We originally laid eyes on the final design back at CES, but now MSI has begun to sell its Vortex gaming desktops in the US. The 6.5-liter systems resembles the design of Apple’s Mac Pro, using a singular fan and triangular core to pack a high-end CPU along with two GPUs and a lot of memory, offering impressive performance at a premium price.

When Apple introduced its current-generation Mac Pro a little more than two years ago, the company clearly demonstrated that it was possible to build a small form-factor workstation with two professional GPUs and a multi-core Intel Xeon E5 processor with only one fan. Since then, a number of PC makers have released high-end small form factor desktops in the mini-ITX form-factor, but all of them were equipped with multiple fans and were still larger than Apple’s Mac Pro, or traditionally looked like PCs such as ASUS' GR20. Last year MSI decided to take a leaf out of Apple’s book and develop a gaming PC that would borrow Mac Pro’s triangle arrangement of CPU and GPUs as well as round design with one blower fan. The company first demonstrated its Vortex desktop last fall and has been refining its system since then. MSI showcased near final version at CES with a heavy bent on virtual reality support, but were still tinkering with the final specifications. Now MSI is finally ready to ship the Vortex.



MXM Modules in play, showing Samsung GDDR5

MSI’s Vortex G65 platform is based on Intel’s Core i7-6700K processor as well as the Z170 chipset. With this combination, MSI will offer systems in two variants, with either two GeForce GTX 980 GPUs in SLI (the SLI-001) or GeForce GTX 960 GPUs in SLI (SLI-011). The MSI Vortex G65 systems are equipped with 32 or 16 GB of DDR4-2133 memory respectively, two 128 GB SSDs in RAID (M.2 form-factor with PCIe 3.0 x4 interface, no word on the exact models) and 1 TB HDD at 7200 RPM. The gaming machines also feature two Rivet Networks Killer Gigabit Ethernet E2400 controllers and one Killer Wireless-AC 1535 Wi-Fi controller (802.11ac) to support DoubleShot-X3 Pro as well as two Thunderbolt 3 ports (we're unsure if this is one controller or two at this point). As for external ports, the PCs have two TB 3, two DisplayPort 1.2, two HDMI 1.4 and four USB 3.0 connectors. No word on the audio codec, as the rear of the chassis only has headphone/microphone jacks. There's no word if the TB3 ports also support USB 3.1, but given that it hasn't been advertised at this time we assume not.  We can confirm that the TB3 ports do support USB 3.1.

The Vortex G65 systems from MSI heavily use custom-built hardware, such as the motherboard, cooling system, power supply and so forth. Nonetheless, they still use standard Intel’s LGA1151 processors, MXM graphics modules for the GPUs, PCIe SSDs, SO-DIMM modules for memory and so on, which sounds as if they can be easily upgraded at MSI select partners and retailers (in fact, select MSI’s partners can even upgrade MXM modules). Still, owners should keep in mind that the PCs are equipped with 450W PSUs, perhaps indicating that the parts on offer are specially binned for the low power/voltage characteristics needed for the Vortex. The Vortex G65 platform should fully support overclocking, but given thermal and power consumption constraints, it is hard to expect the Vortex G65 to be a good overclocker, but that is a natural trade-off between performance, style and size.

Specifications of MSI Vortex G65 and Apple Mac Pro
  MSI Vortex G65
SLI-011
MSI Vortex G65
SLI-002
Apple Mac Pro
CPU Intel Core i7-6700K
Quad Core, 4.0 GHz with HT
Intel Xeon E5-1650 v2
Six Core at 3.5 GHz
PCH Intel Z170 Intel C602/C604
RAM 4 SO-DIMM Slots
2 x 8 GB DDR4-2133
4 SO-DIMM Slots
4 x 8
 GB DDR4-2133
16 GB DDR3-1866
GPU 2 x NVIDIA GeForce
GTX 960 (GTX 970M?)
 3 GB
2 x NVIDIA GeForce
GTX 980 (notebook?)
8 GB
2 x AMD FirePro
D500 3 GB
SSD SuperRaid 4
2 x 128 GB PCIe 3.0 x4 SSDs plus
256 GB PCIe
HDD 1 TB HDD with 7200 RPM spindle speed -
LAN 2x Rivet Killer E2400 Gigabit Ethernet controllers 2x Gigabit Ethernet
WLAN Rivet Killer Wireless-AC-1535 802.11ac
Wi-Fi + Bluetooth (2T2R) with MU-MIMO
802.11ac Wi-Fi
3-stream
PSU 450 W internal, 80 Plus Gold
DisplayPort 2 x DP 1.2 6 x TB2
HDMI 2 x HDMI 1.4 -
Thunderbolt 2 x TB3 via Type-C 6 x TB2
USB 4 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 3.1 via TB3 -
Dimensions 7.61 x 7.01 x 10.55" 6.6 x 6.6 x 9.9"
Volume 6.5 liter unknown
Weight 8.8 lbs (4 kilograms) 11 lbs (5 kilograms)
Price $2199 $3999 $3999

It is worth noting that there are two really interesting things here with the GPUs on offer. Firstly, the GTX 980 in 8 GB form, as far as we can tell, has not been formally announced or released by NVIDIA. So either MSI is creating its own MXM module for this as an AIB partner, or they've pre-empted an NVIDIA announcement, or the part is a GTX 980 (notebook) with 8 GB of memory, which is currently listed at OriginPC. We had feared this was the 980M, which has 25% fewer CUDA cores, but is more common in 8GB form. Using the GTX 980 (notebook) variant makes sense, with a given TDP of 145 W per card, rather than 165 W per card on the desktop variant.

Next, on the GTX 960 side: MSI puts the total VRAM at 6 GB for the SLI system, meaning 3 GB per card, which would imply a 192-bit bus. No GTX 960 variant has a 192-bit bus, nor does the GTX 960M, which means this is either a new unreleased version of the GTX 960 with an unbalanced memory allocation (which has happened before) or something more akin to a GTX 970M which does have a 192-bit bus, but they're calling it a GTX 960. It's an interesting mix of information here. We've asked for clarification.

Update from MSI: For the GTX980 SLI, this is the MXM version (not the GTX980M but the GTX980).  We are using the same graphics card as in our GT80 TITAN SLI. For the GTX960 SLI we are also using is the MXM version.  Same MXM card we are using on the GTX970M. Since this is a “desktop” product, Nvidia new naming rule will not have the “M” in there and kick down the number to 960 [and so it has the same specifications as the GTX970M as far as CUDA cores/ROPs - ed].

 

Exploded view

The MSI Vortex G65 system also comes with Dragon Center dashboard application, which allows to customize lighting of the PC case, monitor system performance, launch utilities and apps, fine-tune the system with personalized profiles and so on. Nahimic audio is also bundled in the package.

MSI positions its Vortex G65 machines as SFF PCs capable of handling virtual reality games. The two graphics adapters can drive up to four monitors (and with Thunderbolt can connect to up to six displays), hence the system can be used not only for entertainment but also for work. At present MSI does not position its Vortex for professional applications, but it should not be a problem to build a workstation-class system of similar dimensions for the company and we would imagine some top-tier customers are already inquiring.

MSI charges $2199 for the Vortex G65 SLI-011 system with two GeForce GTX 960 graphics adapters. The top-of-the-range Vortex G65 SLI-002 with GTX 980 in SLI costs $3999, which is in line with the price of an advanced Apple Mac Pro.

Source: MSI

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  • lilkwarrior - Thursday, March 24, 2016 - link

    Apple is a closed ecosystem that doesn't mind bending the rules associated w/ standardized ports & etc.

    An overwhelming amount of people that don't buy into Apple system don't want that; they want the exact opposite: they want standardized ports & features used for optimal ability to upgrade.

    Accordingly, Apple is unsurprisingly constantly leading to take risks PC manufacturers often *can't* take to appease to an overwhelming amount of their buyers.

    I'm not saying this to be a fanboy of either approach. I have a maxed-out '14 Macbook Pro w/ a PC rig w/ 2 980TIs (liquid cooled), 1.2TB NVMe Intel 750 SSD, 32GB Ram, & etc.
    Reply
  • jabber - Friday, March 18, 2016 - link

    Now just make it look like it's aimed at an adult buyer with lots of disposable income rather than the mythical 14 year old they think would afford this. C'mon guys dragons on such an expensive box? Makes it look worth about $400 tops. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Friday, March 18, 2016 - link

    It's not a bad idea, but there are a few obvious problems.

    -Dependency on a single cooling fan...That fan had better be very, very reliable and I'd be reluctant to put a system like that in a dusty environment out of fear of damaging hardware from ingestion of the usual household carpet/furniture dust and cat/dog hair.

    -Custom or near-custom engineering for parts...upgrades are going to be a problem. Either MSI will produce motherboards and GPUs for this system in the future or a buyer won't have a path to replace parts as technology progresses which is part of the appeal of suffering with a clunky old desktop.

    -Internal complexity...OMG that exploded image! o.O Taking that thing apart looks worse than a lot of laptops I've had the misfortune of disassembling.

    -Selection of parts versus upcoming hardware releases...This is more of a thing for MSI than it is for the customer, but releasing anything with a 28nm GPU or two is going to cause damage in sales as a lot of people who care about graphics enough to buy one or more discrete GPUs is holding off until we move to next generation parts. Sales will be small and MSI will have little compulsion to supply upgraded parts or perpetuate this design principal in light of the poor uptake from customers.

    -Silly styling...Red on black again *yawns* and "Oh look, a ninja-samurai-fu-manchu-dragon-with-spikey-bits-in-red-led! That's not only original, but an impressive work of art that makes me want to throw my money at you so I too can enjoy this red and black, dragon themed PC because it will match the Asian stickers I have plastered all over my car's windshield!" said pretty much no one anywhere on the planet.

    And lastly...

    -The price premium...sure MSI put in about two years of design work into following in Apple's footsteps with an equally limited desktop chassis and innards and needs to make up the cost of all that development plus the high price of low-volume parts inside, but I think buyers are generally more sensible than MSI might think and will opt for more conventional systems.

    Aside from those problems, it's a good effort and I look forward to seeing what else comes out of MSI in the future.
    Reply
  • nerd1 - Sunday, March 20, 2016 - link

    No, it's clearly a bad idea. Apple dominates OSX computers and their trashcan Mac pro is THE ONLY somewhat capable desktop in the lineup. So their target audience simply has no other choice, and no one plays game with mac pro anyway.

    It's entirely opposite with MSI. There are tons of PC desktop options out there, all much affordable and more expandable than this, and PC gamers DO consider details such as cooling capacity, PSU quality, raw graphics power, expandablity etc.

    So who will buy this, really? If you are tech savy you can build a mini ITX system with 980ti at less than $2000, which should have similar performance with $3999 version with two mobile 980 in general and is way better for VR (which won't use SLI). If you are NOT tech savy and need a glorified facebook machine we already have Mac Pro for that.
    Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Monday, March 21, 2016 - link

    You do have a good point. There are a lot of other options in the PC market space that aren't available for people who use a Mac Pro. That would certainly further limit its appeal to customers who could easily turn to pretty much any other PC besides MSI's system. The reason why I think there's still a little merit to MSI working on this to begin with is because it's forays into unfamiliar territory like this one that, while warty and overpriced, sometimes push thinking in new directions that would otherwise not have become widely available for consumers. I like that MSI went out on a limb here and though I'd never, ever consider buying this Vortex thing of theirs, I'm happy that they're exploring alternatives to the conventional desktop platform even if that exploration results in dead ends here and there. Reply
  • Flunk - Friday, March 18, 2016 - link

    This is a pretty cool product, it's nice to see that such a thing is possible. But when it comes to desktops, I'm going to stick to upgradable systems myself. Reply
  • Wolfpup - Friday, March 18, 2016 - link

    Okay, I admit the looks are fun, and it should be portable-throw it in a bag for work in place of a notebook.

    BUT still, it's pricier than higher-end hardware that's not TOO dissimilar in size (I don't think?) so... interesting though...
    Reply
  • Crono454 - Sunday, March 20, 2016 - link

    In the article it says no word on the audio codec and days only headphone and mic, but there's clearly and optical port in the picture Reply
  • fanofanand - Monday, March 21, 2016 - link

    The idea that a gamer would pay $4k for a pair of gimped 980s as opposed to a more traditional ATX setup seems strange to me. With the MAC I get it, it's a business device with professional GPUs, but this? Seems like it's more of a "gamers will pay anything" play than a legitimate entrance into the SFF game. Reply
  • aneskee - Monday, March 21, 2016 - link

    Unboxing the new MSI Vortex:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VV0clz-P6PM
    Reply

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