Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Review: MSI GX60

Review: MSI GX60

Review: MSI GX60


Is there such thing as enough CPU power? MSI seems to think so with the release of the MSI GX60 gaming notebook.

That's because, intriguingly, the MSI GX60 pairs one of AMD's A10 fusion CPUs with the AMD Radeon HD 7970M graphics chip. So that's a budget-orientated processor combined with the fastest GPU AMD currently offers. Bold move, MSI.

For gaming, of course, graphics grunt has always been critical. Indeed, Intel has been winding back on CPU performance in recent years as it attempts to step up the performance of its graphics cores.

But MSI really is pushing that notion og good-enough CPU performance to its absolute limits. Whether it works will depend on the ability of that A10 processor to maintain playable frame rates at all times.

If you're wondering what the upsides might be, well, it comes down to two things. The A10 processor is cheaper than a high end mobile CPU. And it's also more power efficient.


That's true because the CPU part of the AMD A10 package is pretty modest. It also sports an integrated graphics core that can be used when the system is running on battery power. But then, all of Intel's mobile processors also sport what you might call back-up integrated graphics, too.

Even so, you'd hope that the MSI GX60 was both longer lasting and cheaper than the gaming laptop competition. If it delivers on those two metrics and keeps the frame rates trucking, MSI could be onto a winner.

The price comparison is easy enough to make. The PC Specialist V ortex III 680, for instance, packs the alternative flagship GPU from the green team, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 680M along with a pricey Intel Core i7. And it's nearly £150 more expensive.

Then there's Samsung Series 7 Gamer, powered by Intel Core i7 and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675M but yours for £1,349. That's an extra £300, therefore.

Toshiba's Qosmio X870 and its Intel Core i7 and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670M combo is even pricier at around £1,700.

Admittedly, there are several other variables that effect pricing, including screen size, storage specification and more. But one thing is clear enough. If the MSI GX60 delivers great gaming performance, it'll be a bit of a bargain.


If the ba sics of the MSI GX 60 are AMD A10 fusion chip plus AMD Radeon HD 7970M graphics, how do the details stack up?

The A10 chip is the top spec 4600M, as you'd expect. So that's four AMD-style CPU cores or two AMD modules humming a 2.3GHz tune as standard with a top Turbo frequnecy of 3.2GHz.

Each module contains two integer units but a single floating point unit. Is it really a quad-core chip? Probably not. But it's more than a dual-core processor, too.

The AMD A10 4600M also sports an integrated AMD Radeon HD 7660G graphics unit with 384 shader cores. But the real graphics grunt is provided by the dedicated Radeon HD 7970M chip and its 1,280 shaders, 850MHz clock speed and 256-bit memory bus.


It's a bit of a beast and it makes for an interesting alternative to the the NVIDIA GeForce GTX-powered laptops on the market, incl uding the aforementioned PC Specialist Vortex III 680, Samsung Series 7 Gamer and Toshiba's Qosmio X870.

If that makes for a tasty mix, there's more spice provided by the storage solution. Mass storage takes the form of a conventional 750GB magnetic drive.MSI has also slotted in a pair of 64GB mSATA solid-state drives in speedy RAID0 configuration.

As for system memory, we're talking two 4GB sticks of 1,600MHz DDR3 memory. Then there's the 15.6-inch full-HD LCD panel. So, that's 1,920 x 1,080 and a very high pixel density. It's a TN panel, so it's unlikely to offer colour accuracy to rival the best IPS screens.

But there are several grades of TN technology today and the best offers pretty good contrast, colours and viewing angles along with the best pixel response. Makes sense for a gaming machine.


Oh and the panel co ating is matte anti-glare rather than glossy, which is definitely our preference.

Next up, there's a beefy 87Wh lithium battery pack. In some ways, it's the combination of that battery with the AMD 10 CPU that makes the MSI GX60 really interesting.

On paper, it promises a very rare thing. A gaming notebook with the legs to run long distances away from the power socket.

What it's not, however, it hugely portable. As a 15.6-inch notebook, the chassis isn't huge in width, though a fairly fat bezel around the screen means it's quite large for this class of notebook.

However, at 55mm thick and 3.5kg, this is no thin and light. You wouldn't want to lug it to the office and back on a daily basis.


Cinebench 10:8,080pts
Battery Eater 05:131 minutes

Even more for the MSI GX60 than most power portables, performance is going to make or break this laptop.

Inevitably, raw CPU performance is unimpressive. The A10 CPU's AMD Piledriver cores don't have a reputation for immense performance. And with only four of them running at relatively modest clocks, the result is a mediocre score of around 8,000 in Cinebench 10.


To put that into context, a quad-core Intel Core-i7 desktop processor is roughly four times faster. Yikes.

Performance of those two 64GB mSATA solid-state drives in RAID0 is a little patchy, too. A peak sequential read speed of nearly 600MB/s is undoubtedly spectacular. Writes of just 52MB/s are pretty poor, however.

The random access performance isn't too hot either, clocking in at 7.3MB/s for reads and 13.3MB/s for writes. Frankly, the GX60 would be better off with a single conventional 2.5-inch SSD. The sequential reads would be a little slower. But everything else would be mu ch, much quicker.

If that doesn't make for a terribly appealing mix, it's hardly catastrophic, either. In fact, it's just fine if the GX60 can deliver where it counts in games.


Sadly, it doesn't. A perfect example of where it falls short is provided by arcade-style racer Dirt Showdown. Hardly renown for being a CPU hog, Dirt Showdown runs at pretty much the same frame rates regardless of the graphical settings.

Whether you're running at 1,280 by 768 pixels and no anti-aliasing or 1,920 by 1,080 and all the eye-candy shovelled on it's the same. Unfortunately, that same is low to mid 20s in terms of frames per second.

That's not quite good enough and it's undoubtedly a function of the CPU holding back performance. Admittedly, most console port games will run just fine. But anything a bit more demanding and purpose built for modern CPUs is going to chug a bit.


That's a shame because games look absolutely, positively stunning on the GX60's 15.6-inch LCD panel. The 1,920 by 1,080 resolution makes for a super-tight pixel pitch and in turn razor-sharp visuals.

Add in vivid colours and decent pixel response and you have a gaming lappie that makes games look awesome. Well, the ones that run smoothly, at least.

The final part of the puzzle in battery life. Over two hours in Battery Eater 05 is a decent result for this type of portable. Even better, in a light web browsing scenario with Wi-Fi enabled, you'll get at least four hours and perhaps as much as five or more depending on screen brightness.

That's much better than you'll achieve with most gaming-centric laptops.


There's no doubting the MSI GX60 makes for a compel ling package on paper. Graphics grunt is typically what defines games performance. So why not wind back a little on the CPU in return for lower pricing and better battery life.

That's exactly what MSI did, dropping in an AMD A10 4600M chip. It's essentially a budget processor and sports two of AMD's Piledriver modules and four AMD-style cores.


We liked

The screen is excellent and delivers just what you want from a gaming portable: rich and vivid colours, great contrast and huge detail thanks to a 1,920 by 1,080 pixel grid.

The battery life is excellent for this class of notebook. Depending on how you use the GX60, you can get as much as five hours or more away from a wall socket. For that you can thank both the big battery and the integrated AMD Radeon HD 7660G graphics core, which kicks in when the system is running on batteries.

The integrated speakers aren't half bad, either. OK, the absolute volume levels aren't exactly kidney pummelling. But the quality and clarity are great. And you do get just a hint of lower bass frequencies.

We disliked

Make no mistake. AMD cores are not like Intel cores. And Intel Core i7 quad-core chip typically delivers at least twice the performance of the AMD A10 processor.

Unfortunately, that makes a difference in games, where the A10 processor prevents the excellent AMD Radeon HD 7970M mobile graphics chip from delivering its best. It ends up twiddling its silicon thumbs waiting for the A10 to catch up.

Similarly unedifying is the performance of the two 64GB mSATA SSDs in RAID0 configuration. You'd be better off with a single conventional SSD.

We're also a little disappointed by the sheer heft of the GX60. Given the low power CPU and even taking into account the powerful graphics chip, 3.5kgs and 55mm thick is not w hat we were expecting.

Final verdict

That said, it all makes for a very sturdy and robust feeling system. Likewise, the keyboard feels great, too. Engineered by keyboard specialist Steelseries, it's very stable with little to no deflection of the keyboard bed.


But it's the AMD A10 CPU that's the real sticking point. It's just about tolerable for most current games. But there's absolutely no performance in hand for future games. And it makes the AMD Radeon HD 7970M dedicated graphics chip seem a little futile and the GX60 ultimately a bit off-target.

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//PART 2