With a starting price under $600, MSI's 15.6-inch A6200 provides strong Core i3 performance at a bargain price. Combining stylish looks, light weight for its class, and strong battery life, the A6200 is a compelling choice for families and students on a budget. However, similarly-priced Core i3 systems offer just as good, if not better performance.
For a budget system, the MSI A6200 sports a rather classy design. The glossy black lid and palm rest are adorned with subtle gray pinstripes that reminded us of an upscale business suit. The touchpad, which sits in a concave area of the palm rest, also carries the pattern. The dek and bezel are also made from glossy black plastic, and the front lip of the system carries a tasteful array of status lights in bright blue and green. Unfortunately, all this gloss adds up to a fingerprint magnet.
At 14.7 x 9.7 x 1.2 inches and 5.4 pounds, the MSI A6200 is no ultraportable but it feels surprisingly light for a 15.6-inch notebook with an optical drive. We were able to carry both the notebook and a pile of textbooks around in our bag all day without feeling like we were lifting something heavy. That's a bit lighter than competitors like the Gateway NV5934U (5.6 pounds) and the Toshiba L505-ES5018 (6 pounds).
Keyboard and Touchpad
Because of its screen's wide aspect ratio, the A6200 has room for a numeric keypad and plenty of space to stretch out your hands. The island style keyboard has keys with a comfortable matte plastic surface but less tactile feedback than we'd like. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test we managed to reach 86 words per minute, far better than our usual 80 wpm rate. However, we also had a 3-percent error rate (worse than our typical 1-percent rate), because the keys didn't snap back at us as forcefully as we like.
The indented touchpad looks very attractive and provided accurate navigation around the desktop. However, it does not support multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, a feature most modern notebooks now support. The mouse buttons are paired into a single mouse bar, which is less pleasant to click than two discrete buttons, but offers decent feedback.
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During light use the A6200 stayed relatively cool, but when we played a Hulu video at full screen minutes, it got warmer. After 15 minutes of streaming video, the keyboard reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the touchpad heated up to 97 degrees, and the bottom warmed up to 95 degrees. We consider temperatures above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable and above 100 degrees disturbing. The Gateway NV5934u, by comparison, had a keyboard that reached 98 degrees and a bottom that measured 100 degrees.
Ports and Webcam
Click to enlargeFor a budget system, the MSI A6200 does not skimp on ports. On its back side are a Kensington lock slot, a VGA-out connection, HDMI port, and two USB ports. Having those connections on the back of the notebook is a little odd, and means you have to reach around behind the system when plugging in devices. The left side contains an Ethernet port, a 4-in-1 memory card reader, audio in/out jacks, and an ExpressCard 54 slot. The right side has one more USB port, for a total of three.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam offered mediocre quality images in normal lighting conditions. In extreme low light, we were able to get a clear, though largely colorless picture. But when we turned on a light source behind us in an otherwise dim room, the picture got worse as our face became extremely dark in comparison to the background. When conducting a Skype call, images were sharp but a little jerky.
Display and Audio
The 15.6-inch 1366x768 glossy screen offered sharp images and bright, if not overly colorful images. Picture quality was clear, smooth, and noise-free when we streamed a 720p episode of Fringe from Fox.com, played a 1080p WMV file from Microsoft HD Showcase, and watched a DVD of Jet Li's Fearless. Viewing angles were solid when we were just staring at the desktop, but when watching videos, the picture washed out significantly at 45 degrees to the left or right.
The sound quality of the speakers was surprisingly good for a budget system. When using Napster to stream soft rock tunes, the sound was free from distortion though volume was low and the bass was a bit muted. However, when we started listening to louder tunes from rap artists like Ghost Face Killah and the Wu Tang Clan, the volume seemed much higher.
The MSI A6200's 2.13-GHz Intel Core i3 M330 CPU allowed it to get reasonable performance scores that were slightly above the mainstream notebook category average and similar to those offered by other sub-$600 15 and 14-inch consumer notebooks. On PCMark Vantage, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the A6200 scored a respectable 4,191, which is more than 300 points higher than the category average and far better than the 3,531 turned in by the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018. The Core i3-powered Dell Inspiron 14 (4,720) and Gateway NV5934U (4,248) had slightly higher scores, while the HP G62t (5,306) did much better.
TheA6200's 320GB 5,400-rpm hard drive initially took 68 seconds to boot into Windows 7 home premium, which is a little slower than the category average of 60 seconds.
It took the A6200 3 minutes and 39 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files from one folder to another. That's a rate of 23.2 MBps, which is a little better than the category average of 21.7 MBps and the scores offered by the Dell Inspiron 14 (20.5 MBps) and the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018 (18.7 MBps) and miles ahead of the glacial 13.1 MBps provided by the Gateway NV5934u. However, the HP G62t, which sports a 7,200 rpm drive, managed a strong 31.8 MBps.
The A6200 took one minute and 8 seconds to transcode a 114MB MP4 video to AVI using Oxelon Media converter. That time was identical to the category average (1:08) and similar to the times offered by competitors like the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018 (1:14), the Dell Inspiron 14 (1:08), the Gateway NV5934u (1:04), and the HP G62t (1:07).
With its integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD chip, we didn't expect the MSI A6200 to offer incredible graphics performance. However, the notebook's speedy CPU was more than adequate for navigating the globe in Google Earth, watching 1080p video, or even playing World of Warcraft.
On 3DMark06, a benchmark that measures overall system performance, theA6200 scored a strong 1,726, which is about half the category average of 3,359, but many of the systems in the category have discrete graphics. The MSI notebook compared favorably to other sub-$600 notebooks like the HP G62t (1,377 and the Gateway NV5934u (1,736).
In World of Warcraft, we were able to achieve a reasonable framerate of 53 fps at 1024 x 768 , which is a bit higher than the category average of 47 fps. However, when turned up the effects and raised the resolution to 1366 x 768, the frame rate dropped to an unplayable 9 fps. When we tried to play the more graphics-intensive Far Cry 2, we achieved an unplayable rate of 11 fps at 1024 x 768.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
The MSI A6200 has really solid endurance for a 15-inch notebook. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi, the notebook lasted 3 hours and 52 minutes, which is 11 minutes longer than the category average of 3:41 and much better than the Gateway NV5934u (3:24) and Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018 (2:53). The HP G2t (4:03) offered a comparable runtime.
The A6200's Atheros 802.11n Wi-Fi card delivered reasonable transfer rates of 46.2 and 24.1 Mbps at distances of 15 and 50 feet from the router, respectively. These numbers were a little lower than those offered by the Gateway NV5934u (53.3 / 29.7 Mbps), the Toshiba Satellite L505-ES5018 (50.7 / 32.8 Mbps) and the HP G62t (45.8 / 30.2 Mbps).
The MSI A6200's battery took one hour and 38 minutes to reach 80 percent charge and a full two hours and 33 minutes to get to 100 percent. These numbers are about on par with the 1:38 / 2:25 category averages for charge time. During the charging process, the notebook used an average of 40.9 watts. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 27 is better than the category average of 36.7 (lower is better), but a little worse than competitors such as the HP G62t (20.2), the Gateway NV5934u (21.4) and the Dell Insprion 14 (25.4).
MSI doesn't allow users to configure its notebooks to order, but a couple of different configurations are available at various retailers, with prices ranging from $599 to $699. The MSI A6200-041US has the same specs are our review unit, but has only 3GB of RAM instead of 4GB and currently sells for a higher price, $639.99 at Buy.com. The MSI A6200-021US has a faster Core i5-430M CPU and sells for $699 at Office Depot, with a $100 rebate at press time.
Software and Warranty
Click to enlargeApart from trialware like Norton Internet Security, MSI includes few utilities. Among these are the System Control Manager, which simple enables you to switch between power saving modes and turn devices like the webcam and wireless radio on or off and the MSI BurnRecovery which allows you to create a system restore disc. The System Control Manager is fairly frustrating to use because the only way to access its settings is to hit a key combination of Fn + a function key, for example F5 for power saving; there's no central control panel application. MSI also bundles ArcSoft Webcam Companion for taking and manipulating photos with the webcam.
MSI includes a standard 1-year warranty on parts and labor with MSI A6200. Unfortunately, the company offers phone support only from 9 am to 9 pm on weekdays. See how MSI did in our Tech Support Showdown.
The MSI A6200 offers good looks, solid performance, and relatively strong battery life at a great price. However, the port placement and lack of multitouch will annoy some. And the HP G62t, which also sports a Core i3 M330 CPU and costs $599, has a faster 7,200 rpm hard drive. Still, the A6200 has a sense of style and value that makes it a good choice for students and families on a budget. We just recommend that you try to find the Core i5 version first for the same price.