The MSI GT725 is - literally and figuratively - a bit lighter than its beefy 17in gaming laptop competitors. And that's not necessarily a bad thing: the price is a little lower than the cost of many other desktop replacements, while the hefty 3.5kg case is a shade more manageable than many. What matters more in this case is that it provides strong performance for a reasonable £1,117.
In informal, real-world testing, the GT725's gaming performance impressed. Even running at full-screen (1,920x1,280) with all of the graphical trimmings, it maintained smooth frame rates in all the games we used for testing. Each encounter looked great, even when I was on the losing end.
Our benchmarks showed similar results, with the laptop's ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4850 graphics processor, 2GHz Core 2 Quad Q9000 CPU, and 4GB RAM giving sufficient thrust. Numbers freaks will see that competitors edge out the GT725, largely due to their higher clock speeds; still, the GT 725's overall WorldBench 6 score of 98 is a solid outcome. We should note, however, that the system has a game-boosting performance mode that conflicted with WorldBench 6 (it requires a system reboot). As a result, we can't get an accurate read of how fast this machine truly performs. That said, to the naked eye, the GT725 did well.
Gaming aside, the GT 725 is a reasonably good media machine. Though the speakers certainly sound like they belong to a laptop, they create cleaner noise than most. At low and high volumes, music and movies sounded full, with a fairly good range of tones. When we paid particularly careful attention - and when playing the sound at its highest volumes - some shrill high-ends and minor case vibrations on the low end could be discerned.
The Blu-ray playback highlights some of the best and worst aspects of the 17in screen. Like text, movies look sharp, with the native resolution being slightly taller than 1,080p. Colours and contrast, however, seem a little dull. Worst of all, the screen has a definite sweet spot - if you move your head a great deal or sit at an angle, images appear even more muted. We had to crank up the brightness to its maximum to try to steal a little more colour saturation.
In spite of those complaints, we liked the screen finish; its slightly glossy coating rarely caused glare, which can be a problem on competitors. While a fuller colour repertoire would be nice, we'd pick this display over others that tend toward artificial hues and constant glare.
Beyond gaming and media, the GT 725 feels merely adequate. It's more than powerful enough to handle any high-end or general app you install, including the supplied Office One productivity suite. But aspects of its design merely match those of rivals or take baffling liberties.
The case design looks childish, with the plastic red stripes and shiny grille evoking an action toy crossed with a ski boot. Several touch-sensitive buttons handle basic media control and toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a webcam and power-saving settings. We liked setting the custom P1 button to launch an application - but why did MSI give it that strange label? How about calling it 'Launch' or having an icon of a rocket ship blasting into the stars? (MSI, those ideas are free.)
A single bad decision makes the keyboard far less suitable for extensive typing than it is for gaming; we should have been alerted by the highlighted W, A, S and D keys (letters that steer most games by default). The keyboard action feels okay, offering a typical, spongy response. But in the effort to cram in a full number pad - plus a set of arrow keys - MSI had to shrink the full-stop, slash (question mark), and right-Shift keys. Since those are about half the width of the other keys, they require a little more concentration to press.
The inputs and outputs on the GT 725 meet expectations. The laptop has the full complement of USB, FireWire, eSATA, various audio-in and -out ports, Express Card, a universal flash-memory slot (SD, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick, and their variations), gigabit ethernet, HDMI, VGA, IR and a modem. 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth handle wireless communication. A Webcam and microphone facilitate chatting.
The MSI GT 725 could replace a desktop PC, especially if you connect your own input devices (which, after playing with the keyboard, we highly recommend). Its 169-mins battery lets it behave as an actual portable system, while competing laptops need to leap between power outlets. And its gaming benchmarks are strong.
But even though its screen is refreshingly free of glare, its slightly muted colour and distinct screen 'sweet spot' disappoint.