Introduction, Specifications, Availability, and Pricing
MSI has been big on netbooks and notebooks for a while now. Over the last several months the company has been launching new machines that are aimed at gamers and multimedia enthusiasts that have some really nice and cool features. Today I have one of the latest machines from MSI on my bench for some hands on time called the MSI GT660R-004US.
When it comes to gaming notebooks, there are the all out, fully loaded gaming rigs that have the best of everything crammed inside and have a gigantic price to match the performance. The MSI GT660R-004US I am playing with today isn't one of those fully loaded and crazy expensive machines.
The MSI GT660R-004US is a reasonably priced gaming machine with reasonably powerful hardware that will play any game out there with the settings tweaked a bit. If you are in the market for a new gaming notebook and don't have the budget for the newest and most powerful hardware, the MSI GT660R-004US might be the compromise for you.
Specifications, Availability, and Pricing
The MSI GT660R-004US is available to purchase right now at several different etailers around the web. MSI has the MSRP for the notebook set at $1,849.99. However, you can get the notebook on Newegg.com right now for $1,649.99.
You can see the specs of the review unit I am looking at today below.
MSI GT660R-004US Up Close
The lid of the notebook is glossy and catches lots of smudges and fingerprints.
This circular thing is a small subwoofer on the bottom of the machine. You can't expect thumping bass from a speaker this size, but the sound system is much better than what the average notebook offers.
The left side of the notebook has some bling with lights, cooling grate, two USB 3.0 ports (blue), a single USB 2.0 port, and the memory card reader.
The right side of the notebook has the connectors for the 5-channel audio, a USB 2.0 port, and the Blu-ray optical drive.
This picture shows you the glossy screen and the blingage with lights all around the notebook.
This close up shows one of the other Dynaudio sound system speakers along with some of the indicator lights and the red WASD gaming control keys.
The back of the notebook has HDMI out, VGA out, Ethernet port, the Kensington lock port, and the power adapter plug as well as an eSATA port and cooling grates.
Performance - A/V Encoding, Battery Life, Boot Time, and Power Consumption
Below is the CPU-Z screen shot so you can see what the machine has inside.
A/V Encoding and Battery Life
The MSI GT660R-004US will be run through the standard notebook/netbook test regime here at TweakTown. This includes iTunes Encoding and Media Transcoding plus Battery Eater Pro for battery life estimation. This machine will also be put through our new expanded benchmark regime with the addition of boot time, PCMark Vantage, SuperPi, and Cinebench.
All systems are tested "as is", which means operating systems and drivers can and do vary and some come pre-installed with applications that may or may not affect performance. Any anti-virus or security applications are disabled and uninstalled before any testing is started as they can affect test numbers.
For the iTunes encoding test I take Stone Temple Pilots - Core CD album in MP3 format and encode it to AAC format using iTunes and time the results with a stopwatch.
All tests are performed with the system in High Performance mode with minimum CPU set to 100%.
The MSI GT660R-004US was surprisingly bad for audio encoding, landing in the bottom three of all machines tested.
For the movie encoding test I take the Microsoft Magic of Flight VC-1 WMV video with six channel audio (1080p HD) and transcode it to XviD (1080p HD) with LAME MP3 two channel audio and a MP4 container using MediaCoder 0.7.3.4616 32-bit edition.
All tests are performed with the system in High Performance mode with minimum CPU set to 100%.
The MSI GT660R-004US was number four here with only gaming rigs costing more being ahead of it.
Battery Eater Pro
Battery Eater Pro is very hard on batteries, so you are likely to get more run time in the real world, depending on how you use the machine. Since we compare all laptops and netbooks the exact same way though, it creates a fair and balanced playing field for our comparisons.
For the power saving mode test I run the machine in 'Power Saver' mode with turn off display disabled and brightness set to 50%, sleep mode disabled, HDD turn off disabled and minimum CPU set to 5%.
For the performance mode test I run the machine in 'High Performance' mode with turn off display disabled and brightness set to 100%, sleep mode disabled, HDD turn off disabled and minimum CPU set to 100%. Do note that some systems even when set to 100% CPU may force drop down the clock speed when AC power is lost.
Wireless is kept enabled during all tests and nothing else unusual is disabled. Time is rounded up to the nearest minute.
The MSI GT660R-004US has decent battery life and is one of the longest lasting gaming notebooks tested.
We measured boot time using a stopwatch and timed from the point we turned the system on until the very first point the desktop was reached and fully loaded.
The MSI GT660R-004US landed in the middle of the pack in this benchmark.
The power consumed by the machine under full load using Prime95 and at idle is recorded with a Kill A Watt wall outlet measuring device and rounded to the nearest watt.
The GT660R-004US is horrible in this benchmark, drawing more power just sitting there than the other two machines I have tested in this new benchmark at full tilt.
Performance - PCMark Vantage, CINEBENCH, Super Pi, and 3DMark Vantage
PCMark Vantage 64-bit
Version and / or Patch Used: Nov 2007 Hotfix
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/
Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
The MSI GT660R-004US was mid pack in the overall score, but blew every other notebook out in the media centric TV and Moves category.
CINEBENCH R11.5 64-bit
Version and / or Patch Used: Release 11.5
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performance capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
The MSI GT660R-004US wound up with the best CPU score recorded so far in this benchmark.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.5 Mod XS
Developer Homepage: http://pw1.netcom.com/~hjsmith/Pi/Super_Pi.html
Product Homepage: http://pw1.netcom.com/~hjsmith/Pi/Super_Pi.html
Developed by some folks from the University of Tokyo (yes, Japan), Super PI is a small utility that does just as the name implies. It figures PI to a set number of decimal places. Since PI is an infinite number to the right of the decimal point, the utility measures the time it takes to figure a set number of places. It runs the calculations a set number of times and gives a time for the completion of the task. This is a simple and effective way to measure the raw number crunching power of the processor being used to compile the results.
The MSI GT660R-004US took second in SuperPI; a mere second behind first place.
I wanted to point out that the MSI GT660R-004US is a gaming notebook, but the screen lacks the resolution minimum to run 3DMark Vantage, so that benchmark was skipped.
Hands On Use and Final Thoughts
Hands On Use
I think overall the GT660R-004US is a decent performer after all the tests are done. I have a few issues with the machine in normal use. I am not a fan of the keyboard that MSI uses on this notebook at all. The keys are much smaller than they need to be considering the notebook has a 16-inch screen. The gaps between the keys are large and they could have been made larger without losing the number pad.
The right shift key is also much smaller than the left; another peeve I have with the machine. MSI does separate the WASD control keys that all gamers are familiar with from the other keys with a red font. The keyboard also isn't backlit, which I really expect in a gaming notebook today.
The track pad under the keyboard is well placed and sized. It has good sensitivity and accuracy. The buttons are easy to press and the trackpad has an undefined scroll area to the right side of the pad. Along the chrome bezel at the bottom of the track pad are indicator lights for power, Bluetooth, WiFi, sleep, and HDD activity.
The GT660R-004US has a very glossy 16-inch screen with 1366 x 768 resolution. The resolution is certainly one place where MSI saved some money with this machine. As I mentioned in the benchmark section, the resolution was too low to run 3DMark Vantage. The screen has enough resolution for 720p, which is nice for Blu-ray movies, but I would rather see a higher resolution screen. A 1080p screen couldn't add too much to the price of this notebook. The screen has noticeable pixilation in darker scenes of movies and TV. Colors are good and skin tones are realistic.
Streaming video from Hulu works smoothly in windowed and only has very slight and occasional stuttering in full screen mode. The thing that really bothered me with streaming video on this notebook was the poor contrast and pixilation in dark scenes. The machine has a nice amount of storage at 1TB and the GPU is powerful enough to handle Blu-ray and the streaming of video with the caveats I already mentioned. The storage space should mean you could get all the music, games, and digital content on the machine that you want.
The GT660R-004US is a capable gaming notebook and can play whatever game you want to. You will give up high-end features for playable frame rates, but that is common to just about every gaming notebook around. The heat vent on the left side of the computer feels like a hair dryer shortly after you start gaming; this machine sucks in a ton of power and puts out a lot of heat.
MSI uses a nice sound system on the GT660R-004US that is one of the best I have seen on a notebook to date. The small subwoofer on the bottom of the machine certainly doesn't feed my craving for booming explosions and lots of bass, but it is far above many notebooks on the market. The sound system has plenty of volume to watch without headphones or external speakers in all but the noisiest environments.
The GT660R-004US is one of the cheaper of the gaming/multimedia machines on the market right now. The big tradeoff here is that the screen is not that great. This machine would be a much better notebook if the screen had better contrast and more resolution. I can't see that a 1080p screen that functions better would have added much more to the cost of the notebook.
As it is, if you can live with the poor contrast and pixilation when watching movies and streaming content, this is a good machine. If you demand perfect video performance, the screen here will drive you crazy in short order. The machine does well for mid-range gaming on most titles and will serve the person wanting a gaming/multimedia machine on a budget well.
If you aren't much of a gamer and are really looking for a notebook mostly for media streaming, you can find better notebooks with screens that offer more performance in this price range. That said, most of those machines will lack the Blu-ray and gaming chops the GT660R-004US offers.