To game well on a laptop isn't always a cheap endeavor--some might even call it a fool's way to part with his wallet. It can often seem like price is no issue for enthusiasts, but thankfully, some manufacturers are looking out for more affordable ways to get a superior gaming experience on the go. MSI's GT725-212us, the model at the top of the company's notebook gaming line, has a remarkably good feature package for its $1,699 price. A quad-core CPU, 512MB ATI graphics card, and a Blu-ray drive add up to, on paper, a machine that's a worthy alternative to our other favorite budget quad-core gaming system, Gateway's FX P-7805u.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,699 / $1,599|
|Processor||2 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9000|
|Memory||4GB 800 MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||320 GB 7200rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4850|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||15.6 x 12.1 inches; battery extends chassis|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.0 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||7.68/9.34 pounds|
The GT-725 series has a stylish low-key design on the outside, highlighted by a black brushed-aluminum lid. Inside, the design gets a bit more garish: Ferrari-red trim and a shiny silver speaker grille above the keyboard make for a slightly dated red-black-and-silver look, but it's not terrible. The lid hinge is smooth and solid, and with the lid closed, the notebook feels beefy but not overweight, especially for a gaming laptop. A black-and-red touch control pad above the keyboard lights up when its media playback, Bluetooth, Webcam, and wireless modes are toggled.
The weight of this system was relatively light for a 17-inch gaming notebook at 7.68 pounds, especially when compared with gaming notebooks such as the Asus W90Vp-X1, which breaks the scales at over 13 pounds, or the Gateway FX P-7805u, which weighs 9.1 pounds. That's a real advantage if you plan to move this around regularly. At $1,699, our configuration, which included 4GB of DDR2 RAM and a 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, compares very well with the Asus W90Vp-X1 at $2,199, or the Gateway FX P-7805u, which cost $1,499 but didn't include Blu-ray or 1080p resolution.
One of the GT-725's chief advertised features is Turbo overclocking, a one-button way to automatically accelerate the CPU speed by up to 15 percent. In addition to Turbo, an Eco touch-button above the keyboard switches between various energy-use modes, including Gaming, Movie, Presentation, Office, and a battery-saving option (called, confusingly, Turbo Battery). You could go through the various power menus in Windows and set these yourself, but it's handy to have some presets at your fingertips.
The 17-inch-wide LCD screen has a 1,920x1,200 native resolution, which is full HD compatible, perfect for Blu-ray Discs. Even better, a matte antiglare coating looks great when playing back movies and games. Because the resolution runs extremely fine at 1,920x1,200, you may want to adjust to a lower res to surf the Web or use office apps at more readable sizes. Unfortunately, Blu-ray playback took a while for us to set up on our unit, and Blu-ray software also requires updates in order to play more recently released films--the experience as of this moment isn't as pick-up-and-play as we'd like.
The built-in four speakers plus subwoofer are Dolby Home certified, but they don't pack quite as much boom or crispness for the size. Still, if you're serious about playing games or Blu-rays on this, you're probably going to invest in external speakers anyway.
|MSI GT725-212us||Average for category [desktop replacement]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA-out, HDMI|
|Audio||4 speakers + subwoofer (Dolby), headphone/microphone jacks, audio line in/out, 7.1 output||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks.|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, eSATA, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray combo drive||DVD burner [high-end: Blu-ray]|
We found nothing missing from the ports and connections, with everything from HDMI to mini-FireWire and eSATA all arrayed in easy access. The sound output runs 7.1 Dolby surround, and can be configured using all four audio input/output jacks. HDMI and VGA are in the back, and USB ports are arranged on both sides of the keyboard.
Intel's Q9000 Core 2 Quad processor is an impressive inclusion on this MSI, but not essential for gaming. Multicore processing is usually shown off most in multimedia multitasking. The 2.0GHz Q9000 performed in the middle of the pack in our multitasking test. In our Photoshop CS3 image-processing test the GT725-212us fell behind similar recent high-end laptops, but it's still more processing power than you'd need for most common tasks, such as Web-surfing, media playback, and editing video and images.
So, the burning question remained of how the GT725-212us, loaded with the ATI Mobility Radeon 4850, held up against powerhouses like our recent favorite, the Asus W90Vp-X1, when it came to gaming. Unreal Tournament 3 played at 1,280x768 at 159.2 fps, an extremely impressive feat. Only the Asus W90Vp-X1 performed better (and only by a hair), at 161.2 fps in overclocked mode--and that was a new high for CNET laptop performance. The Turbo Drive overclocking feature, which a variable acceleration of performance, only runs when plugged into AC power. Using Turbo, however, added no noticeable advantage in our benchmark gaming tests. While this came as a surprise, especially since the Asus W90Vp-X1 had a slight speed bump, 159.2 fps is still incredible performance--in fact, it's our chart-topper for nonoverclocked performance. We anecdotally tried a build of the upcoming Street Fighter 4 for PC, as well as Crysis and F.E.A.R.2, and all performed well enough to recommend this to any gamer.
The GT725-212us ran for 2 hours and 1 minute on our video playback battery drain test, using the included nine-cell battery. That's not a bad number at all for a desktop replacement with this much horsepower, and we wouldn't expect much more.