There are two versions of the CX61, with the cheaper model (a 15.6-inch screen with 1366x768 resolution and an 8X DVD-writer) costing £649. However, we tested the more expensive model that provides full HD (1920x1080) resolution and has a Blu-ray drive for an extra £50. See also: The 8 best laptops of 2013.
Aside from those differences, the two laptops are identical, with a quad-core i7-4702MQ processor running at 2.2GHz (3.1GHz Turboboost), 8GB of memory and 1TB hard drive. The Haswell processor is equipped with Intel’s HD 4600 integrated graphics, but the CX61 also includes a separate GeForce 740M graphics card which is more powerful. Visit Alienware 17.
The CX61 looks quite smart – the case is plastic, but has a dark brushed metal-effect finish. The 15.6-inch screen is a particular strength, with an anti-glare matt finish that makes a welcome change from the glossy screens used by so many laptops these days. Take a look at Group test: what's the best laptop for under £1,000?
It’s bright and clear, too, and will certainly do justice to your Blu-ray films or business presentations. The only slight issue is a narrow vertical viewing angle which means you have to tilt the screen to get the best contrast. The speakers have a bit of a metallic ring to them, but they do provide decent volume and will be fine for listening to the occasional YouTube or iPlayer video.
The keyboard is well built too, with slightly concave keys that feel very comfortable. The Windows key is on the right-hand side of the keyboard, which may seem odd to some people although some gamers prefer that as it reduces the chances of hitting that key by mistake and bringing everything to a halt. The touchpad is rather small – just 80mm wide – which is a little annoying at times, but you’ll probably connect your favourite USB mouse anyway.
We don’t have any complaints about the MSI’s performance, though. The CX61 scored 3241 in PCMark 7 which is pretty good for a laptop equipped with a 5400rpm hard drive, so it’ll be more than adequate for running MS Office as well as demanding tasks such as photo- or video-editing. There’s a rather large vent on the left-hand edge of the machine, but we were pleased to see that the CX61 ran cool even when the GeForce graphics fired up for our gaming tests.
It can handle some good gaming action too, achieving 57.5fps when running Stalker at 1280x720 resolution with DX11 and medium graphics settings. Even when we stepped the resolution up to 1920x1080 it was still able to hold steady at 39fps, so gamers should be pretty happy – especially considering the low price.
There are a couple of drawbacks to bear in mind if you’re already reaching for your credit card. The CV61 is on the heavy side at 2.4Kg and is also quite chunky at 38mm thick, so it’s not a laptop you’ll want to carry around if you don’t have to.
The other niggle is the small battery, which immediately told us this was not going to be an all-day laptop. Even when using the integrated HD 4600 graphics to maximise battery life we were only able to get just over three hours (185 minutes) of streaming video from it.