Laptops have have had a very hard life as a product.
In the early days they were very slow when compared to desktops and hideously expensive. Gradually as time has moved on they've split into two very distinct types.
There are the "free with a large fries and coke" ones that are fine for net surfing and that's about it. Or, if you were willing to sell a kidney or two you could get a gaming laptop that has a battery life of about 3 minutes and would house a family of five.
For the former the modern smart phones are about the same price, but naturally much more useful and considerably smaller. Even a budget gaming rig will annihilate the latter for a nth of the money, and if you spend "gaming laptop" money on a desktop system you would probably end up with a solid gold case.
Enter MSI with their GX660 Laptop. Today in R guise. Available for right on the £1000 mark it promises a hell of a lot, being a good looking thing with a great spec-list and yet for about half the price of what a normal gaming-capable laptop would be.
So does that body write cheques that it can't cash, or will you soon be writing cheques that MSI can cash?
Popping across to the MSI site we can see the GX660R comes with a hefty set of specifications. Our review model has a Core i5-460M CPU running at 2.5 GHz. Coupled to the Mobile HD5870 it's certainly tasty on paper.
|CPU||Intel® Core™ i5 460M Processor |
|OS||Windows® 7 Home Premium|
|Memory||DDR3 1066/1333MHz Intel® Core™ i7 Processor supports max 3 SO-DIMMs (4GB x 3 slots) Intel® Core™ i5 Processor supports max 2 SO-DIMMs (4GB x 2 slots) 8GB|
|LCD Size||15.6" FHD 1920*1080 TFT-LCD Display (LED Backlight)|
|Graphics||ATi Mobility Radeon HD 5870|
|Graphics VRAM||GDDR5 1GB|
|HDD (GB)||500GB SATA|
|Optical Drive||Super-Multi / Blu-Ray|
|Audio||2 Theater Class Speakers+1 Subwoofer|
|Wireless LAN||802.11 b/g/n|
|USB 2.0 port||2|
|USB 3.0 port||2|
|Dimension||396 (L) x 269 (W) x 55 (H) mm|
Basic specifications would actually be enough to be able to stop right here. For the money, that's a good system. Of course things aren't that simple thankfully, so let's grab a look at the MSI close up.
From the outside the MSI is fairly unassuming. It looks very similar to many other laptops you'll have seen.
However, once you open it up it's clear this is a very different beast indeed. Certainly this isn't your average combination of keyboard, touch pad and nothing much else.
Straight away we can see that things aren't normal. Look at the quality of that hinge and air vent. Plus the two USB 3.0 ports show we're not in "free with a phone" territory here.
The other side has the second of the two USB 2.0 ports. It's a nice touch to see one on either side rather than the limiting factor of all one side or at the back. We also have the audio inputs and outputs, although as we'll get to in a minute they might not be used much.
So much to cover. Firstly it's a joy for those of us who touch type to see a decent sized keyboard. Normally the left hand shift/tab/caps keys are reduced to single key size and cause no end of productivity slow down. Demonstrating the design focus on being a serious gaming rig is also a large part with tab and left-shift used in almost all games somewhere. The highlighting of the WASD keys is further evidence of this, even if it is overkill.
So most of us have experience of laptops, even if we've never owned one, and it's not revealing any secrets to say that listening to an idiot playing music on their phone speaker up the back of the bus is preferable to most laptop audio experiences. Not here. Those two red-ringed speakers are incredible. The quality has to be heard to be believed and even then you'll be hunting round the room for a hidden Denon system somewhere. That isn't the hyperbole it might appear either.
With a willingness to give it the beans this out-performs any average HDTV speakers. We could write a whole review about the audio quality alone but we've a lot to get through.
Few companies want to advertise the more wobbly aspects of their products so the use of two logos and those red highlights should give you some idea of the confidence MSI have in the audio quality of the GX660R.
Visually you have a plethora of output options to choose from if you wish to move your display elsewhere.
Speaking of the display, one thing we've always hated about CRT monitors was their reflectivity. As TFT/LCD panels took over we all breathed a sigh of relief that seeing yourself in a mirror should no longer be an issue, but lately it seems manufacturers are starting to make their screens reflective again. This needs to stop.
It's bad enough with a static desktop rig, but a Laptop, designed for moving about all over the place, it's truly a pain in the posterior. Just in case you wonder if we're over-emphasising something, here is one of the shots we took during the review process. Irritating.
Up Close In the Dark
Although visual aspects take a back seat to the systems capabilities in the desktop world, laptops are all about flash and flair and the MSI takes no prisoners here. The gloss black finish is accentuated by burnt orange lighting. It's much redder in our photos than real-life, but the MSI website shows it as a brighter orange than it is.
There are little touches everywhere just giving a nice glow all around the GX660R.
There is no denying this is a damn stylish bit of kit. The first rule of life is that everything looks better in the flesh than in an un-retouched picture. This is gorgeous in photos. Enough said.
Obviously it would be both unfair, and entirely pointless, to compare the MSI GX660R to any of the desktop based systems we've tested. Firstly it's been a long while since we've tested a mobile dual-core or mobile GPU, and secondly because of the nature of desktop components and their lack of battery life or such vital heat considerations even a HD5870 will be more powerful than its mobile equivalent.
Without instant comparison there is less of "stating the obvious" going on here, but we can tell you that the little i5-460M really makes a mockery of its relatively small horsepower (pony power?). The Memory Bandwidth is particularly fine but the whole underpinnings of the GX660R will easily handle any average task that you throw at it.
PC Mark Vantage
Backing up the above is the results from PC Mark Vantage x64. Such a wealth of tests in a variety of situations and applications but the MSI GX660R never flinches. So often we see systems that are streamlined to a single task that looks good on the blurb, but the MSI will chew up anything you choose to do.
With 3D Mark we achieve scores that will be backed up on the next page.
When we tested the full-fat HD5870 on our 4GHz Core i7-930 we achieved about 19000 on a good example. So GPU-wise the GX660R with its HD5870M achieves about 50% of the performance of the desktop version. Considering you're getting a 1080P monitor along with all the accoutrements for your thousand pounds the GPU is probably 100 of that.
The "Turbo" actually kicks in under any major loading but for completions sake we manually started it anyway. Shades of the 486DX series. As you can see the GX660R does an excellent job of knowing when to apply this little tweak as our manual use of it was well within error tolerances.
For our gaming we used 4x anti-aliasing and maximum settings on every test but Crysis which was the 0xAA Gamer settings we normally use. However if you were to use 0AA and 1920x1080 the frames stay at a minimum of 25 and average around the mid 30's. Lets remember this is a laptop and not a 5850 in a basic desktop!
It would be easy to leap upon the Metro 2033 or AvP results as being very poor but they are, as we saw on the previous page, consistently about half of what we'd expect from our bench system with twice the cores and all the power available it wishes to suck out the wall. So if you've got sensible expectations, and of course you could tweak your IQ rather than run at the high levels we have here, then the GX660R certainly can game with the best of them.
Black Ops on the train with hardcore pumping audio anybody? Thought so.
Temperatures and Battery Life
Anyone who has suffered with a poorly-cooled laptop will know how ludicrously hot they can get. The few models that have focussed on keeping temperatures under control usually do so by giving you a screaming 40mm fan that makes dogs whine and your ears bleed.
MSI have given us a choice. We can have the peace and quiet of the standard cooling, or if we're in a particularly intense situation there is a extra fan that can be used to keep things cool and the obvious expense of a bit of extra noise pollution.
It's clear that the fan does its job keeping everything considerably more under thermal control than without.
Energy is, as we all know, converted to heat. Despite the rather substantial specifications of the GX660R the battery life is much better than we anticipated. We had a joke in the office that gaming in the background of the review video would probably mean the laptop died before the video was finished but actually you can play Crysis Warhead solidly for an hour and a half from a full charge, which is hugely impressive.
More normal use should see five or six hours from a full charge. Again you have to remember the amount of oomph under the hood and this is certainly better than a lot of laptops that are considered portable only because the charger doesn't weigh too much.
Obviously if you look at the results from a strict performance for money vantage, taking into account desktops and similar, then it would be easy for you to dismiss it as a little bit of an under performer.
But you'd be wrong.
You need to remember this is a laptop which naturally incur larger production costs than a desktop thanks to the need to keep everything compact, cool, and energy efficient. As soon as you move from an average internet capable model into something as hard-rocking as the MSI GX660R then we really are into mega-buck territory, and also have to temper our expectations to the level of mobile computing.
With that done, how does the MSI GX660R fair?
We reckon, damn well. Starting with the results for the application end of things we're very impressed. This is a pocket powerhouse. It's why you need to not compare it to things that have gone across our testing table before, because this isn't a 4GHz 12-thread beast, but a little 2.5 GHz laptop. So to be seeing the results we are show that MSI really are getting the most out of the hardware available.
This is especially true when we reach the games. Of course we're not seeing mega results in terms of FPS, but you have to remember that we're dealing with a mobile GPU as well as a mobile CPU.
In fact across the board we get about half of what we see on our behemoth of a bench rig from a computer you can slip in a bag and costs a grand. How is that not impressive?
Special mention needs to be made of the audio which really is amazing. There is depth, clarity, volume and a lack of distortion. It's far beyond any "built into your tv/display" speakers and up there with a good set of desktop ones. If you've even a passing interest in having any form of audio you can enjoy without external equipment the MSI GX660R is the best laptop we've ever seen.
So it looks the boss, it is built like a tank, performs like a £2000 laptop but only costs a grand and comes from MSI who are great at customer service.
If you demand it to be part of your render farm or expect to blow Crysis 2 out the water, you might be disappointed. For everyone else this is a blinder. We love it and we're sorry to see it go. Every single member of the team wants one, MSI you have been warned, you may need some beefy Kensington locks!
Thanks to MSI for providing the GX660R for review. Discuss in our forums.