Can the GT627 bring balance to the GeForce?

It would be lovely if we could all just run out and purchase the fastest computers currently available. In fact, if money isn't an issue, you can buy the fastest current desktop and notebook, then purchase another laptop for the sole purpose of having sufficient battery life to work all day without plugging in... and while we're at it, throw in a netbook just for kicks! There are people out there able to do exactly that, but for the rest of us it's far more important to balance the various features and performance aspects against the almighty checkbook. MSI definitely targets the latter group of users looking for balance with the GT627, a gaming notebook that cuts a few corners in order to keep things affordable.

Gateway was the first to start this trend with the P-6831 FX, a 17" chassis that could actually provide decent performance in nearly all games at a price of $1350. We recently looked at the latest update to the Gateway FX line, the P-7808u, and found that the addition of a quad-core processor with a downgraded LCD at a relatively high price of $1700 pushed the balance too far towards the CPU without improving other areas. ASUS also made a go at the affordable gaming notebook market with the decent ASUS G50V, but the price was rather steep at over $1500.


We now have the first real contender to challenge Gateway for the midrange gaming notebook throne. MSI's GT627 looks to provide an optimal blend of features and performance, and it does so at an extremely impressive price of only $1100. MSI even goes one better than most of the competition by packing this mobile gaming solution into a smaller, lighter 15.4" chassis. Sounds great so far, doesn't it? Unfortunately, there are a few blemishes that we'll get to in a moment, but let's start with a rundown of the features and specifications.

Note that we're reviewing the 216US model; the 218US is honestly the more interesting part, since it includes Blu-ray support and a WSXGA+ display, but we'll have to review what we received.

MSI GT627-216US Specifications
Processor Core 2 Duo P8400 (2.26GHz 1066FSB 3MB L2)
Chipset Intel PM45 + ICH9M
Memory 2x2048MB DDR2-800
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GS 1GB
Display 15.4" Glossy CCFL WXGA (1280x800)
Hard Drive 320GB 7200RPM
Optical Drive 8x DVDR SuperMulti
Networking Realtek Gigabit Ethernet (RTL8168B/8111B PCI-E)
Intel WiFi Link 5100
Bluetooth v2.0
56K Modem
Audio 2-Channel Realtek ALC888 HD Audio (2.0 Speakers with 7.1 jacks)
Battery 6-Cell 52Whr
Front Side None
Left Side Kensington Lock
56K Modem
DVDRW Optical Drive
1 x USB 2.0
Four Mic/Speaker jacks supporting up to 7.1 audio
Right Side Gigabit Ethernet
Heat Exhaust
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
1 x USB 2.0
1 x Mini FireWire
ExpressCard/54
SD/MMC/MS/MS Pro reader
Back Side HDMI
VGA
Heat Exhaust
Power Adapter
TV Tuner Input (?)
Operating System Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit
Dimensions 14.09" x 10.24" x 1.06"-1.22" (WxDxH)
Weight 5.6 lbs (with 6-cell battery)
Extras 2.0MP Webcam
104-Key Keyboard with 10-Key
15% Overclock "Turbo" Button
Warranty 3-year standard MSI warranty
Extended warranties available at various resellers
Price Starting at ~$1100 online

We won't belabor the point much, as you can see all of the pertinent information the above table. Users get pretty much everything they would need or expect from a modern notebook. You do have to get by without a DVI connection, and during testing of external LCDs we've noticed that not all monitors play nicely when connected using an HDMI port (missing resolutions, scaling issues, etc. abound). However, the vast majority of people purchase a laptop to use it as a laptop, not to connect external displays. If you do intend on using an external LCD and you're worried about resolution support, just make sure you get an appropriate display. For what it's worth, Dell displays always seem to do very well in terms of supporting all of the expected resolutions, regardless of input. We've been testing the Dell SP2309W with our laptops, and the HDMI connection exposes and works properly with all of the expected resolutions: 1280x800, 1280x1024, 1440x900, 1680x1050, and 1080p. It's not a perfect display, but for the price it's quite good.

One item that some of you might overlook is in the "Extras" section: overclocking support. We tend to be a little hesitant about overclocking notebooks, even when they support the feature, as we definitely don't want to cause premature component failure. However, overclocking on the MSI GT627 is extremely simple: press the "Turbo" button above the keyboard and you're greeted with an instant 15% CPU/FSB overclock. We definitely wouldn't recommend that for when you're running on battery power, and in games it won't make that big of a difference if you're GPU limited. However, a free 15% performance boost in CPU intensive applications is definitely a nice extra that you can enable or disable on a whim. We will investigate how the overclocking affects performance later in this review.

MSI chooses to ship the GT627 with Vista Home Premium 32-bit installed, in contrast to most other notebook manufacturers who are now shipping 64-bit versions of Vista. That means users can't make full use of the 4GB of memory, but in most applications it won't make a difference. 64-bit operating systems really come into their own once you begin using more than 4GB of RAM, so unless you choose to upgrade the memory the OS should be fine. I also happen to be in the minority it seems, since I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking - an application that still doesn't work properly under 64-bit operating systems. GameTap is another application that has issues under 64-bit Windows, so there are benefits and drawbacks to either solution. If you really want to use 64-bit Vista, however, there shouldn't be any problems installing it on the GT627.

One final item that deserves a special mention is that MSI includes a standard 3-year warranty on MSI branded notebooks. Despite what you might find at resellers (i.e. Newegg), the MSI GT627 qualifies for this warranty. That's at least a $200 value and definitely deserves praise. We've seen far too many laptops fail on users after the 1-year warranty expires, and we've mentioned in the past that we recommend buying an extended warranty on more expensive models. The other option is to buy a laptop with a default 3-year warranty, which usually means a business notebook, but we're glad we can add MSI to the list of manufacturers that offer a standard 3-year warranty.

A Tale of Beauty and the Beast
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  • fwacct4 - Saturday, May 02, 2009 - link

    I'm glad noise has been evaluated in this laptop review as well. Lots of stuff on desktop noise, but since I can't stick a laptop in a closet and still run it, fan noise on a laptop distracts me like nothing else. Even worse are laptop fan noise coming from people sitting near me. Reply
  • Rolling Camel - Friday, May 01, 2009 - link

    I'm really looking forward to a GT725, it is the uber notebook below $2000, not Gateway. My A64 3000+ is really slow and i need a computer with enough graphics power. So either i get an Phenom 2 X3 and Hd4870 based system, or get the GT725. The desktop is cheaper and more powerful, but i need mobility for my school.

    I know the GT725 has some worries:
    1.The keyboard, although there is a solution for it.
    2.Many report that the track pad wears fast, as if i will ever use.
    3.I'm worried about the thermal dissipation. The R770 seems more fit for the task.
    4.Warranty and customer service.

    The HD4670 equipped EX 625 is very tempting with it's $750 price tag.
    Reply
  • ira176 - Friday, May 01, 2009 - link

    Apple's batteries are custom made lithium polymer. They are not typical run of the mill lithium ion cells that most manufacturers use. Apple's batteries use all of the space in their design and have no "dead" space due to round cells packed in a rectangular battery as most win pc notebooks have. Although Apple's OS may be a little more conservative on battery usage it's got to be the mere fact that there's more capacity in their battery design, and maybe even cherry picked hardware and LED lcd displays. Win pc's could probably see better battery life with better battery designs and better part choices. Of course we would pay more for that pc notebook. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 01, 2009 - link

    Apples batteries are rated at between 40 Whr and 50 Whr in the current models - 40 for the Air, 45 for the standard MacBook, and 50 for the Pro if I'm not mistaken. The construction and material used in a battery does not affect the rating in Whr. If something is designed to output 5200 mA at 9.6V, it is a 50 Whr battery. A lithium polymer might be lighter for the total capacity, but I'm not talking about capacity.

    Given the above, it means that Apple's standard MacBook apparently consumes around 9.4W when surfing the Internet. In contrast, the ASUS U6V eats up 21W on average for the same task. I'm hoping to get a MacBook for a bit just to make sure there's nothing else going on, but Apple apparently uses less power surfing than most Vista PCs use at idle.
    Reply
  • Zan Lynx - Friday, May 01, 2009 - link

    From what I've gathered about it, Apple "cheats." They can turn hardware on and off and do clock scaling that isn't available via ACPI. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 01, 2009 - link

    Lenovo indicated to me at CES that they actually turn off components that aren't in use, which is how they improve battery life (supposedly - still waiting for a test sample). It makes sense that if your optical drive is inactive, completely shutting off power makes more sense than a .5W sleep state. They said they also power off the speakers when the sound is muted or when headphones are connected (another few hundred mW). I don't know about other devices, but really I don't care if it's "cheating" - custom designed hardware that functions better than the competition is fine as long as it works properly. Windows 7 is supposed to enable some better power savings (up to 11% better battery life I've heard), so we'll see. Reply
  • The0ne - Thursday, April 30, 2009 - link

    If you're going to game on it why not just get one with 17" LCD? Better yet, get one with 1900x1200 and everything is just beautiful :)

    It's great that the article addresses the LCD issues. I mean come on, it's one of the main components when considering a laptop.
    Reply
  • Rob94hawk - Thursday, April 30, 2009 - link

    Where is this Clevo901c laptop? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, April 30, 2009 - link

    I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean where are the specs? If that's your question, the Sager NP9262 is a Clevo D901C chassis. Several other companies (WidowPC, AVADirect, Eurocom, etc.) use the Clevo chassis and rebrand it as their own, so I figured listing the original manufacturer in that case made the most sense. Reply
  • GoatMonkey - Wednesday, April 29, 2009 - link

    The display on the MSI GT627 218US is apparently different, because it is listing max resolution of 1680x1050. I'd like to know if that display has better contrast ratio.

    Also, any news on the upcoming MSI GT628 with the nVidia M160?

    Reply

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