Handling, design and build: comfortable to use in spite of being very plasticky
As a "Gamer" PC, the MSI GT660 aims to stand out and show what it has under the hood! It uses nice orange LED lighting (different effects can also be activated) on the sides of the screen and on the front. This attention-grabbing lighting is highlighted by the glossy plastic that's liberally spread around the computer. Unfortunately, the effect isn't very flattering, not to mention the inevitable finger marks that gradually cover all the gloss (from the hood to the keyboard). Thankfully, overall it looks quite robust and the screen hinge seems to be made to last. Note however a few slightly random modifications above the keyboard and around the screen.
The keyboard is a full one with a number pad. It's nice to use in spite of the size of the keys (15 x 15 mm). Keying is firm and quite quiet. Above the keyboard you'll find multimedia keys to activate "Turbo" or "Eco" mode, increase the fan speed (hairdryer mode guaranteed), deactivate the LED lighting or activate/deactivate wi-fi and Bluetooth. The only regret is the fact that the keyboard itself isn't backlit, although LEDs have been used for decorative purposes!
The touchpad is just about big enough (82 x 51 mm) and the glide is good. Although we've seen better, precision is fine in spite of one or two difficulties in getting the vertical scrolling to work. The click bar is unfortunately badly adjusted and not quiet enough.
The webcam offers a good quality image. It displays nice colours and satisfying contrast. White balance is well-set overall and there are no problems in terms of overexposure and fluidity is fine.
The fan seems to be well set up. The slight noise you hear when working on office docs gets more intense during gaming but never really becomes overly annoying. It can however move into "hair dryer" mode when you're in too hot a room.
The GT660's connectivity is full and is a pleasure to list: 2 USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, an e-SATA, an ExpressCard 54, a memory card reader, an RJ45 (Gigabit Ethernet), 4 jacks (mic, headphones, line in and surround), an HDMI and a VGA! The only thing missing perhaps is FireWire. The disc player plays Blu-Ray and burns DVDs, while wi-fi n is accompanied with Bluetooth. It's a shame that the screen isn't in Full HD to benefit fully from the finesse you get with Blu-Rays. For that you'll need to use the HDMI out.
There's a big panel underneath that gives access to the main components: RAM, processor, graphics card, wi-fi card and two hard drives. These can be configured in RAID 0, 1 or 0+1, although our test machine came in standard configuration (no RAID).
|MSI GT660 from above
||2 USB 3.0s, card reader, USB 2.0, ExpressCard 54
|mini-Jacks, USB 2.0, combo Blu-Ray/DVD rewriter, power, RJ45, VGA, e-SATA, HDMI
||Touchpad and click bar
Processing: a high performance
Windows 7 index: 5.9. Detail: CPU 7.0 - Memory 7.1 - Graphics 6.9 - Gaming graphics 6.9 - Main hard drive 5.9.
We've already come across the Intel Core i7-720QM 4-core processor that equips the MSI GT660. Once again, performance is excellent with an index of 136 on our battery of tests. Our reference machine, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400) scores 100 on the index. With such a score, this laptop will be just as much at ease with multimedia tasks (photo, video and gaming) as office doc work.
High definition video playback (HD 1080p, Blu-Ray equivalent) is no challenge to this Core i7 processor. We do however advise you to use the video decoding capacities of the ATI graphics card. For this, all you require is software that handles the graphics card hardware decoding. Power DVD 9 or Media Player Classic HC (with the right codecs) do this. The processor is then totally freed up which reduces power consumption and allows it to take on other tasks.
3D gaming: no compromise
MSI has gone for a 200 series graphics card on its GT660, which might indicate performances down on what you get with the new 300 or 400 series. However this isn't the case! Unfortunately NVIDIA tends to reuse older generation GPUs on its newer cards (sometimes just renaming them!), so much so that the GeForce GTX 285M used here is still one of the fastest around (in the NVIDIA range). Only the new GTX 480M does better.
All this means that you can do your gaming here with the latest titles and high graphics settings at native resolution. Far Cry 2 is perfectly fluid (49 fps on average) and Crysis can be played no problem (24 fps on average), even if some will no doubt prefer to lower the graphics settings slightly to gain a few frames per second (so as not to risk any loss in fluidity in the middle of a game).
However in comparison to an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5870, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285M is at a disadvantage and residual graphics power is not very high if you're thinking of next year's games. That said, as long as you're reasonable in terms of the graphics settings then you should be ok, given that any PC which can run Crysis still has good potential.
Audio: best in the category
After some early tests that really disappointed us because of an unbearable crackling, we re-installed the computer and gave it a second try. Much better! The sound was no longer polluted by the previous crackling! We think they must have been due to a software problem (codec conflict?).
The audio is very clean and much better than what you get on most laptops. The Danish audio specialist Dynaudio show their expertise here and the 2.1 speakers (2 on top and one under the computer) do not disappoint. Of course the results suffer from the limited available you get on a laptop, with, in particular, a lack of power in the bass sounds, but you can enjoy a strong, well-balanced mid-range and high-end (treble). The sound has both depth and detail and you can even do without headphones at times. We do still recommend the use of headphones for best results. Gamers who want to use their headphones will be able to use the excellent sound you get from the mini-Jack, with no hiss. Home cinema enthusiasts will also be able to use the optical out (S/PDIF on mini-jack), available for listening to films in 5.1, as well as the HDMI out which transfers sound digitally (to an external amp).
Mobility, battery life: fine for a gaming model
The MSI GT660 will just about allow you to view a film thanks to battery life of 2h02 for video playback (wi-fi deactivated, headphones plugged in, LEDs deactivated and brightness at 100 cd/m²). It's fine but won't let you stray far from a wall socket.
As with all gamer PCs of this size, the MSI GT660 won't be easy to carry around due to its size and weight. The power supply adaptor is equally hefty and you'll need to find a place for it in its carrybag. Having said that, for a weekend or for a LAN session this is not so much of a problem.