This sleek MacBook Air wanna-be heralds an invasion of affordable thin-and-light notebooks built around Intel’s Core 2 ‘Ultra’ processor.
It’s a head-turning silver wedge tapering up from 6mm at the leading edge to 20mm at the rear, and weighing a barely-there 1.3kg.
It’s got a 13.3 inch screen and an Intel Core 2 processor – but no optical drive and a battery that’s perhaps over-optimistically rated for seven hours.
Think we’re talking about the MacBook Air? Think again. This is MSI’s fresh-baked X-Slim 340, which delivers all those Air-like attributes at almost half the price of Apple’s luxe laptop – an estimated US$1,000.
At the same time the X-Slim ups the ante with two USB ports instead of one, plus Gigabit Ethernet, VGA and HDMI jacks and a memory card reader. Optional extras include inbuilt 3G HSDPA wireless broadband, an eight-cell battery plus USB DVD and Blu-ray drives.
And if you like the sound of that, rest assured there’s more to come – both from MSI and its many competitors.
The cornerstone of this wave will be Intel’s consumer ultra-low voltage (CULV) processor, previously codenamed Ultra
. The first CULV processors are due to be launched in the coming month, with several Ultra-class notebooks on show at Taiwan’s Computex techfest in early June.
There’s some confusion over whether the X-Slim 340, which MSI announced over the weekend, already employs a CULV chip. Many Web sites and blogs are mistakenly reporting that to be the case, but the SU3500 processor listed on MSI’s spec sheet is from the Core 2 Solo line that’s been around since February.
While built on the same 45nm Penryn architecture as their Core 2 Mobile siblings, these are single-core chips which clock at 1.2GHz and 1.4GHz.
It’s also worth noting that MSI has stepped back from its original plans to build the notebook around Intel’s less powerful Atom netbook chip and says it will roll out variants of the X-Slim sporting the cheaper Celeron M ULV processor (which is based on 65nm Merom silicon) in addition to different display sizes.
This could lead to a further fragmentation of the ultra-portable market, blurring the lines between netbooks and notebooks until the raw performance of the Core 2 vs Atom powerplants remains one of the few measurable differentiators.
The other will be price. While the Atom N270 sells to laptop makers for US$44, at US$262 the SU3500 costs more than five times as much. This obviously impacts the retail price of the notebook, but if netbooks continue to grow in form factor it could lead to some consumers wondering if the extra cost for a slim Core 2-based notebook can be justified when an Atom-powered netbook does most of what they need.