MSI has made a bit of a habit in recent years of bringing out monstrously powerful gaming laptops. The latest to bear this legacy is the GT780, a 17in wedge of black plastic and alloy built around a Core i7 2630QM and a GeForce GTX 560M. Open it up and you find an all too rare non-glossy 1920x1080 LED backlit screen and a major new addition to MSI’s lineup, a keyboard designed by gaming brand Steelseries.
Looks are one of the few ways that the competing gaming laptop brands define themselves, and without a doubt the design of the MSI GT780 is polarising. Some around the Atomic labs love the design, whereas others find the thick, heavy wedge of black to lack panache. It is certainly a far cry from the sleek lines of Razer’s ultra thin Blade, for example.
But ultimately the size and heft of the GT780 doesn’t matter. This is a laptop designed for gaming, with specs pumped up significantly in important areas. In the truest desktop replacement sense, it doesn’t care to be used on the go, instead it is designed as a serious bit of gaming hardware. In this sense it succeeds magnificently, with the combination of Core i7 2630QM CPU and GTX 560 demonstrating themselves remarkably capable.
In our Crysis benchmarks, for example, we saw the GT780 managing to average 32 fps in our high detail test. In fact, it coped easily with everything we threw at it. Of course, we are still talking laptop level performance so don’t expect the sort of high end gaming you get with a desktop system, but the GTX 560 in particular helps the GT780 to a level of performance higher than what we usually see in the labs.
It isn’t the highest end GPU out there - Alienware has a GTX 580 based 17in model for example – it is a step above the common GT 540 and GT 555 GPUs.
There is ample performance under the hood, but its also a spec that can be obtained from other laptop manufacturers. So what MSI has done is focused on the chassis, most specifically the audio system and the keyboard. The GT780 uses speakers designed in collaboration with car sound specialists Dynaudio, part of a relationship announced last year. This makes for some fantastic audio, and if you are using this as a primary entertainment PC then it is a very welcome addition (as a LAN box the attention paid to speakers goes to waste as headphones become the preferred source of noise).
Just under these distinctive looking speakers sits MSI’s big selling point, the Steelseries keyboard. Much like Alienware’s laptops, this comes with customisable backlighting, allowing you to set up everything from subtle red glow all the way to pulsating multi-coloured hand disco. The end effect is a little odd, as the chiclet keyboard allows light to bleed out from all angles (it looks a bit strange when sitting at the laptop).
The feel of the keyboard is fantastic though, with the relatively short travel keys nice and bouncy. It is a full size keyboard too, with a few gaming centric changes. As part of a design dubbed ‘the Golden Triangle’ the Windows key has been moved to the right hand side in order to avoid accidental jumps to the desktop (although if you are used to hitting shortcut keys in windows it takes a bit of readjustment).
MSI has also acknowledged that gamers will prefer to use the mouse. The touchpad is quite good, with distinct clicky buttons rather than an integrated design. This is fine for windows, but when gaming it can be disabled with the push of a button. Unfortunately for reasons unknown MSI has located the touchpad slightly to the left of centre. What results is a somewhat uncomfortable hand placement when using the keyboard, with this writers left palm sitting half on the touchpad. Considering the importance of ergonomics for long gaming sessions, this seems a strangely uncomfortable bit of design in an otherwise well thought out chassis.
As long as you value performance over portability, and agree with MSI’s asthetic choices this is a pretty dang good gaming laptop. At a touch over two grand it isn’t cheap, but it packs a robust range of hardware which in turn translates to some great performance. We do wish the touchpad didn’t interfere with our palm so much, but apart from that there is some pretty decent gaming to be had from this beast.