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MSI GT83VR review: Calling this 18-inch monster a laptop is almost an 'alternative fact'

The barely portable MSI GT83VR gaming laptop features a true mechanical keyboard and dual graphics cards.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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5 min read

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.

msi-gt83vr-titan-sli-12.jpg
8.0

MSI GT83VR

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.

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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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Think big

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.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Falcon Northwest FragBox 81Origin PC Eon-17X 131MSI GT83 145HP Omen (17-inch) 184Origin PC Evo 15-S 186Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016) 202
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)


Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Falcon Northwest FragBox 39935Origin PC Eon-17X 18961MSI GT83 14604Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016) 14451HP Omen (17-inch) 13362Origin PC Evo 15-S 13253
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance



Streaming video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016) 605HP Omen (17-inch) 270Origin PC Evo 15-S 253MSI GT83 123Origin PC Eon-17X 121
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)


3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

Falcon Northwest FragBox 9220MSI GT83 8594Origin PC Eon-17X 4919HP Omen (17-inch) 3816Origin PC Evo 15-S 2671
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance


Bioshock Infinite gaming test

Falcon Northwest FragBox 276MSI GT83 270Origin PC Eon-17X 214HP Omen (17-inch) 137.56Origin PC Evo 15-S 112.48
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

System configurations

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
msi-gt83vr-titan-sli-12.jpg
8.0

MSI GT83VR

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 9Battery 5
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