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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.
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 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.
|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)|
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.
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.
The Razer Blade Pro and a couple of other systems have conducted similar experiments in moving a laptop touchpad around, but it's a rare choice, and for good reason. Move the touchpad from where your fingers expect it to be, and you'll do nothing but confuse years of muscle memory. On top of that, it's not a great touchpad -- it's narrow, with an aspect ratio that doesn't match the screen, and it doesn't feel especially responsive. This is one of the few laptops where I've automatically gone and plugged in a mouse almost every time I've used it.
There are a few other quirks. The GT83VR requires two huge power bricks, 330 watts each -- which plug into individual wall outlets, then both route into a Y-connector, before a single cable brings the power into the back of the laptop. There are going to be a lot of cables running around behind this system, even before you attempt to hook up a VR headset like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
But if there was ever a laptop that seemed made for virtual reality, this is it. There's more performance overhead here than in most gaming desktops, and our gaming and 3D benchmark results showed this was far more powerful in those areas than any single-GPU laptop, as well as most desktops, and was only topped by a few high-end dual-GPU desktops, which can easily cost as much or more than the GT83VR.
There are plenty of ports for VR hardware, an issue we've run into on a few other systems, now that an Oculus Rift setup with Touch controllers uses two sensors, each requiring a USB connection, plus one for the headset and maybe one for a gamepad. Non-VR games played great as well, including newer games such as Battlefield 1 and Mafia III. The highest details settings ran smoothly in each game we tried, but you lose out on the opportunity to play at higher resolutions -- the 18-inch non-touch display is limited to plain old 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution -- a disappointment in such a high-end, high-price system.
Even talking about battery life in a crazy laptop like this is dangerous. In our standard video playback battery drain test, it ran for just 2 hours, 3 minutes, and that's without playing a game. Try gaming on the go, and you're looking at an hour or less in most cases. Not that this is really intended to be a pick-up-and-go laptop.
There's a good chance the MSI GT83VR isn't for you. Anyone who wants a gaming laptop that's moderately portable, has a better-than-HD or touch-enabled display or a usable touch pad or costs less than a fully loaded new 15-inch MacBook Pro should look elsewhere.
But, if you're going into this with eyes wide open to both the limitations of this laptop and its cool features, from the mechanical keyboard to the dual graphics to the generous ports, it's hard to dislike its ambition. For that very small slice of the gaming PC audience, this is a quirky, unique laptop that I found to be extremely fun to use, which is a high bar for a jaded reviewer like myself.
|MSI GT83||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-6920; 32GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHa; (2) 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; (2) 512GB SSD RAID 0 + 1TB HDD|
|Origin PC Evo 15-S||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060; 256GB SSD + 2TB HDD|
|Falcon Northwest FragBox||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (oc) 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-6950X; 64GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; (oc) (2) 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD + 6TB HDD|
|HP Omen (17-inch)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070; 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD|
|Origin PC Eon-17X||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); (oc) 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-6700K; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,666MHz; 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080; 512GB SSD|
|Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016)||Apple macOS Sierra 10.12.1; 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 2GB Radeon Pro / 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 530; 512GB SSD|