MSI GT60 2OD-026US Gaming Notebook Review: Desktop-Class Mobile Gaming
User Interface, A/V Quality, Cooling, Battery Life, Software
The GT60’s excellent keyboard is the work of SteelSeries, who is, of course, well known for their gaming accessories (including keyboards, mice, and headsets). It’s a chiclet-style model with a number pad and backlighting (which we discussed earlier). The keys feature a premium feel, thanks in part to their soft-touch finish, but equally so to their quiet and firm operation. Keystroke travel is relatively short, but good feedback helps to compensate. The only real gripe is a handful of shortened keys to make room for everything, including the right Shift and Enter keys, the number pad 0 key, and arrow keys that are just ever-so-slightly thinner than the rest of the standard-sized keys. Naturally, every notebook keyboard features its own unique set of idiosyncrasies however, and after using this one for a few weeks, there should be no trouble becoming accustomed to these minor differences.
Meanwhile, the Synaptics touchpad is actually on the small side, though at least it’s accurate and comfortable to use. Its size constraints are exacerbated by the 1080p resolution display’s significant real estate, so unless you can handle a very fast cursor setting, you’ll have to get used to picking up and moving your finger to span the width of the screen. The buttons are underneath a single unified piece of chrome-colored plastic, with each pressure point (left- and right-click) located on the far outside edge of the bar. This may be more attractive (and perhaps it discourages accidental presses), but it actually makes using the buttons a bit more difficult, as pressing close to the center of the bar requires more force than near the outside. It seems like a small complaint, but if you’ve used a notebook with this design before, you know that it can become rather irritating over time.
Above the keyboard is the plastic control center, which includes not only the power button, but also an assortment of other touch-controlled buttons. From left to right, they are:
- Video – Launches PowerDVD 10 by default
- Cooler Boost 2 – Press this to max out the fan speed. At its highest RPM, the fan is incredibly loud—but there’s no doubt that it makes a serious difference in terms of temperatures.
- Keyboard Light – Toggles between keyboard backlight preset schemes.
- Airplane Mode
- Display selection
- System Control Manager – Launches SCM, which is a built-in overlay for quick selection of settings and control over such features as wireless radios, webcam on/off, touchpad on/off, brightness, volume, and power schemes.
It’s convenient having easy access to these items, but the touch-sensitive buttons are rather finicky. Often, multiple presses are required to activate them (something which is perpetually an issue with these types of buttons), so it might have been nicer to just have small physical buttons at our disposal instead.
The GT60 review unit we received features an LG Philips LP156WF1-TLF3 1920x1080 (1080p) 15.6” display panel with a matte finish. While this panel is inexpensive, it also features great specifications, including a 500:1 contrast ratio rating and much wider viewing angles than the typical low-cost TN panel (it’s closer to IPS than TN in this regard). Brightness distribution also appears to be relatively uniform across the entirely of the panel.
Brightness itself isn’t quite as impressive; it’s rated at around 220 cd/m², which is adequate for indoor use, but less convincing outdoors. Fortunately, the lack of a glossy, reflective screen and the good contrast ratio lend a hand here, meaning that in all but the brightest of outdoor environments, the GT60 is still relatively comfortable to use.
In terms of audio, the GT60 is rocking four speakers by Dynaudio—two above the keyboard on either side of the control center, and two on the front edge of the notebook. Together, they produce full-bodied (and high volume) audio, spanning nearly the entire spectrum fairly satisfactorily, with the exception of some low-frequency weakness (a bit surprising, perhaps, considering the notebook’s inclusion of a subwoofer and—of course—its considerable size). The audio is supplemented by the Sound Blaster Cinema software, which can be used to post-process the signal and optimize it for specific applications (gaming, movies, etc.).
With a 47 W TDP CPU and a high-end discrete GPU, the GT60 is expected to generate some significant heat. Unsurprisingly, it certainly get hot under heavy GPU stress, reaching 88 degrees C when running FurMark alone on the High Performance power profile. Under FurMark’s ~95% GPU load, the GPU frequency hovers around 731 MHz and performance is smooth. When CPU stress is layered on top (using wPrime), the TDP of the machine presumably limits the overall performance, and GPU load drops from ~95% to around 33% to compensate. This in turn drops the system temperature considerably, but that’s to be expected. However, we wouldn’t worry too much about this; it would be extremely unlikely for such conditions to manifest themselves in real-world gaming situations, and in fact, we could not replicate a drop in performance in any of our benchmarks when running them directly after our stress tests.
If system temperatures become a concern, there is one relatively surefire way to help manage them: the Cooler Boost 2 feature. This toggle (again, found on the control center strip above the keyboard) maxes out the fan speed, lowering system temperatures in turn by as much as 15 degrees C in our testing. For instance, during full GPU stress (the scenario which provoked the highest temperature readings of all combinations of load), the Cooler Boost 2 feature resulted in a maximum temperature of just 73 degrees C, which is really quite good.
The catch? The system is super loud while Cooler Boost is activated. We measured something in the neighborhood of 50 db(A) under the circumstances, versus roughly 10 db(A) less during the highest fan speeds with Cooler Boost disabled. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, I suppose, unless you play with headphones.
One other item worth mentioning is that the fan on our review model emitted a rather annoying (albeit subtle) rattling noise when at low RPM. It’s not easy to hear unless there is very little ambient noise, but once you take notice of it it’s pretty irritating.
The primary triumph of Intel’s Haswell CPUs has been power consumption and efficiency. Thanks to this—and coupled with the fact that Optimus is in full force on the GT60—we hoped to see at least acceptable battery life readings when performing less-demanding tasks.
What we found was improved battery life under typical use, though still restrictive in the grand scheme of modern notebooks. Predictably, the Intel Core i7-4700MQ Haswell CPU does a considerably better job of handling lower-power tasks, though the machine still quickly succumbs while under heavy load—again, due to the 47 W TDP CPU and GTX 780M discrete GPU. Optimus is in play here, but we still see merely adequate battery results even under lighter loads.
Specifically, with 70% display brightness, Balanced power profile, and Wi-Fi on, we recorded 4 hours and 41 minutes of runtime with the Battery Eater Reader’s Test (minimal load):
Meanwhile, if we throw some regular web surfing into the mix, the total runtime under the same settings drops to 3 hours and 51 minutes. This is the most typical result that users can expect to achieve under everyday use:
Whereas under full load (100% display brightness, High Performance power profile, Battery Eater Classic Test active), the GT60 shut down after just 1 hour and 19 minutes of uptime:
In other words, battery life is acceptable, especially for a gaming notebook. Even considering its large battery, these results aren’t bad for a high-performance notebook—they’re just still a bit restrictive in a world of ultra-low voltage Ultrabooks flaunting their 15 W TDP, often posting battery results that are twice as good as these. They’re also not as revolutionarily advantageous as we might have originally anticipated given the much-heralded power efficiency of Haswell chips, but then again, this one review is hardly representative of the whole.
Regardless, for sake of context, if you compare to a number of our recent test candidates within the gaming notebook category, things still look pretty good:
Software and Warranty
Among the various software packages inhabiting the GT60 upon unboxing were such mainstays as Norton Internet Security and CyberLink PowerDVD 10. We figure most enthusiasts will likely remove the stock A/V and replace it with the one of their choice, and it's easy enough to accomplish here. In addition to that are some useful items as well, such as the previously-mentioned Keyboard Light Manager and the quick-access System Control Manager overlay.
The GT60 comes standard with a two-year manufacturer’s limited warranty. This is better than the 1-year standard on most consumer-grade notebooks (including many gaming notebooks), however be sure to register your device when you receive it to ensure full coverage.