And you thought overclocking was the domain of the desktop.
As an avid – some might say insanely addicted - gamer, I’m a little perplexed about why anybody would choose a laptop for gaming. If I’m out on the road on a business trip, any spare time is spent getting drunk with the locals, not sitting in my dusty 2-star motel room playing WoW. When at home, the extra size offered by a PC case gives me a PC that is fast enough for real games (i.e. not Minesweeper or FreeCell) at half the price of a laptop. If I try hard enough, I guess I can imagine especially lazy LAN gamers might find the portability of a laptop appealing. Yet in my LAN heydays, I was more than happy to lug my server tower and 19” CRT monitor in the back of the car. Judicious use of pillows and beach towels ensured a scratch and dent-free ride.
Obviously I’m missing something though, because gaming laptops are now a dime a dozen. Thanks to the magic of miniaturisation, they still weigh just a couple of kilos, yet have enough power to make today’s games purr. Well, that’s the theory. Let’s see if MSI’s GX620 can prove it.
You needn’t read the GX620’s over the top marketing material – which proclaims this as “a totally new experience in gaming” - to see that this is a gamer’s machine. Even before flipping open the laptop, the included MSI gaming mouse is a dead giveaway. It’s a direct copy of Logitech’s gaming mice, right down to the removable weights (these allow you to tweak the weight of the mouse to your liking). It’s a good copy though, fitting nicely in the hand, and with a very precise aim thanks to the adjustable dpi (which goes up to an impressive 2,400dpi).
Flipping open the lid presents a fairly average keyboard, incorporating some not-so-average features. For starters, there’s a full sized numpad to the right, great for gamers who prefer this section of the keyboard to the WASD area. It comes at a cost though, with the enter and backspace keys being much smaller than usual. If you’re a WASD kind of gamer, you might appreciate the small arrows printed on these. I would have preferred some kind of extrusion that can be felt, because looking down to find these keys in the middle of a round of Call of Duty 4 is a great way to get shot in the face.
By far the nicest touch on the keyboard is the “aerodynamic touch sensor” at the top of the keyboard. It’s just a row of touch-sensitive buttons, allowing you to control your media, turn on wireless, and the other normal things you’d expect from shortcut keys. But it looks slick thanks to the red lines and surrounding metal grill, and even better is the big old button in the middle. Welcome back Turbo button, we’ve missed you.
Yep, the beloved Turbo button from your old 386 PC is back, and just like the magical button from the eighties, it automagically overclocks the processor. It’s not quite the doubling in frequency that the older turbo buttons used to do though, this time offering an extra 15% or so of power. The Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 CPU within the GX620 runs at 2.4GHz with it turned off, rising to 2,780MHz with Turbo engaged. Note that it only works when you’ve got mains power plugged in – there’ll be no overclocking on the bus here kiddies. Unfortunately, despite its good looks and retro-cool Turbo button, the keyboard has one major issue; flex. The entire keyboard moves inwards a disturbing amount during normal operation, even more so in the middle of a heated battle. This leaves me with grave concerns about longevity.
Thankfully these concerns about build quality don’t extend to the case, which has a rugged brushed aluminium construction, giving the base and screen a sturdy feel. There was very little movement in either when I tried to warp it.
As a gaming machine, the quality of the screen is of the utmost importance. The GX620’s 15.4in TFT won’t be quite big enough for serious gamers, where 17in is the minimum. For casual play it’s ok though, and the matte finish means it’ll handle high glare conditions with aplomb. But having a decent monitor is only half of the equation – without a decent graphics processor powering it, you’ll be using all 15in of the screen to play Solitaire. Enter NVIDIA’s 9600M GT, with its own dedicated 512MB of memory, which is supposed to offer more than enough grunt for today’s popular games.
If by today’s popular games they’re referring to World of Warcraft, then this graphics chipset is fine. It’s also perfect for anything older than a year or so, only struggling with the likes of Call of Duty 4 or Crysis. You’ll need to run at quite conservative detail and resolution settings though. As a result this laptop still doesn’t quite cut the mustard for harddcore gamers. It’ll do the job for casual players, but if you’re looking for something to run Fallout 3 at max settings, you’re not going to find it in this price range.
One other feature that gamers will appreciate is the 7.1 speaker outputs on the side of the case, provided courtesy of four 3.5in stereo mini-jacks. It’s a bit of overkill though, as we’re pretty sure most gamers would use headphones with a laptop rather than a surround sound system.
While it’s targeted at gamers, the extensive memory (4GB) and fast CPU make this a killer machine for demanding productivity applications. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the gaming powerhouse that MSI would have you believe, but for the more casual gamers out there it’ll do the job. Still, if we had two grand to blow and needed both a gaming machine and something we could take on the road, we'd be inclined to buy a budget laptop and a SFF PC for just a few dollars more.