MSI proves that you can purchase a very solid gaming machine without taking out a second mortgage with the GT725, a $1,699 rig that features a powerful quad-core CPU, robust graphics, and Blu-ray playback. We’re not fans of the keyboard, and the design could use a bit of a refresh, but overall, you get a lot for your money.
A Gamer’s Design; a Keyboard for Few
Lacking flames or glowing alien eyes, the GT725 may not be as ostentatious as other gaming rigs, but it has plenty of touches to remind you this is no ordinary notebook. The system has fire red accents, and the blue neon lights illuminate the responsive, touch-sensitive media controls, status indicators, and power button. However, this design is practically identical to every other MSI gaming notebook we’ve tested recently (such as the GT627, the GX630, and the GX720), and like the Gateway FX Series, is starting to look a bit dated. The brushed-aluminum lid and base gives the 15.5 x 10.9 x 1.0-inch, 7.6-pound system quite a solid feel, but the palm rest and keyboard demonstrated a fair amount of flex.
Being a 17-inch system, the GT725 accommodates a roomy keyboard that, unfortunately, has some problems. The inclusion of a full numeric keypad causes other keys to be shrunk: The right Shift key is about half the size of the one on the left side, and the minute Ctrl and arrow keys may prove painful to touch typists accustomed to full-size decks. We did like the fact that the WASD keys are clearly highlighted, which could help gamers unaccustomed to keyboard play.
The touchpad is smooth and of decent size, which made it a breeze to navigate the desktop. Below it are mouse buttons cut out of the chassis of the machine. The look is cool, but these buttons are not as easy to activate as traditional ones. Positioned above the keyboard are the aforementioned multimedia keys, plus Eco and Turbo buttons (for tweaking battery life and adjusting CPU clock settings) and quick launch keys for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, webcam, and a user-defined application. Surrounding these buttons is a race car–like grill that Nascar fans will likely appreciate.
Ports and Webcam
Connectivity options abound on the GT725. The right side of the system features a 4-in-1 memory card reader, two USB 2.0, eSATA, FireWire 400, and headphone, mic, line-in, and line-out jacks; the back houses the VGA and HDMI ports; the left side contains a Kensington lock, Ethernet and modem jacks, two more USB 2.0 ports, and the 2X Blu-ray drive.
Above the display is a very nice 2-megapixel webcam that we used to chat with friends in Meebo. Other video callers reported bright images, smooth frame rates during our conversation, and a minimum of motion blur. The CrazyTalk Cam Suite allowed us to add wacky visual effects (such as a kitten face in lieu of our own that moved in conjunction with our mug), take snapshots (up to 3200 x 2400-pixel resolution), and record video (up to 1600 x 1200).
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Display and Speakers
The Full HD (1920 x 1200-pixel resolution) display served up smooth visuals when we played a Blu-ray of We Were Soldiers. Even during high-octane gunplay sequences, it was able to maintain good frame rates. The colors could’ve used more pop, but the images were solid, even when we exported the signal to a 32-inch Samsung monitor.
Four speakers (and a subwoofer) churned out clear sound with a nice amount of bass bounce when we played The JBs’ “Giving Up Food For Funk,” but we would’ve liked more volume. The speakers were loud enough to fill a small room, but lacked punch when we sat a distance away in a larger room.
Click to enlargePowered by a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9000 quad-core processor, the GT725 chewed through PCMark Vantage with a score of 4,638, which is more than 1,000 points higher than the desktop replacement average. We tested the CPU’s potency by transcoding a 5-minute-and-5-second, 640 x 480-pixel video file from MP4 to AVI using Handbrake; the task took 3 minutes and 36 seconds to complete; that time was just 5 seconds shorter than the ASUS W90 (3:41), which has the same CPU, but 6GB of RAM. When we compressed a 4.97GB folder of mixed media in the background, the time increased to 6:15, which was 7 seconds shorter than the ASUS W90 (6:22).
To determine if the extra muscle provided by Intel’s quad-core processor could help crunch data faster, we downloaded and installed Oxelon Media Converter v1.1, which is optimized for quad-core CPUs. Transcoding the same video clip took a lightning-fast 1 minute and 6 seconds, which was 6 seconds faster than the ASUS W90. When we did the conversion while compressing the 4.97GB media folder, the time lengthened a bit to 1:29 (12 seconds shorter than the ASUS W90’s time).
GPU and Gaming Performance
The ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4850 graphics card (with 512MB of video memory) breezed through our benchmarks. It notched a 3DMark06 score of 9,859, which was almost 4,000 points higher than the typical desktop replacement (5,932). It was on a par with the quad-core-powered Gateway P-7808u FX (10,019), but lagged about 1,400 points behind the ASUS W90 (which contains dual ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4870 GPUs). The system notched a 3DMark Vantage score of 5,306, which ranked third behind the Alienware M17 (5,737), and the category-leading ASUS W90 (8,399).
Naturally, the excellent scores translated into very nice gaming performance. When we fired up Far Cry 2, the GT725 ran at a brisk 83.5 frames per second in autodetect mode (1024 x 768), which dipped to 43.9 fps when we bumped up the visual effects and resolution to its max (1920 x 1200). The ASUS W90 (71.0 fps at 1024 x 768, 54.7 fps at 1920 x 1080) and Gateway P-7808u FX (85.1 fps at 1024 x 768, 52.7 fps at 1440 x 900) posted numbers in the same ballpark. The lower cost P-7807u FX turned in 67.5 fps at 1024 x 768 and 43.5 fps and 1440 x 900).
ATI’s GPU deftly handled the visuals of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. We were impressed by the wrinkles in our commanding officer’s face, and the smoke that gently wafted from the barrel of our weaponry after spraying the environment with shells.
Storage and Boot Time
The 7,200-rpm, 320GB hard drive made for speedy file transfers. On the LAPTOP Transfer Test, it moved our 4.97GB folder of mixed media at a rate of 27.8 MBps, which is more than 5 MBps faster than the typical desktop replacement. Although speedy, the drive didn’t help with the Windows Vista Home Premium boot time; the system loaded in 1:12, which is commonplace for desktop replacements.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
Click to enlargeThe 802.11n Wi-Fi radio pushed data along at a rate of 15.7 Mbps at 50 feet away from our access point, and 20.4 Mbps at 15 feet, which were dead-on with the category averages (19.4 Mbps, 15.9 Mbps). This allowed us to stream an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series in full-screen mode with very little buffering.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, the GT725’s nine-cell battery lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes on a charge, which was 10 minutes shorter than the desktop replacement average. Still, this machine is unlikely to be lugged very far from an outlet.
Software and Warranty
Bundled with the system is Adobe Acrobat Reader 8, Aegia PhysX (for more realistic in-game physics in compatible game titles such as Mass Effect), Easy Face Manager, InterVideo WinDVD 8, Microsoft Office 2007 (60-day trial), Norton Internet Security (60-day trial), Ulead Burn.Now 4.5 SE, and WinRAR. MSI covers the notebook with a three-year warranty and weekday tech support.
MSI offers the GT725 in one other configuration. The GT725-074US, a $1,449 system, packs a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor, an 8X DVD±RW drive, and a lower 1680 x 1050-pixel resolution display.
The MSI GT725 offers very good quad-core performance and gaming muscle for a reasonable price of $1,699. Although you could spend less on the $1,399 Gateway P-7807u and get strong gaming performance, that system lacks the MSI’s higher resolution and Blu-ray playback. We would’ve liked to seen a better designed keyboard and more responsive mouse buttons, but the GT725 is a good value.