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MSI GX660R review: MSI GX660R

While we'd be more comfortable with the Asus G73J, if you're a gamer who wants to squeeze the most value for your dollar, you may find your goal in the GX660R.

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Craig Simms
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Craig Simms

Special to CNET News

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

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4 min read

Gaming predictions

If we were to pick what design screams "gaming laptop" more than anything else, it would be lots of angles, the speakers would be highlighted in some fashion, and the laptop would be decked out in a combination of red, black, grey and carbon fibre, like some sort of super car. Oh, and lights. Lots of lights.

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8.0

MSI GX660R

The Good

Phenomenal spec for the price. Better than usual audio. Good expansion options.

The Bad

Construction is a little cheap, especially the keyboard. Audio weirdly attenuates system sounds. MSI's software still needs polish.

The Bottom Line

While we'd be more comfortable with the Asus G73J, if you're a gamer who wants to squeeze the most value for your dollar, you may find your goal in the GX660R.

So MSI's GX660R rather snugly fits into the cliche, even if its carbon fibre wrist rest is faked. The power button has even been transformed into a shield that wouldn't look out of place on a Lamborghini.

This is MSI's take on Asus' G73J, even down to the hardware. Imitation, flattery, all that.

This means a Core i7 720QM, ATI Radeon HD5870, dual-500GB 7200rpm hard drives, a Blu-ray combo drive and a Full HD screen. Recent CPU and graphics card announcements aside, this is some seriously powerful kit.

Coming into its own

Where it's one-upped its rival is by offering its gaming nerdvana in a 15.6-inch form factor rather than 17.3, and cramming 12GB RAM instead of 8.

While Asus is set to answer this with new hardware in the upcoming G53Sw (and MSI itself with the GT680), MSI has had to deal with the fact that less space equals less airflow, and thus have offered a touch button situated under the monitor that spins the fans up to full.

This is particularly handy, as right next to it is a turbo button that increases the bus speed from 133MHz to 138MHz, giving you the tiniest extra puff of performance and desperately needing the extra cooling the aforementioned fan button offers. Without it, the GX660R crashed out of our benchmarks each time.

There are other touch buttons too: one that turns off the Windows key in case you're infuriated by such things; wireless and Bluetooth radio switches; and an "Eco" button that cycles through power profiles.

Lights! Sound!

Oh, and a button that lord knows what it does. Supposedly it's meant to open MSI's LED manager, but it never would. Then again, the LED manager wouldn't turn on the LEDs to begin with either, requiring an uninstall and a reinstall with the latest version from MSI's website. MSI still clearly hasn't picked up its software game.

Once working, there are three different light zones: a strip on the back of the lid, one on each side of the lid, and two grilles under the lip and wrapped around the corner of the base. Each of these zones can be turned on or off, with three effects available: on, breathing or audio. On is just on, breathing dims and brightens the light smoothly and audio, initially, flashes the front and rear lights and makes the sides race up and down.

Thankfully, its operation does bear resemblance to the name — play any audio and the left and right illuminated strips rise and fall independently in relation to the left and right speakers, mimicking digital EQ meters. The front lights also respond to the music in some way, but we can't tell what — it seemed to be randomly triggered, flashing when you'd least expect it. While the side lights are interesting, the flashing front lights make the effect easy to tire of, and one thing is certain — when it comes to lights, this ain't no Alienware.

All of this is to highlight the GX660R's sound, graciously provided by Dynaudio. They're not the best laptop speakers we've heard, but it's a definite improvement on the standard fare, with a subwoofer and some decently powered drivers creating a reasonably clear sound. While it's great for music, whatever MSI has done with the audio it has done something bizarre to the system sounds, making them sound overly soft and attenuating them at the beginning and end. This isn't a speaker issue — plugging in headphones had the same effect.

Value minded

Despite all this, MSI definitely has value in mind. This thing has two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, eSATA, HDMI and VGA ports, gigabit Ethernet, an SD card reader, ExpressCard 54 and multiple 3.5mm audio jacks that can be re-purposed to almost anything, from microphones to 5.1 sound out. This plus the hardware inside goes for only AU$2599 — quite the achievement.

With all this hardware you'd think something would have to give, and you'd be right. MSI has cheapened out on the keyboard, with a lacklustre feel and particularly slack response in the spacebar. The backing visibly flexes when you type, and it's not the first time we've seen MSI take the budget path in this area. Thankfully, it's nowhere near as bad as the X-Slim, and most will find it a minor, yet passable niggle.

Action!

The GX660R grinds out some truly impressive numbers: 12,182 in 3DMark06 and 8441 in PCMark05. Like the G73J, it should be able to handle most modern games. Turn on the turbo, and this increases ever so slightly to 12,448 and 8611 respectively, not really changing much at all, but making you feel good about free performance.

As can be expected, with great power comes great responsibility power draw, with the GX660R only lasting one hour, 39 minutes with all power-saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum and an XviD file played back at full screen.

Soooo...

Although we can't shake the feeling that MSI has made things a little too cheaply, particularly the keyboard, it has managed to cram power usually reserved for 17-inch laptops into one that's 15 inches. It also adds in a hell of a lot of ports that defy the price point. While we'd be more comfortable with the Asus G73J, if you're a gamer who wants to squeeze the most value for your dollar, you may find your goal in the GX660R.

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