Apple MacBook Air vs. MSI X340: The Super-Slim Ultraportable Face-Off

msix340_macbookair_3587gIf you’ve taken a gander at our MSI X340 review, you read that we deemed the machine a very good ultraportable for the price, despite its flaws.  You also would’ve noticed comparisons to the Apple MacBook Air sprinkled throughout, as Cupertino’s notebook was the prototype for super-slim systems. Considering that both notebooks offer roughly the same weight and dimensions, we thought it appropriate to pit them in a 6-round knock-down, drag-out competition to determine which laptop is the best when factoring in price, design, value,  and general usability (while leaving the inevitable Mac OS X vs. Windows arguments aside). Consider it Ali-Foreman for super-thin ultraportables. Let’s get ready to rumble! Design and Ports The MacBook Air may have set the new standard for super-svelte ultraportables and served as the inspiration for the X340, but its tiny 12.8 x 8.9 x 0.7-inch frame comes with a number of compromises that the similarly-sized MSI (13.0 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches) doesn’t possess. Save for the MagSafe power cord connection, the MacBook Air’s three ports (USB 2.0, mini-DisplayPort, headphone) are tucked away in the back-right corner of the system in a drop-down flap. The small opening makes it a pain to connect gear, which isn’t a problem that comes with the X340 as all of it ports are easily accessible. MSI also includes several connections that Apple doesn’t: HDMI,VGA, Ethernet, mic, modem, 2-in-1 card reader, and an additional USB port. In terms of build, the MacBook Air’s aluminum frame is far sturdier than the X340; the latter has a rather hollow feel to it despite being virtually the same weight as its Cupertino rival (2.9 pounds vs. 3.0 pounds). In addition, the MSI’s lid also has alot of flex, and draws all manner of smudges and fingerprints (the latter is nothing that a cloth or paper towel couldn’t take care of). Of course, the X340 we tested was a pre-production model so it’s possible that the frame will be a little bit sturdier in the final build. WINNER: MSI X340. Easy access to ports (and lots of them!) allowed us to overlook the flimsy feel. Keyboard and Touchpad Both notebooks have full-size keyboards, but the MacBook Air’s trounces the X340′s. The MacBook Air features Apple’s familiar Chiclet-styled keys that deliver good tactile feedback. It also has very cool backlighting that kicks in during low-light situations. The multitouch trackpad allowed us to scroll through Web pages, and zoom in and out of photos using pinch gestures. Despite offering plenty of room for touch typists, the X340′s keyboard simply feels cheap in comparison. Its keyboard has way too much flex, and the keys are mushy. In addition, the right Shift key is about half the width of the MacBook Air’s. Again we must emphasize that our X340 was a late pre-production model so the final version may have a little less flex. Still, the X340′s keyboard would have to be completely different to best the MacBook Air’s. WINNER: MacBook Air. A solid, comfortable keyboard is conducive to a pleasurable typing experience. Display The MacBook Air and X340 both offer similar-size, LED displays (13.4 vs. 13.3), but MSI’s machine serves up a 16:9 resolution at 1,366 x 768 pixels (the Air serves up a 16;10 1,280 x 800). Both screens kicked back too many reflections when viewing Web pages with dark backgrounds, but the X340 better replicated skin tones and demonstrated deeper color saturation when we watched Hulu clips. WINNER: MSI X340. The sharper colors and slightly crisper visuals one-upped the Apple MacBook Air. msix340_macbookair_3562gPerformance When it comes to raw processing and graphics performance, the Air has a huge advantage, given its 1.8-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and Nvidia GeForce 9400M GPU (with 256MB of memory). The X340, with its 1.4-GHz Core 2 Solo  ULV processor and integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics, was designed to offer decent productivty performance and battery life. To do an apples-to-apples comparison between the Mac OS-based Air and the Vista-based X340, we installed Vista (via Boot Camp)  on the MacBook and ran both systems through a couple of popular performance benchmarks. On PCMark Vantage, which measures overall system performance, the Air scored a whopping 3,684 compared to the X340′s 1,658. On 3DMark06, which measures graphics performance alone, the Air notched 1,385 to the X340′s 643. WINNER: The MacBook Air, by a mile. Clearly, these two systems are not in the same class when comes to processing power and graphics. However, the X340 was more than adequate for common tasks like surfing the Web, sending e-mail, writing documents in Word, or watching 720p video. Battery Life Battery life is a notebook essential that we can all agree is vital, especially in the ultraportable category, as the systems are designed to be toted around town and from office to office. Unfortunately, the MacBook Air dropped the ball here, big time. Our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing over Wi-Fi) revealed a scant 2 hours and 8 minutes of battery life. The X340′s endurance, however, was 1 hour and 30 minutes longer, at 3:38, which gives you additional time to work on documents, check e-mail, and watch YouTube clips. For the sake of fairness, it should be noted that the Air’s CPU and GPU  offer more computing punch and thus user power juice than the MSI’s processor and graphics card. WINNER: MSI X340.  The Air may have better performance, but these are both meant to be ultraportable systems, not high-end workstations. You can’t be too mobile when you only get two measly hours of battery life. Value and Verdict The MacBook Air certainly offers a lot of power given its svelte design; our $2,499 configuration includes a 1.86-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics (with 256MB of memory), 2GB of RAM, and a 128GB solid-state drive. A lower-priced model is available for $1,799, which offers a 1.6-GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and the same graphics chip but a slower, 4,200-rpm 120GB HDD. Conversely, X340 is nearly as good a performer but is far more wallet-friendly at $899 — $900 less than the Air’s lower-end configuration. The system houses a 1.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Solo SU3500 UL3V processor, 2GB of RAM, 320GB, and 5,400-rpm hard drive. It’s build quality and keyboard aren’t as good as the Air, but these are trade-offs we think many consumers will be willing to make. Some may be turned off, however, by MSI’s limited tech support hours. Ultimately, selecting a champion in this contest can be tricky, particularly if you favor either the Mac OS X or Windows Vista operating system. But in terms of usability and bang for the buck, the X340 offers a similarly slim design with more easily accessible ports and better battery life for considerably less money.

MSI X340 MacBook Air
Price $899 $1799 – $2,499
Weight 2.9 Pounds 3.0 Pounds
Size 13 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches 12.8 x 8.9 x 0.7 inches
Ports 2 USB, Ethernet, HDMI, Modem, VGA, headphone, microphone, card reader 1 USB, headphone, Mini-DisplayPort
Display 13.4-inch 1366×768 13.3-inch 1280×800
CPU 1.4-GHz Core 2 Solo SU3500 1.6 / 1.8-GHz Core 2 Duo
Storage 320GB 5,400 rpm HDD 120GB 4,200 rpm HDD / 128GB SSD
PCMark Vantage 1,658 3,684
3DMark06 643 1,385
Battery Life (hours) 3:38 2:08
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  1. Sean Says:

    Bang for the buck? Just how much more would the MSI machine cost if it had the same CPU and graphics card? If you ran any kind of CPU or general speed tests, I’m sure you would find that the Mac Air would win easily. And I’m not at all sure that the Air would still be seen as overpriced when you include the proper components.

    What bothers me about this comparison is that you’re really only comparing form factor. While the form factor in this case is a big part of why you’re comparing these two particular machines it seems unfair to ignore how well the machine itself performs. I might not be intending to render 3D images — on the other hand I might be doing photo editing or playing graphics intensive games. And while neither machine would excel on those games, the Airbook would do a lot better.

    What’s inside does make a difference, even if form factor is the major selection criteria.

  2. Chris Says:

    It’s well known that the #1 drawback to running Vista on Macs is that Mac hardware is optimized for MacOS (and vice versa). Anyone who purchases a MacBook Air to run MacOS will find its battery life comparable to the MSI’s.

    In which case, the breakdown boils down to:

    MSI: Price, Ports, and arguably Display
    Apple: Performance (obviously), Keyboard/Touchpad, and Build Quality (questions about display hinges notwithstanding)

    Or, in other words, do you want a cheaply assembled ultraportable that’s sort of attractive that runs Windows? Or an expensive, well-built, more attractive ultraportable that runs MacOS X?

    My answer? Neither. 15″ MBPros are only slightly less portable than the Airs, and are 5x the computer for the same money.

  3. Johnathan Says:

    Ok I have to ask — why is it that the Sony Z never gets any mention — ANYWHERE? Granted this is looking at superthin notebooks, but that Z is slightly thicker, yet packs a blu-ray and doesnt use a whimpy ULV processor — it has a real core 2. Even when I look at the ultraportable section of this site, or any site I never see it mentioned. Is it that Sony has poor PR and doesnt connect with the media well? From all the ulatrportables I see that have come, and are coming, that still looks like head over heels over them. help me understand this

  4. Nancy Says:

    Never buy a mac computer. When my work decided to switch from PC to mac, I was excited to return from the user-friendly computer of my college days. To my bitter surprise, the mac is a far cry from what it used to be. If you like watching a beach ball swirl (at work, we call it the “beach ball of death”) while waiting for the computer to process, if you like waiting 10-180 seconds for documents to open, if you like a computer that constantly crashes, get a mac. At work, general consensus is that switching to the mac was poor and unfortunate business decision. In addition to creating endless frustration, the key board also enhances repetitive stress injuries; the computer takes so abysmally long to react, you tend to type things multiple times, thinking that your initial command didn’t register. Opening my PC at home is the best sigh of relief. It starts up in seconds, is ready to respond, responds quickly, can efficiently run 3-5 open programs (which would certainly crash the mac).

  5. billigvoks Says:

    Thanks, think I will buy the MSI X340, then… ;o)

    Good artikel.

    Billigvoks Hårvoks

  6. sid Says:

    IMHO windows 7 really rocks! i mean seriously. and I dont see the OS being an issue at all anymore while picking a new rig.. mac user here so dont come out bashing.

  7. collegiate dreams Says:

    Hmm… I’m tired of PCs. I need an ultraportable! But, I’m not sure if Macs are worth the extra cash.

  8. goodjob Says:

    Sean, are you that dense that you don’t understand the purpose of this comparison?

    Most people who buy ultra portables are looking for a stylish lightweight unit for surfing while they drink overpriced lattes at some cafe amounst other people surfing and drinking lattes. Well maybe not that exactly, but they are looking for something to surf and watch videos with the portability requirement (battery life and WEIGHT)

    This is why the comparison is valid. The “drawback” of x320 of having inferior componentry is not a drawback; it is a smart design choice. MSI nailed it when they released the x320 and x340, because the Majority of people won’t drop 1800 for a full size netbook, and won’t put up with the bogus unusable keyboard size of a small netbook. The x320 is even more specific — emphasis on freedom from power outlets with atom processor and the 8 cell battery.

    Chris, where does the article state that they were running the battery test in Vista?

  9. billigvoks Says:

    Im really satisfied with my MSI X340.

    I had i for 2 months now!

    Thanks for this artikel. i did it for me.

    Mvh billigvoks id voks

  10. David Says:

    What about MSI X320? It is available for just $389 at amazon.Is it much different from x340.

  11. Andrew Says:

    Got an X340 with Win7 HomePro and 8cell for 499Cad.

    Yes cheap keyboard feel and strange plastic, but for the price you get a super light “more then enough” package with 3years warranty.

    I love it!

    Buy the way Mac lovers, there is a new MSI X360 with i5 and Nvidia in the same footprint.
    If Mac will come with that in the Air series, it will probably (literally) be hot, same way their new i7 BoocPro’s are :)

  12. Billig voks Says:

    I once had the MSI X340, but I changed it for an apple Macbook air… So much easier to surf the web with!

  13. Raunak Says:

    Hey! I too own a MSI Notebook not a X series, its a wonderful technology that they sell. If you buy a MSI notebook with the similar price as Mac, you just cannot compare the technology you could own. At USD 2,499 you can get an awesome notebook from MSI. Try it guys!

  14. ghd glattejern Says:

    Considering that both notebooks offer roughly the same weight and dimensions, we thought it appropriate to pit them in a 6-round knock-down, drag-out competition to determine which laptop is the best when factoring in price, design, value, and general usability (while leaving the inevitable Mac OS X vs.

  15. Haarvoks Says:

    I look forward to a test with the new razer gaming laptop

  16. Michael Says:

    I would still go for the MacBook Air;)

    Great review by the way!

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