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MSI GX640 Design and Internals

Build quality on the GX640 is a step up from the last MSI G-series laptop we looked at, though a few weak spots remain. The chassis is essentially unchanged, consisting of a main cover and palm rest with a classy brushed aluminum finish, but the glossy plastic highlights detract from this somewhat. Considering the amount of performance packed into the chassis, the 6.3 pound weight and 1.2" uniform thickness are actually quite good. It's still heavier and will run hotter than less potent laptops, but it's small enough that using it on a plane is possible (albeit cramped).

The keyboard continues to be the weakest link here, with an old-style design. We actually don't mind the shape of the keys, but the action is mushy and the keyboard exhibits a lot of flex. This has been a complaint we've leveled against several MSI laptops over the years, and yet we have to bring it up again. Really, fixing the keyboard should be very easy—just give it a stiffer backplate and we'd be happy. Other laptops also include LED backlighting on the keyboard, which is a nice feature and might make it more difficult for engineering to create a flimsy keyboard. Just a thought.

Other than the flex, the layout is generally good, and the number keypad has the correct oversize Enter and Plus keys on the right. However, there are a few areas where important keys require an Fn combination, specifically the Home and End keys. I can't tell you the last time I used the Pause/Break key or the Scroll Lock key on a computer, but I use End/Home all the time; there's really no need to waste space on keys no one uses with this size chassis. Finally, the Fn and Ctrl keys in the bottom-left have their locations reversed, at least relative to how I like them. Lenovo and some others provide a BIOS function to swap these keys, and we'd really like to see that feature on every laptop; it allows you to please all users in a simple fashion.

Above the keyboard are 10 multimedia/quick access keys that allow you to enable/disable WiFi, Bluetooth, and the webcam as well as controlling the "Eco" mode. In testing the Eco utility didn't help much unfortunately. We're missing the functionality of other laptops (i.e. ASUS) where you can have the system power off the optical drive and other features when they're not needed. Finally, the P1 key can be programmed to launch a favorite application if you're so inclined.

The touchpad works well, and we don't have any real complaints there. It supports multitouch and has two "separate" mouse buttons. We put that in quotes because the buttons are partially punched out of the aluminum palm rest. It's not the nicest set of buttons I've used, but I do appreciate the fact that they don't have a glossy rocker button that only serves to catch fingerprints. The Fn+F3 key combination gives you an easy way to disable the touchpad if you're typing fast and getting inadvertent "clicks"—or if you happen to connect an external mouse, which is still pretty much required for playing games.

Poking around inside the GX640 is pretty simple. There are two covers on the bottom, each secured by two screws. We're a little leery of the large cover and the potential for some of the plastic clasps to break if you open/close it regularly, but for infrequent access it should be fine. The smaller cover is for the hard drive, while the large panel gives you access to the RAM, CPU, GPU, mini-PCIe slots, and the entire heatsink/heatpipe assembly. Not surprisingly, judging by the size of the cooling plate and heatpipe, the GPU is capable of putting out quite a bit more heat than the CPU. In use, the system is always warm, and gets downright hot when playing games for extended periods. It's possible to swap out the CPU for something faster (we've seen resellers allow up to the top i7-920XM processor), but cooling might be a problem if you push things too far.

The GX640 is a decent laptop overall, with the biggest complaints involving the keyboard. Build quality is acceptable, and the aesthetic has improved since the last G-series we looked at. However, the biggest attraction remains the price, as $1100 (slightly less) for this much laptop is a great deal. It's the latest iteration of the midrange gaming notebook ideal that started with the Gateway P-6831 FX, and in many ways the design is similar—right down to the oversize battery jutting out the back. You can find faster laptops, or laptops that don't run quite as hot or loud, but the next step up is going to be the ASUS G73Jh (or MSI's own 17.3" GX740 with HD 5870), which means several hundred dollars more for a larger box and only a moderate bump in performance.

MSI GX640: $1100 for a Speedy DX11 Laptop MSI GX640: Bring on the Games
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  • NecessaryEvil-BC - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    Agreed, the 5730 is a substantial downgrade, as is the plastic, the lower resolution LCD, etc. It's still a rather potent gaming system for the $900 mark.

    While I realize that a current Quad won't have integrated graphics capability, if it used the HM55 instead of the PM55, is there anything the system would really lose? Switchable could be disabled for Quad i7s, and enabled for i3, i5, Arrandale i7's. I haven't found anything saying specifically that HM55's don't support i7 Quads..
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    The GX640 supports quad-core i7 chips, so what that means is the discrete GPU is required. That being the case, you have to have traces going from the GPU to the LVDS, VGA, and HDMI outputs. If you do old-style switchable graphics, you put a mux on each of those (actually two per video I think), so you add probably $10 to the cost of the mobo just in hardware, and there's a ton of validation stuff that you need to do. Then there's the other drawback: switchable graphics in this manner requires two drivers (one IGP and one discrete) with knowledge of each other, so you can't just update one driver very easily. The old Alienware M11x and ASUS ULx0Vt laptops use a single driver package from NVIDIA that has both NVIDIA and Intel drivers combined, and NVIDIA has to get permission to include the Intel drivers each time. The same holds for AMD/ATI with switchable graphics, so there's often few if any driver updates.

    Optimus uses just the IGP connected to the video ports, which means no hardware muxes and no extra validation. You just have to keep the GPU cool -- "easy". But then you need an IGP connected to the video or you can't use an Optimus GPU. So it's sort of no-win unless you decide to stick with IGP processors like Arrandale, or go the more expensive route of muxes and switches with the driver limitations. Sort of a Catch 22, until we get 32nm quad-core.
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    My understanding is that HM-55 only supports the integrated graphics in an arrandale chip. PM55 allows discrete graphics and RAID. That's how it was with PM45. So if you were to use a quad in the HM55 I'm quessing discrete graphics would be lost. Which would also a mean pre-Arrandale i7 on a HM55 laptop would be sold without an lcd... Reply
  • DanNeely - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    The text at the start says a 5850, the table immediately below lists a 5870. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Fixed... the 5870 runs at 750/4000MHz core/RAM compared to 625 core on the 5850. So I had the right clocks but missed updating the GPU name on that table. Sorry. Reply
  • Hrel - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    If someone could do a review on the laptop that I currently suspect is the best "bang for your buck" out there. It's made by compal, and available on Cyberpower.com who's machines you've reviewed before. If you'd like it configured like I did, which I think is the best bang for buck, do this: Go to the website. mouse over 15.6" Laptops and click on the $999 Xplorer X6-8500. It has a 1080p screen. (I'm not sure why the people who run this site do this, but even though the other configurations use the same chassis when personalized they come out to cost more than this one; annoying since it makes me configure all 3 or 4 machines built on the same base chassis to figure out which one is cheapest/best for me.) Then I configured it with the Core i7-620M CPU. (to get it over 1K so I can take advantage of the 5% off.) 4GB 0DDR3-1333, hopefully 7-7-7-21, probably not, but hopefully. ATI MR HD5650 1GB GDDR3 320GB 7200rpm HDD (I did this cause I'm gonna take that HDD out and use the Seagate Momentus XT 500GB, thanks for that review!!) Everything else on that page I left untouched. The only thing I did on page 2 was switch to Intel wifi with bluetooth; Though I'm curious if the MSI option is equal/better; 17 bucks isn't nothing. It has HDMI out and a fingerprint reader. This page says 3 USB ports, the specs sheet says 4USB ports; not sure which is true. (I do wish they were USB 3.0 ports, but I was hoping you guys would test some stuff and tell me if that even matters for use with an external hard drive, mechanical disk 7200rpm. Transferring large files like movies and games mostly.) On page 3 I select "none, format only" for the OS. And select "LCD perfect assurance" cause even 1 dead pixel is unacceptable to me. This brings the total to $1008.90 after 5% off, or $992.75 if you get the MSI network card. So yeah, I really hope you guys can get a hold of one of these for review; as a loner or given as a review unit or maybe someone will just buy one and review it cause it's really tempting me right now... like a lot! If you're review is good I'm gonna start saving up and hopefully be able to buy it around Christmas. Thanks guys! A loyal reader. - Brian Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I'll see if we can get one, though I think you need to put the comparison in perspective. Removing the OS to reduce the cost is not something most people would do, and unless you really need the extra CPU performance, as a gaming setup you'd be far better off with HD 5850 in this GX640. The 5650 is the same as the Acer 5740G in GPU performance, but the 1080p LCD means native resolution gaming is going to be rough -- like you'd need to run medium or low detail at 1080p to get acceptable performance. Anyway, I can't imagine the Compal keyboard could be *worse* than the GX640 keyboard, and the display resolution is a nice extra. Hopefully we can get one sent our way.... Reply
  • Hrel - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    I keep reading reviews, I love the reviews on this site SO much, you guys all really do a good job breaking things down in detail. I really really really really really really want a review on that Compal unit from cyberpower.com. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE review it! Reply
  • bennyg - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I don't think I saw anything about temperatures in this review. In all high-performance laptops temperatures is a huge issue - espeically ones with subpar cooling systems like this G51J.

    I'm partcularly interested to see whether the G51J has been knocked off it's perch as king of the fireballs - one review suggested the GPU in this MSI lappy topped 100C.
    Reply
  • numberoneoppa - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I don't think it has enough stickers. Reply

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