MSI Megabook S271 review

Price when reviewed

This is the first time we’ve seen an MSI-branded laptop, but it’s clear that the Taiwanese manufacturer has ambitions to make a big impact in the UK market: the Megabook S271 is making an aggressive pitch for the mid-range market. The initial surprise with the Megabook is its pricing – it’s a truly tiny laptop, it weighs a shoulder-friendly 2.1kg, yet it costs less than £700.

The screen is a 12.1in panel with a resolution of 1,280 x 800. That’s a notable improvement compared to ultraportables with a 1,024 x 768 resolution, although inevitably the pixels themselves are smaller. Nevertheless, we found the Megabook eminently suitable for working on the go.

The panel itself is brightly backlit, if blighted by an overly reflective gloss finish. Contrast is poor, which means a lack of detail in dull images. Colour reproduction isn’t great either: the bright end of our RGB colour scales were simply solid blocks of colour, while a 256-shade greyscale displayed notable stepping, as well as the odd patch of light red. In practice, our test photos were generally vibrant, but we’d trade a little of that for colour accuracy.

In terms of build quality, the Megabook is well enough put together, but the chassis offers nothing like the quality of the more professionally focused Dell Latitude D420. For example, the lid – while pleasingly thin – offers little in the way of protection for the screen, so while you’ll easily be able to fit it in a bag you’ll need to make sure there’s plenty of padding. In all, the entire laptop feels just a little too cheap to be satisfying, and this first impression isn’t helped by the uninspiring plastic finish.

The keyboard is far from perfect too: it has a solid base, but the keys themselves don’t travel very far, making typing less pleasurable than it could be. The mouse buttons also suffer from being over-designed. They’re etched into the the notebook instead of being separate buttons, and they’re stiff to use.

If you can live with these cosmetic and ergonomic foibles, there are plenty of plus points elsewhere. The power is provided by a dual-core AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-50. While this 1.6GHz CPU is some way off the power provided by Intel’s latest Merom Core 2 Duo processors, if all you need is a responsive machine for word processing and internet browsing the Megabook will be more than up to the challenge.

This fact was reflected by the Megabook’s score of 0.76 in our application benchmarks, where it was undeniably helped by a generous 1GB of RAM. Up to 128MB of system memory will be taken by ATi’s integrated Radeon Xpress 200M graphics chip, but don’t be fooled into expecting great gaming ability: we ran Call of Duty 2 at our low settings and the S271 returned just 5fps.

The standard battery extends for around an inch beyond the rear extremity of the chassis, but with just over four hours of battery life under light use we’re not complaining. Under intensive use, the system ran for an hour-and-a-half, making the S271 a practical mobile companion.

Ample storage is provided by a 80GB hard disk, while the built-in optical drive will write to all CD and DVD formats including DVD-RAM. There’s also a card reader crammed in, compatible with SD/MMC and Memory Stick cards.

The WLAN card differs from current Intel Centrino notebooks, as there’s no compatibility with 802.11a, although this should only pose a problem with enterprise-level networks. There’s Gigabit Ethernet, though, as well as integrated Bluetooth.

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