The MSI GX60 is a 15.6-inch gaming notebook loaded with an AMD A-series processor and high-performance Radeon HD 7970M graphics. Is this really the best bargain for a gaming notebook given a retail price of $1,200?
MSI might have better name recognition among people who build their own desktops, but this PC component manufacturer has quietly been producing some of the most powerful gaming notebooks over the last few years. The MSI GX60 is the latest 15-inch notebook targeting PC gamers who are interested want portability without sacrificing gaming performance. What makes the GX60 particularly interesting is that it uses processors and graphics from AMD in order to deliver a gaming notebook that promises unsurpassed graphics performance at a fair price. Can AMD keep up with the latest gaming notebooks packed with Intel processors and Nvidia graphics? Let's find out.
The MSI GX60 is like most notebook PCs designed for gamers in the sense that it's thicker and heavier than most laptops -- a necessity in order to make room for the high-performance graphics and cooling system. Somthing that makes the GX60 different than most consumer laptops is that MSI includes nice accessories like a matching precision gaming mouse and a padded laptop backpack.
The entire machine is constructed of relatively thick plastics (matte and glossy black) and thin plates of aluminum alloy with a mixture of flat and rounded edges. The plastic screen lid provides ample protection but it does flex when pressure is applied. The metal-clad palm rests are very solid and should withstand abuse from agressive gamers. However, the glossy screen lid is a magnet for fingerprints and makes the notebook look smudged and dirty if you regularly travel with it and touch the lid.
As previously mentioned, the GX60 is thicker and heavier than some people might expect; measuring 15.6 x 10.5 x 2.2 inches and weighing roughtly 7.7 pounds. Granted, this isn't as bad as the ASUS G75 series or Alienware M17x gaming notebooks ... but those are 17-inch gaming notebooks and the GX60 is a 15-inch system. In short, this isn't the ideal notebook for people who are looking for a thin and light laptop. This monster was built for serious gameplay at a reasonable price ($1,300 or less at most retailers).
Another benefit of the big and boxy design is that you've got plenty of room for upgrades. The GX60 has a single massive access panel located on the bottom of the chassis so you can replace storage drives, wireless cards, or even access the CPU and GPU if you're a hardcore gamer who wants to apply a different thermal compound to these components. Just keep in mind that serious changes to the GX60's hardware will likely void your warranty; MSI includes a warranty sticker on the bottom as a reminder.
Ports and Features
The GX60 takes advantage of all that extra space and includes an excellent array of ports. This notebook includes three USB 3.0 SuperSpeed ports, one additional USB 2.0 port, full-size HDMI, mini DisplayPort and standard VGA out as well as Ethernet, a Blu-ray drive, multiple audio outputs and a memory card reader for editing the images from your digital camera. All image descriptions are listed from left to right.
Front: No ports
Back: Kensington Lock slot, AC power jack, Ethernet, VGA, mini DisplayPort, HDMi
Left: 2x USB 3.0 ports, media card reader,
1x USB 3.0 port
Right: Audio jacks, 1x USB 2.0, Blu-ray drive
Screen and Speakers
The MSI GX60's 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) display is pretty good for a gaming notebook thanks to a non-glare (matte) surface and accurate colors. Many modern gaming notebooks feature screens with a glossy surface that helps deliver good contrast and color saturation but also creates reflections/glare from nearby lights or bright sunlight. The non-glare screen on the GX60 means you don't have to worry about annoying reflections and can focus on what is happening in your game. The LED backlight is reasonably bright with a brighness of roughly 275 nits; it's more than bright enough for indoor use and bright enough for outdoor use in all but direct sunlight.
Viewing angles are typically narrow for a TN-type panel like this one; colors wash out quickly when viewed from above and appear inverted when viewed from below. We would love to see a IPS screen with wider viewing angles, but most IPS screens have a slower response time which makes them less ideal for gaming. In short, MSI made a good choice with this screen.
The two stereo speakers are located above the keyboard and beneath the hinges deliver loud and clear sound and are better than what you get with most laptop speakers. There is also a built-in subwoofer located on the bottom of the notebook on the oposite side from the fan exhaust. The frequency range is good with vocals sounding clear and bass that is nice and rich even at higher volumes. While we're glad that MSI put the speakers on the top deck of the chassis so that sound is directed up and toward the user, we felt like the audio was "weighted" more toward the rear of the notebook and we almost wanted an extra pair of speakers under the palm rests.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The GX60 features a full-size "SteelSeries" keyboard with separate numeric keypad. This keyboard is a "Chiclet" or island-style keyboard which has added space between each key to help prevent typos. The keys are completely flat and have a matte surface which doesn't show fingerprints or dust like the glossy plastic which surrounds the keys. The keys have a light cushioned feel with quiet key action but key travel (the distance between pressed and un-pressed positions) is a little shallow for a gaming keyboard. The support frame under the keyboard is mostly firm but we did feel more flex under heavy typing pressure than what we expected from a "SteelSeries" keyboard.
The GX60's Synaptics touchpad is, well ... small. The touchpad measures just 3.3 x 2.8 inches; and that limited surface area barely provides enough room for multi-touch gestures "pinch" or scroll. This might not be an issue with the Windows 7 configuration, but it's certainly something to consider if you're using Windows 8 and need to use those gestures on the touchpad. The dedicated touchpad button worked well during gaming, but we would have been happier if there was a separation (or at least an indentation) so that you can feel the difference between a left click and a right click while gaming.
Of course, MSI does include a very nice wired gaming mouse for serious gameplay ... so you won't have to worry about the touchpad if you're using the GX60 as a desktop replacement.
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