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HolidayBuyer's Guide

MSI GT83VR review:

Calling this 18-inch monster a laptop is almost an 'alternative fact'

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The Good This fun, creative design has a great retro-futurism vibe. The components, from the dual GPUs to the mechanical keyboard, give you unmatched performance for games and VR.

The Bad It's huge and hugely expensive. The nontraditional touchpad is a misfire, and the 18-inch display is locked into a relatively low FHD resolution.

The Bottom Line The barely portable MSI GT83VR, with dual graphics cards and a desktop-style mechanical keyboard, is for the gamer who wants something different and is willing to pay for it.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.0 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Battery 5.0

If you want to find wild laptop designs that skip the ordinary clamshell look and instead feel more like futuristic concept pieces, a good place to look is the hallways of CES. This year, we found the triple-screen Razer Project Valerie laptop, as well as the massive Acer 21 X, which has a 21-inch curved screen and reversible touchpad/number pad combo.

Or, instead of waiting for these prototype products to maybe make it to stores one day, you could just order an MSI GT83VR. This big, bold gaming monster is available now, and is, at the very least, definitely different from any other current gaming laptop.

msi-gt83vr-titan-sli-15.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

It's a desktop replacement in the truest sense of the word. The massive 13-pound chassis is thick and angles upward toward the 18-inch display in order to accommodate the high-end components and required cooling. This wedge design has been around since 2015, when it was called the GT80, and MSI just announced a handful of component updates at CES 2017, but this late 2016 configuration is still the most powerful gaming laptop we've tested.

That's because it has not one, but two Nvidia GeForce 1080 graphics cards inside. Dual-GPU laptops are extremely rare, and usually even the most powerful laptops from Alienware, Origin PC and others have just a single GPU. There's also an Intel Core i7-6920HQ processor, which is currently being replaced by a newer 7th-gen Intel Core i7 (but probably to minimal performance difference).

msi-gt83vr-titan-sli-03.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

MSI systems aren't always as easy to find as more mainstream models from Dell or HP, but many configurations are available on Amazon or NewEgg, and I've found this configuration for as little as $4,799 (which converts to around £3,800 or AU$6,350). That's is a lot, even considering you're getting a highly unusual laptop for that hefty investment. A very good single-GPU gaming laptop with the current top-end Nvidia 1080 graphics card can be had for less than half that.

MSI GT83VR

Price as reviewed $4,799
Display size/resolution 18-inch, 1,920x1,080 display
PC CPU 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-6920HQ
PC memory 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz
Graphics (2) 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Storage (2) 512GB SSD RAID 0 + 1TB HDD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Micorsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

Mechanical thinking

But even the double video card setup is not the most unusual thing about this so-called laptop. The most head-scratching feature is its full mechanical keyboard. That's what we call the type of deep-key keyboard with individual mechanical switches under each key rather than a pressure-sensitive membrane. Old-school computer keyboards used to have this style of keyboard, with its deep, satisfying click, but today you usually only see it in dedicated standalone gaming keyboards.

msi-gt83vr-titan-sli-04.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Gamers love the tactile feel and response of a mechanical keyboard, although it seems overkill on a practical level to include one here. Still, the laptop body is definitely thick enough to accommodate it, and it's a fun point of differentiation. It even gives the system a bit of a retro feel. With the thick binder-like body and chunky mechanical keyboard, it takes on the vibe of a nuclear football being hustled through NORAD corridors in a 1960s cold war thriller.

And if that wasn't enough, the touchpad on this gaming beast gets moved from the traditional below-the-keyboard spot over to the right side of the keyboard, where one might normally find a number pad. Instead, this pad has a "num lock" logo in its top left corner -- tap it and a backlit number pad appears on the touch pad. It's a cool visual trick, but doesn't make for a very practical number pad.

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