You can immediately tell by the fiery tribal-style tattoo emblems that grace the lid and wrist rests of the piano-black MSI GX600 Extreme Edition that the system is aimed squarely at the fragging set. With a $1,699 price tag, this notebook was made for gamers on a budget. It boasts a CPU you can overclock with the push of a button, good midrange graphics, and fast wireless performance, all in a tidy 6-pound package.
GX600 Extreme Edition Design
The system's base screams "gamer chic"; the lid is adorned with the circular MSI logo in silver and red, with red flames reaching from its four sides. This is standard fare for a gaming rig; in fact, hard-core gamers might even call it mild when compared with the likes of Vigor and VoodooPC systems. The inside is highlighted by a spacious, full-size keyboard with colorful WASD keys, matching arrow buttons, and twin Racer Class 3D speakers that resemble a sports car's intakes and deliver rich audio.
Above the keyboard is a button for activating the 1.3-megapixel webcam, which maintained a smooth frame rate while videoconferencing. Adjacent to it is a single button that toggles Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on and off, and a button for overclocking the system. To the right of these is a programmable Hot Start key that you can map to launch an application.
Once we lifted the lid of the 6-pound GX600 Extreme Edition, we were met with a gorgeous 1680 x 1050-pixel resolution LCD that offered plenty of real estate for surveying the battlefield. The Unreal Tournament 3 action never felt too cramped on the 15.4-inch screen, proving that you don't need a huge canvas to game hard. Our The Two Jakes: Special Collector's Edition DVD looked crisp and had a nice color balance.
In addition to the standard connections, you'll find an ExpressCard/54 slot and a 4-in-1 memory card reader on the right side of the machine, eSata and HDMI ports on the left, and two USB 2.0 ports on each side. Conspicuous by their absence is the lack of dedicated multimedia keys, but MSI tosses in a responsive wired laser mouse and headset.
Fraggers will be pleased to learn that the Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT graphics engine with 512MB of video memory produced a strong score of 5,830 on our 3DMark03 test. That's more than 2,000 points higher than your typical mainstream notebook, but not quite as potent as theDell XPS M1530, which managed an excellent score of 7,261. The M1530 doesn't offer the same unique style, but offers the same graphics card and a faster 2.2-GHz processor for about $50 less when similarly configured.
The GX600 averaged a smooth 38.6 frames per second when we ran F.E.A.R. in autodetect mode (1024 x 768-pixel resolution). That's in the same ballpark as the Dell XPS M1530, which averaged 45 frames per second on autodetect at the same resolution. When we set F.E.A.R. to run at its maximum settings (1024 x 768-pixel resolution, plus enhanced textures and filtering), the frame rate dropped to just 16 fps, compared with 23 on the M1530. When we fired up Unreal Tournament 3, the gameplay was silky smooth, and we enjoyed surprisingly rich sound, but noticed aliasing on the edges of our weapons.
Overclocking the MSI GX600
The 2-GHz Intel Next Generation Core 2 Duo processor, working in tandem with 2GB of RAM and a 5,400-rpm 250GB hard drive, produced an excellent PCMark05 score of 4,658. The processing power translated into a smooth computing experience, even when we had several applications open at once.
We then put MSI's proprietary Turbo Drive Engine (TDE) tehcnology to the test, which overclocks the CPU during operation to achieve a 20-percent boost in processing power. Overclocking the CPU to 2.4 GHz resulted in a blistering 5,139 PCMark05 score (one of only a handful of mainstream machines to break the 5,000 mark barrier). On the other hand, the GX600's PCMark Vantage score was slightly lower in overclock mode, and there was only a minor, one-point improvement in gaming frame rates at maximum settings. Note that you should activate the overclock button only after Windows has fully booted, or the Turbo Drive Engine will read as activated when it really isn't.
Wireless Performance and Battery Life
Wireless throughput from the 802.11a/g/n radio measured 19.4 Mbps at 50 feet and 16 Mbps from 15 feet; right on target for a mainstream notebook. As with most gaming machines, the GX600 Extreme Edition didn't offer extraordinary endurance: The system maintained a charge for 2 hours and 12 minutes with the Wi-Fi on, so you'll need to keep it plugged in for those all-night blastathons.
Software and Support
Besides Windows Vista Home Premium, the GX600 comes preinstalled with Adobe Reader 7.0, CyberLink DVD Solution 4, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office, and a 90-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2006. MSI backs the notebook with a one-year warranty and offers tech support from 7:30AM to 5:30PM (PST) Monday to Thursday, and 8:30AM to 4:30PM (PST) on Friday.
MSI GX600 Extreme Edition Verdict
All in all, the MSI GX600 Extreme Edition is a good value-priced gaming notebook. The Dell XPS M1530 offers better performance for an even lower price, but if you dig the unique styling of this portable rig and want a machine you can overclock, it definitely belongs on your short list.
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