|Introduction and Specifications|
|Thin–and–light is back. If you have any doubts whatsoever, just take a look at the notebook landscape as it is today. Outside of those monster gaming laptops and desktop replacements that still demand their own massive amount of real estate, most everything else these days seems to be aiming for thin. MSI's lineup is no different, with the company's new X460 and X460DX aiming for a solid balance of power and portability. MSI's X Series should be no stranger to those reading these pages, and the unit here on our test bed certainly appears to kick things up a notch.
The X460DX straddles two of the more popular form-factors today. It's not an ultraportable, and it's not a mainstream 15 incher. Instead, its 14 inch-form factor gives mobile consumers another choice. It's a platform size that we don't think is used nearly enough, and it doesn't get nearly enough attention. That said, MSI has decided to tickle our fancy here, and the internal specifications are just as intriguing as the outside chassis. Let's take a look at what makes this thing tick:
The X460DX starts at just under $800, with our test unit ringing up at $850. For that tally, the specifications list is pretty darn impressive. We're guessing that there's not enough horsepower here for this to be a true gamer's machine, but it's leaps and bounds better than what $850 would buy you at this point last year. In fact, it just might be the back-to-school machine you've been waiting for. Thin, light, powerful, and an impressive claimed battery life. Sure looks good on paper, but does it have enough oomph to stand out in our real world tests? Let's find out in the pages to come.
|Design, Build Quality and User Experience|
|The design of the X460DX is clean, thin and understated. At just 4.3 pounds, it's one of the lighter 14 inch notebooks on the market. MSI decided to keep this one pretty simple, with a softly textured lid and a matte black bottom. The ports are evenly distributed, though the tray loading optical drive on the right side dominates the most of that edge of the machine.
Along the front edge, you won't find any ports, but you will find a litany of blue LEDs that serve as status indicator lights for hard drive activity, etc. Upon opening the lid up, you'll find a decently–sized trackpad, with a single, non-–divided click button below. That design choice is definitely not our favorite, but for what it's worth, left and right clicks seemed to register without too much trouble. The trackpad area itself was fairly smooth, with no real texture to speak of. Unfortunately, the areas to the left and right of the trackpad are littered with gaudy stickers that detract from the overall classiness of the machine.
We've noticed a gradual shift of the chiclet keyboard out of the netbook world and into the mainstream notebook world, and MSI's continuing that trend here. The keys are standard squares with conventional spacing in between each, though each key does have a bit of texture on top. Unfortunately, there's no backlit option here, so those typing in the dark better have their touch typing down pat. The only keyboard oddities we noticed were a truncated shift key and an oddly placed function key on the lower–left side. Overall, the learning curve for typing was fairly low, and given the ample spacing we didn't find it to be too cramped.
Along the right side, there is a Kensington lock port, tray–loading optical drive, a single USB 2.0 port, a 2-in-1 media card reader, 3.5 mm input jack, and a 3.5 mm headphone port. Over on the left edge, there's an AC input jack, and exhaust vent, a full–size HDMI port, a full–size VGA port, a Gigabit Ethernet jack, and two USB 3.0 ports.
The bottom of the machine is riddled with exhaust vents, and it doesn't take too long before you find out what those are all about. After a good bit of benchmarking, the X460's fans kicked into high gear and the vast majority of the excess heat was being pushed out through the bottom. The fans themselves never got too terribly loud, but we found our lap getting plenty warm after an hour or so of use. That's pretty much par for the course these days, but those who tax this machine heavily may pay for it with a bit of sweat equity.
The 14 inch glossy display is decent. We aren't huge fans of glossy screens, and we were a bit disappointed with the lackluster resolution supported. The native resolution here is only 1366 x 768, which is the same resolution found on most 13 inch ultra-portables.
In other words, you're paying for a 14 inch unit, but your pixel density doesn't really change compared to most 13 inch machines. Those of you who have trouble seeing the native resolution on 13 inch machines may appreciate this one, but if you were hoping to buy more screen real estate and in turn get more pixels for the money, you're going to be disappointed. It's still a decent resolution for this size screen though and we've even seen 15" models at this res. Sharpness and viewing angles were better than average here, but fingerprints and dust found their way onto the screen rather easily. Additionally, the biggest hardware flaw we found was on the bezel. Both the left and right edge seemed dangerously fragile, and were separating from the lid slightly in a few places.
As for overall responsiveness? For an $850 machine, we found usability to be well above average. Boot up only took 30 or 45 seconds, and outside of the stray antivirus program, bloatware was kept to a minimum. One unique software feature with the X460DX is the pre-installed S–bar. Basically, this is a software overlay that sits at the top of your Windows desktop screen. When you hover over it with your cursor, you'll find easy access to an array of options. Things like disabling or enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are here, not to mention volume, brightness and other system settings. In use, we found it nice to have these perched above, and having the overlay enabled didn't seem to detract from system performance.
Our machine's installed 6GB of system memory was certainly a plus, and the Core i5 processor was definitely no slouch. In fact, we found the machine to be quite snappy in handling most of our mundane desktop chores. Opening up a Firefox browser, a Word document, or even Photoshop happened without too much noticeable lag, and even playing back high definition videos on YouTube was handled with ease. Overall, we never found ourselves longing for more power than what we had. Quite the contrary, in fact. Many $850 machines from last year left us wanting better responsiveness, but with the X460DX, we never found the system to be sluggish, when it came to handling our most common tasks.
3D gaming definitely isn't the strong suit of this machine, but having a potent discrete NVIDIA graphics chip enabled it to hang tough with most of our gaming demands. We wouldn't recommend this kind of machine for those who need to play the latest and greatest at high resolutions, but if you're fine with kicking the details down a few notches or playing games that hit their prime a year or so ago, there's plenty of power for you here.
|Futuremark PCMark Benchmarks|
To start things off, we fired up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage. This synthetic benchmark suite simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads, stressing various system subsets in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here, and most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.
The X460DX qualifies as a daily workhorse able to tackle a variety of tasks, a point that's underscored in our PCMark Vantage testing. It's not going to blow you away in any particular area, but the system boasts a solid foundation with a Core i5 processor, 6GB of DDR3 memory, and a 7200RPM hard drive. It's sort of a Jack-of-all-trades, and master of none. But sometimes that's perfectly okay, and we get the impression that this machine was designed to be as good as possible at as many tasks as possible. Here's the full score:
|SiSoftware Sandra and 3DMark Benchmarks|
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2011, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
The 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M is no slouch. While it obviously falls short of some seriously hardcore gaming machines, the X460DX manages to put up respectable scores here, particularly nice when you consider the reasonable $850 price. Too bad you pay for it in the excess heat department. Here's the full score:
|Gaming Benchmarks and Battery Life|
MSI doesn't make any outlandish claims about the X460DX being a genuine gaming laptop, but based on these numbers, it could certainly handle some moderate gaming. It won't break any records, but these FPS figures led to a very playable game at lower resolutions.
As we've said on numerous occasions, our BatterEater Pro benchmark is absolutely brutal, and so is the way we run it. To represent an absolute worst case scenario. BEPro proceeds to the tax the system's CPU and GPU nonstop until it runs out of juice, which for the X460DX came out to 113 minutes (just under 2 hours).Aside from the machine getting a bit toasty at times, battery life is the area where we found ourselves most disappointed with the X460DX. MSI somehow claims that the 6 cell battery included here can get up to 8 hours of battery life. We don't think that's a realistic possibility with any kind of real-world workloads. Our conventional BatteryEater Pro test, which runs a high demand graphical animation in the background and hammers on the CPU until the machine croaks, is certainly an intense one. We left the screen brightness at about 60%, Wi-Fi on, and let it run down. After 113 minutes, the X460DX forced itself into hibernation. Needless to say, that's nowhere near the claimed 8 hours.
To be fair, this test really takes a toll on machines. If you were to disable Wi-Fi, crank the screen brightness down, and generally do much of anything with your machine, you may be able to hit 5 hours in an ideal situation. But even that seems like a stretch. Either way, we wouldn't bank on getting anywhere close to 8 hours in real world use.
|Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: In terms of its overall performance, the MSI X460DX fared well against other notebooks in its category. Having that discrete Nvidia GPU, coupled to a Core i5 CPU, certainly helps matters. In most of our benchmarks, the X460DX either led the way or closely followed its most directly comparable competition. Handling high definition videos, some gaming, and a decent amount of multitasking was no problem for this machine. The machine did get a little toasty under sustained loads, but we never experienced any instability. We also have to commend MSI for employing a 7200 RPM hard drive in the build; usually, these midrange machines get stuck with pokey 5400 RPM drives. Of course, an SSD would've enhanced performance greatly, but for an $850 package that would be a pretty unreasonable expectation.At just 1 inch thick and weighing 4.3 pounds, the classy X460DX certainly does a lot to stand out in the category. There aren't many 14-inch machines hitting the market these days, and MSI has done a great job selecting components to make the most of this one. The value proposition here is quite high and despite the fact that some of the X460DX's build materials aren't all top-shelf, the overall look and feel is more than satisfactory. It's light, nimble, and fully capable of handling desktop chores, multitasking, and the occasional gaming session. Not to mention, there's an optical drive in this thin and light. That's a piece of equipment that's becoming increasingly difficult to find in the ultra-thin mobile world, and those who absolutely need a DVD drive for their business can't overlook the importance of that inclusion.
Using the MSI X460DX was a pleasant experience. We never found ourselves waiting around for the machine, save for a few instances of extreme multitasking, but even then we were just attempting to see how far we could push the machine before it faltered. The long and short of it is this: the X460DX lived up to our performance expectations, and it's certainly a light and beautiful machine. Well, except for those palmrest stickers.
The MSI X460DX does have an Achilles' heel, however--battery life. With just under 2 hours in our rundown test, it's not as easy to recommend this machine for hardcore road warriors. Sure, you could tote around an extra battery, but that sort of defeats the purpose of having such a mobile machine. It's not that ~2 hours of life is horrendous, especially in our worst-case test condition (lighter workloads will see this machine last much longer), it's just that we expected more given MSI's claims of 8 hours.
All in all, MSI has managed to exceed our expectations in most departments with the X460DX. For those who aren't concerned with the somewhat underwhelming screen resolution or camel-like battery life, this is a machine that is definitely worth your consideration. At $850, perhaps a few corners had to be cut, but at least they weren't areas that affected performance and overall usability in any way.