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MSI GT627-216US Gaming Notebook Review
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Date: Jun 05, 2009
Section:Mobile
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction


We’ve seen plenty of gaming notebooks that are meant to dazzle potential customers with outrageous designs, ultra high-resolution displays, twin GPUs, and quad-core processors. The MSI GT627-216US isn’t such a notebook. Instead, the GT627-216US takes a more subdued approach to offer budget-minded gamers a powerful machine at an affordable price.

Although the MSI GT627-216US may take a budget-minded approach, it doesn’t skimp on what’s important to gamers, namely the graphics card. The NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GS at the heart of this notebook helps it to produce more than respectable scores in many gaming benchmarks. In addition, the GT627-216US has an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor and 4GB of RAM backing up that graphics subsystem.


Available for under $1,200, the GT627 employs the increasingly popular (and durable) brushed metallic look and adds red accents that give the notebook a bit of flare. Because it uses a 15.4-inch widescreen display as opposed to the 17-inch displays seen on many gaming notebooks, the overall machine is also lighter than its larger competitors. There’s a tradeoff, however, since a smaller display also means resolution sacrifices, and the GT627 is not immune to this. With a native resolution of 1280 x 800, you’ll definitely miss some of the detail you’d enjoy with a larger gaming notebook.




Read on as we take a closer look at the design and features of the GT627-216US. We’ll also run the GT627-216US through a rigorous set of benchmarks to see just how well it compares to some other gaming notebooks.

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Specifications & Box Contents

Before we jump into system performance and design, let’s take a closer look at what you’ll get with the GT627-216US. Most notably, there’s the Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor at 2.26GHz, 4GB of DDR2 RAM, a 320GB 7,200 rpm SATA hard drive, and the NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GS with 1GB of frame buffer memory. The rest of the specs are below...


MSI GT627-216US Gaming Notebook
Specifications and Features

Operating System

Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium


Processor and Chipset

Intel Centrino 2 Processor Technology

Intel 45nm Penryn P8400

2.26GHz, 3MB Cache, 1066MHz FSB

PM45+ICH9-M Chipset


Memory

2GB x 2 DDR2 667/800; maximum capacity 4GB


Storage Drive

320GB 7200rpm SATA


Fixed Optical Disk Drive

Super Multi Optical Drive


Display

15.4” diagonal widescreen

LCD display at 1280 x 800 native resolution (WXGA)


Graphics

NVIDIA GeForce9800M GS

1GB DDR3 VRAM

PCI Express


Sound

2 Speakers (2W)

HD Audio quality, Dolby Digital Live


Input Devices

103 key keyboard with number pad

TouchPad pointing device

Aerodynamic Touch Sensor


Communications

2MP Webcam and microphone

Modem

Bluetooth

10/100/1000 Ethernet

802.11a/g/n WLAN Card

Expandability

4-in-1 Card Reader (SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro)

PCI Express Card X 1


Ports

USB2.0 Port x 2

ESATA/USB Combo x 1

IEEE 1394 x 1

Graphics Card Output (15-pin, D-Sub) x 1

HDMI x 1

Mic-in x 1

Line-in x 1

Line-out x1

Headphone x 1

RJ-45 LAN port

RJ-11 modem port


Physical Description

Aluminum and Metallic Threads in Body Design

Dimensions: 14.09"(L) x 10.24 "(D) x 1.06"~1.22"(H)

Weight: approximately 5.6 lbs (6 cell)


Power

Output: 19V DC, 90W

Input: 100~240V AC, 50/60Hz universal


Battery

Li-ion 6 cells


Software

Adobe Flash Player 9 ActiveX

Adobe Reader 8.1.2

BurnRecovery

CrazyTalk Cam Suite

Dolby Control Center

Symantec LiveUpdate

Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007

Microsoft Works

Norton Internet Security

Ulead Burn.Now 4.5 SE

WinRAR archiver


Price: $1,199.99 USD (as configured)


In The Box

The MSI GT627-216US comes with the following:

  • AC Adapter
  • Quick Start Guide
  • CE Compliance Booklet
  • Backup image instructions and two blank discs to be used for recovery
  • Driver, Utilities, and Manual CD
  • OFFICE One disc
  • Windows Vista Home Premium Quick Start Guide

 

Although our test unit didn’t come with one, MSI’s website indicates the GT627-216US also comes with a gaming backpack.

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Design & Build Quality


Gaming notebooks often incorporate styling that alludes to the power within the machine. The GT627 doesn’t follow this tradition. Instead, the machine offers a more subdued look by incorporating anodized brushed aluminum on the lid and around the keyboard. Red accents surround the black body and hint at the GT627’s true target audience.

At initial glance, a person may get the impression that this is a business notebook with a splash of color. One thing is for sure: The GT627’s styling is definitely different from some gaming machines we’ve seen from other manufacturers. It’s pretty clear MSI was going for a sleek, rather than flashy, look with the GT627. For users who want to game but also need to carry this notebook to a business meeting and thus don’t want a flashy exterior, the GT627’s styling will work well. As an added benefit, the brushed finish holds up well against fingerprints.


The 14.1 x 10.2 x 1.1 inch, 5.6-pound unit feels solid overall even though the palm rest flexed some under pressure. The GT627’s keyboard looks cool but it is a bit flimsy while typing. You’ll notice the W, S, A, and D keys are highlighted in red. This is a nice touch for newbie gamers who are still learning keyboard movements. The GT627’s keyboard is not backlit.


Media controls are located above the keyboard and below the display. Among the buttons are the Turbo and Eco CPU clock settings, quick launch buttons for the webcam, Bluetooth settings, Wi-Fi settings, and a user-defined application button. MSI’s Turbo Drive Engine Technology lets you touch the Turbo button above the keyboard to increase the speed of your CPU by as much as 15%. This is a handy overclocking feature that can make a difference in some applications as you’ll see in the benchmarks later.

Even though the notebook’s native resolution is only 1280 x 800, the display was bright and colors popped. Because the screen is glossy, we did notice some reflections but they weren’t terribly distracting. Glare was most noticeable on dark scenes. The display lid showed some flex when pressure was applied, though it wasn’t so flexible that we worried about the display cracking.

The hinges that keep the screen lid closed are very strong; we often used two hands to pry the display open. Above the display, you’ll find the GT627’s 2MP webcam. This camera is fixed and cannot be rotated independently of the laptop lid.

Although our test model was theGT627-216US, it’s worth mentioning that MSI also offers the GT627-218US. This model costs about $200 more and provides a higher resolution, 1680x1050 WSXGA+ screen and a Blu-ray optical drive.


On the back of the GT627, you’ll find an HDMI port which makes it easy to hook the notebook up to a HDTV or larger LCD monitor. The back also has a VGA port and a TV tuner antenna connector.


The left side of the notebook contains the Kensington lock port, RJ-11 connector, optical drive, USB port, and audio ports.


On the right side of the notebook, you’ll find an RJ-45 connector, ventilator, eSATA connector/USB port, USB port, IEEE 1394 port, Express card slot, and a 4-in-1 card reader for SD, MMC, MS, and MS Pro memory cards.


When the GT627’s lid is shut, you’ll still be able to see a small edge of the notebook’s base. This edge has three indicator LEDs for Wi-Fi, battery power, and a sleep mode indicator.


For users who are accustomed to upgrading their machine regularly, it’s important to note that MSI puts a Warranty Void if Broken sticker across the main access panel and the hard drive bay on the underside of the machine. The GT627 comes with a three-year warranty, so if you want to take advantage of that full warranty, you won’t be able to upgrade the notebook for a full three years. On the upside, MSI doesn’t tack on an additional fee for this long warranty (unlike other manufacturers.)

MSI chose to ship the GT627 with Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit installed. This is in contrast to many notebook manufacturers who have gone the route of 64-bit versions of Vista. With the 32-bit version, users can’t make full use of the system’s 4GB of memory, but for most applications it won’t make a difference. 64-bit operating systems really benefit the most when you’re using more than 4GB of RAM, so the standard memory and OS should be just fine for this system.

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Usage Experience


Unlike many gaming desktop replacement notebooks, the GT627 isn’t a pain to tote around. In fact, the notebook has a reasonable footprint and weighs approximately 5.6 pounds. By comparison, some desktop replacement notebooks weigh nearly double that of the GT627. The notebook’s power adapter isn’t a brick, either; it’s about average for what you would expect from a laptop.

In order to incorporate a full numeric keypad, MSI was forced to make some sacrifices in terms of the size of some keys; most notably the Ctrl, Shift, and Enter keys are a bit small. Additionally, the spacebar is narrower than some because it makes way for arrow keys located below the right Shift key. Even though some keys were smaller than we were accustomed to, we had little problems typing on the keyboard after a short adjustment period.


Since the touchpad is located directly beneath the spacebar, some users may find that they accidentally tap the touchpad and move the mouse/cursor to a different position while typing. This can be really annoying. Thankfully, we didn’t have any problems with accidentally tapping the touchpad while typing, although this is sure to be an individual experience.

The touchpad of the GT627 is large and smooth during navigation. The right side of the touchpad has traditional scrolling controls even though they’re not marked. We weren't fond of the touchpad buttons—they feel a bit stiff and could be annoying if you’re doing anything that requires frequent clicking.


MSI’s marketing material made a point to show us the GT627’s USB ports are laid out in a side-to-side, rather than top-to-bottom layout, making them more usable (wide plugs / devices won't block the adjacent port). MSI also distributed the USB ports among both sides of the machine.

The system’s power, VGA, and HDMI ports are on the back of the machine, making it easy to route cords behind a desk.

The GT627’s stereo speakers are located underneath the grill that surrounds the media control buttons. The speakers sounded OK, but you’ll definitely want to hook up a better sound system if you want to enjoy the full effects from games and movies. Thankfully, the GT627 offers 7.1 surround sound audio output for a richer audio experience.


Heat and noise are always a concern with any performance-focused system. While we didn’t notice a lot of noise coming from the GT627, the notebook did get fairly warm after hours of use. Some spots were definitely warmer than others were. The power brick also became warm but not so warm that you couldn’t pick it up. Right-handed users who connect an external mouse will definitely notice a constant stream of warm air from the ventilation hole on the side of the machine. This heat could become uncomfortable for the user over time.

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Test Setup & 3DMark06

To give you better feel for how the GT627’s performance measures up, we’ll compare it to four notebooks we’ve previously reviewed, including the

Dell XPS M1730, ASUS C90S, Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725, and Dell Studio XPS 13. Here’s a closer look at each of our comparison systems:

HotHardware's Test Systems
Covering the bases

Dell XPS M1730

Intel Core 2 Extreme X7900 (2.8GHz)

2x1GB DDR2-667

Dual 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8700M GT

On-Board Ethernet

On-Board Audio

2x200GB in RAID 0 SATA hard drives (7,200 RPM)

Windows Vista Home Premium

17" WUXGA Display (native 1920x1200)

ASUS C90S

Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 (2.66GHz)

Intel 945G Chipset

2x1GB DDR2-667

512MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT

On-Board Ethernet

On-Board Audio

160GB SATA hard drive

Windows Vista Ultimate

15.4" WXGA Display (native 1680x1050)

Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725

Intel Core 2 Quad processor Q9000 (2.0GHz)

Mobile Intel PM45 Express Chipset

4GB PC3 8500 DDR3

1GB NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GTX

64GB SATA SSD

320GB SATA hard drive (7,200 RPM)

Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 (64-bit)

17.0” WSXGA+ Display (native 1680x1050)

Dell Studio XPS 13

Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 (2.4GHz)

4GB DDR3-800

256MB NVIDIA GeForce 9500M GS

On-Board Ethernet

On-Board Audio

320GB SATA hard drive (7,200 RPM)

Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

13.3" WXGA Display (native 1280x800)


Performance Comparisons with 3DMark06
Details: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06

To begin our benchmark testing, we’ll measure CPU performance using Futuremark’s 3DMark06 CPU performance module. 3DMark06's test is useful for comparing performance between similarly equipped systems. This multi-threaded, "gaming related" DirectX metric consists of different 3D scenes that are generated with software and hardware GPU renderers, which is also dependant on the host CPU's performance. In these tests, calculations that are normally reserved for a 3D accelerator are sent to the central processor. 3DMark06's GPU rendering tests utilize a mix of SM2.0, SM3.0, and HDR techniques and effects.


The GT627 has a slower processor than many of the test systems in this graph, so it’s not too surprising that it came in with a lower score. It is interesting to note that the GT627 beat out the slightly faster Dell Studio XPS 13 (2.4GHz), however.

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Futuremark PCMark Vantage


Our next round of benchmarks involves the complete Futuremark PCMark Vantage test suite. The PCMark Suite is a collection of single- and multi-threaded CPU, Graphics, and HDD test sets. This Suite focuses on Windows Vista application tests and is designed to represent a subset of Windows Vista consumer scenarios.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance


Excluding the Qosmio X305-Q725, the GT627 beat all of our test systems in the Memories, TV & Movies, Gaming, and Communications categories and came in second in overall PC Marks score and the HDD category.

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Gaming Performance - 3DMark06


Even though it may not have the same specs as a much higher priced desktop replacement notebook, the GT627 definitely targets gamers. As a result, our benchmarking wouldn’t be complete without a few scores from some popular games. On the next few pages, we'll focus on a few gaming specific benchmarks starting with the remaining 3DMark06 modules.

Futuremark 3DMark06
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


3DMark06

3DMark06 is a hard-core, forward-looking 3D rending benchmark that pushes a system and its GPUs to the limits. The test includes Shader Model 2.0, Shader Model 3.0, and HDR tests. To push the system, scenes are rendered with very high geometric detail and shader complexity, and with extensive use of lighting and soft shadows. The maximum shader length 3DMark06 supports is 512 instructions. The 3DMark06 Overall Score is a weighted average based on the SM 2.0 and HDR / SM3.0, and CPU scores.


Because the GT627’s native screen resolution is lower than 3DMark06’s minimum required resolution, we had to hook the laptop up to an external monitor in order to run this benchmark. Once we did, the results were only about 15% lower than the Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725 which has a price tag that is more than double that of the GT627. Part of the reason the GT627 scored so well is thanks to the NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GS.


In terms of the Shader Model 2.0 and Shader Model 3.0 tests, the GT627 came in far above the Dell Studio XPS 13 and the Asus C90S. It also put up a respectable fight against the Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725’s and the Dell XPS M1730’s scores. Next, we’ll look at a few real-world gaming tests to get another perspective on how the GT627 stacks up.
 

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Half-Life 2 Episode 2

To test gaming performance, we used two games that draw moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. In Half-Life 2 Episode 2, we ran a prerecorded demo at 1280 x 800 and at 800 x 600. In Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, we ran a prerecorded demo at 1280 x 800 with Turbo mode enabled and with Turbo mode disabled. For comparison, we threw in benchmarks from Dell’s XPS 13S. To wrap up our gaming tests, we also ran Crysis at 1280 x 800 and at 800 x 600.

Half Life 2: Episode 2
DirectX Gaming Performance

With its updated game engine, gorgeous visuals, and intelligent weapon and level design, Half Life 2 has become just as popular as its predecessor, the original Half-Life. With Episode 2, you’ll get a number of visual enhancements, such as better-looking transparent texture anti-aliasing. We ran this benchmark at 800 x 600 and 1,280 x 800 with 4X anti-aliasing and 16X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently. We also enabled color correction and HDR rendering. To benchmark the cards in this test, we used a custom recorded timedemo file.


We ran Half Life 2: Episode 2 with Turbo mode enabled and disabled. In this game, Turbo mode provided only a slight boost (110.73fps vs. 110.45fps) in performance. Overall, the GT627 performed very well in our Half Life 2: Episode 2 benchmark.

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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars


Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
OpenGL Gaming Performance


Enemy Territory:
Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is based on id's radically enhanced Doom 3 engine. ET: Quake Wars introduces Megatexture technology, which makes use of extremely large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many small textures. The beauty of Megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory. When you combine Megatexture technology with HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects, you get a game that looks great, plays well, and works high-end graphics cards vigorously.


We saw a much greater difference when using Turbo mode in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. With Turbo mode enabled, the GT627 hit 84.4fps in the notebook’s native resolution of 1280 x 800. After turning off Turbo mode, the GT627 managed 74.3 fps.
 

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Crysis


Crysis v1.21
DirectX 10 Gaming Performance


Crysis

Crytek's game engine visuals in Crysis are some of the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen to date on a computer screen. The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur, and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as an impressive use of Shader technology. The single player, FPS Crysis is a smash-hit, and rightfully so. Because this game is so demanding, even respectable machines don’t always achieve very high scores.


Crysis was the only game in which the GT627 didn’t score as well as we would have liked. The system managed 22.86fps at the notebook’s native resolution (1280 x 800), which is below what most would call a “playable” frame rate. At 800 x 600 resolution, however, the GT627 came very close to being playable where the GT627 managed 35.79fps. In both tests, we used high quality settings with full screen enabled and Anti-Aliasing turned off.

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Battery Performance


Battery Eater Pro
Battery Info & Performance


No notebook review would be compete without a test of the system’s battery life so we ran Battery Eater Pro’s Classic and Idle tests to get a better feel for the GT627’s battery performance. Under the Battery Eater Idle test, the system idles until the battery drains. We also ran the Battery Eater Classic test, which stresses the CPU and GPU to full load until the battery runs out of power. During both tests, the wireless radios were enabled.


Gaming notebooks don’t typically offer longevity in their portable form. Because these systems require plenty of power in order to perform at their best, most users expect to be tethered to a power outlet the majority of the time. The GT627’s battery life was better than some gaming notebooks we’ve seen, though it’s still limited. Using Battery Eater Pro’s Classic Test, the GT627 stayed alive for one hour and 50 minutes. As should be expected, the Idle test offered a longer lifespan of three hours and 24 minutes.

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Final Impressions & Conclusion


The MSI GT627 definitely has an excellent price/performance ratio. MSI’s Turbo mode is unique, and we like the idea of being able to overclock on the fly. The rest of the system’s specs are adequate as well, with an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz P8400 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 320GB hard drive. NVIDIA’s GeForce 9800M GS graphics card rounds out the list of specs and helps give the machine respectable gaming performance.

With its black aluminum case and red trim, the notebook is attractive and not gaudy. The GT627’s lightweight chassis will also be a big benefit to those who plan to carry this notebook on a regular basis and therefore don’t want to lug around a desktop replacement model.

 

MSI had to cut a few corners in order to deliver the GT627 for well under $1,200. The most notable concessions are the screen resolution and the keyboard quality. Overall, the rewards outweigh the imperfections at this price point though. Gamers will certainly appreciate the machine’s graphics card, dual core processor, and ample system memory. When you’re not gaming, the GT627’s HDMI and eSATA ports and the SuperMulti DVD drive can provide multimedia entertainment.

Even though we weren’t able to run all of our benchmarking tests at the GT627’s native screen resolution, once we hooked up an external monitor the machine proved that it had the power to pull off respectable scores.  In fact, the GT627 even managed to hit 8197 3DMarks, which is approximately 15% lower than the Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q725 desktop replacement that costs twice as much.

Even with the GT627’s relatively low native screen resolution, we feel that the MSI GT627 offers a great set of features and performance at a reasonable price.

     
  • Turbo mode for better gaming performance
  • Attractive brushed aluminum body
  • NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GS graphics card
  • Budget price
  • Display resolution maxes out at 1,280 x 800
  • Flimsy keyboard
  • No Blu-ray drive



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