We admit it: we felt really cool while toting around the MSI GX600. That's because the laptop's sleek, reflective black case is enhanced by red flame-like markings that look like they could be based on Dave Navarro's tattoos. The sleekness continues inside, where red and silver accents make the MSI GX600 one of the most original laptops we've seen in a while. Also pleasing to the eye: the laptop's 15.4-inch display, which rendered movies and games beautifully while avoiding the glare so common on today's entertainment-oriented screens. But like another polished 15.4-inch gaming laptop we recently reviewed, the Voodoo Envy M:152, the MSI GX600's frame rates didn't live up to its hard-core exterior. Still, the $1,599 MSI GX600 is priced low enough that it will please casual gamers who don't need to play the latest games at the highest settings.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,599|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||512MB Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT|
|Chipset||Intel PM965 Express|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Dimensions (wide x deep x thick)||14.1x10.2x1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.0/7.7 pounds|
The GX600's case design is simply awesome. The glossy black lid features orange-red tattoolike markings framing the round MSI logo in its center; the tribal art continues inside the case, duplicated along the wrist rest and marking the touch pad's scroll zone. Red and metallic silver accents complete the laptop's tough-guy look, which is also evident in the coordinating backpack and external mouse that shipped with our review system. Even better, the case feels solidly constructed and--at an even 6 pounds, barely heavy enough to be classified as mainstream--remarkably lightweight.
One of our favorite features on the MSI GX600 is its 15.4-inch wide-screen display. The screen's sharper-than-average, 1,680x1,050 native resolution provides excellent detail for gaming and movie-watching. The trade-off for the sharp resolution is that text and icons appear slightly smaller than usual, though we were still able to read onscreen text. Even better in a world of glossy screens, the GX600's screen features a nonreflective finish that produces rich color saturation without the annoying glare. Above the screen sits a 1.3-megapixel Webcam for video chats.
Typing on the MX600 leaves something to be desired. The keyboard isn't horrible--in fact, most of the keys are well-sized and well-spaced--but some small economies in key size make typing really difficult until you're able to adapt. Specifically, the right-side Shift key is the same size as the letter keys, making it all too easy to accidentally hit the up-arrow key (and misplace the cursor) instead of Shift. The Alt and Ctrl keys are letter-sized, as well, and the period and forward-slash keys are half the size of a letter key. The economies don't exactly make sense; MSI could easily jettison the dedicated arrow keys, relying instead on the arrow-key functionality of the laptop's handy numeric keypad, to open up some breathing room.
Typing aside, the keyboard does include such gamer-friendly features as the aforementioned 10-key numeric keypad as well as specially marked W, A, S, and D keys, designed to help gamers located their controls quickly. We were a bit frustrated by the laptop's touch pad, which, though large, is positioned such that all but the most vigilant users will accidentally graze it while typing and accidentally misplace the cursor. Some relief comes in the form of a function key that disables the touch pad--a necessity for typing anything more than a quick URL. We like that the mouse buttons blend seamlessly into the case interior, which helps maintain the laptop's aesthetic appeal. Above the keyboard, nestled into a patch of shiny silver detailing, you'll find a large, round Turbo button (more on that later) as well as one programmable quick-launch button and on/off controls for the built-in camera and Wi-Fi radio.
|MSI GX600||Average for mainstream category|
|Video||VGA, S-Video, HDMI||VGA, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/SPDIF-out, microphone jack, line-in||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader, eSata connector||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Networking||modem, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 a/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The MSI GX600 carries the standard mix of ports and connections you'd expect from a mainstream laptop, plus a couple of extras you'd expect from a larger desktop replacement. The included HDMI output is a welcome bonus, though we're not sure how useful it will be without an accompanying high-definition optical drive, as is the Draft N wireless card, though it's only useful with a router that supports the 802.11n standard. The GX600 also incorporates a rare eSata connector for an external hard drive. Given the laptop's focus on gaming and entertainment, we were disappointed in the quality of its speakers, which were adequate but tinny, especially at high volumes.
The MSI GX600 is currently available in a single fixed configuration that costs $1,599. The configuration includes the midrange 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 processor as well as a GPU from Nvidia's latest lineup, the 512MB GeForce 8600M GT. The GX600's performance varied on CNET Labs' benchmarks, finishing well ahead of similarly configured systems (such as the Sony VAIO FZ180 and Fujitsu LifeBook A6030) on our Photoshop test but trailing the pack on our multitasking test.
On our 3D games tests, the GX600's graphics card displayed a playable 58.9 frames per second (fps) on Quake 4 at 1,024x768 resolution, though its 26fps on F.E.A.R. at the same resolution is a little more disappointing. But that's not the whole story: The GX600 incorporates MSI's Turbo Drive Engine, which can be activated by pressing the large round Turbo button above the keyboard. MSI claims that Turbo mode will increase the CPU's speed up to 20 percent and help the machine run more smoothly. Though the Turbo mode doesn't directly affect the graphics card, we did see modest gains when we reran our game tests in Turbo Mode: the laptop posted 59.9 fps on Quake 4 and 32fps on F.E.A.R. at 1,024x768 resolution. That's still not enough to qualify the GX600 as a gaming powerhouse, but it should be sufficient for the casual gamer.
We were a bit disappointed in the GX600's battery, which lasted just more than 90 minutes on our DVD drain test. For a premium midsize laptop like the GX600 we'd hope to see at least 2 hours of runtime. However, we suspect the buyers of this laptop will be less concerned about battery life than about performance. Also, our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect even longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
The MSI GX600 comes backed by an industry-standard one-year warranty with parts-and-labor coverage and return-to-depot service; extensions may be available from your reseller but cannot be purchased from the manufacturer. Telephone support is not toll free, and the company gives no indication of support hours on its Web site. MSI does offer a thorough selection of drivers, utilities, and manuals for download on its site.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)