The MSI GT780DXR (let's just call it the GT780) is a monster of a machine, loaded with nearly everything you'll need to play games like a champion. This roomy laptop has a large amount of memory, plenty of hard drive space, and numerous extra features.
The GT780 doesn't skimp on the fancy specs that gamers and multimedia fans love. The 17.3-inch screen supports full HD (at 1920 by 1080 resolution), and MSI includes a built-in 720p webcam, USB 3.0 ports, HDMI output, and a pretty (though not especially useful) LED-backlit keyboard with full colour-changing capability.
Our review model, priced at £1,382, carried a second-generation Intel Core i7 2630M processor, 8GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 570M graphics card with 1.5GB of RAM. It also came with 1TB of hard drive space, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.
The GT780 performed well on our WorldBench 6 test suite, earning a mark of 146. Though this is a much higher score than most laptops achieve, it is only average for a system in the desktop replacement category. If you're thinking of getting the GT780DXR instead of MSI's lower-end GT683R, don't expect to see a performance boost: The two laptops have virtually the same specs, and they collected the same benchmark score. What you pay extra for in the GT780 is the pretty, lit-up keyboard and the larger screen.
The GT780 also scored well in our games tests, thanks to its GTX 570M graphics card. On our Far Cry 2 benchmark, the GT780 managed a frame rate of 55 frames per second (at high quality settings and 1920 by 1080 resolution); the past few desktop replacements we've tested averaged about 42 fps on the same test. Still, the GT780 fell short of the less attractive, but more powerful Digital Storm x17, which delivered a frame rate of 78 fps on the same test, putting it in the vicinity of some lower-end performance desktop PCs we've recently tested.
The GT780's design could use some work. Perhaps MSI didn't think that users would plan on toting an 8.6-pound desktop replacement around for all to see. But that hasn't stopped other other makers from stepping up the appearance of desktop replacements such as the HP Pavilion dv7 Quad Edition.
The GT780 is housed in a wedge-shaped black aluminium chassis that has some unusual angles. The cover has a brushed black aluminium panel emblazoned with the MSI logo and surrounded by smooth black aluminium borders and sawed-off corners.
The inside of the laptop presents you with more funky angles and contrasting textures. The keyboard deck is composed of brushed aluminium, while the touchpad is matte plastic; the keyboard is surrounded by a shiny plastic border, and the screen has a double border: an inner shiny plastic one and an outer matte aluminium one. Two silver speakers sit above the keyboard, and a plethora of touch-activated buttons surround the power button.
The touch keys include a programmable key (set to turn Turbo on/off), a Cinema Pro button, a fan boost button, and a keyboard light button, as well as toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and the display. The Cinema Pro button is supposed to put you in Cinema Pro mode (for better video and audio playback), but I didn't detect a significant difference between the Cinema Pro mode and the non-Cinema Pro mode except that the sound was a little louder and the laptop's battery drained faster. You also get a touch-eject button for the GT780's slot-loading DVD drive, and a small touchpad on/off key below the keyboard.
The touchpad is small, unresponsive, and difficult to use. The two discrete buttons (both of which have angled, sawed-off corners, mimicking the laptop's overall design) are easy enough to press, but the touchpad itself is just bad. Because it's so small, you'll reach the edge and have to reposition your finger every couple of seconds. And because it's unresponsive, you'll likely get frustrated and start pushing harder and harder in an effort to make the input device register your gestures. Luckily, you can turn the touchpad off and use an external mouse.
The colourfully backlit, programmable gaming keyboard designed by SteelSeries, on the other hand, is beautiful and comfortable to type on, though the keys are a little stiffer than I consider ideal. The full-size keyboard has Chiclet-style keys and a 10-digit numberpad.
MSI's KLM keyboard-setting software lets you change the colours endlessly. You can choose 28 distinctly different LED colours over such settings as dual-colour, tricolour, pulsing, waving, and fading. KLM's Gaming mode lights up only the section containing your main control keys (W, A, S, and D).
The GT7280's ports are located all around the machine. On the sides you get two USB 3.0 ports, three USB 2.0 ports, a seven-in-one memory card reader, and headphone and microphone jacks--as well as a stereo line-in jack and a centre surround speaker jack. On the back are the connection ports--VGA, HDMI-out, gigabit ethernet, and eSATA--plus a Kensington lock slot and the power out.
The 17.3-inch screen features an extremely bright, full-HD, non-glossy display that suffered from the "soft" look typical of non-glossy screens: Images were not as crisp and edges were not as defined. HD streaming video looked very good on the screen, as did DVD video--but our system lacked a Blu-ray disc player. Audio quality was excellent, thanks to the THX TruStudio Pro technology and the built-in subwoofer.
MSI's GT780DXR isn't the most powerful or the most attractive desktop replacement we've tested, but it's an all-around solid machine. And the keyboard is so pretty.