MSI is not known for its drop-dead gorgeous laptops. While plenty are daubed with spots of colour, their designs are more likely to inspire thoughts of tax returns than the great artists' masterpieces. The MSI CR640 is an attempt to reverse this trend, with a look that claims to be based on premium sedan cars.
In practice what this entails is a power button that's like the ignition button of a sports car and a finish that uses a brushed metal-style texture rather than good old standard black. However, contrary to the suggestion of quality this raises, the MSI CR640 is an all-plastic laptop. There are plenty of elements here that look like they could - or should - be made from metal, but they're not. So while build quality is reasonably solid it lacks that premium feel. Laptops at this price tend to though.
The ultra-shiny finish of the CR640 is not quite classy, but it resists fingerprints and greasy smudges that a glossy black finish would attract within minutes. It seems a shame that the front of the laptop features so many shades of silver - two around the speaker housing, two more around the trackpad - as they make sure it's fair to say that MSI's attempt to create (self-titled) "epoch-making" products here has failed.
The £500-ish MSI CR640 uses the new Sandy Bridge i3-2310M processor, offering decent performance at a reasonable price. It uses Intel's HD 3000 integrated graphics solution, although the pricier MSI CX640 - which packs a GeForce GT 540M - is available if gaming performance is a priority.
The 15.6in MSI CR640 is also equipped with 4GB of DDR III RAM, in a 2x2GB stick arrangement, and has a 5400rpm 320GB hard drive. For all its attempts to differentiate itself from the crowd with its cod-macho styling, its spec list is rather ordinary.
Along the right edge of the laptop are headphone and microphone 3.5mm jacks, two USB slots and the tray-based DVD recorder. There's no Blu-ray on offer here, or in its more expensive CX640 sibling.
Across on the other edge sit two more USB slots, an HDMI output, VGA connector and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Although MSI has advertised the CR640 as available with an additional two USB 3.0 ports, they weren't present on our review model - we're stuck with USB 2.0 here. USB 3.0 offers around three times the data transfer rate of 2.0 in real-life use so be sure to check if you're also investing in a shiny new USB 3.0 external hard drive.
On the front edge there is an SD/MMC/MemoryStick Pro card reader, which is capable of reading ultra-high capacity SDXC cards. One of the more successful elements of the MSI CR640's design, in pure aesthetic terms, is the speaker above the keyboard. Like the monitor bezel it's glossy black, book-ended by stereo speaker grilles, each bisected by a silver spear (yes, it's plastic rather than metal). It's one of just a few parts of the notebook that seems conspicuously designed - rather than just daubed with a non-standard finish.