The MSI X340 is a slim and light notebook that uses Intel's 1.4GHz SU3500 chip to produce good Windows performance at an inexpensive price.

MSI's new X-Slim series laptops are the closest clone yet of Apple's MacBook Air. And thanks to its use of plastic casing and cheaper components, the X340 also hits a lower price point - but will it prove as attractive as the ultrathin and ultralight original?

With its scalloped sides, 13in screen and better-than-netbook performance, MSI has unashamedly tried to create an Air clone for the Windows' user. Even the company logo lights up on the lid cover.

Inside is a single-core CPU, a 1.4GHz Core 2 Solo, allowing relatively cool operation even if it's not especially fast. Our WorldBench 6 test drew a score of 50, although the Nero test bizarrely refused to run; our colleagues at PC World US meanwhile measured 56. This puts it neatly between the 1.86GHz Air, at 77 points, and the typical netbook that rolls in at 35.

Graphics performance is down too, relying on just an Intel integrated processor, although the use of old-school hard disk instead of SSD means you do get a useful amount of storage - 320GB from its 2.5in hard disk.

The display is highly reflective and not quite the calibre found on Apple's notebook, hindered further by a distractingly glossy black plastic bezel.

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Keyboard layout may not suit some either, as MSI has opted to place page up/down keys down the right edge, where a typist's fingers might expect to find Return and Backspace keys. Worse than this though is the horribly spongey feeling to the keyboard, unevenly laid and rippling up and down from left to right.

MSI has copied the Air's trackpad buttons, a single bar that can be depressed on either end for left and right click duties, but the touchpad area itself disappointed as it sometimes lacked precision; and always lacked the multi-touch gestures found on its inspiration.

Battery life was just above average, hitting 4 hours 12 minutes in a MobileMark 2007 Productivity test.

But in overall feel, once you get past the plastic construction, the X340 can be delight to hold. It's fractionally lighter than the Air, if only by about 40g, and has a similar sense of balance in the hands.

There are more ports to play with too, stretching to two USB, ethernet, SD card, plus two video ports in the shape of analogue VGA and digital HDMI.

Sound quality from the built-in speaker is perhaps better than average, with a speaker under each corner to give a true stereo spread.

NEXT PAGE: The PC World US review

AMD can't catch a break. First to market with a tweener processor (more powerful than a netbook, but cheaper than the usual fare found in ultraportables), its Athlon Neo CPU is now under fire from Intel's new Ultra Low Voltage chip, and one of the first note- or netbooks to use this Intel CPU is MSI's little X340.

The way we'd best describe the MSI X340 is as a PC's take on the Apple MacBook Air, cast in plastic (it measures 6mm thick and weighs 1.4kg). The crisp screen, the bezel, the clamshell shape, and even the touchpad all look an awful lot like its source of inspiration.

Oh, that's not an insult - not by a long shot. The MSI X340 costs only £745, and while it trims a few features (no super-cool backlit keys, no optical drive), it more than makes up for those sacrifices with reasonable performance in Windows Vista.

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So, back to that big news, the 45nm CPU. Intel's 1.4GHz SU3500 chip allows the MSI X340 to kick out reasonable performance for the price. In fact, this CPU, partnered with 2GB of RAM, earned a 56 in our WorldBench 6 tests.

Compare that with the Neo-fueled HP Pavilion dv2, which is about to get dethroned as a netbook speed demon: the dv2 scored a 45 - despite packing 4GB of RAM in the configuration we tested. Well, it was fun sitting pretty and alone while it lasted. But don't expect the MSI X340 to trounce every test - it still runs lean with an integrated Intel GPU. So don't have any great gaming expectations. We didn't.

As for the "Ultra Low-Voltage" claim, initial tests indicate that the MSI X340 will last about 3.5 hours on a single charge.

That brings us to a question we're going to find ourselves pondering even more as the affordable small portable market continues to fragment. How do you categorise the MSI X340? As a large netbook or as a notebook? Well, it's 13.4in-diagonal screen forces us to place it in the ultraportable category, and it may get dinged a little unfairly for its CPU score as a result. Just know that you're still getting a good deal here.

NEXT PAGE: our expert verdict >>

MSI X340: Specs

  • 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Solo U3500
  • 3MB L2 cache
  • 13.4in (1366x768) 16:9 glossy display LCD
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
  • 320GB SATA II 5400rpm HDD
  • 2GB (1x2GB) DDR2 RAM
  • Intel GMA 4500HD graphics
  • HDMI, VGA
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • SD card slot
  • mic, headphone sockets
  • mono speaker
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • 2150mAh lithim-ion battery
  • 224x230x6-20mm
  • 1318g
  • 2-year warranty
  • 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Solo U3500
  • 3MB L2 cache
  • 13.4in (1366x768) 16:9 glossy display LCD
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
  • 320GB SATA II 5400rpm HDD
  • 2GB (1x2GB) DDR2 RAM
  • Intel GMA 4500HD graphics
  • HDMI, VGA
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11b/g/draft-n
  • Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR
  • SD card slot
  • mic, headphone sockets
  • mono speaker
  • 1.3Mp webcam
  • 2150mAh lithim-ion battery
  • 224x230x6-20mm
  • 1318g
  • 2-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

It may be exactly two-thirds the price of the MacBook Air, but we can’t help feeling that you’re getting only half the laptop in most respects. It lacks the speed, solidity and grace of the Apple envelope-filler, although some may be tempted by the extra portage, extra year’s warranty and opportunity to swap batteries on long journeys.

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