MSI GX60 - Gaming Laptop Review

MSI's new gaming portable makes pixel-pumping the priority

Can there ever be such thing as enough CPU power? MSI seems to think so with the release of the MSI GX60 gaming notebook. That's because, intriguingly, the MSI GX60 pairs one of AMD's A10 Fusion CPUs with the HD 7970M graphics chip. So that's a budget-orientated processor combined with the fastest GPU AMD currently offers. Bold move, MSI.

For gaming, of course, graphical grunt has always been absolutely crucial. Indeed, Intel has been winding back on CPU performance in recent years as it attempts to step up the performance of its graphics cores.

But MSI really is pushing that notion of good-enough CPU performance to its absolute limits. Whether it works will depend on the ability of that A10 processor to maintain playable frame rates at all times.

If you're wondering what the upside of this decision might be. it comes down to two things: the A10 processor is cheaper than a high-end mobile CPU and it’s also more power efficient. You’d hope then that the GX60 would be longer-lasting and cheaper than the gaming laptop competition. If it delivers on those two metrics and keeps the frame rates trucking. MSI could be on to a winner.

The price comparison is easy enough to make. The PC Specialist Vortex III 680, for instance, packs the alternative flagship GPU from the green team and Nvidia's GeForce GTX 680M. along with a pricey Intel Core i7 - but it's also £150 more expensive. Then there's the Samsung Series 7 Gamer, powered by Intel Core i7 and Nvidia's GeForce GTX 675M, and yours for £1,349. Admittedly, there are several other variables that affect pricing, including screen size, storage specification and more, but if the MSI GX60 manages to deliver great gaming performance, it'll be one hell of a bargain.

It's spec time The A10 chip is the top spec 4600M - that's four AMD-style CPU cores or two AMD modules, humming a 2.3GHz tune as standard with a top Turbo frequency of 3.2GHz. Each module contains two integer units but a single floatingpoint unit. Is it really a quad-core chip? Probably not, but it's certainly more than a dual-core processor.

The AMD A10-4600M also sports an integrated HD 7660G graphics unit with 384 shader cores, but the real grunt is provided by the dedicated HD 7970M chip and its 1,280 shaders, 850MHz clock speed and 256-bit memory bus. It's a bit of a beast, and it makes for an interesting alternative to the Nvidia GTX-powered laptops on the market.

If that sounds tasty, the storage solution provides even more spice. Mass storage takes the form of a conventional 750GB magnetic drive, but MSI has also slotted in a pair of 64GB mSATA solid-state drives in a speedy RAID 0 configuration. As for system memory, we're talking two 4GB sticks of 1,600MHz DDRB memory. Then there’s the 15.6-inch Full HD LCD panel - that's 1.920 x 1.080 and a very high pixel density. But it is still a TN panel, so it's unlikely to offer colour accuracy to rival the best IPS screens.

There are several grades of TN technology out there, with the best offering pretty good contrast, colours and viewing angles along with the best pixel response, but this setup makes sense for a gaming machine. The panel coating is also matt anti-glare rather than glossy, which is definitely our preference.

Next up. there's a beefy 87Wh lithium battery pack. In some ways, it’s the combination of the battery with the A10 CPU that makes the MSI GX60 a genuinely interesting proposition. On paper, it promises a very rare thing: a gaming notebook with the legs to run long distances away from the power socket. What it isn't, however, is hugely portable. As a 15.6-inch notebook, the chassis isn't huge in width, but a fairly fat bezel around the screen means it's quite large for this class of notebook. And at 55mm thick and 3.5kg. this is no thin-and-light laptop. You wouldn't want to lug this to the office and back on a daily basis.

Sadly, the raw CPU performance of the MSI GX60 is unimpressive. The A10 CPU's Piledriver cores don't have a reputation for immense performance - and with only four running at relatively modest clocks, the result is a mediocre score in Cinebench. To put that in context, a quad-core Intel Core-i7 desktop processor is roughly four times faster. Yikes.

Performance of those two 64GB mSATA solid-state drives in RAID 0 is also a little patchy. A peak sequential read speed of nearly 600MB/s is undoubtedly spectacular, but writes of just 52MB/s are really poor. The random access performance isn't too hot either, clocking in at 7.3MB/s for reads and 13.3MB/s for writes. Frankly, the GX60 would be better off with a single conventional 2.5-inch SSD. The sequential reads would be a little slower, but everything else would be far quicker and thus far more responsive in normal use.

These shortcomings don’t make for a particularly appealing mix, but they'll be a little easier to bear if the GX60 delivers where it really counts: in the gaming department.

Gaming guru? 

Sadly, it doesn't. A perfect example of where it falls short comes in the form of arcade racer DiRT Showdown. Hardly renowned for being a CPU hog, the DiRT spin-off runs at pretty much the same frame rate regardless of the graphical settings. Whether you're running at 1,280 x 768 pixels with no anti-aliasing, or at 1,920 x 1,080 with all the trimmings, the result is the same. Unfortunately, that result is low- to mid-20s in terms of frames per second.

That's not quite good enough, and is likely a result of the CPU holding back on performance. Admittedly. most console port games will run just fine, but anythinga bit more demanding is inevitably going to chug a bit.

That's a shame because games look positively stunning on the GX60’s 15.6-inch LCD panel. The 1,920 x 1,080 resolution makes for a super-tight pixel pitch and razor-sharp visuals. Add in vivid colours and decent pixel response, and you've got a gaming lappie that makes games look awesome - at least, the ones that run smoothly, that is.

The final part of the puzzle is the battery life. Over two hours is a decent result for this type of portable. Even better, in a light web browsing scenario with Wi-Fi enabled, you'll get at least four hours and perhaps as much as five or more depending on screen brightness. That's much better than you'll achieve with most gaming-centric laptops. For that extra life you can thank both the big battery and the AlO's integrated Radeon HD 7660G graphics core.

For the GX60, MSI has wound back a little on the CPU in return for lower pricing and better battery life. It's a bold move, but it's one that comes at a price. The A10-4600M is essentially a budget processor, despite sporting two of AMD’s Piledriver modules and four AMD-style cores. The problem is that AMD cores aren't like Intel ones - an Intel Core \7quad-core chip typically delivers at least twice the performance of AMD’s A10 APU. Unfortunately, that makes a difference in gaming, as the A10 processor prevents the excellent AMD Radeon HD 7970M mobile graphics chip from being able to deliver its best. It ends up twiddling its silicon thumbs waiting for the A10 to catch up.

There's no doubting the MSI GX60 makes for a compelling package on paper, but in practice it leaves a lot to be desired. It's just about tolerable for most current games, but there's absolutely no performance in hand for future releases. It ends up making the HD 7970M dedicated graphics chip seem a little wasted, and ultimately leaves the GX60 feeling off-target.

If the quality GPU wasn't handcuffed by the weaker CPU component this would be a truly compelling little gaming laptop.


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Wednesday, December 18, 2013 ×

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Friday, July 11, 2014 ×

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