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MSI GT680 Sandy Bridge Gaming Laptop Review
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Date: Jan 26, 2011
Section:Mobile
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

When MSI unveiled the new GT680R gaming laptop at CES this year, the company touted it as one of the "fastest, most powerful gaming notebooks in the world." As one of the first laptops to take advantage of Intel's Sandy Bridge processor, this laptop definitely packs plenty of power. Under the hood, you'll find NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M graphics with 1.5GB of video memory, 8GB of DDR3 system memory, and two 500GB 7,200rpm hard drives.

The GT680R isn't MSI's only new notebook to offer a Sandy Bridge processor. Like MSI's other products based on the second generation Core processors, the GT680R offers USB 3.0 connectivity as well as the MSI Turbo Drive Engine for easy, one-touch overclocking. This 15.6-inch laptop supports full HD (1980x1080) with its LED-backlit display. There's also a HDMI port for outputting content from the notebook onto larger displays. The GT680R also comes with Dynaudio speakers and THX TruStudio Pro for a more true-to-life sound quality experience.

MSI GT680R
Specifications & Features
Model GT680R-008US
CPU 2nd Generation Intel Core i7-2630QM Processor
OS Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit
Chipset Intel PM67
Memory 8GB (2GBx4) DDR3
LCD Size 15.6-inch (1920 x 1080)
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M Graphic Card, 1.5GB GDDR5
Storage 1TB (500GBx2) 7,200 rpm
Optical Drive Super-Multi DVD
Audio Dynaudio Premium Speakers, THX TruStudio Pro
Webcam 720p HD Webcam
Card Reader 7-in-1 card reader
LAN 10/100/1000
Wireless LAN 802.11 b/g/ n
Ports 1 x D-Sub (VGA), 1x HDMI, 2x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, 1xeSATA,
AC Adapter 150W
Battery 9 Cells
Dimension 14.97 x 10.24 x 1.77 inches (LxWxH)
Weight 7.7 pounds
Price $1,649.99

Certainly the GT680R has specifications that will get your attention. Read on as we take an in-depth look at this new notebook and compare how it performs to other powerful systems on the market today.

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Design & Layout

MSI stuck with a black exterior for the GT680R, and that's fine with us. The GT680R's lid is attractive with its shimmery metallic black finish, glowing MSI logo, textured edge, and orange light bar. The exterior may not scream, "Hey, look at me," but since we prefer the more subdued, high-end look on this machine, we have no complaints. Unlike many other notebooks with a glossy exterior, the GT680R's lid did not appear to attract fingerprints, which is also appreciated.

You'll find a 15.6-inch display on this gaming notebook. More importantly, the display supports full 1080P HD resolution (1920x1080). It's truly a good-looking display with its high resolution and vibrant colors. The display does have a high-gloss finish, so you'll likely notice reflections, but it's no worse than other high-gloss displays we've seen.

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The GT680R has a numeric keypad in addition to the standard keyboard. The keys are pretty flat in comparison to some other notebook keyboards we've seen. Overall, the keyboard was very comfortable to type on and use. The keys are not backlit. MSI has provided access to several useful features directly from the keyboard using the Function key. You'll notice light blue icons on various keys throughout the keyboard that denote the various functions.

Above the keyboard, you'll find two speakers surrounded by red rings as well as various touch-sensitive control buttons (Cinema Pro, Turbo, Cooler Boost, Windows Start Up Hotkey, WLAN, Bluetooth, ECO Engine for power saving, and an LED Mode Switch). The power button is in the center just below the MSI logo.

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Around the edges of the GT680R's case, you'll find various orange lights. These lights are found on the back and on the edges of the display. They are also near the base of the palm rest on both sides of the laptop. If you don't like the lights, you can easily turn them off using the touch-sensitive LED Mode Switch.

The touchpad is located to the left of the center of the laptop. Below the touchpad, there are various LEDs to alert you of Bluetooth, Wireless, Battery, Sleep, and hard drive activity. On either side of the touchpad, you'll notice a grey, textured surface. This same texturing is also found above the keyboard near the touch-sensitive control buttons and on the back of the display. In both of these locations, the texture features a black finish instead of the grey finish near the base of the keyboard.

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Above the display, you'll find the microphone and Webcam. On the right side of the GT680R, you'll find audio port connectors, a USB port, and the optical drive. The left side of the GT680R contains some vents, three USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0), and a card reader. On the back of the GT680R, you'll see the Kensington lock, power connector, RJ-45 connector, VGA port, eSATA connector, HDMI connector, and another set of vents.

The GT680R comes with a number of preinstalled programs. Although we're not fans of bloatware, some of the programs are helpful and useful, such as WinRAR. However, there are other preinstalled programs (such as Norton Internet Security) that we wish MSI would provide on a disc rather than load on the machine direct from the factory.

You won't find many accessories in the box, but that's ok—most users prefer to add their own anyway. You'll find a power adapter, various pieces of documentation, and a driver/utilities/manual disc in the box. The GT680R's power adapter is sizeable, though it's comparable to the adapters we've seen for other gaming notebooks.

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PCMark & 3DMark 11 Tests

As we do with all systems, we'll run the GT680R through a number of benchmarks to get a better feel for how it stacks up to other systems on the market. We began our benchmark testing with Futuremark's PCMark Vantage benchmark as well as 3DMark 11.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance

Futuremark’s PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including HD TV and movie playback and video manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity.  Most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this test a good indicator of all-around performance.

The MSI GT680R performed very well in this test, outperforming all of our comparison systems. MSI also offers a variant of the GT680R that has a 120GB SSD and a 500GB HDD (our test system was configured with a pair of 500GB, 7200RPM drives in RAID 0). We would expect the SSD version of this system to perform even better in the Vantage tests.  

Futuremark 3DMark 11
DX11 Testing

Futuremark's latest version of 3DMark is dubbed 3DMark 11 (in reference to its level of DirectX support). The latest version of this benchmark includes a fresh set of tests and a game demo sequence. It also measures CPU performance differently than its predecessor, 3DMark Vantage.

The GT680R came in behind the Eurocom Panther 2.0 with various GPUs installed, but it still produced respectable scores overall. As you'll notice, the MSI GT680R wasn't too far behind the Eurocom with a GeForce 470M.

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SiSoft Sandra & Cinebench

Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA Lite 2011b
Synthetic Benchmarks

We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA Lite 2011b, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed.


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The GT680R performed well in all of the Sandra tests. Although the system never took the top spot in the rankings, it always came in #2 or #3, and was never far behind the leaders.

Cinebench R11.5 64bit
Content Creation Performance

 

Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.

By design, Cinebench is brutal on mobile machines and many desktops since it focuses heavily on 3D content creation. Although 4.93 points for the CPU score may not sound like much initially, it's actually a very respectable score, particularly for a notebook.

To help you compare, AVADirect's Clevo X1800 Core i7 desktop replacement system achieved a score of just 3.39 points.

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Game Tests

FarCry 2
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the test systems in this article with the FarCry 2 benchmark tool using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.

The MSI GT680R performed well in our FarCry 2 tests. The Eurocom Panther outperformed the GT680R, but considering the additional power and specs found in the Panther, we weren't too surprised. The GT680R achieved playable frame rates at both 1280x720 and 1920x1080 resolution.

Metro 2033
DirectX Gaming Performance


Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack there-of more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. We tested the game engine using the Metro 2033 benchmark tool.

Metro 2033 is known to be a GPU-crusher, so we weren't too surprised that the MSI GT680R had a hard time producing playable frame rates, particularly at a resolution of 1920x1080. Still, if you dial the settings back a bit to 1024x768 and drop AA back to 2x, you'll get a very playable 43.33 fps.

 Lost Planet 2
 DX11 Gaming Performance


Lost Planet 2

Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter developed by Capcom. It is the sequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, and takes place ten years after the events of the first game. The plot begins with Mercenaries fighting against Jungle Pirates, while featuring major boss battles, extreme terrain, and the ability to pilot mechanized armor suits. We tested the game engine using the stand alone benchmark tool.

Lost Planet 2 is another very demanding game, especially when you crank up the settings. Here again, the MSI GT680R struggles to produce playable frame rates, particularly at 1920x1080. However, if you dial things back to 1280x720 and opt for DX9 over DX11, you'll get 45.5fps.

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LAME Audio Encoding and Battery Life

In our custom LAME 3.97b MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications. 

 
LAME 3.97b
Audio Encoding

In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.


In our review of the Intel Core i7-2820QM processor, we mentioned Sandy Bridge was about 42% faster than the next fastest processor in our test, the Core i5 540M in multi-threaded performance. Although the Core i7 2630QM found in the MSI GT680R isn't quite as fast as the Core i7-2820QM in multi-threaded performance, it still puts up very good numbers and comes in #2 just behind the Core i7-2820QM.

Battery Life
Power Performance

To complete our testing, we ran Battery Eater Pro to get a feel for the GT680R's battery performance. During the test, the screen brightness was set to 50%, Wi-Fi was disabled, and all other applications were closed.

Generally speaking, we don't expect a high-end gaming notebook to offer a very long battery life. After all, there's generally a tradeoff between top-end performance and long battery life. Not surprisingly, the GT680R managed just 75 minutes of runtime before it ran out during the Battery Eater Pro test.

We would expect any user who intends to use this system to its full capacity to be near a power outlet most of the time. For times when you simply want to perform basic tasks and don't need the notebook's full potential, MSI also provides an Eco Engine Power Management System which is designed to extend the notebook's battery life while performing in different modes. The Eco mode can also turn off some of the notebook's unused components in order to conserve energy when you're away from power.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

MSI has combined some of today's best technologies in the new GT680R. This notebook boasts of a 2nd Generation Intel Core i7-2630QM processor along with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M graphics and 1.5GB of video memory. It also has a vibrant 15.6-inch display that's capable of full HD (1980x1080) resolution.

MSI included two 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drives in a RAID 0 configuration in our test system. This setup definitely provides added performance (and additional storage space) over a single, smaller hard drive. However, an SSD will still provide even greater performance. Other configurations of a similarly-equipped laptop with an SSD are available from MSI.

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During our benchmarking tests, scores came in about where we expected them to—near the upper end of the spectrum. Overall, the GT680R performed very well in all of our benchmark tests. The gaming benchmark tests showed that the GT680R struggled to provide playable frame rates at the display's top resolution, though we were able to achieve very playable frame rates at slightly lower resolutions. To be fair, this notebook supports a very high 1920X1080 native resolution, which you simply do not find on many notebooks today.  Dialing things down to a modest 720p resolution while gaming is really not much of a compromise.

We also liked the look and feel of the MSI GT680R. It looks stunning, the keyboard feels very comfortable, and the extra details such as the textured surfaces and small metallic accents are a nice touch. Some users will like the LEDs that surround the machine and others won't. Fortunately, they are easy to turn off if you're in the latter group.

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MSI also included Dynaudio speakers as well as HDMI and USB 3.0 ports with the system. Although these might not be make-it or break-it options, they're definitely a nice addition to the entire package. All in all, MSI's GT680R may not replace your desktop if you're a really high-end user, but it's certainly a very capable machine with top-shelf, leading-edge components that provide excellent performance in a mobile form-factor. As the first "official" Intel Sandy Bridge system we've seen, we're relatively impressed.

     
  • Core i7-2630QM processor
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M graphics
  • Full HD (1980x1080) native res panel
  • Two USB 3.0 ports
  • Could use an SSD instead of RAID 0 HDs
  • Short battery life even for a DTR machine



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