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Hands on with a thin and stylish 14" CULV Notebook – the MSI X-Slim X400

Discussion in 'General Hardware' started by windwithme, Sep 15, 2009.

  1. windwithme

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    This year Intel released a new 45nm single-core, ultra low voltage CPU referred to as the CULV.
    By comparison, the earlier Atom 512K's low CPU performance limited it to basic word processing tasks.
    Intel had also insisted that the Atom processor only be used on NetBook products under 11.6".
    Ordinary notebooks are usually between 12~13.3".
    Compact models that weigh 1.3~1.7kg or less are often very expensive.

    The introduction of the new CULV architecture has brought about a significant price drop in the notebook market.
    The CULV has also put a lot of pressure on high-end compact notebooks for business users.
    Although the new CULV CPU lacks the performance of a dual core CPU in a high-end business notebook
    it has turned the tables on the conventional notebook market view that a lighter weight means a higher price.

    Right now, CULV notebooks cost between US$700 ~ 900, or about half the price of a business notebook.
    They are a lot lighter than US$1500 ~ 2000 business notebooks or even the average US$700 ~ 900 for a dual-core notebook.

    The X-Slim series launched by MSI this year is based on CULV architecture.
    The X-Slim is available in three models: X340 (13.3"), X400 (14.1") and X600 (15.6").
    MSI has kept the price under US$900 for all three models and the version with the CM 723 CPU can be had for less than US$700.

    In this hands-on review, we take a look at the MSI X-Slim X400.
    What really makes this model stand out is its official weight of 1.5kg.
    This is a lot lighter than your standard dual-core 14" Notebook weighing around 2.2 ~ 2.6kg.
    It's also lighter than 14" CULV notebooks of other brands that weigh in at around 1.9kg.
    When it comes to weight loss, the MSI X-Slim series really does it better than any other.

    X400's product box
    [​IMG]

    Included accessories
    Windows Vista Home Premium, product warranty, driver CD and user manuals
    [​IMG]

    The MSI X-Slim X400 itself
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The carry bag bundled with the X400 has a leather-like texture on the outside and the MSI logo is inside.
    It feels really nice and is quite thin so it doesn't take up space.
    [​IMG]

    The transformer is the usual small form-factor version.
    This is good, because it's easier to carry around.
    However, it is my experience, with some other brands of Netbooks, that small transformers tend to heat up a bit in use.
    In a trial of the MSI X-Slim charger, I found it did not heat up too much but took longer to give a full charge.
    DELTA is a well-established brand so you can count on the quality.
    [​IMG]

    The included mouse is the compact type with internal cabling and is the same pearl white color as the machine.
    [​IMG]

    The 4-cell battery is rated at 2150mAh 32Wh
    [​IMG]

    Opening the cover shows the inside is fully protected.
    The screen and keyboard are all covered in transparent plastic film.
    There is also a protective cotton pad in the middle with the MSI logo.
    [​IMG]
     
  2. A Cheese Danish

    A Cheese Danish

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    Not too bad. Looks very nice. White isn't a first choice for me, but nonetheless, it looks very good
    The mouse looks pretty weird though
     
  3. windwithme

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    There is a row of detailed status lights at the bottom of the keyboard.
    The Fn key is needed to activate the shortcut keys.
    The X400 uses a separate color for the bezel giving it a more quality appearance.
    [​IMG]

    The size of the keyboard is adequate, although the keys feel a little soft to the touch.
    For the X-series, MSI moved the Fn key to its usual place on the keyboard.
    [​IMG]

    The Ultra-thin 14.1" 16:9 mirror-surface LCD with 1366 x 768 resolution.
    The 1.3MP Webcam is above the screen in the middle and the microphone is to the left.
    The power button is in the bottom right hand corner and glows white when the machine is on.
    [​IMG]

    View of the underside.
    Here the casing has a nice looking matt finish.
    [​IMG]

    This is where the battery goes.
    The space to the upper left is reserved for the 3.5G module.
    The actual module varies depending on the national specifications.
    [​IMG]

    The X400 has more vents than the X340 and they are arranged in a more interesting way.
    [​IMG]

    The I/O ports on the left side of the machine.
    D-Sub output; RJ45 network port; HDMI output; Card Reader.
    [​IMG]

    The I/O ports on the right side of the machine.
    Power socket; Audio I/O; USB 2.0 x 2
    [​IMG]

    The cut-out design around the keyboard is very appealing.
    [​IMG]

    Look how thin a 14" notebook can be – this is just about 2.45cm thick.
    There is no discrete graphics card and the actual weight is just 1.55kg.
    [​IMG]
     
  4. windwithme

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    Now take a look at the performance benchmarks.
    The MSI X-Slim X400 with the latest Intel 45nm Core Solo CPU.
    The CPU model is the SU3500 1.4GHz, L2 3MB, single core edition.

    The X400 comes bundled with the Vista Home Premium OS.
    Default desktop.
    [​IMG]

    Vista performance benchmarks.
    [​IMG]

    The X400 offers above-average system performance so the HDD
    and DRAM scores relatively well and these determine how smoothly the OS runs for general applications.
    Even though it was running the Vista system, the X400 did not feel any slower during use,
    even when compared with other dual-core, quad-core or even higher-speed, computer systems.


    Loaded with the Windows 7 7600 RTM now so popular instead.
    This is an OS that offers the Vista interface but only has XP resource requirements.

    CPU performance benchmarks.
    Super PI 1M => 35.942s
    CPUMARK99 => 202
    [​IMG]

    Overall system performance.
    CrystalMark 2004R3
    [​IMG]

    CINEBENCH R10.
    1 CPU=> 1645
    [​IMG]

    PCMark Vantage => 1721.
    [​IMG]

    Windows 7 performance benchmarks.
    [​IMG]

    There's no sense of lag from the X400 hardware when working in the OS.
    It remains very responsive even with a lot of programs open.
    For users who do not need much 3D acceleration or graphics processing, this kind of performance is good enough.


    WD 320GB 5400rpm HDD performance.
    ATTO Disk Benchmark & FDBENCH
    [​IMG]

    HD Tune Pro & CrystalDisk Mark.
    [​IMG]

    The new 5400 RPM 2.5 HDD uses a larger platter so performance is improved.
    File read and writes now approach 65~70MB/s, while the average read/write speed is around 53MB/s.
    These new 5400 RPM products, should mean a very smooth experience in the OS or general applications.


    The motherboard is based on the Intel GS45 chipset with integrated GMA4500MDH graphics card.

    3DMARK2003
    [​IMG]
     
  5. windwithme

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    Integrated graphics cards usually don't offer high 3D performance.
    As the StreetFighter IV Benchmark shows, it's not up to the heavy 3D loads of the newer games.
    For 3D games that don't require a lot of power however like Chinese Paladin Online however, the X400 is quite good enough.


    Battery endurance
    The 4-cell battery lasted 01:39:10.
    Battery Eater Pro (Wireless networking and Bluetooth switched off, 50% LCD brightness.)
    [​IMG]

    During the Battery Eater Pro test the CPU was under full load with 3D graphics turned up so the battery life was a little shorter.
    If set to cinema mode, the X400 runs for around 2 hours and 35 minutes, so battery life is above average.
    While MSI claims that the X400 offers up to 8 hours of battery life, that's with an 8-cell battery.
    Many of the Notebook makers now claim battery life as long as 8~9 hours, but that's probably based on the lowest power consumption possible.
    Under normal use, 6/8-cell batteries deliver around 5~7 hours of run-time.
    So, don't take the numbers too seriously.


    [​IMG]

    MSI X-Slim X400 Summary.
    Strengths
    1. With a 14.1" LCD and weighing just 1.55kg, this should be the lightest notebook in its size class now available.
    2. The matt finish on the underside, the cut-out design inside and thin form-factor gives a good overall impression.
    3. A lot of thought went into the protective packaging. The carry bag is of good quality as well.
    4. D-SUB and HDMI outputs are both supported so the IO can be upgraded.
    5. The DDR2 RAM runs at 800MHz for high performance while the WD 5400RPM 320GB 2.5 HDD delivers both performance and little noise.
    6. The wireless card is the Intel WiFI Link 5100 with support for 802.11 a/g/n. It can also be upgraded to support WinMax.
    7. Has a better cooling system than the X340.
    There's no obvious noise and the machine temperature is kept under firm control.

    Weaknesses
    1. Keyboard could do with more feedback.
    2. Only 2 USB ports leaves less room for USB devices.
    3. The 4-cell battery should offer more than 3 hours of stand-by time.
    4. The screen bezel is a little large.

    Performance ★★★★★★★★☆☆
    Construction ★★★★★★★★☆☆
    Specifications ★★★★★★★★☆☆
    Appearance ★★★★★★★★★☆
    Cost vs. Performance ★★★★★★★★★☆

    Recently I've seen other users say that the single core of the CULV means low CPU performance
    and this drags down the overall system performance as well.
    I have experience with high-end notebook CPUs like the P8700, T9500, T9600, P9700 or QX9300 (quad-core)
    but since I don't run video or file encoding software that support multi-core setups I find the X400 suits me well.
    As long as the system boots up smoothly, the actual CPU performance or number of cores have little effect when browsing the web,
    doing word processing, or running JAVA and SQL applications.
    Personally, I think a high-performance HDD or SSD is more important
    if you want a clear speed boost when running this type of software.

    I feel that notebooks are designed to be practical and unlike desktop PCs, raw performance is not the only benchmark. Right now,
    the notebooks on the market can be divided into the following groups:
    Value models: 12"~16", 1.8~3.3kg, dual-core, discrete graphics card, priced around US$700 ~ 1000.
    High-end business models: 12~13.3", 1.3~1.6kg, dual-core, priced around US$1500 ~ 2500.
    High-end performance models: 14"~16", 2.3~3.3kg, high-end dual-core, discrete graphics card, priced around US$1300 ~ 1800.

    In the past two years, new products have appeared on the market.
    Entry-level Atom platform: 8.9 ~ 10", 1.2 ~ 1.4kg. Usually referred to as netbooks, these are priced around US$400 ~ 500.
    Value CULV platform: 12 ~ 16", 1.33kg ~ 2.4kg, priced around US$700 ~ 900.
    The release of these two product types means business users no longer have to pay a high price for slim and compact notebooks.
    While these two platforms can't match the dual-core models in performance,
    if you have good enough DRAM and HDD they are still more than adequate for most tasks.

    [​IMG]

    Let's get back on topic.
    The MSI X-Slim X400 doesn't have a discrete graphics card version
    so it's probably not suitable for users that have moderate to high 3D performance requirements.
    If you are on the move a lot, want a bigger screen without extra weight, the X400 does offer a new choice.
    Standard 14" notebooks might offer dual-core and discrete graphics cards, but they usually weigh 2.1~2.5kg as well.
    That's a little heavy for people who spend a lot of time outdoors or on the move.

    The X400's casing is not made of the magnesium alloy used on the X340 but the special matt finish makes it look just as good.
    The cut-out and blue-white color scheme gives a very good first impression as well.
    The latest wave of compact CULV notebooks means the rule for business notebooks that you pay more for less weight is now well and truly broken.
    For business users, there is finally have a choice when it comes to looking for an inexpensive, slim and easy to carry notebook.

    In the past, if you wanted a slim notebook you had to settle for 12~13.3" products.
    The MSI X-Slim X400 with a 4-cell battery weighs just 1.55kg, so these users can now have a compact 14" model to choose from as well.
    The price of the X400 at launch was about US$740 (24,300 NTD) so the C/P ratio is quite good overall.

    If a version with a discrete graphics card or the SU9400 dual-core CPU is released in the future,
    it will make this 14" slim notebook all the more attractive.
    I hope MSI will put more effort into its product lineup as well
    and release more notebooks that offer great C/P ratios for the consumers to choose from. :)

    Once again, I've used my Spyder 2 calibrator to come up with a color calibration file for all X400 users.
    [​IMG]

    windwithme MSI X-Slim X400
     

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