Intel's second Generation Core (Sandy Bridge) CPU has found its way into MSI's latest CR640 notebook, giving it excellent speed and good battery life. The CR640 is a 15.6in notebook that sports a nice design as well as a decent range of mod cons. Some may be annoyed by its glossy screen and textured touchpad (we were), but overall, it's a notebook that offers good value for money.

Weighing in at around 2.5kg, the CR640 isn't what you would call lightweight, but its weight is evenly distributed and the shape of the unit is conventional. This means it can be carried relatively comfortably in a backpack, for example, and its long battery life will allow you to use it while outdoors or commuting. For the most part though, it's best suited as a desktop replacement.

Specifications and performance

On the inside, the CR640 features a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 2410M CPU, which has two cores, Hyper-Threading, a 2.9GHz Turbo Boost frequency and it features integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000.

Surrounding this CPU is 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM and a 500GB, 5400rpm hard drive. Compared to other second Generation Core laptops we have reviewed, such as the Dell Latitude E5520, Sony VAIO SB Series and Sony VAIO CB Series, the MSI's speed is great.

The CR640 recorded times of 44sec and 53sec in the Blender 3D rendering and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, respectively, and these results are better than what the comparably configured VAIO CB Series recorded in the same tests. Furthermore, the MSI was quicker in the video transcoding test, taking only 55min to convert a DVD file into a 1.5GB Xvid file. This is even faster than the VAIO SB Series, which had a slightly faster CPU.

So you can see that when it comes to the handling of media and overall CPU intensive tasks, the MSI won't disappoint. Its hard drive performance was also quite good in our tests, as its 5400rpm drive managed to record a transfer rate of 30.28 megabytes per second (MBps), which is a little higher than we expected.

Its graphics performance is reliant on the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 adapter in the Sandy Bridge CPU, and it provides adequate grunt for running mainstream games such as StarCraft II and WoW at low resolution and detail levels. It recorded a mark of 3927 in 3Dmark06, which is about 2500 marks off what a mainstream notebook with a dedicated graphics card (such as the aforementioned Sony VAIO CB, which has an AMD Radeon HD 6630M adapter) can achieve.

Battery life

Because the CR640 uses the Intel CPU's integrated graphics exclusively, its battery life is longer than what many typical 15.6in laptops can achieve. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the CR640 lasted 3hr 50min.

We haven't seen such endurance from a desktop replacement-style notebook before, and it means you'll be able to spend quality time away from a power outlet. The standard battery has six cells and a 4400 milliamp hour (mAh) rating.

Physical design and features

The chassis design of the CR640 is different from the CR620 that we reviewed last year. It has a 'start' button on its side (refer to the product images) rather than a power button above the keyboard. All of its ports are located on the left and right sides, and the touchpad has been redesigned.

We like the look and feel of the CR640 better than the CR620, it doesn't creak or feel flimsy when you pick it up from the edges, and it's reasonably comfortable to use on your lap, especially as it doesn't get warm after prolonged periods of use.

The keyboard has isolated keys and it feels comfortable to type on for the most part, but the keys do have a little too much resistance, so you have to hit them firmly. We like the large palmrest area, but we're not fans of the touchpad. The touchpad has a circular, patterned texture that irritated us. We'd prefer a smooth touchpad without a texture.

The screen has a native resolution of 1366x768, which is standard for an inexpensive laptop, and it has a very glossy coating, which is also standard for an inexpensive laptop. Reflections from light sources will be very visible if you use low screen brightness and are viewing dark images, for example. One feature that's present that other inexpensive laptops don't have is an ambient light sensor. This worked well in our tests, maximising the brightness when in a bright room and toning it down in a darkened room.

Around the edges of the chassis, you will find a DVD burner, an SD card slot, HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, microphone and headphone ports. There are four USB ports, two of which are USB 3.0. You also get a webcam, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

OUR VERDICT

With a good combination of performance, battery life and features, the MSI CR640 is a versatile laptop. It can be used as a desktop replacement, yet its long battery life also allows it to be used away from an outlet for almost four hours (or more depending on your usage pattern). We're not fans of its glossy screen and textured touchpad. We were given a retail rice of $799 for the CR640, but the only online store (Modtech Computers) listing it at the time of writing had it for over $850, which still isn't a bad deal considering what you're getting.