As laptops become increasingly stagnant, and tablets infiltrate consumers’ headspace, the need for laptop manufacturers to produce quality, attractive machines is paramount. It's often difficult to balance the trade-offs in laptop design. Powerful means large, heavy, and battery life barely sufficient to last a domestic flight. On the other hand, portability incurs increased price and a lack of grunt. MSI takes the former route, offering a big, heavy yet powerful solution.
When you meet a GT680 in person, the first thing you notice is the style. Or, lack thereof, as is the case. Glossy plastics, especially those laced with tiny metallic flakes, are absolutely and positively unappealing. Strips of clear plastic line the edges of the notebook, backed by red lights which offer no purpose but to distract the user from the bulky build. Fortunately, they can be turned off.
A tessellated hexagonal pattern surrounds the keyboard, enhancing the overall tackiness. But one cannot claim to be observant without mentioning the fake chrome plastic hinges, and the protruding air-intake styled lid which not only adds to the overall thickness of the laptop, but makes it feel more flimsy than it actually is.
It would seem that some people are willing to trade in their sense of style for pure n00b-shattering grunt. A Sandy Bridge Core i7 2630QM powers the system, providing four cores of mobile power at a maximum of 2.9GHz per core, with HyperThreading capability. This processor has an Intel HD Graphic 3000 GPU on-die, but who'd want to invest in a hefty system without getting some real graphics horsepower in return? The DX11 capable GTX 460M fills this gap, and while it's not the most powerful solution, it's definitely no slouch.
Solid state drives are still a bit of a luxury, but when performance is a concern one would be crazy to exclude one. In addition to a 750GB 7200RPM mechanical disc, an Intel 120GB SSD is bundled to ensure optimum responsiveness.
Connectivity on the GT680 consists of a single Gigabit LAN, HDMI 1.4, eSATA and D-Sub ports, on the rear of the chassis. Two of each USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports are located on either side, including a SDHC/MMC card reader and four audio jacks for up to 7.1 channels of output.
Notebook speakers rarely offer sound quality above tinny highs and flat lows, which is why we're notably happy with the DynAudio solution employed by MSI. Tweeters on either side of the keyboard take care of the mids and highs, while a single sub beneath the unit adds a touch of base. There's slight clipping when the volume is set to maximum, and the quality isn't as good as most standalone speaker units, but the output is a definitely a step above typical inbuilt audio.
The full sized chiclet keyboard is responsive and comfortable to use, however we're surprised that with all the lights on this unit, that the keyboard itself isn't backlit. The trackpad is nice and large, but has no support for multi-touch gestures, isn't particularly responsive, and has frustratingly clumsy scrolling by way of tapping the top and bottom corners on the right hand side.
Screen quality is mediocre. Diverging from the surface normal of the panel quickly degenerates saturation. It's also glossy, which may deter some users. The HD resolution is very welcome, and games look brilliant with the resultant high DPI.
Bundled with the notebook is an MSI branded 3200DPI optical mouse. It feels really cheap in the hand, and the sound of pressing one of the two thumb push-buttons echos inside the casing. On the bright side, it's really light, which some gamers may appreciate.
Capacitive touch buttons lie across the top of the keyboard to enable various features such as Turbo mode (only works when plugged into mains), Eco mode, and the ability to turn the hideous lights off. A 720p webcam above the screen completes the package.
Nine cells are required to power this monster, with a massive power brick to prove it. We ran OCCT power supply test (a mix of OCCT GPU and Linpack tests) to see how the battery would fair. We managed a mere 57m before it promptly died. Naturally, the battery life will be better under typical usage, but don't expect it to last while gaming.
For what you get, the price point is well suited. You get cheap performance, but no further thrills, bar decent speakers.