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MSI GT680 review: MSI GT680

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Not all laptops are created equal. Some are designed to be super-lightweight, ready to be slung over your shoulder and taken off on an adventure. Others would prefer to sit in a swanky graphic designer's office making pretty shapes that sell for thousands of pounds.

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8.3

MSI GT680

The Good

Blistering performance; Impressive speaker quality; Frightening design will scare off the in-laws.

The Bad

Slightly uncomfortable keyboard; Poor screen when not in cinema mode; Pathetic battery life.

The Bottom Line

The MSI GT680 is angry all over, from the glowing orange lights that adorn its edges to the powerful processor in its black heart. It's here to master your games and fuel your nightmares.

The MSI GT680, however, would rather be sat in a dingy basement, ripping through the most brutal of games with reckless abandon, its frightening orange LEDs illuminating the look of terror on bystanders' faces.

This gaming beast is available now for just under £1,500.

Monster appearance

If you're after something subtle and well-mannered to complement your minimalist, polite lifestyle, the GT680 isn't for you. This brash lump of plastic will spill its drinks, scare your cat and insult your in-laws -- to their faces.

MSI GT680 front
It's an alarming machine in every sense.

If you like the whole 'invading alien spacecraft' look, however, this laptop will be right up your proverbial. Aggressive ridges run across its shiny black lid with the MSI logo sitting proudly in the middle on a grille-effect backdrop with a chrome plastic surround.

Equally aggressive are the grilles on the front edge, which glow a deep orange colour when in use. Frankly they look like the eyes of Cerberus itself, ready to bite your face off if you dare try to play My Little Pony: Pinkie Pie's Party Parade.

MSI GT680 back
Just look at those ridges. They want to destroy you. 

The alarming orange lights also extend to the side edges and around the trackpad. If you don't want to be scared witless, a handy hotkey turns them off, or sets them to pulse according to the action in the game.

The lid may look as angry as an impatient man queuing for the post office behind five old ladies, but it's made from a not-so-aggressive plastic that gave quite a bit of flex under our fingers. It doesn't feel as though it's about to break, but we'd still have liked to see something a little more durable in its place.

At 55mm thick and weighing 3.5kg, the GT680 certainly doesn't qualify as an ultraportable. But then, it's not trying to. It allows you to hit the games hard at your desk and then trot off with it to the energy drinks aisle in Tesco to settle down for a mammoth fragging session.

We popped it into a rucksack and could just about manage our commute to and from the CNET UK barracks without too much trouble. We definitely wouldn't want to whip it out in a cafe to send a quick email though -- not without sufficiently checking the structural integrity of the table first.

Lift the lid and you're met with an isolated keyboard. The square keys are set a little too high and slightly too far apart for our liking, resulting in us making more mistakes during quick touch-typing than we would normally make. We also aren't keen on the half-sized right-hand shift key -- we often accidentally tried to capitalise our sentences using the up arrow key that's right next to it. As this is a gaming machine, the W, A, S and D keys are highlighted red for quick identification.

MSI GT680 trackpad
The trackpad is suitably angry-looking and has a smart brushed metal effect.

The trackpad is a fair size and is rough enough to allow for quick, non-stick finger sliding. Sadly, it doesn't support any kind of multi-touch input -- annoying if you want to quickly scroll down webpages or documents. The trackpad buttons are joined at the middle and have an attractive brushed-metal effect. They're easy to click, which is handy for speedy Web browsing.

The wrist support has a pleasant honeycomb texture to it. We spent quite a while stroking our hands over it and concluded that -- although we'd rather be stroking a kitten, the wrist support on the GT680 was a suitable alternative. Like the rest of the machine, it's made of plastic, but here it feels solid, giving us barely any flex beneath our poking.

Above the keyboard are a set of touch-sensitive hotkeys that control screen brightness profiles, turbo mode, fan modes, battery modes, connectivity activation and lighting options.

Audio performance

You'll also find two speaker grilles surrounded by a ring of red metal. The speakers are tuned by audio specialists Dynaudio and use THX sound processing so we expected good noise from them. We played Vanessa Carlton's beautiful track Home and were very pleased with the clear high frequencies produced.

Naturally, we wanted to test how it copes with more intense tunes, so we blasted the dub-step stylings of Skrillex through its speakers. We were very impressed with the volume level it managed to achieve and were rather pleased with the bass response as well.

They're great if you're away from your desk and still want a good gaming or movie experience, and are among the best speakers we've heard on a laptop. If you want to feel fully immersed in your games though, you'll still want to hook it up to a proper speaker set with a powerful subwoofer.

MSI GT680 speakers
These speakers pack a mean left hook. 

Around the sides you'll find a good bunch of ports. You get VGA and HDMI out, two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA port, an Ethernet port, as well as mic in, audio in and headphones out sockets.

There's also a Blu-ray drive on the side for you to enjoy all that high-definition content you've got stacked in your living room.

Dim screen

The 15.6-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels so is ideally sized for Full HD content. The brightness levels it offers are rather confusing though -- on standard mode, the screen is incredibly dull and muted, even when brightness is set to full. Only when we pressed the hotkey to activate the 'Cinema Pro' feature did the screen become bright enough to enjoy properly.

When it was set to full brightness, the colours were rich and the contrast levels provided deep blacks which made our Blu-ray version of The Last Airbender look great, although sadly it could do nothing about the film's content.

MSI GT680 speakers
It might be a thick old beast, but there's plenty of room for a fine selection of ports.

Performance tested

The MSI GT680 is a dedicated gaming laptop so it's important it has the power to handle the top titles without breaking down and crying in a corner, steadily rocking back and forth.

Thankfully, it packs a great set of specs under its mean-looking hood. A quad-core Intel Core i7-2630QM processor clocked at 2.0GHz provides the processing grunt, teamed up with 8GB of RAM (a 6GB model is available for around £70 less). An Nvidia GeForce GTX460M GPU with 1.5GB of DDR5 VRAM is also present to tackle your gaming needs.

If you need an extra boost, the GT680 can support up to 16GB RAM, which should make your headshots look smoother than ever.

To test how these specs stack up, we yoked up our in-house ox to take the GT680 down to our testing arena. In the PCMark 05 test, we were blown away with a ludicrously high score of 14,392 -- that's the highest score we've achieved on a laptop, ever.

Here's a handy graph showing how the GT680's mighty benchmark scores stack up. 

We then chucked Geekbench at it and were given a score of 7,713, which again is very admirable. With these scores, tasks such as Web browsing and heavy multi-tasking are a given, but you're naturally going to want to do something more intense with your monstrous hunk of plastic. Thankfully then, this chap will also tackle more heavyweight tasks, such as photo and video editing, without arguing too much.

As it's a gaming machine, it's vital to know it can actually handle games. We hurled the 3DMark06 benchmark test at it to see how well it chomps through the polygons. The GT680 gave us a very impressive score of 13,997. That just about beat the Medion Erazer X6811, which achieved 13,300, but didn't quite match the skills of the Alienware M17X, which also packs a Core i7 processor.

With those scores, the GT680 is certainly up there partying with the big boys, but to see how it stacked up in the real world, we fired up the classic Half Life 2: Episode 2 and sent Gordon Freeman on his merry mission against the combine. Gameplay was consistently smooth even during intense action sequences.

HL2:E2 isn't particularly new though, so it won't be testing the guns of such a high-power machine. To do that, we installed the latest rally car racer from Codemasters, Dirt 3. Again we were met with very pleasing performance. Even when we sent our cars hurtling through the wide, complex Finnish hill-sides, frame rates stayed above 40fps, giving a smooth experience overall. The GT680 will tackle the most demanding games without too much trouble, even if you crank the settings up to 11.

All that processing power is naturally going to have a serious effect on battery life -- especially when you factor in all those glowing lights scattered around its body. When we ran our battery benchmark, the GT680 managed to last just 59 minutes before conking out. The test runs the processor at a constant 100 per cent, so you could get more juice out of it with cautious usage. If you're planning on doing any heavy gaming though, make sure you're near to a plug.

Conclusion

The MSI GT680 has got just what you need from a gaming machine -- it's packed full of processing power and wrapped up in a shell that will frighten next door's kids. It's not going to be your portable computing friend, but when it's sat glowering on your desk it will happily tear into any task you throw at it and spit the remains all over your floor.

Edited by Nick Hide