Top ultraportable laptops
Ideal for the consumer that values portability while demanding more performance than you'd get from a netbook, these notebooks stand out for their low weight and small footprint
X420 Review, by Sarah Jacobsson Purewal August 6, 2010
Discrete graphics card.
Not powerful enough for high-intensity gaming.
No optical drive.
Bottom Line: The MSI X420 packs a lot into a pretty package. While it's not quite a gaming notebook, it delivers some great high-def video.
The MSI X420 packs a decently powerful punch into a slim, sexy ultraportable chassis. The laptop features a CULV (Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage) 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 high-def video a smooth and seamless experience, the X420 is not quite a portable gaming powerhouse.
Besides the CULV processor, our review unit, which costs $799 (as of 8/6/2010), features an ATI Mobility Radeon HD5430 3D external display adapter, 1GB of DDR3 RAM built in, a 500GB hard drive, a glossy 14-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel LCD, and SRS Premium Sound. The MSI X420 also has a built-in 1.3-megapixel 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 13.8 inches long by 9.2 inches wide by 0.9 inch thick (1.4 inches thick with the battery) and weighing in at just 4.14 pounds, the MSI X420 is nicely slim and light. The notebook has a slick, tapered design that makes it look a little slimmer than it actually is. The cover is a shiny, dark grayish 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 X420 are decent--the lack of an optical drive leaves a bit of room for more ports. The left side has a VGA out, an ethernet port, an HDMI out, and a USB 2.0 port. The right side has a USB 2.0 port, headphone/microphone jacks, an eSATA/USB 2.0 "combo" port, and a 2-in-1 (SD/MMC) card reader. Considering the lack of an optical drive, I would have liked to see an ExpressCard slot thrown in. Aside from the keyboard and touchpad, the computer doesn't have much else on its working area, except the power button, plus the GPU Boost Button (switches to discrete graphics mode) 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 actually had a keyboard issue--half of the keys were completely dead--but its replacement had no problems except for its lack of feedback.
Usually I'm not a big fan of textured touchpads. I often find them unresponsive and not terribly smooth. The MSI X420's touchpad, however, is surprisingly pleasant. Despite being just an indent in the palmrest and textured with little nubs, it is 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's easy to "pinch" to zoom and to do two-finger scrolling.
The MSI X420's glossy, 16:9, 1366-by-768-pixel LCD is bright and crisp, with just a trace of washing out in the color. Viewing angles are okay--as good as you're going to get with a glossy LCD, anyway. Two people can comfortably watch video together, side-by-side, but more than two, and you're pushing it (the screen darkens a bit when viewed from too much of an angle). The glossy screen throws back some reflections (as is to be expected), but does keep down the glare.
Video playback on the MSI X420 is great--a 720p clip plays smoothly, without any artifacting or stuttering. The picture looks very crisp and clear, with bright colors. Audio playback is good, and the speakers are loud and surprisingly full. The "GPU Boost" helps video playback slightly, but it's most useful in the gaming department.
Despite the MSI 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; I imagine a higher-intensity graphics game would suffer.
The MSI 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 kind of fun to use.
The MSI 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 notebook with the occasional 3D graphics support.