T hanks to Nvidia’s focus on power efficiency, today’s gaming laptops are smaller than ever. The Maxwell design found in many of Nvidia’s GPUs are extremely conservative when it comes to power consumption and thermal output, enabling a range of ultra-thin gaming laptops that won’t break your back if you decide to lug them out of your home. MSI has gone against the grain with the new GT80 gaming laptop, harking back to the good old days when a gaming laptop required extra supports to stop your desk from collapsing. This thing is massive; it’s a good thing that it’s also massively overpowered.
This is the first gaming laptop we’ve seen that comes with a full-sized mechanical keyboard, and Cherry MX Brown switches provide sublime tactile feedback. The touchpad to the right of this doubles as a numpad, with the number keys glowing into life when you switch it to numpad mode, which will be the preferred config for gamers using an external mouse. The huge 18.4-inch screen is arguably this machine’s one and only weakness, as it uses the rather lacklustre resolution of 1920 x 1080. At this price, and these dimensions, 2560 x 1440 would have been much more desirable, especially as this laptop has the guts to power so many pixels.
The onboard audio system is surprisingly capable, using four speakers and a tiny sub to deliver sound that is actually usable. These have been paired with MSI’s Audio Boost 2 audio subsystem, which uses premium capacitors and amps to deliver a better sound signal from the onboard Realtek audio. Serious gamers will want to adopt headphones, as even the GT80’s decent speakers aren’t in the same league as a good set of cans. When doing so, MSI’s exclusive license of Nahimic surround sound technology delivers a good 3D representation of the soundscape over stereo headphones.
With a weight of 4.5kg, it’s obvious that MSI has stuffed this bad boy to the gills with hardware, but even we couldn’t have imagined just how sky high this laptop’s specs would be. The Intel i7-4720HQ is quite common in gaming laptops, with its Turbo speed of 3.6GHz and quad-cores being more than enough for today’s games. However, MSI has paired it with a generous 16GB of DDR3 memory, and that generosity extends to the storage subsystem. Our review sample came with 485GB of usable RAID 0 SSD storage, along with 675GB of mechanical storage (the HDD has since been updated to a Terabyte). Obviously a Blu-ray writer comes standard, while Killer’s brand new Double Shot pro handles both Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections.
Where this machine blows the competition out of the water is its graphics prowess. MSI has slapped not one, but two GTX 980M GPUs into this beast, giving it more than enough grunt to carve through the latest and greatest games at Ultra Detail levels. This uses Nvidia’s original Maxwell design, with a healthy 1536 Shader ALUs and 96 Texture Units a piece. 8GB of onboard memory is included, but each GPU only has access to 4GB, and due to the vagaries of SLI it means games can only access 4GB of graphics memory at a time (DX12 should change this). On paper this puts the GTX 980M in the same league as the desktop GTX 770, which remains a relatively solid performer despite its age.
These twin GPUs can be tasked with driving four different panels, but for our benchmarks we stuck with the 18.4 inch display. 3DMark FireStrike saw the GT80 blitz to a record speed of 10360, making it the fastest laptop we’ve ever tested. Grid AutoSport posted a similarly impressive result, with an average framerate of 112, dipping down to 82 at its worst. Finally, we fired up Metro 2033 to really punish this laptop, and were amazed at the end result. An average of 91fps is unheard of, even in many desktops, showing that the GT80 will handily cream the likes of Battlefield 4 or The Witcher 3.
We didn’t even bother with a battery test, as the results are predictable – expect an hour or less given the crazy-fast hardware within. But to buy the GT80 with the intent of gaming on the go would be missing the point. This brute brings desktop performance to a slightly mobile package, perfect for bringing to a mate’s place for an impromptu LAN.