Neither the MSI GX640-098US’s specs nor its $1,200 price tag necessarily scream “mobile gaming rig,” but the notebook’s highlighted W, A, S, and D keys say otherwise. So when the GX480 showed up on our doorstep, we wondered if the moderately powered notebook could muster up enough moxie to satisfy mobile gamers on a budget.
The 15.4-inch display is certainly not the largest-size screen you’re going to find on a gaming notebook; but when you’re making concessions to save some dough, screen size is one of the easiest areas to cut costs. The display’s 1680x1050 native resolution is a pleasant surprise, though, which is higher than the 1366x768 native res of Asus’s 16-inch N61J desktop-replacement.
Other than screen size, the GX640 and N61J share very similar specs. They are both powered by a 2.26GHz Core i5-430M processor and 4GB of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, and both come with 7,200rpm 500GB hard drives. The N61J has at least two distinct advantages over the GX640, however, with USB 3.0 support and a price tag that’s $300 lower.
The two units also differ in their choice of GPUs. The N61J uses integrated Intel GMA and discrete GeForce GT 325M switchable graphics (using Nvidia’s Optimus technology), while the GX640 uses a discrete ATI Radeon HD 5850—the 5850 is currently AMD’s second-highest GPU in its mobile graphics food chain. But the GX640’s 5850 simply isn’t enough to give the GTX 260M in our zero-point notebook much to worry about (neither did the N61J’s GT 325M, for that matter). We had to crank Far Cry 2’s resolution down to 1024x768, turn off antialiasing, lower the quality settings to high, and the performance settings to medium, just to see an average frame of rate of 26.2fps.
Where the GX640 fares better is with content-creations apps that support multithreading. The performance differences aren’t earth shattering, but the GX640 manages to beat our zero-point machine by 13.3 percent in MainConcept and 12.8 percent in Premiere Pro. Even though the GX640’s Core i5-430M processor’s stock speed is 800MHz slower than our zero-point’s 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo Mobile T9900 CPU, the Core i5-430M gets its performance advantage from an updated microarchitecture and its HyperThreading technology. On our single-threaded Photoshop test, however, the zero-point’s faster processor retakes the lead over the GX640. As to overall application performance, the GX460 puts in an almost identical showing to that of the N61J.
Battery life wasn’t much to write home about either. Even with a 9-cell, 85Wr battery, the GX460 lasted only just over an hour and a half on our battery-rundown test. This is nine minutes less than the zero-point and 34 minutes behind the N61J.
The GX640 certainly looks like a gaming notebook with its bright red trim highlighting a black brushed-metal aluminum-alloy chassis. A glossy display, headphone-out jack that supports digital 7.1-channel audio, and HDMI-out add to its potential gaming appeal. Other nice touches are ExpressCard/54 and eSATA ports, as well as a full-size keyboard with a dedicated numeric keypad. And weighing in at 6.3 pounds, the GX640 is far more portable than a larger gaming notebook.
With the economy forcing belt-tightening across the board, plunking down a couple of grand for a gaming notebook isn’t as easy as it used to be—compromises often need to be made. But the GX640’s graphics performance is just not up to snuff for today’s hardcore 3D titles. That said, the GX640 is a more than capable desktop replacement system. This comes with a caveat, however: If it’s a desktop replacement you’re looking for, you might instead want to consider the similarly configured, and $300 cheaper, Asus N61J; that is unless you need the GX640’s larger 1680x1050 native resolution.
Great content-creation performance; highlighted W, A, S, D keys; ExpressCard/54 slot.
Anemic gaming performance; battery life isn’t great.
Premiere Pro CS3 (sec)
Photoshop CS3 (sec)
ProShow Producer (sec)
Far Cry 2 (fps)
Call of Duty 4 (fps)
Our zero point notebook is an iBuypower M865TU with a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo T9900, 4GB DDR3/1066 RAM, a 500GB Seagate hard drive, a GeForce GTX 260M, and Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit. Far Cry 2 tested at 1680x1050 with 4x AA; Call of Duty 4 tested at 1680x1050 with 4x AA and anisotropic filtering.
2.26GHz Core i5-430M
Seagate Momentus 500GB (7,200rpm)
TSSTcorp CDDVDW TS-L633C
Radeon HD 5850
HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 2.0, one USB/eSATA, FireWire, mic-in, line-in, headphone/SPDIF-out, line-out, 4-in-1 media card reader, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth