MSI GX640: $1100 for a Speedy DX11 Laptop

Last week we looked at the two current mobile GPU heavyweights: AMD's HD 5870 and NVIDIA's GTX 285M. We should have the super heavyweight GTX 480M in for a review in the near future, but all of the mobile GPUs we've mentioned thus far command a hefty price premium. The Clevo W860CU starts at $1550 from AVADirect, while the new W880CU with GTX 480M starts at $2400 with 4GB RAM. If you're willing to take a step back in performance, MSI's GX640 cuts the GPU down to an HD 5850 and uses a dual-core i5-430M, all at a price point that's $500 lower than the quad-core equipped W860CU. The result is a potent combination of features and performance at a stellar price.

MSI GX640 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-430M
(2x2.26GHz, 32nm, 3MB L3, Turbo to 2.53GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel PM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
DDR3-1333 @ 9-9-9-24 Timings
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5
(800 Stream Processors, 625MHz/4GHz Core/RAM clocks)
Display 15.4" LED Glossy 16:10 WSXGA+ (1680x1050)
(Samsung 154MT02-H01)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM
(Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 16MB)
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW (TSSTcorp TS-L633C)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (RTL8168/8111)
Intel WiFi Link 5100 (a/g/n)
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (Motorola)
V.92 56K Modem
Audio HD Audio
2 stereo speakers with line-in, mic, optical, and headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1
Battery 9-Cell, 10.8V, 7800mAh, 85Wh battery
Front Side N/A
Left Side Mic, Line-In, Headphone, Optical (5.1 capable)
1 x USB 2.0
Optical Drive
Kensington Lock
Right Side Flash Reader (MMC/MS/SD/xD)
ExpressCard/54 Slot
4-pin FireWire
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
Cooling Exhaust
Back Side HDMI
AC Jack
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.1" x 10.24" x 1.22" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.3 lbs (with 9-cell battery)
Extras 2MP Webcam
103-Key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC/MS Pro/SD/xD)
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
10 multimedia keys
Warranty 3-year limited warranty
1-year global warranty
Pricing Starting at $1070 Online

MSI doesn't skip out on any of the major features or connections with the GX640. Besides the usual USB 2.0, HDMI, and VGA ports, they provide FireWire, eSATA, Bluetooth, and an ExpressCard/54 expansion slot. The only things you might miss are DVI (you can use an HDMI-to-DVI adapter/cable) and DisplayPort outputs and USB 3.0. Even with those minor ommisions, there's plenty on tap here. MSI also has a 3-year limited warranty on the GX640, something we really like to see with laptops.

In terms of components, the dual-core i5-430M with HD 5850 will be more than enough to power through most tasks, and gaming performance is butter smooth at the native 1680x1050 LCD resolution. Speaking of the LCD, it's an older CCFL backlit model, but it does provide a good contrast ratio and is reasonably bright. This is one of those areas where a two-year-old LCD actually beats many of the current crop of panels—16:10 aspect ratio fans rejoice!

The remaining components consist of a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive—it's not as fast as an SSD but with a current price of $85, the capacity is much better. Since there's only one HDD bay and the goal appears to be affordable mobile gaming, skipping the SSD (for now) is a good choice. You can always add an SSD down the road to speed up general performance. Other features include a standard DVDRW drive, Bluetooth support, and MSI stuffs in a large 9-cell battery to try to keep mobility options reasonable. We're still looking at under three hours (best-case), but for short trips that should be sufficient. So let's dig in and see what the GX640 has to offer.

MSI GX640 Design and Internals
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  • Ben.' - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    In your tests, you are saying you use a 5850 but in specs it says 5870?
  • Ben.' - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    never mind

    "For games that support DirectX 11, we also tested it on the 5850 and will highlight those results (or 4xAA) in gold."
  • tipoo - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    I really wish you guys included Windows laptop graphs in the Macbook Pro reviews, and Macbook Pro graphcs in Windows laptop reviews.
  • Flunk - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    There really wouldn't be much point in this particular case because Apple doesn't make a laptop designed for gaming. The best GPU you can get in a Macbook Pro is the Geforce 330M which is not even close to being competitive with the GPUs included in these benchmarks.
  • tipoo - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    True, but at least for the battery life comparisons for the Macbook Pro review.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    The battery life tests that Anand runs on the MacBook aren't quite the same as the tests I run on Windows. I run Idle (best-case), Internet only (just browsing web with Flash, but no music playing), and x264 720p playback. Anand does a light Internet surfing test while looping MP3s in iTunes, a Flash Internet test (but using different web pages than my Windows test), Xvid playback (720p? I don't know), and a torture test with Xvid + iTunes + Internet.

    Since they're not using the same testing scenarios, I'm hesitant to compare the two directly. In general, MacBooks seem to have better battery life than similarly specced Windows laptops under similar loads. So CULV on Windows can last 10 hours on a 63Wh battery... and Mac does the same thing with a regular Core 2 Duo processor on a 63Wh battery. Or looked at another way, the ASUS U30Jc manages similar battery life to a typical 13" MacBook, but it does it with an 84Wh battery.
  • Penti - Thursday, December 16, 2010 - link

  • rwei - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    This laptop reminds me pretty heavily one of the HP Envy series - you mentioned the 15 but there are now also 17 and (soon) 14 models.

    Having just ordered a 17 for ~$1200 after coupon, I'm surprised that one week after they began shipping (and days after people started receiving them), there still isn't a single review for it anywhere.

    It might make for an interesting comparison. How much does $300 (base price) net you in build quality, screen, speakers, keyboard, etc?
  • NecessaryEvil-BC - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    You need to update your review to correct your mistake.

    Incidentally, MSI's GE-600 comes in at $200 less, drops the 5850 for a 5730, drops the aluminum for glossy plastic, drops the 15.4" 1680x1050 for a 16" 1366x768, but does gain switchable video. It's too bad this feature was omitted here.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    Odd... I tried to put a USB connector in there, and the specs do not indicate it's a combo port, as they only list "2 x USB":

    However, I tried again after your comment, and it turns out the eSATA port is just a *very* tight fit with USB devices. So the review is updated.

    Note that the GE600 GPU is a substantial step down; the 5730 is only slightly faster than the 5650 in the 5740G (about a 20% increase in core clock -- 650 vs. 550 -- but with the same memory bandwidth). I didn't test the two laptops at the same resolution, since the 5740G is a 1366x768 panel, but it looks like half the performance at the same resolution is going to be pretty accurate. It has half the SPs (at about the same clock speed), and about one fourth the memory bandwidth.

    As regarding switchable graphics, I glossed over the topic in the review, but there's plenty more to say. While it's good for battery life, there are a lot of complications on high-end laptops. First, if you have a laptop that you want to support quad-core i7, you can't do switchable unless you build in support for doing discrete *and* switchable in the same chassis. No one does that yet, as it's a big cost, so I understand the lack of switching graphics on the GX640. Optimus doesn't get around the requirement either because it has to transfer data over the bus to the IGP, so if there's no IGP present you're out of luck. I suppose what we need is quad-core mobile CPUs with an IGP, or else you have to decide to limit a laptop to only dual-core Arrandale CPUs.

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