capsule review

MSI GT627 Laptop

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder MSI GT627-216US Notebook

    PCWorld Rating

    The MSI GT627 offers a lot in a small package, but the keyboard and screen compromises limit its appeal.

Micro-Star International made its first big push into the U.S. market with its Wind U100 netbook. Now it's targeting the entry-level gaming laptop market with the GT627. But while the hardware specs look good on paper and provide a good deal of power, a couple of design and build issues severely limit the system's appeal.

Priced to move at $1150, the GT627 is housed in an understated black aluminum case. A bit of red trim around the edges adds color, but a chrome grille above the keyboard is the only overt sign that this is a gaming laptop. In fact, the GT627 could easily pass for a stylish business notebook.

Inside is a run-of-mill Intel Core2 Duo 2.26-GHz P8400 CPU that you can overclock on the fly using the laptop's Turbo mode, along with 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and nVidia GeForce 9800M GS graphics with a whopping 1GB of onboard RAM.

In our WorldBench 6 tests, the GT627 earned a solid score of 101. Though we couldn't run our tests at 1680 by 1050 resolution, the laptop managed a frame rate of 62 frames per second in Enemy Territory Quake Wars and 58 fps in Unreal Tournament III at 1024 by 768 resolution in Turbo mode.

Unfortunately, this all-purpose-size laptop exhibited a desktop-replacement-caliber battery life: 2 hours, 29 minutes on a single charge. On average, all-purpose portables have about hour more battery life than the GT627.

For context, let's match MSI's rig against one of Gateway's strong, stylish, reasonably priced gaming laptops. The Gateway P-7811FX delivers a WorldBench 6 score of 96 with very similar specs. But whereas the P-7811FX has a native resolution of 1920 by 1200, our MSI test system fell far short of those numbers, at 1280 by 800.

The GT627's glossy 15.4-inch screen does deliver decent color and crispness, but the vertical viewing angle is fairly shallow, which makes finding the sweet spot essential. For a general entry-level notebook at half the price, a 1280 by 800 resolution would seem reasonable; but for a gaming laptop, 1440 by 900 or 1680 by 1050 would be a better fit. On the bright side, playing games at 1280 by 800 is a breeze, though it hardly calls for a video card with 1GB of RAM under the hood.

Though the screen may be lacking, the number of ports isn't. You get two USB 2.0 slots (three if you count the combination eSata/USB port), a four-in-one card reader, audio input/output jacks, a four-pin FireWire port, an ExpressCard 54 slot, a VGA-out port, ethernet jack and modem. Got a TV tuner? There's also an antenna jack on the back of the laptop. To access the system's RAM and hard drive, you simply unscrew a plate on the bottom, though MSI warns that opening the unit voids the warranty--a major discouragement to upgrading.

Another gamer-unfriendly feature is the keyboard's use of nonstandard-size, unusually placed keys. Such commonly used keys as Backspace, Enter, and right Shift are noticeably smaller than they should be. In addition, the forward slash key occupies the spot where the Alt key normally appears, so using Alt-Tab to navigate through applications can be especially frustrating. Worse yet, the keyboard exhibits considerable flex even under light pressure. If you've ever had to hunt and peck for keys on a netbook, you'll experience a similar sensation with the GT627. Even after spending days typing on the keyboard, I couldn't type an error-free e-mail message without peeking at the keys. The keyboard does include a full four-column number pad--an unusual feature on a keyboard of its size--though its value for gaming purposes is questionable.

Much better is the attractive and fairly generous touchpad, which sits almost flush with the palm rests. The buttons are of the cutout variety and rely on tension from the palm-rest surface to create the click. Though I prefer deeper button presses with a little less give, the GT627's buttons are far from unusable.

The touch-sensitive buttons located in a row above the keyboard toggle the wireless on/off, activate the 2-megapixel webcam, cycle through various power saving modes, and activate the computer's Turbo mode. One button is user-definable, and others act as basic media playback controls. The sensitivity of this area is extremely high, requiring only a light brush of your finger to turn on. Luckily, the buttons are out of the way, so activating them by accident is unlikely to happen very often.

The GT627's stereo speakers produce thin and tinny sound. Even maxing out the bass enhancement in the included Dolby Control Center software makes little difference. Except in a pinch, this is definitely a headphones-only machine.

Don't expect a robust software package, either. Besides the standard Windows Vista Home Premium install, a recovery disc application, and CD/DVD burning software, the only program worth mentioning is the full-featured CrazyTalk Webcam suite for tweaking the included Webcam. You don't even get dedicated DVD movie software.

The GT627 is an affordable gaming laptop that will ably play today's current crop of games, but some prospective buyers will conclude that its low-resolution screen and nonstandard keyboard are deal-breakers.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The MSI GT627 offers a lot in a small package, but the keyboard and screen compromises limit its appeal.

    Pros

    • Unique Turbo mode for gaming performance
    • handsome brushed aluminum body

    Cons

    • Keyboard feels cramped and cheap
    • Low resolution screen
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