MSI GX720 Review

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$1799

Pros: Good graphics performance; Robust sound; Numerous ports

Cons: No discernable overclocking benefit; Eco mode has minimal impact on endurance; Limited tech support hours

Verdict: The follow-up to the MSI GX600 Extreme Edition sports impressive performance and graphics muscle for the price.

The MSI GX720, the successor to theGX600 Extreme Edition, is a quality desktop replacement for fraggers on a budget. Sporting a $1,799 price tag, it boasts a speedy CPU that you can overclock with the push of a button, good mid-range graphics, and fast wireless performance, all in a somewhat portable package.

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Design

Measuring 15.5 x 10.7 x 1.3 inches and weighing 7.2 pounds, the GX720 is a desktop replacement that you can actually haul to a LAN party without needing to see a chiropractor afterward. The system ditches the fiery tribal-style tattoo design seen on the GX600 Extreme Edition for a simple black and red color scheme (and highlighted WASD keys) that lets you know that this machine is meant for entertainment. Above the spacious keyboard are illuminated, responsive touch-sensitive multimedia controls, and Eco and Turbo buttons for changing the performance and endurance of the notebook.

The glossy 17-inch, 1680 x 1050 display is perfect for watching high-definition movies. When we popped the Transformers Blu-ray disc into the optical drive we enjoyed bright and colorful images from all but the most extreme angles. Dolby's Theater Class 4.1 surround sound (with subwoofer) made every blow and explosion pack a significant punch. When we outputted the video to a 30-inch Gateway monitor via HDMI, we enjoyed the fine details in the characters' faces, but action sequences made the frame rate quite choppy. Above the display is a 2-megapixel camera that provided very solid visuals when we chatted with friends using Meebo.

The perimeter of the GX720 is packed with numerous ports for connecting accessories and peripherals. The right side of the system houses one USB 2.0 port, FireWire and eSATA/USB ports, headphone, microphone, audio-in/audio-out jacks, and a 4-in-1 memory card reader; the left side contains two more USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet and modem jacks, and a Kensington lock; the back has VGA and HDMI for feeding video to an external monitor.

MSI GX720 Performance

Our configuration included a speedy 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and a robust 4GB of RAM, which powered the GX720 to an incredible score of 4,007 on PCMark Vantage, a Vista benchmarking utility. That's nearly 900 points above average in the desktop replacement segment, and second only to theGateway P171XL FX Edition'sclass-leading score of 4,045. While chatting with friends, we played The Dirtbombs' Ultraglide in Black album, ran a virus scan, and worked in Google Docs without seeing a performance hit. The 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive performed adequately on our LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying and moving a 4.97GB folder of mixed media). Data moved at a 21.5-MBps rate, which is respectable, but lagged behind theAlienware Area-51 m17x'sblazing mark of 33.1 MBps.

In terms of graphics performance, the GX720 is no slouch. The discrete Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT chipset (with 512MB of video memory) notched a very nice score of 17,057 on 3DMark03--more than 4,000 points above the category average. The system wasn't nearly as efficient on 3DMark06, churning out a score of 5,264, which is on a par with other systems in its class. Although these scores are quite good, gamers looking for more bang for their buck may want to check out Gateway's Centrino 2-poweredP-7811 FX($1,449 at Best Buy) which notched scores of 28,529 and 8,679 in 3DMark03 and 3DMark06, respectively.

The system's graphics muscle was borne out in our F.E.A.R. test. On autodetect (1024 x 768-pixel resolution) that game ran at a smooth 100 frames per second, 25 points greater than average. When we bumped the effects up to maximum, the frame rate fell to a still-solid 56 fps, which was 9 points higher than the typical desktop replacement. On our World of Warcraft test we saw an equally smooth 58.4 fps. As we guided our priest through the realm of Dethecus and interacted with other players, WoW maintained the same silky gameplay.

Turbo Mode

Pressing the Turbo button activates MSI's proprietary Turbo Drive Engine (TDE) technology. Like the MSI GX600 Extreme Edition before it, this feature overclocks the notebook by 10 to 15 percent to achieve enhanced performance. Rerunning PCMark Vantage under the faster CPU speed resulted in a score of 4,154, a 147-point increase. Similar to the GX600 Extreme Edition, the graphics scores dipped when the machine was in Turbo mode: 3DMark03 dropped by 47 points, 3DMark06 dropped by 77 points, but F.E.A.R. and World of Warcraft saw no change. Since Turbo requires the most power, it can only be activated when the notebook is plugged into an outlet.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

We enjoyed brisk Web surfing when visiting our favorite sites using the GX720's 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi radio. CNN.com loaded in just a hair over 4 seconds, and the photo-heavy Cracked.com in 5 seconds. The speed was confirmed in our Wi-Fi test; the GX720 pushed data at a rate of 21.2 Mbps when placed 15 feet from our access point, and 18.7 Mbps at 50 feet. Both scores were on a par with the 18.2-Mbps and 14.9-Mbps desktop replacement averages. On our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the GX720 lasted 2 hours and 46 minutes on a charge, which is 12 minutes longer than average.

Eco Mode

The MSI GX720 also features an Eco button. Each successive press cycles users through different power profiles (Gaming, Movie, Presentation, Office, and Turbo Battery) designed to fit their required power use by decreasing power consumption by 20 to 25 percent. This is achieved by lowering the CPU speed and decreasing the brightness of the LCD. When we ran our LAPTOP Battery Test under the Turbo Battery setting, which is designed to provide the lengthiest battery life, we saw the system's endurance increase by only 8 minutes.

Software and Warranty

The GX720 comes with a robust software package that includes Adobe Acrobat Reader 8, Burn Recovery Utility, CrazyTalk Cam Suite, Microsoft Office (a 60-day trial), Norton Internet Security (60-day trial), WinDVD 8.0, and WinRAR. MSI offers a very nice 18-month limited warranty and toll-free service hours Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST), which will extend to 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. before the end of the year.

Verdict

While its Turbo and Eco modes may be a bit overstated, the MSI GX720 is a very solid, value-price gaming notebook. Although it's undercut by the Gateway P-7811 FX ($350 cheaper and with better graphics scores), the GX720 includes a Blu-ray drive for watching high-definition content--a plus for those who want to indulge in HD movies between gaming sessions.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.53-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P9500
Operating System MS Windows Vista Home Premium
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 320GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 17
Native Resolution 1680x1050
Optical Drive BD-R
Optical Drive Speed 2X
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT
Video Memory 512MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.0
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Audio-in
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) eSATA
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Audio-out
USB Ports 3
Card Slots 4-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 18-month limited/Mon-Fri 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) (8 a.m. to 1 a.m., starting in Q4)
Size 15.5 x 10.7 x 1.3 inches
Weight 7.2 pounds
Company Website http://www.msimobile.com