If you're looking for a huge injection of gaming power but want a rig you can easily move from room to room, the MSI GT60-2OD is ready for action. Rocking Intel's new fourth-generation Haswell Core i7 processor and one of Nvidia's newest graphics chips, this 15-inch notebook ($1,999; $2,338 as configured) packs a wallop. You also get a keyboard that's tailor-made for gamers, a full-HD display and robust audio. If you take your fun seriously, the GT60 will not disappoint.
Click to EnlargeSimilar to older MSI gaming notebooks, such as last year's GT70, the GT60 2OD-026US combines plastic and metal to create this black beast of a notebook. The lid is made of brushed aluminum, which is surrounded by a thick, matte black, plastic frame that borders all sides but the top. In the middle of the lid are the letters "msi" in shiny chrome.
The notebook's interior is black plastic, except for the palm rest, which is a black brushed aluminum. Above the keyboard is a panel of touch buttons, housed under shiny black plastic and represented by small, white logos that glow red when activated.
Though we like the design of the GT60, which has the distinct look of a gaming notebook, we prefer the styling of the Alienware 14. What would really make this notebook stand out in a crowd are the red panels, as seen on the limited edition of the MSI GT70.
At 7.6 lbs., this 15 x 10.2 x 1.77-inch notebook is definitely not meant for travel. However, unlike many 17-inch gaming laptops, it could fit in a larger backpack.
Click to EnlargeTo give its rig some extra pizzazz, the MSI GT60 has a customizable, multicolored, backlit keyboard. The keyboard lights are split into three different zones. Using the KLM keyboard lighting software, we could choose a color from a color wheel for the left, middle and right of the keyboard. There are also different modes -- such as Dual Color, Wave and Breathing -- that change or pulse the keyboard lights.
Click to EnlargeThe MSI GT60 has a beautiful 1920 x 1080 matte display. The world in the sky in "Bioshock Infinite" was truly impressive. We noticed its beautiful texture as we floated into the landing pad and clear water once we emerged from our aircraft. Even in the dark initial scene, as we boated through the stormy waters off the coast of Maine, everything was crisp and clear. When we watched the trailer for "Life of Pi," shots of India were bright and vibrant, with colorfully dressed dancers serving as a stark contrast to the dark storm that wrecked the ship.
The matte panel on the GT60 20D also offered great viewing angles. We needed to be nearly horizontal to the screen before we saw any sort of color distortion. The screen proved better than the one on the Alienware 14, which had color darkening at nearly 30 degrees.
Using our light meter, the GT60 20D measured 247 lux against a category average of 248. This rating falls between the comparatively dim Alienware 14 (161 lux) and the brighter Alienware 17 (307 lux).
Click to EnlargePowered by Dynaudio, the GT60's speakers are located above the keyboard in the left and right corners. These speakers, along with the built-in subwoofer, blasted loud and clear music that filled our medium-size testing room. We did, however, wish that the notebook went just a few notches louder. When set next to the Alienware 14, the MSI GT60 was overcome by the booming sound of the Alienware.
Dialog was loud and clear as we played "Bioshock Infinite"; we had no problem hearing the voices above the crashing waves in the opening scenes. In addition, we heard every slice of the bladed weapons wielded by Danny Trejo in the trailer for "Machete Kills" against a backdrop of gunshots and a rocking electric guitar.
Next, we played Macklemore's "Thrift Shop," which got the room bumping. The clean saxophone riff paired nicely with Macklemore's rapping and the deep voice of Wanz in the chorus. We switched to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," and the GT60 treated us to the same high-quality audio, with Freddie Mercury belting vocals against the upbeat piano.
Users can adjust the audio via the Sound Blaster Cinema app, which includes a variety of preset modes, including Music, Movie and Game. We didn't notice much of a difference between each of these settings, but there was an extreme loss in audio quality once the Sound Blaster enhancements were switched off.
Click to EnlargeThe MSI GT60's full-size SteelSeries keyboard with a full number pad offers an excellent typing experience. The black matte keys are plenty large and evenly spaced, and had plenty of key travel. The right Shift key is smaller than we'd like, because the right half is replaced by the Up key, but we quickly adjusted to this modification.
A number of touch buttons on a panel above the keyboard activate various features. A media button launches the CyberLink PowerDVD app, another button turns off the cooling fan, one toggles the colorful keyboard lights, another turns the display on and off, and one activates airplane mode -- not that you'd ever want to set the GT60 on an airline tray.
Click to EnlargeJudging by its small 3 x 1.8-inch size, it doesn't look like MSI believes that gamers will be using the trackpad very often. We could perform all the usual gestures accurately, such as two-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom. Windows 8 gestures were a bit more tricky, however, possibly due to the small size of the touchpad. Plus, our regular mouse movements were often confused with swipes in from the left or right.
A single mouse bar below the touchpad offered good feedback, but we prefer two separate buttons, as on the Alienware 14.
Click to EnlargeAfter watching a Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad remained a relatively cool 79 degrees Fahrenheit. The underside averaged 83 degrees, while the space between the G and H keys measured 89 degrees. One spot, in particular, got quite hot: The bottom left of the device heated up to 109 degrees, significantly warmer than our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The machine got slightly hotter when we played "Bioshock Infinite" for 15 minutes, with the touchpad measuring 83 degrees and the space between the G and H keys at 92 degrees. The underside of the notebook heated up to 90 degrees, while the hot bottom-left area reached 110 degrees.
MSI touts Cooler Boost 2, which uses a single fan along with shared heat pipe technology, to more efficiently cool down the GT60 by as much as 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees F). Although it didn't cool the GT60 by that much, it did bring the temperature down a couple of degrees.
After another 15 minutes of "Bioshock Infinite" with Cooler Boost turned on, the touchpad remained the same temperature, but the space between the G and H keys dropped to 86 degrees F. The bottom left dropped to 106 degrees, which is still pretty toasty. Converting those measurements to Celsius, that's an average decrease of 2.7 degrees.
Click to EnlargeThe GT60's webcam performed decently in natural light, capturing true colors with only a touch of visual noise. Image quality in dimmer conditions degraded a bit, with the camera blurring finer details into black masses. Using the default Windows 8 Camera app, we could capture images up to 1280 x 720 pixels. The webcam can also be turned on and off by holding the function button and tapping F6, thus ensuring that the camera isn't activated by accident.
Click to EnlargeOn the right side of the GT60 is the headphone jack and microphone jack, two Gold Flash audio ports, a USB 2.0 port and the Blu-ray drive. The left side of the notebook has three USB 3.0 ports and a 3-in-1 card reader. On the back is the power port, an Ethernet port, a VGA connector, a mini-DisplayPort and an HDMI connector.
Click to EnlargeThe GT60 has plenty of power for hardcore games, thanks to the overclocked Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M GPU and its 4GB of DDR5 VRAM. The MSI GT60 scored 7,926 on the 3DMark11 benchmark, destroying the desktop-replacement category average of 4,432. The Alienware 14, with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 765 GPU and 2GB, notched a lower 4,136. The Alienware 17, which also has an Nvidia GTX 780M GPU, scored 5,903.
The notebook impressed when we played "World of Warcraft," averaging 116 frames per second at the native resolution and effects on full -- much higher than both the 100 fps category average, the Alienware 14's 84 fps and the Alienware 17's 103 fps.
The "Bioshock Infinite" test showed similarly impressive graphics performance. At a resolution of 1080p, the laptop clocked 49 fps with the effects on high. That's slightly above the desktop average of 43 fps and MSI GT70 (44 fps), and comfortably above both the Alienware 17 (35 fps) and Alienware 14 (24 fps).
Click to EnlargeOur MSI GT60 came equipped with a 2.7-GHz Intel Haswell i7-4800MQ processor, along with 16GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD coupled with a 1TB 5,400 rpm hard drive. Intel's new fourth-generation processors are said to provide even more power with less energy consumption, and both our real-world testing and benchmark tests showed that this machine definitely packs a punch.
On the PCMark7 benchmark, which measures overall performance, the GT60 scored 6,191. That's more than double the category average of 2,861 and easily beats the Alienware 14's score of 5,325; that system has a 2.4-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor and 16GB of RAM. The Alienware 17, which has the same CPU as the GT60, scored 5,492.
The Geekbench test showed similar results, with the MSI GT60 registering a score of 10,430 against the Alienware 14's 9,128, the Alienware 17's 10,291 and the average of 10,110.
It took just 32 seconds for the GT60 to copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, giving the notebook a transfer rate of 159 MBps, easily faster than the 107 MBps average but slower than the 203.6 MBps transfer rate of the Alienware 14 and the 182 MBps of the Alienware 17.
To gauge the GT60's productivity chops, we ran the LAPTOP OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which matches 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses. This laptop took 3 minutes and 42 seconds, more than a minute faster than the 4:44 category average.
In our real-world testing, the blazing-fast performance mirrored the above-average benchmark results. Games and applications loaded quickly, and we never noticed any stutters or snags as we navigated the Windows 8 interface and switched between apps.
For a gaming rig, the MSI GT60 offers decent endurance. This notebook lasted 4 hours and 35 minutes on the Laptopmag.com battery test, which involves continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness at 40 percent. This is a touch above average; the mean time for desktop replacements is 4:10. The Alienware 14 lasted 5:17.
Software and Warranty
Click to EnlargeThe MSI GT60 runs Windows 8 -- an OS that's optimized for touch screens -- but this laptop lacks touch. Besides the default Windows 8 apps, MSI included a modest number of applications. There's Evernote and Skype, as well as a cookbook app and TuMetro, a news-reader app that compiles stories based on keyword semantics. Also included are an MSI YouTube app, Facebook app and a trial of Microsoft Office 365.
The MSI GT60 comes with a two-year parts-and-labor warranty and a one-year global warranty with lifetime tech support.
Click to EnlargeThe base model of the MSI GT60 2OC-026US costs $1,999 on XOTIC PC and through other retailers, and includes an Intel Core i7-4700MQ with 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M GPU with 4GB of VRAM.
Our review unit was upgraded even further by Xotic PC, which brought the price up to $2,338. Our CPU was replaced with the Intel Core i7-4800MQ chip, and the GPU was overclocked. Xotic also calibrated the monitor.
The most basic configuration of the MSI GT60 notebook is the 2OC-022US, which costs just $1,499 and shaves off some cost by dropping the RAM to 8GB, getting rid of the SSD storage and replacing the Blu-ray drive with a DVD superdrive.
Xotic PC also offers a plethora of other customizations, including more than 40 hard-drive options, laser etching on the lid and custom wraps -- from Stealth to Carbon Fiber to Alligator -- on the lid, bezel and keyboard deck.
Click to EnlargeWith its fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and Nvidia GTX 780M graphics, the MSI GT60 2OD-026US is a gaming beast. While we're not as enamored with its design as we are with the new Alienwares', the GT60 outperforms the Alienware 17 on a number of tests, and does so for about $400 less. This MSI also offers a comfortable keyboard and quality audio, though it runs hot in one spot.
If you purchase this system through Xotic PC, we recommend opting for Windows 7 Home Premium. Though it will add $104 to the total cost, there's no reason to get Windows 8 on a gaming notebook without a touch screen. At $2,338, the MSI GT60 isn't cheap, but it will provide all the gaming power you'll need and then toss in a little more, just for fun.