Who doesn't like a price cut? When we last visited the MSI X series, the 13-inch X350 offered plenty of style and long battery life but weak integrated graphics for a high price of $999. Now MSI has switched to AMD's Fusion processor and lowered the price to $599, promising beefier graphics and even longer endurance. Sounds like a steal on paper, but is this ultraportable machine really a bargain?
Slim and stylish, the MSI X370 definitely stands out. The top lid is a glossy black plastic with a honeycomb pattern that does a decent job of hiding smudge marks, while the undercarriage is made from a single sheet of sturdy midnight black plastic. We especially like the ridge-textured palm rest. Also made of plastic, this area flexes under pressure but looks good when paired with the chrome-painted trim surrounding the touchpad.
At a slim 13 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches and a single hand-friendly 3.4 pounds (with the four-cell battery), the MSI X370 is the exact same size as its older sibling, the MSI X350. An eight-cell battery adds a little less than half a pound for a final weight of 3.8 pounds, plus about a quarter of an inch in resting height. Unless you're going to a meeting or you're near an outlet, you'll definitely want the larger battery (more on battery life below). Of course, nothing compares to the 0.68-inch thickness and 2.9-pound weight of the 13-inch MacBook Air, but that notebook costs $700 more.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The MSI X370 offers an island-style keyboard with firm tactile feedback. As with previous MSI X-Series notebooks, though, we wish the right Shift, Enter, and Backspace keys were a little larger. On some occasions we hit the Up Arrow key instead of Shift.
The spacious 3.5 x 2-inch touchpad felt comfortable when navigating the desktop, and we had no trouble scrolling with two fingers or using pinch-to-zoom in the browser. The silver mouse bar has a slick, faux brushed metal look, but the button itself felt a bit loose.
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After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes, the area near the X370's front-edge vent reached a warm 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but other parts of the system stayed fairly cool. The touchpad climbed to 96 degrees, and the underside registered a borderline 89 degrees. The keyboard (between the G and H keys) was a harmless 81 degrees. We consider anything above 95 degrees uncomfortable.
Ports and Webcam
Starting on the right side of the X370 are two USB 2.0 ports (the only two on the system), a headphone and microphone jack, and a power plug. The left side houses a VGA port, an Ethernet jack, and an HDMI port, while a 2-in-1 card reader sits on a downward sloping recess.
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The 1.3-megapixel webcam captured decent video despite the need to adjust contrast and gamma settings to correct for washed-out skin tones and abrasive light distortions.
Display and Audio
Click to enlargeThe X370 features a 13.4-inch display (1366 x 768 pixels) that looks crisp and bright. Viewing angles were a little wider than 45 degrees, and a 1080p version of the 127 Hours trailer streamed via YouTube was vibrant and rich in color.
Thanks to SRS Sound technology, the MSI X370's audio performance really impressed. Drums, guitars, and vocals in the Queens of the Stone Age "3's and 7's" were loud, clear, and even punchy. Streamed audio from ComedyCentral.com, Hulu, and Netflix was easily audible even at 30-percent volume. The X370 easily filled a medium-sized room with tunes or dialogue.
The MSI X370 uses AMD's new Fusion APU, which combines the dual-core 1.6-GHz AMD E-350 CPU on the same chip as the Radeon HD 6310 graphics GPU. The X370 notched a PCMark Vantage score of 2,509; that's more than 1,300 points below the ultraportable average of 3,804, but the MSI X370 bests other Fusion systems such as the HP Pavilion dm1z (2,198) and the Sony VAIO YB (2,112), both of which have the same 1.6-GHz AMD E-350 CPU. The 13-inch MacBook Air's 1.86-GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 128GB flash memory managed about 470 points better, but that's to be expected given the premium. However, the $699, Core i3-powered HP Pavilion dm3t scored about 1,000 points higher.
The MSI X370 took 2 minutes and 47 seconds to transcode a 5-minute, 114MB MPEG4 video file to AVI. That's the same time as the VAIO B, but nearly a minute slower than the dm3t and the category average.
Powered by a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, the X370 moved a 4.97GB folder of multimedia files at a rate of 24.5 MBps. That rate is not as speedy as the category average of 30.9 MBps, but the Fusion-powered dm1z pulled in a far slower transfer rate of 18.4 MBps. The Sony VAIO YB was about as fast (24.2 MBps).
The Fusion APU is optimized for everyday computing chores; web-based tasks such as streaming video in Netflix or Hulu and listening to music in Grooveshark didn't drag down the performance at all.
The AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics inside the X370 returned a score of 2,260 in 3DMark06. That's higher than the average of 1,489, and creams its predecessor's score of 699. The HP dm1z (2,217) and Sony VAIO YB (2,490) are in the same ballpark as MSI's ultraportable, and the Intel-powered dm3t scored only 1,143. The X370's score of 284 in 3DMark11 is narrowly higher than the category average of 282.
The MSI X370 performed decently in World of Warcraft, achieving a barely playable 26 frames per second using the recommended settings. With special effects maximized, the rates dropped to just 12 fps. Though those rates aren't up to the category average of 43 and 13 fps, the MSI X370 compares favorably to the dm1z (24 / 13 fps) and VAIO YB (29 / 13 fps). However, the 13-inch MacBook Air, which has a discrete Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU, saw 53 and 17 fps, respectively.
Battery and Wi-Fi
With its four-cell battery, the MSI X370 lasted just 3 hours and 13 minutes. That's why we consider the eight-cell battery a necessity; with it, we saw a long 7 hours and 54 minutes on a charge, about 2.5 hours longer than the category average (5:28). The previous Intel-powered X350 turned in a runtime of 7:05, while the HP dm1z lasted a shorter 6:37. The 13-inch dm3t has a runtime of 5:35, and the 13-inch MacBook Air lasted 6:36.
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The X370's Realtek RTL8188CE 802.11n Wi-Fi radio delivered decent data rates of 32.3 Mbps and 13.9 Mbps at 15 and 50 feet from our router, respectively. The VAIO B performed slightly better with 34.2 and 14.3 Mbps speeds, but the category average is 30.2 and 19.5 Mbps, so the X370 is in the middle of the pack when it comes to wireless connectivity.
Software and Warranty
On the software side, a star logo at the top center of the X370's desktop expands to reveal the S Bar, a dock that houses shortcuts to frequently used applications. Our unit did not include proprietary MSI software that is installed on other machines. Once we receive that information, we will update this review.
Unfortunately, MSI has pared down its warranty; where the X350 came with a three-year limited warranty, the X370 has just a one-year limited warranty that includes free phone support 9AM to 9PM Monday to Friday. To see how MSI fared in our latest Tech Support Showdown, click here.
Click to enlargeAt $700 less than the 13-inch MacBook Air, the MSI X370 is a budget-friendly alternative to that machine for those looking for an ultraportable that lasts a long time on a charge. Although the $599 MSI X370 is considerably less expensive than its predecessor, it offers better performance and battery life. Overall we prefer the soft-touch design of the $549 HP Pavilion dm3t, which is heavier but has a faster Core i3 processor. But if you want slightly beefier graphics and even longer endurance, this svelte ultraportable will do the trick. Just make sure you get the eight-cell battery.