The MSI X-Slim X420 packs a lot into a pretty package - it's not quite a gaming laptop, but it delivers some great HD video.

The MSI X-Slim X420 packs a decently powerful punch into a slim, sexy ultraportable chassis. The laptop features a consumer ultra-low voltage (CULV) Intel Core 2 Duo processor and a discrete graphics card, along with an easy two-button system of switching between the discrete and the integrated graphics cards (for performance and for battery life, respectively). While the discrete graphics card makes watching HD video a smooth and seamless experience, the X420 is not quite a portable gaming powerhouse.

Besides the CULV processor, our review unit featured an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5430 3D external display adaptor, 1GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500GB hard drive, a glossy 14in (1366x768) LCD screen and SRS Premium Sound. The MSI X-Slim X420 laptop also has a built-in 1.3Mp webcam, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 'Eco Support' (a number of different modes for saving the battery) and 'GPU Boost' technology (a way to switch between graphics cards).

At 350x234x241mm and weighing just 1.88kg, the MSI X-Slim X420 is nicely slim and light. The laptop has a slick, tapered design that makes it look a little slimmer than it actually is. The cover is a shiny, dark greyish brown, with a subtle horizontal texturing, while the inner palm rest is silver (with the same horizontal texturing). The touchpad is simply an indent in the palmrest, with two separate black buttons below. The keyboard is black and chiclet-style, and the glossy screen has a fairly wide, plain black bezel surrounding it.

Ports on the MSI X-Slim X420 laptop are decent - the lack of an optical drive leaves a bit of room for more ports. The left side has one VGA, one ethernet port, one HDMI and one USB 2.0. The right side has another USB 2.0 port, along with headphone/microphone jacks, an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port, and a two-in-one (SD/MMC) card reader. Considering the lack of an optical drive, we would have liked to see an ExpressCard slot thrown in. Aside from the keyboard and touchpad, the MSI X-Slim X420 doesn't have much else on its working area, except the power button, plus the GPU Boost button and the Battery button (switches back to the integrated graphics mode); these two are both located above the top-left corner of the keyboard.

The keyboard is full-size. The keys are attractive, but don't offer a lot of solid feedback. They're light to the touch and very springy - not ideal for serious typists, but you can still be very accurate while typing. Our first review model of the MSI X-Slim X420 laptop actually had a keyboard issue - half of the keys were completely dead - but its replacement had no problems except for its lack of feedback.

We're not usually fans of textured trackpads, often finding them unresponsive and not terribly smooth. The MSI X-Slim X420 laptop's trackpad, however, was surprisingly pleasant. Despite being just an indent in the palmrest and textured with little nubs, it was incredibly responsive and easy to use - plus, it's nice and big, with two large, sturdy-feeling black buttons below it. The touchpad supports multitouch gestures, and it was easy to pinch to zoom and do two-finger scrolling.

The MSI X-Slim X420's glossy, 16:9, 1366x768 LCD screen is bright and crisp, with just a trace of washing out in the colour. Viewing angles are okay - as good as you're going to get with a glossy LCD screen, anyway. Two people can comfortably watch video on this laptop side-by-side, but the screen darkens a bit when viewed from too much of an angle. The glossy screen threw back some reflections, but did keep down the glare.

Video playback on the MSI X-Slim X420 was great - a 720p clip played smoothly, without any artifacting or stuttering. The picture looked very crisp and clear, with bright colours. Audio playback was also good, with the speakers loud and surprisingly full. GPU Boost helped video playback slightly, but it's most useful in the gaming department.

Despite the MSI X-Slim X420's discrete graphics card and Core 2 Duo processor, you should not mistake this model for a gaming laptop. But if you still want to play the occasional game, it will do better than most ultraportables, as long as you're willing to give up a little in the game's graphics quality settings. It does a pretty good job with basic MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) such as Guild Wars, as long as you're not expecting incredible shadows and effects; we imagine a higher-intensity graphics game would suffer.

The MSI X-Slim X420 comes with some basic trialware (Norton Antivirus and Microsoft Office Home & Student), as well as a suite of MSI software (including MSI EasyViewer and MSI EasyFace). The included software is not terribly useful - EasyViewer is a 3D photo-viewing program, while EasyFace is a face-recognition program for locking and unlocking your computer - but is fun to use.

See also: Group test: what's the best netbook?

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

MSI X-Slim X420: Specs

  • Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300/SU4100
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • DDR3 RAM
  • 250/320/500GB SATA
  • 14in (1366x768) glossy LCD screen
  • 1GB GDDR3 ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5430
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • ethernet
  • Bluetooth 2.1 (optional)
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • SD Card slot
  • HDMI
  • 1 x eSATA/USB combo
  • Kensington lock port
  • 4/8-cell battery
  • 350x234x241mm
  • 1.88kg
  • Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300/SU4100
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • DDR3 RAM
  • 250/320/500GB SATA
  • 14in (1366x768) glossy LCD screen
  • 1GB GDDR3 ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5430
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 802.11b/g/n
  • ethernet
  • Bluetooth 2.1 (optional)
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • SD Card slot
  • HDMI
  • 1 x eSATA/USB combo
  • Kensington lock port
  • 4/8-cell battery
  • 350x234x241mm
  • 1.88kg

OUR VERDICT

The MSI X-Slim X420 packs a lot in a small, lightweight package. Even though it's not quite the multimedia powerhouse we were hoping for, it's a great deal for anyone looking for a basic, stylish laptop with the occasional 3D graphics support.

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