MSI GT680R review (Intel Core i7 2630QM Sandy Bridge, Nvidia GeForce GTX 460M)

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MSI GT680R review (Intel Core i7 2630QM Sandy Bridge, Nvidia GeForce GTX 460M)

Also available in: Spanish

Many manufacturers have launched their laptops updated to the Intel Sandy Bridge at CES 2011 and MSI is one of them. One of MSI’s featured laptops at CES has been the MSI GT680R, a 15.6-inch gaming laptop that’s meant to be one of the fastest on Earth. As I have already told you,  MSI Iberia was kind enough to send us a review unit, so here you have the resulting review.

The review unit I got is an early sample , not a commercial laptop. This means several things:

  • Some features aren’t 100% functional
  • The configuration in the commercial laptops could be different

Specifications
MSI GT680R - overview

  • ProcessorIntel Core i7 2630QM (Sandy Bridge). 4 cores with Hyperthreading (8 threads), clock speed 2 GHz, max clock speed (Turbo) 2.9 GHz, 6 MB Cache L3
  • System memory: 16 GB DDR3-1333 (4 x4 GB)
  • Chipset: Intel HM67
  • Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 460M. 1.5 GB GDDR5, 192 unified shaders , 192 bit bus width, core clock 709 MHz , memory clock 625 MHz, shader clock 1417 MHz
  • Hard drive: 1 TB, 7200 rpm (2x 500 GB in RAID 0)
  • Optical drive: DVD Super Multi
  • Screen: 15.6″, 1366×768, glossy
  • Battery: 87 Wh
  • Operating system: Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bits
  • Nvidia driver version: 259.95
  • Price: not available
  • Official site

Build and design

The MSI GT680R uses the same chassis as the GT660, GX660 and GT663.

MSI GT680R (bottom) compared to a Dell Studio 1537 (top)
  • It’s a bulky chassis, so it’s less portable than typical 15-inch laptops, but it allows for powerful components and a good cooling. Weight is approximately 3.4 kg (7.5 lbs), 4.1 kg (9 lbs) if we add the 150 W power adapter.
  • Build quality is good, but not excellent, because it bends slightly under moderate pressure in some spots, mainly the area around the power button and the bottom of the screen.
  • Design is aggressive enough for a gaming laptop, but without excesses. Most of the surface is glossy, so the entire laptop becomes a fingerprint and dust magnet.
  • There are orange-colored LEDs that can be configured as on, off, to follow the sound coming from the laptop or to breath mode. It’s a nice feature, but not as customizable as in other gaming laptops.
MSI GT680R - lid

Ports

The MSI GT680R has a good assortment of ports, I only miss an ExpressCard slot.

  • Left: USB 3.0 (x2), card reader, USB 2.0. In the picture you can also see an exhaust and two LED, one in the lid and the other one in the main body.
  • Front: no ports. In the picture you can see two LED and the status lights (Bluetooth, WiFi, battery, sleep, hard drive).
  • Right: headphones, mic, line-in, line-out, USB 2.0. In the picture you can also see the optical drive tray.
  • Back: Ethernet Gigabit, VGA, eSATA, HDMI. In the picture you can also see the Kensington lock slot, a fake exhaust (left), the power adapter slot and the real exhaust (right).
  • Wireless: Intel WiFi Link 1000 BGN, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.

Screen

Our test unit was equipped with a 15.6-inch glossy screen with a resolution of 1366×768 y superficie brillante. It’s a pretty standard panel and neither contrast or viewing angles were remarkably good. While the resolution is a bit limited for productivity tasks, most games perform admirably at 1366×768. I ignore if the commercial laptops are going to use a similar screen (according to the pictures published by Engadget from CES, both 1366×768 and 1920×1080 screens will be available).

Keyboard and touchpad

  • MSI GT680R - keyboard and touchpadThe MSI GT680R includes integrated numeric keypad and the arrow and WASD keys are clearly marked with red signs, but it’s not backlighted.
  • The keyboard is quite firm and, while it flexs a bit under strong pressure, it doesn’t bend when typing or gaming. I noticed some clicking noise when pressing the keys in the upper left area of the keyboard, but it’s likely to be an isolated problem only to be found in early sample units, because no review of the older models using the same keyboard has ever mentioned this issue. Keys are cliclet-style, have a short travel and allow for a comfortable typing.
  • There are 8 touch-sensitive keys at the top of the keyboard, that are usually responsive, but some times require to press them again. These keys are: P1 (programmable, defaulted to the Cinema Pro mode), TurboCooling boost (puts the fans at max speed), deactivation of the Windows Start key, WiFi, Bluetooth, ECO modes, LED control.
  • Our review unit had US keyboard and I’m not used to it at all, so I can’t give you my opinion about the keyboard layout.
  • The Sentelic touchpad has a slightly rough surface and is very responsive, even to tapping, but I’m not very fond on the implementation of vertical scroll: you can scroll up and down tapping the upper right or bottom right corners of the touchpad, similarly to the Page up and Page down keys. It’s not multitouch-enabled. The buttons are responsive and make a soft noise, but I’d prefer them to be a little less stiff (I’m very picki in this aspect, I know).

Audio

The sound system, by Dynaudio, sports two stereo speakers and a small subwoofer, and it delivers much better audio than most laptops I have listened to.

  • Loudness is enough to listen to music comfortably, play games and watch movies.
  • Sound is well balanced and reasonably clear but, while I’m not an audiophile by any means (my desktop speakers are a Logitech Z523), I’d wish a cleaner sound.
  • Bass is clearly present, but the subwoofer is too small for very low tones, and at high volumes you get noticeable distorsion.
  • The bundled software (Realtek HD Audio Manager) allows for a good control of the sound (assigning audio inputs and outputs, equalyzer, environment effects…). It includes THX TruStudio Pro, that offers several audio enhancement functions.

Application performance

The combination of a quad-core Intel Sandy Bridge processor, namely a Core i7 2630QM 2.0 GHz (Max Turbo 2.9 GHz) with 7200 rpm hard drives in RAID 0 delivers, of course, a good performance in all applications. In fact this CPU, that represents the slowest quad-core in the new family, bests the Core i7 940XM in all tests we have performed. So the application performance of the MSI GT680R is excellent.

Benchmarks MSI GT680R

BenchmarkScoreUnits
PCMark Vantage8067PCMarks
3DMark VantageP8317
3DMark Vantage GPU6624
3DMark 11P1801
3DMark 11 GPU1609
Cinebench R10 64-bit Single4750
Cinebench R10 64-bit Multi17249
Cinebench R10 64-bit OpenGL4604
Cinebench R11.5 64-bit CPU4.95
Cinebench R11.5 64-bit OpenGL41.43fps
x264 HD benchmark, 1st pass68.50fps
x264 HD benchmark, 2nd pass24.93fps
wPrime 3215.20s
wPrime 1024483.16s
HD Tune Pro, Avg. Transfer rate (read)141.9MB/s
HD Tune Pro, Access time (read)17.3ms

Note: 3DMark scores have been calculated with PhysX on the CPU.

3DMark Vantage HD Tune Pro

While the MSI GT680R features the TDE (Turbo Drive Engine, that overclocks both CPU and GPU when the Turbo button is pressed) and the laptop’s BIOS allows for 5 different levels of system performance, I couldn’t measure any important effect of these features on performance or in CPU-Z and GPU-Z readings, so these are probably unimplemented features in this early sample. MSI promised to send us a commercial unit when they are available, so I’ll be able to test the performance increase these features offer, very soon.

By the way, maybe you are disappointed by the PCMark Vantage being much lower than 18000, but the laptop MSI used to get that score had two SSD in RAID 0 and TDE activated (source: MSI).

Gaming benchmarks

While the Nvidia GeForce GTX 460M has been in the market for some time now, the MSI GT680R I got had a slightly overclocked version (core @ 709 MHz, memory @ 625 MHz, shaders @ 1417 MHz), and this, along with the faster processor, should give this laptop a lead over other laptops with the same card.

Gaming benchmarks MSI GT680R

GameResolutionSettingsAverage FPS
Mafia II benchmark1920x1080High (16x AF)33.5
Mafia II benchmark1366x768High (16x AF) + AA36.7
Mafia II benchmark1366x768High (16x AF)57.5
Mafia II benchmark1024x768Medium (8x AF)68.9
Metro 2033 benchmark1920x1080Very High, DX11, 4x AF, AAA14.00
Metro 2033 benchmark1366x768Very High, DX11, 4x AF, AAA22.33
Metro 2033 benchmark1366x768Normal, DX10, 4x AF, AAA48.67
Metro 2033 benchmark800x600Low, DX9, 4x AF, AAA61.00
Resident Evil 5 benchmark1920x1080All High/on, DX10, 4x AA48.1
Resident Evil 5 benchmark1920x1080All High/on, DX10, 53.8
Resident Evil 5 benchmark1280x720All High/on, DX10, 4x AA87.0
Far Cry 2 benchmark1920x1080Ultra High, DX10, 4x AA41.39
Far Cry 2 benchmark1024x768High, DX1096.88
Crysis GPU benchmark1920x1080Very High, DX1013.01
Crysis GPU benchmark1366x768High, DX10, 4x AA35.02
Crysis GPU benchmark1024x768High, DX1054.63
World in Conflict benchmark1920x1080Very High, 4x AF, 4x AA29
World in Conflict benchmark1366x768Very High, 4x AF, 4x AA43
HAWX 2 benchmark1839x1028Maximum, 16xQ CSAA75
HAWX 2 benchmark1366x768Maximum, 4x AA91
STALKER: Call of Pripyat benchmark (Day)1920x1080Maximum, DX11 Enhanced UDL, 4x AA24
STALKER: Call of Pripyat benchmark (Day)1920x1080Ultra, DX11 Enhanced UDL45
STALKER: Call of Pripyat benchmark (Day)1366x768Maximum, DX11 Enhanced UDL, 4x AA40
Batman: Arkham Assylum benchmark1366x768Maximum, 16x AA96

Note: in all game settings PhysX was Off

As you can see, at 1366×768 (the highest resolution supported by the laptop’s monitor) almost all games get good frame rates at high or very high settings. The expected exception is, of course, Metro 2033, that’s much more playable at Normal settings (graphics are very good at this quality level). In anecdotal testing, Call of Duty: Black Ops played mostly over 45 FPS (often over 55 FPS) at 1366×768 y and settings maxed out.

The MSI GT680R gets, actually, better scores than other laptops with the GTX 460M in some benchmarks (+13%in Mafia II at 1366×768, High, 16x AF; +12% in Far Cry 2 at 1024×768, High; +5% in Crysis at 1024×768, High; +7% inWorld in Conflict at 1920×1080, Very High), but in many cases the result is almost identical (results in Metro 2033 aren’t really comparable because I had to switch off Advanced DOF to avoid visual artifacts). Of course the comparison is not perfect because the benchmarks were performed by different persons (and Notebookcheck doesn’t detail perfectly the in-game settings they use) and with different driver versions, and in addition, our unit is an early sample not completely optimized. I’m quite sure the commercial units are going to offer better performance, specially with Turbo on.

Cooling and noise

Stress Test

The cooling system in the MSI GT680R is very effective and keeps temperatures under control at any time, both of internal components and of the chassis.

  • At idle or under light workloads (browsing the Net, working with text and so), the CPU stays at around 34-38ºC and the GPU at around 30-32ºC. In these conditions the fans are audible, but not annoying, and the laptop isn’t any noisier than my Dell Studio 1537 (Intel Core 2 Duo T5800, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3450).
  • After 1 h playing Call of Duty: Black Ops, the temperature of the CPU was 83ºC, and that of the GPU was 71ºC. Both the keyboard and the palmrest were only a bit warm, without being uncomfortable. In these conditions the fan noise is loud, but I didn’t find it annoying, because the speakers were loud enough.
  • To push the cooling system to its limits I ran simultaneously a Torture Test in Prime95 and the Stability Test in FurMark, so both CPU and GPU were at the maximum. The test was run for 1 h, and the highest recorded temperatures were 88ºC (CPU) and 77ºC (GPU). The fan speed varied depending on the temperature, so the CPU was always oscillating between 65 and 85 º C and the GPU between 73 and 76 ºC.
  • In these conditions I tested the Cooling boost button. The fans became very noisy, but the temperatures did not get any lower than before. So the standard settings are good enough.

Battery life

Battery life is very good for a gaming laptop: with screen brightness at 50%, Balanced energy profile and chassis LEDs off the battery (9 cells, 87 Wh) lasted for 3:16 h of light work (Internet with 4-8 tabs in Google Chrome, editing of small images in GIMP, listening to music in Spotify, some short video in Youtube…). It’s a good increase over the battery life of the older GT660 and GX660 and it confirms the better energy efficiecy of Intel Sandy Bridge processors.

Maybe you miss some comment about the Intel integrated graphics in the Sandy Bridge processors or Nvidia Optimus… But the supposed Intel IGP was nowhere to bee seen, by any means I was able to test. It’s possible that this is one of the “non 100% working features” in this early sample, but at the MSI GT680R official page there is no mention to Optimus, GPU switching or similar. That probably means that this feature has been skipped.

I used the Resident Evil 5 benchmark to try to estimate battery life while gaming: 57% of the battery was consumed in 70 minutes, so my estimation is around 117 minutes of gaming time. The performance penalty was huge: average FPS at 1280×720 and details maxed out dropped from 65.2 to 16.6; picking the High performance profile and turning off energy saving in the Nvidia control panel didn’t improve the performance.

One of the touch-sensitive keys activates several different EDO modes: Gaming, Movie, Presentation, Office, and Turbo Battery, that optimize the settings to save battery in each situation, but I wasn’t able to test them.

Veredict

My impressions about the MSI GT680R are very positive. With the exception of the monitor, the rest of the laptop makes for an almost perfect gaming laptop: good performance, good cooling, good sound, good battery… But the gaming laptop market is very competitive and other brands offer more extras, such as backlit keyboard, 3D screen, or more performance … We need to know the price to judge if it’s competitive enough and if it can deliver that extra performance it promises (MSI Iberia has promised us a commercial unit for evaluation when they are available). In the meantime, keep an eye on it.

MSI GT680R

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