generation 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M CPU with 6GB of RAM, the MSI X460DX scored 7,283 on PCMark Vantage. That outperformed the ASUS U41Jf-A1 (5,510) and the Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG (6,348), both of which have first-generation Intel Core processors. The Dell Inspiron 14z's 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M CPU scored a higher 7,743, though.
The MSI's 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive booted up Windows 7 Home Edition 64-bit in 55 seconds, beating out the Inspiron 14z (0:56), the 4820TG (0:59), and the U41Jf-A1 (1:08). The Dell was a little quicker off the starting block with 0:53, while the Lenovo blazed ahead with 0:48--15 seconds faster than the 0:64 average. The X460DX duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in a speedy 2 minutes and 41 seconds, a rate of 31.8 MBps. That's better than the category average (27.4 MBps), as well asthe 4820TG and the U41Jf-A1, which scored 25.4 and 24.5 MBps, respectively.
Graphics and Gaming
Thanks to its Intel HD 3000 GPU and Nvidia GeForce GT540M GPU with 1GB of VRAM and Optimus technology, the MSI X460DX really shines with graphics performance. It more than doubled the 3DMark06 thin-and-light notebook category average, and was more than enough to beat the Acer 4820TG's AMD Radeon HD 6550M (7,844) and the ASUS U41Jf's Nvidia GeForce GT425M GPU (7,597). The Dell Inspiron 14z's Intel HD 3000 Graphics GPU could only muster 4,749.
The MSI delivered a respectable gaming performance, notching 107 fps in World of Warcraft at 1366 x 768 on Good, beating out the competition and the 83 fps average. The Acer 4820TG scored 89 fps, while the Inspiron 14z brought up the rear with 45 fps. When we switched to maximum settings, the X460DX dropped to 53 fps, still comfortably above the 30 fps average. The TimelineX 4820TG, and the Dell Inspiron 14z dropped to 44 and 20 fps respectively. The U41Jf-A1 came in slightly above average with 62 fps.
When we switched to Far Cry 2, on autodetect at 1024 x 768 resolution. The X460DX scored 53 fps, while the ASUS gave us 44 fps. The TimelineX was the clear winner with 74 fps. All beat out the category average of 21 fps.
Nvidia's Optimus technology enables the X460DX to automatically switch between Intel's integrated GPU to Nvidia's discrete graphics depending on the workload, optimizing the battery life. As a result, the notebooks's six-cell 5900mAh battery lasted 6 hours and 33 minutes, 1 hour and 18 minutes longer than the 5:15 category average. The Aspire TimelineX gave us 5:11, while the Inspiron 14z and the U41Jf-A1 finished at 6:29 and 6:30, respectively.
Our $849 MSI X460DX-006US comes with a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and a Nvidia GeForce GT540M GPU with 1GB of VRAM and Optimus technology. For $799, consumers can get the entry-level X460DX-008US model, featuring a 2.53-GHz Intel Core i3-2310M CPU with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and a Nvidia GeForce GT540M GPU with Optimus technology. Those in search of a little more performance should check out the $1,199 X460-004US. This higher-end model has a 2-GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU, 6GB of RAM, and a 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, but an Intel HD 3000 GPU.
Software and Warranty
MSI includes a host of software and utilities on the X460DX. The ECO Engine allowed us to toggle between different levels of screen brightness (ECO Off, Game, Movie, Office, and Presentation), and the Turbo Battery + mode let us conserve energy by cutting power to idle hardware such as Bluetooth and the webcam. The iCharger software supplies USB ports with additional power and claims to charge USB devices three times faster.
Mousing over the S icon located at the top of the screen (or pressing the S button on the keyboard) launches the S Bar, a shortcut to frequently used utilities, programs, and accessories. From here, you can perform such tasks as disabling the webcam and touchpad, opening Windows Media Player and Cinema Pro, and launching the Sound Recorder. Having instant access to certain apps is always good, but we were disappointed that we couldn't customize the bar and add our own shortcuts.
We also enjoyed using MSI's Easy Viewer photo album interface (pictured above). Instead of scrolling through images one by one, Easy Viewer displayed all of our photos in three tile tiers. A slider bar on the bottom let us scroll from left to right and click on a picture to navigate between tiers. We zoomed in and out using pinch-to-zoom.
Third-party software includes Microsoft Office Starter, Nuance PDF Reader, Windows Live, and a 60-day free trial of Norton Internet Security.
The $849 MSI X460DX offers a strong balance of performance, graphics, and endurance in a modest, unassuming package. We appreciated the 6 and a half hours of battery life as well as the system's vibrant display. However, we weren't fans of its keyboard, speakers, or build quality issues. Users who want more productivity power, a better keyboard, and more solid build quality--but don't need discrete graphics--might want to check out the business-oriented Lenovo ThinkPad T420, which offers a 2.3-GHz Core i5-2410M CPU with 4GB of RAM, a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU for $854. Those looking for a less-expensive option with comparable graphics muscle should consider the $799 Acer Aspire TimelineX 4820TG-6847. Still, if you want a 14-inch system that can handle work and play equally well and last through the day, you'll find a lot to like in the MSI X460DX.