MSI GT660R Notebook Review

Despite years of building custom systems tuned to peak performance, I have a soft spot for powerful portable systems. MSI’s GT660R is a gaming laptop built on some pretty impressive hardware. With an Intel Core i7, Nvidia’s GTX 285M 1Gb Video Card, 1 Tb of storage in a Raid 0 configuration, there is a lot of value for $1800.

What first caught my eye was the nice “tricked out” design. The grill-like accents on the front and sides help the GT660R stand out and the integration of blinking or breathing LED lights is sure to make it popular at raves or LAN parties.  The LED functions are programmable to respond to your music player. While cool at first, I didn’t see that as a selling point over the long-term.

These visual accents aside, the GT660R is a solid piece of hardware and it is evident the first time you pick it up. If you aren’t surprised by the laptop’s 7lb weight it’s because you read this review and expected it.  Along with the weight of the system, the power adapter is also a monster. In comparison, my 17″ Asus G72GX weighs about the same as the GT660R and uses the exact same 4lb power supply. The only power supply I’ve seen that weighs more comes with an Xbox 360.

The weight might make you think twice about hauling the GT660R around with you. This really is a mobile desktop replacement system.  The two 500GB hard drives installed in the 004US model are configured using RAID 0 to be one fast 1Tb partition. You can use this system for gaming, multimedia and video production and storage very easily. The system also comes equipped with a Blu-Ray combo drive for multimedia power and entertainment.

I spent some time testing all the features of the system, starting with the Blu-Ray playback. Because of the high-definition video, underpowered systems with Blu-Ray drives often show artifacting when playing movies like The Dark Knight or Avatar. I popped in my copy of Avatar to test the system and immediately encountered a problem.

The version of WinDVD installed on the system, fresh from the factory, was two versions behind. By versions I don’t mean patch levels, I mean versions. WinDVD 8 started up and immediately. Avatar informed me the player was outdated and could not play the disc.

After a little digging and investigation, I found an update DVD in the box.  I chose instead to connect to MSI’s website to download WinDVD 10 player from the support and drivers section.  Before I could find the download I ran into another issue. The MSI GT660R comes with Windows 7 Home premium 64-bit installed. The Live update tool on MSI’s website however does not support 64-bit version of Windows 7. While this was a minor obstacle, it might prove problematic for less savvy owners looking for a one-click solution.

Eventually, I got everything patched and got back to my Blu-Ray testing. Avatar on the GT660R performed perfectly. I chose scenes featuring subtle color as well as intense action and the system handled the playback well. The LCD, which is probably the least impressive part of this computer, outputs rich colors. Pushing the system, I set Steam to install Left 4 Dead 2 and patched Starcraft II in the background while watching the film. The video didn’t skip a frame.

One of the touted features of the GT660R is its integrated speaker system.The marketing materials advertise the Dynaudio sound as a high fidelity speaker system tweaked to produce the best sound a human ear can detect. I decided to test the claim with another Blu-Ray known for its musical quality, Across the Universe. While playing the film, I adjusted the volume and my position and found that the GT660R really does produce rich, strong sound. There is nothing anemic about the speakers. When I finally tested the sound using Left 4 Dead 2, I noticed audio subtleties I normally only hear when wearing headphones.

Then I discovered that the system runs a little hot. You might expect a laptop with these specifications to be scalding, but unlike HP and Dell laptops I’ve tested in the past, the heat is really isolated in an exhaust port at the top left of the unit. After about two hours of use, the exhaust from the system began to become a little uncomfortable but was never scalding.

The GT660R includes an optional cooling fan feature that blows additional air out of the system to cool the exhaust. While the fans made the system more comfortable, they did drown out the speakers quite a bit. Gamers who plan to play with the system on their lap should probably wear headphones to mask the fan noise or learn to deal with the heat.

Gaming performance on the system was smooth. While none of the games I tested with were bleeding-edge like Crysis, I turned the settings on Starcraft II, Dawn of War II and Left 4 Dead 2 all the way up and the system didn’t even blink. The Nvidia GTX 285M handled the graphics performance wonderfully. The only oddity came when none of the games recognized the video chipset and initially configured for compatibility mode. I manually reset things and everything was fine from there on out.

The keyboard and trackpad left me with a few concerns. Like Asus did with its G-series, MSI installed a chicklet keyboard on the GT660R. The independent keys are comfortable for typing. I tested the keypress and hold-down functions used during FPS games and the system seemed to respond well. The GT660R is missing one feature I find important for gaming laptops: backlit keys. The A,S,W,D keys all feature special paint to make them feel different from other keys. The problem is, in a dark room or LAN environment, unless you’re a touch typist you’ll be hunting and pecking in the dark. The GT660R does include a number pad, which is a feature that is becoming more common on mid to large laptops.

Moving the pointer using the trackpad felt odd. The control surface has a rough surface and I found myself “misclicking,” often because the buttons are higher on the pad than my fingers expected. I also was unable to make the trackpad scroll windows with two fingers. This may not be a required feature of trackpads, but the two-finger (middle button) analogy is something I use constantly and it was odd not to have that ability on this system.

All things considered, this 16″ laptop is a pretty killer rig. It sports a terabyte of storage, Core i7 processor and Nvidia GTX 285M for a very impressive hardware package. However, competition in the performance laptop market is changing, thanks to Alienware’s M11X and lower prices on Asus and Toshiba competitors. As configured, the GT660R-004US sells for between $1700-1800 dollars, putting it at the middle of the boutique gaming laptop spectrum. Asus offers competitive models for less, as does Alienware. But if you’re looking for a powerful gaming system–one that blinks in time with your dance music, no less–the GT660R is a good choice.

Pros:

  • Great gaming performance
  • Lots of room to store games and videos
  • Blu-Ray + Speakers = great entertainment experience

Cons:

  • Heavy to carry, and power brick is unwieldy
  • Boost fan drowns out speakers when it runs
  • No backlit keyboard for nighttime play

The Verdict: Buy IT!

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1 Comment on MSI GT660R Notebook Review

Themba

On February 17, 2011 at 2:34 am

Nice gaming laptop. It also qualifies as a desktop replacement laptop. Well built, exhaust to cool down the system during long hours of use and intensive use. If i had $1800 i would buy it.