The MSI X600 is the 15.6-inch entry in the company's X-Slim series of super-svelte notebooks. Like the X340 did for 13-inch laptops, the X600 ($799) pushes the envelope of portability for 15-inch systems by offering an incredibly light chassis with MacBook Air-like curves. The combination of a discrete ATI GPU and an Intel Ultra-Low Voltage processor give the X600 both good graphics performance and strong battery life. For less than the X600's $799 price tag, you can find heavier 15-inch notebooks with better overall performance or longer endurance, but overall this notebook has plenty of appeal for those who don't need an optical drive.
Slim, Lightweight Design
At just under an inch thick, the X600 may just be the slimmest 15-inch notebook yet. It's half an inch slimmer thanthe Gateway NV Series, and about 0.2 inches slimmer than the Sony VAIO NW and the Acer Aspire Timeline 5810T. The notebook's slim profile is possible because MSI omits an internal optical drive, although the company bundles an external DVD burner.
At 4.8 pounds, the X600 is also the lightest 15-inch notebook we've tested, coming out 0.8 pounds lighter than the Sony VAIO NW and Gateway NV, and 0.6 pounds lighter than the Aspire Timeline 5810T. However, the DVD burner itself is 0.8 pounds, so if you take it with you, you'll be carrying the same 5.6 pounds worth of notebook as you would with the Gateway and Sony systems.
Like the X340 and the MacBook Air, the X600 has slick, rounded curves. However, unlike the aluminum Air and MacBook Pro, the X600 is made out of lightweight glossy plastic, in either black or silver. We recommend the silver version, which is resistant to fingerprints.
MSI managed to pack plenty of ports into the X600's slim chassis. In addition to the standard audio jacks, 2-in-1 memory card reader, VGA, Ethernet, and 2 USB ports, the X600 has an eSATA/USB port for connecting to high-speed backup devices and an HDMI-out jack for outputting high definition video to a television or HDMI-compatible monitor.
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Keyboard and Touchpad
The wide chassis allows the X600 to have a large, 103-key keyboard, complete with numeric keypad. The keys offered decent tactile feedback, and the board does not suffer from flex. Unfortunately, typing on the large keyboard was a bit uncomfortable because there's too much space between the wide, flat keys on the home row and the undersized backspace, enter, and right shift keys. When trying to correct typos or enter a hard return, we had to stretch our right pinky finger farther than normal, and kept missing the appropriate key.
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When taking the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test the first time, we kept missing these vital keys, and produced a weak 74 word per minute (80 is normal for us). However, after we got used to the keyboard, we took the test a second time and returned a strong score of 86 words per minute. However, even after we got used to it, our right pinky was still uncomfortable with the long motion needed to hit enter and backspace.
The large touchpad, with its accurate textured surface, is more pleasant to use, and even supports multitouch gestures. We were able to zoom in and out on the desktop by pinching and scroll up and down in Internet Explorer by dragging two fingers. The touchpad buttons were responsive, though we wish they were separate rather than a single bar.
Display and Webcam
The 15.6-inch display on the X600 has a native resolution of 1366 x 768, which is typical for LCD panels of this size; considering that the 13.4-inch X340 has the same resolution, we would have preferred more onscreen real estate. With more than 768 pixels of vertical space, users would have to do far less scrolling when viewing Web pages and reading Word documents. The glossy screen is reasonably bright when viewed directly, but colors wash out when viewed from above or from greater than a 45-degree angle. We also were able to see our reflection in the screen if the lid was not at the correct angle.
The X600's 1.3-megapixel webcam provides good image quality, even in low light. When conducting a Skype call, our friend reported that our image was smooth and sharp, even when we waved our hand rapidly in front of the camera.
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You probably won't want to use the MSI X600 as a home theater substitute. Video was smooth, but extremely blocky and filled with noise, both when we watched a streaming HD video of Fringe from Fox.com and when we watched a DVD of Dark City (using the external optical drive).
Though the X600's optical drive does not support Blu-ray, its ATI Radeon HD 4330 graphics chip is fast enough to play back Blu-ray discs. Using an external Blu-ray drive, a trial version of CyberLink PowerDVD 9, and an HDMI cable, we were able to output a Blu-ray disc of Heroes to a 32-inch Samsung HDTV. The disc played smoothly, though the picture suffered from some visual noise.
The sound coming from the two bottom-mounted speakers was tinny and incredibly distorted, both when we watched videos and when we listened to music. Even at maximum volume, it sounded like we were listening to people speak (or sing) through a pillow.
Intel's Ultra-Low Voltage processors are designed to save space and power, not return blazing fast speeds. So we weren't surprised when the X600 and its 1.4-GHz Core 2 Solo processor got a rather low score of 1,850 on PCMark Vantage, a program that measures overall system performance. That score is well below the 3,138 category average for mainstream notebooks, and trails way behind the Gateway NV (3,262) and Sony VAIO NW (3,334). However, it is significantly higher than the Acer Aspire Timeline 5810T, which also has a low voltage processor.
The processor also caused the X600 to lag behind the pack on our transcoding test, in which we convert a 5:05 MPEG-4 video clip to AVI format using Handbrake. The X600's time of 18 minutes and 30 seconds was well behind the 5:43 category average for mainstream notebooks and the 7:20 and 7:22 returned by the Gateway NV and Sony VAIO NW. However, the X600 was a bit faster than the Acer Aspire Timeline 5810T, which took 20:01.
Despite the weak performance on these particular tests, we had no problem performing common everyday tasks such as surfing the Web, editing documents, browsing photos, or making Skype calls.
The X600 booted Windows Vista Home in a rather slow 1 minute and 10 seconds, but its speedy hard drive could not have been to blame. The 500GB, 5,400-rpm Western Digital drive completed our LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media from one folder to another, in just 3 minutes and 40 seconds, for a rate of 23.1 MBps. That score is significantly faster than the 18.7 MBps category average for mainstream notebooks, as well as the 17.5 and 18.3 MBps returned by the Gateway NV and Sony VAIO NW, respectively.
The MSI X600's ATI Radio HD 4330 discrete graphics chip helped the system achieve a strong score of 2,246 on 3DMark06, which measures graphics performance. This score was more than double those of the Gateway NV (942) and Sony VAIO NW (1,000), and almost quadruple that of the Acer Aspire Timeline 5810T (574).
While that score is below the category average of 2,971 for all mainstream notebooks, it's important to remember that the mainstream notebook category contains some high-end gaming systems, and other premium performers like the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
The graphics performance on the X600 is even good enough to do some gaming. At 1024 x 768 resolution, the system got a frame rate of 25 fps in the graphically-intense Far Cry 2, which is about average when compared to other mainstream notebooks, but way ahead of competitors like the Gateway NV and Sony VAIO NW, which had slideshow-like rates of 5 and 6 fps, respectively. At its native resolution, the X600's frame rate dropped to a mere 13 fps, which is not really playable, but still way better than the 3 fps that both the Gateway and Sony got.
The X600's Intel WiFi Link 5100 802.11n card produced a transfer rate of 19.2 and 15.5 Mbps at distances of 15 and 50 feet from our test router. These rates were close to the category averages of 19.1 and 15.8 Mbps.
On our LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi, the X600 lasted 4 hours and 11 minutes, which is well above the 3:23 category average, and nearly an hour longer than the Sony VAIO NW (3:23) and Gateway NV (3:20) systems. However, the Acer Aspire Timeline 5810T lasted a whopping 6 hours and 10 minutes, which is two hours longer.
MSI told us that an expanded nine-cell battery will be available as an accessory, but pricing was unavailable at the time of this review.
Despite using an ultra-low power processor, the X600 isn't that much more efficient than other mainstream notebooks. It took 3 hours and 13 minutes for the X600 to fully recharge. During that time, it consumed an average of 45.7 watts, for a total of 8820.1 watts. The X600's LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating (total watts while recharging divided by battery life) of 35.1 is only about 3 watts below the mainstream average, and more than double that of the Acer Timeline 5810T. The MSI X600 is not rated by EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool).
While the X600 won't burn your fingers or singe your lap, it will make your wrists uncomfortably warm. While measuring the temperature during our battery test, we found the area between the G and H keys to be a reasonable 90.5 degrees Fahrenheit (temps below 95 are OK, while 90 degrees or below is ideal), and the back bottom was 91 degrees. However, the touchpad reached an unpleasant 99.5 degrees. While using the system, we were constantly aware of the heat beneath our wrists, and tried to avoid resting them on the deck, which was adjacent to the touchpad (and just as hot).
Software and Warranty
The X600 comes bundled with some applications to help you take advantage of all its features. Ulead Burn Now 4.5 lets you write to DVDs and CDs using the external optical drive. ArcSoft Print Creations lets you print photo albums, greeting cards, and calendars. MSI EasyViewer provides an attractive interface for viewing photos, though we prefer the simplicity of Windows Vista's built-in photo viewer.
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MSI EasyFace facial recognition software lets you log into the system just by staring into the camera. We found its accuracy to be a mixed bag. When we attempted to log in immediately after configuring the software, EasyFace was so fast that it registered our face before we had a chance to put our fingers on the keyboard to type our Windows password. However, it failed to detect our face the next morning in the same room but with different light, and we were forced to type our password instead.
In an attempt to make the Windows UI more attractive and easy-to-use, MSI has created its own dock software, called MSI S-Bar, which sits above the task bar and contains shortcuts to your favorite applications. While you can customize the S-Bar to have any shortcuts you want and to auto-hide when other applications are on top of it, some may find it to be an eyesore. If you don't like it, the S-Bar is easy to disable or uninstall.
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MSI backs the X600 with a generous three-year limited warranty, and offers tech support from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday.
The MSI X600 impresses with its thin profile and very light weight, strong graphics performance, and solid battery life. Its sub-five-pound frame, coupled with a unique combination of an Ultra-Low Voltage processor and discrete graphics, are innovations you won't find elsewhere.
However, if multimedia playback is more important, you might prefer the Sony VAIO NW, which provides Blu-ray playback and crisp audio for the same price. If value and processing power are paramount, the $599 Gateway NV, which has a much faster processor, might be more your speed. And if you want longer battery life, the Acer Aspire Timeline 5810T lasts two hours longer for $200 less. However, if you want the thinnest and lightest 15.6-inch notebook on the block, the MSI X600 is an attractive choice.