Introduction and Design

On paper, it’s practically unmatched. Can its performance match its promises?

With the release of Haswell upon us, we’re being treated to an impacting refresh of some already-impressive notebooks. Chief among the benefits is the much-championed battery life improvements—and while better power efficiency is obviously valuable where portability is a primary focus, beefier models can also benefit by way of increased versatility. Sure, gaming notebooks are normally tethered to an AC adapter, but when it’s time to unplug for some more menial tasks, it’s good to know that you won’t be out of juice in a couple of hours.

Of course, an abundance of gaming muscle never hurts, either. As the test platform for one of our recent mobile GPU analyses, MSI’s 15.6” GT60 gaming notebook is, for lack of a better description, one hell of a beast. Following up on Ryan’s extensive GPU testing, we’ll now take a more balanced and comprehensive look at the GT60 itself. Is it worth the daunting $1,999 MSRP? Does the jump to Haswell provide ample and economical benefits? And really, how much of a difference does it make in terms of battery life?

Our GT60 test machine featured the following configuration:

In case it wasn’t already apparent, this device makes no compromises. Sporting a desktop-grade GPU and a quad-core Haswell CPU, it looks poised to be the most powerful notebook we’ve tested to date. Other configurations exist as well, spanning various CPU, GPU, and storage options. However, all available GT60 configurations feature a 1080p anti-glare screen, discrete graphics (starting at the GTX 670M and up), Killer Gigabit LAN, and a case built from metal and heavy-duty plastic. They also come preconfigured with Windows 8, so the only way to get Windows 7 with your GT60 is to purchase it through a reseller that performs customizations.

Design and Portability

The GT60 hardly seeks to make a fashion statement with its understated, matte black styling. Both the display lid and palm rest are lined with brushed metal, while the surrounding areas (including the screen bezel and the underside of the machine) are all hard, matte plastic. The MSI logo on the back of the display lid appears chrome-colored while the machine is off, but lights up (rather subtly) when it’s powered on. The only source of gloss on the entire machine is the control center above the keyboard (which is made of a hard, glossy black plastic) and the various other chrome accents throughout the design (such as the touchpad button bar, power button, and webcam trim).

Thanks to MSI’s included Keyboard Light Manager software, however, it’s easy to add a little bling/pizazz/accent to the overall look if you so choose. The keyboard lights can be configured to any of seven different colors (think ROY G BIV) and in any of four different shades of intensity/color depth, or you can just opt for a standard white. Meanwhile, the keyboard is divided into three different zones (Left, Middle, Right), and each can be set independently. Various other little perks are included as well, such as the ability to have the lights pulse with the rhythm and dynamics of any audio being played, but those extras are ultimately pretty gimmicky and don’t work all that well.

The aforementioned display lid and palm rest are both sufficiently rigid such that no flex exists at the front of the base unit and the lid is only mildly susceptible to twisting (pressure from the rear, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to bother it much at all). The top of the keyboard can be flexed to some degree under pressure, but in practical use it feels stable and well-built—far better than the average. The only point of perceived weakness is the large vents on the bottom of the machine, which exhibit quite a bit of give when pressure is applied directly. This is unlikely to present itself as a problem in real-world scenarios, however.

On the subject of heft, this is one large 15.6” notebook. It’s the mere fact that it isn’t 17” that makes it even remotely portable, but don’t mistake that to mean that it will be easy to move around with. Weighing in at 7.66 pounds and with a 180W power adapter that weighs almost as much as some Ultrabooks (at 2.2 pounds), its total carry weight is just shy of 10 pounds—considerable by any measure.

But as far as gaming PCs are concerned, the GT60 comes off as solid, mature, and smartly-designed. With four USB ports (three of which are USB 3.0) three different forms of video output (VGA, HDMI, and DisplayPort), and four different audio I/O ports (headphone, mic, line in, line out), it’s plenty expandable, too, and as we hope our tests will indicate in the coming sections, it could potentially manage to replace a desktop.

If there’s one complaint about the design, it’s the sticker on the bottom of the PC that reads “Warranty Sticker – Void if Tampered”. This sticker covers the primary access door for all of the main parts in the PC, including such commonly-replaced items the RAM and hard drive. Seeing as this PC is targeted at the enthusiast community, it’s a little surprising to see such a rigid policy in place regarding upgrades and maintenance by the end user. Some reports suggest that MSI has been honoring warranties even after the sticker has been broken to attempt general maintenance, but the fact remains that it’s there.

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