Many manufacturers have launched their laptops updated to the Intel Sandy Bridge at CES 2011 and MSI is one of them. One of MSIs 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
- Processor: Intel 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, 1366768, glossy
- Battery: 87 Wh
- Operating system: Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bits
- Nvidia driver version: 259.95
- Price: not available
Build and design
The MSI GT680R uses the same chassis as the GT660, GX660 and GT663.
It’s a bulky chassis, so its 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. Its a nice feature, but not as customizable as in other gaming laptops.
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.
Our test unit was equipped with a 15.6-inch glossy screen with a resolution of 1366768 y superficie brillante. Its 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 1366768. I ignore if the commercial laptops are going to use a similar screen (according to the pictures published by Engadget from CES, both 1366768 and 19201080 screens will be available).
Keyboard and touchpad
- The MSI GT680R includes integrated numeric keypad and the arrow and WASD keys are clearly marked with red signs, but its 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 its 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), Turbo, Cooling 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 cant give you my opinion about the keyboard layout.
- The Sentelic touchpad has a slightly rough surface and is very responsive, even to tapping, but Im 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. Its not multitouch-enabled. The buttons are responsive and make a soft noise, but Id prefer them to be a little less stiff (I’m very picki in this aspect, I know).
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), Id 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.
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.
MSI GT680R Benchmarks
Note: 3DMark scores have been calculated with PhysX on the CPU.
While the MSI GT680R features the TDE (Turbo Drive Engine, that overclocks both CPU and GPU when the Turbo button is pressed) and the laptops 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 Ill 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).
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.
MSI GT680R Gaming benchmarks
Note: in all game settings PhysX was Off
As you can see, at 1366768 (the highest resolution supported by the laptops 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 1366768 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 1024768, High; +5% in Crysis at 1024768, High; +7% in World 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. Im quite sure the commercial units are going to offer better performance, specially with Turbo on.
Cooling and noise
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 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). Its a good increase over the battery life of the older GT660 and GX660 and it confirms the better energy efficiency 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. Its 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 1280720 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.
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 its 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.