Review: Works at 2.7GHz and have the looks
At last year’s CeBIT, MSI announced two new gaming laptops, the GX620 and GX720, and both of these reached their target audiences in the summer. Both of them are quite popular, where the reason for that is a nice configuration coupled with an equally appealing price. Today, almost a year since we laid our eyes on them, we are holding Megabook GX620X. Since it’s priced at €950, we doubt it’s possible to find another laptop with such gaming capabilities.
It’s a 15.4 inch laptop with the LCD WSXGA+/WXGA ACV(Amazing Crystal Vision) monitor at 1680x1050 resolution. If you find the 15.4 inch screen to be insufficient for your gaming needs, MSI also offers a 17 inch model dubbed the GX720.
Megabook GX620X is based on Centrino 2 platform and comes with Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor running at 2.26GHz. There are two more versions of the GX620 laptop, and they’re different from each other in processors used and in retail pricing. The cheaper version is called Megabook GX620-7345VHP and comes with a Core 2 Duo P7350 at 2.0GHz, whereas the other one is MSI Megabook GX620-9543VHP and comes with a better CPU, the P9500 at 2.53GHz.
Although an increasing number of laptops feature a WSXGA+ screen with 1680x1050 resolution, most of them still only support the lower 1280x1024 resolution. The gaming community really likes 1680x1050, as it matches 19 inch TFT monitor resolutions. After all, 1680x1050 resolution requires a good graphics card, especially if you plan on playing newer titles. The GX620X’s graphics is Nvidia’s mobile Geforce 9600M GT, which means that you’ll get a better graphics card than found in most today’s similarly priced laptops, and even in some higher price-segment ones.
Unfortunately, not even the desktop version of 9600 GT packs enough muscle to play new titles at 1680x1050 and high detail settings, so you’ll need to lower the settings to medium or minimum. Now we’ll try to paint the picture of how the 9600M GT came to be, as constant graphics card renaming game tends to cause some serious confusion.
Specs wise, the mobile 9600M GT is much alike the desktop chip found on 9500 GT cards. Basically, it’s the G96 core found on the 9500GT, and not the G94 core found on desktop Geforce 9600GT. The difference is that the second card has half the stream processors (the G96 has 32 SP and the G94 has 64) and a weaker, 128-bit memory interface (that results in 9600M GT’s lower consumption), whereas the 9600GT uses a 256-bit memory interface. In the desktop domain, the 9600 GT needs a power connector, which is not the case with the 9500GT. In order to lower consumption and make the card run cooler, the 9600M GT runs at lower clocks compared to the 9500GT card. Still, that will be enough to play games at 1280x1024.
When it comes to laptops, it’s quite important that the card comes with its own memory instead of using the system memory. In GX620X’s case, the mobile 9600M GT graphics processor comes with 512MB of GDDR3 memory.
This laptop is anything but lacking in the memory department, as it comes with no less than 4GB of DDR2 memory. The good thing about the GX620X is that the graphics card uses the MXM slot, meaning that if and when you decide to replace it, you should be able to do it yourself. However, that’s not as easy as it is with desktop components, and since MSI uses heatpipe technology to cool this baby, it might me a good idea to talk to them before doing it. The reason is not just for the warranty, but also to check whether the cooler will fit with the new graphics card. You can take a peek under the hood on the next page.
The following pictures show the processor and memory clocks.
In idle mode, as well as in certain scenarios when ECO engine is active, the processor runs at 1596MHz. In this laptop MSI used the Turbo Engine Technology, which enables overclocking by a simple push of a button. If you require more juice, you can use the provided button to overclock the processor to 1851MHz – we’re talking about idle clock.
We’ll talk more about Turbo and ECO technologies later, whereas for now it’s enough to know that Turbo overclocks the CPU from 2.26GHz to 2.6GHz. This is a great and extremely simple solution to push your laptop even further.
If you’re an experienced user then you’re in for a treat. The BIOS features an option that enables CPU overclocking of 15%, but a 20% option is also available. That means that CPU clocks will end up at 1.9GHz in idle or ECO mode, and up to 2.7GHz during operation.
The memory runs at 800MHz, but note that BIOS offers Auto, 667MHz or 800MHz speeds. Auto setting is the most appropriate for memory speeds, since it runs at 800MHz when combined with the Turbo engine anyway.
The memory in question is SODIM ELPIDA E1108ACBG-8E-E running at DDR2-800(5-5-5).
We installed Vista Business OS on Western Digital’s 320GB hard disk (WD3200BEVT-22ZCT0) and got the following scores:
MSI is aiming at gamers, so they prepared a couple of treats for them. Apart from the laptop, the box contains a gamer mouse and RainbowSix Vegas 2.
MSI introduced its gift backpack with the previous GX600 generation. It’s quite nice and it’s intended for carrying your 15.4 inch laptop around, but it features enough space to accommodate plenty of other equipment you might chose to carry along. The laptop itself weighs in at 2.744kg
MSI’s optical mouse seems to borrow a bit from Logitech’s G-series, and it’s dubbed the GS-502. It comes with a 1600 dpi laser, but you can use the CD-provided software to increase the maximum dpi count. The metal balls are used to increase weight the way you see fit.
The laptop had no OS installed, so we ended up using our own copy of Vista Business edition. Apart from the brief quick start guide, there’s no other, more detailed manual. If by any chance you end up needing it, you’ll have to visit MSI.com and download the PDF version. However, it’s a bit strange that MSI will provide you with a backpack and gifts but not with some basic items. Fortunately, the PDF version is translated in many languages.
The Warranty is limited to two years, and you can read more about it in 8 languages found in the thick booklet. The “global warranty card” is translated in 21 languages, and you’ll find it to be quite important if your device fails.
The design is simple, as we quite liked the red lines, but then again it’s a matter of personal preference. Thanks to clear and simple line design, this laptop looks and is quite thin. Its dimensions are 360 (W) x 259,5 (D) x 37,5 (H) mm.
The front side features only the infrared receiver, whereas the rest of the connectors are placed on the sides. Towards the bottom on the front side, we found an unused slot for mini-PCI cards, most likely for DVB-T card. The documentation doesn’t mention this slot or its purpose. You can take a look at the last picture on this page.
The right side is mostly taken up by the fan’s outlet, and make sure you do not accidentally close it by pushing it against the wall or placing various objects. When the processor and the graphics card heat up, the fan can get a bit loud, but it’s still not too loud. In idle mode it runs almost inaudible. Although regular office and similar work will result in comfortably warm air blowing outward, make sure that you don’t put your hand there when gaming, as it gets quite hot. We’ll talk more about temperatures later.
On the right of the fan is the LAN Port, whereas the left side features two USB 2.0 ports, IEEE 1394, Express Card and a 4-in-1 Card Reader.
The card reader features MMC (Multi Media Cards), XD (eXtreme Digital), SD (Secure Digital) and MS (Memory Stick) card support. A total of three USB ports are available and two are located on this side, and although one of them is marked as E-SATA, you can use it as a USB at the same time. The USB2.0/E-SATA combination can come in quite handy, as E-SATA will enable external serial ATA devices or external hard disks, and much higher transfer speeds than when USB 2.0 is used.
The left side houses a DVD Super Multi optical device. The DVD tray doesn’t always go smoothly, and it sometimes wouldn’t close on the first try.
Audio connectors are easily accessible and listed as – Mic In, Line In, Headphone out/SPDIF out (regular speakers connector and SPDIF for digital audio out) and Line out.
Realtek’s integrated ALC888/1200 offers nice sound and 7.1 channel SPDIF audio out. The laptop also houses two speakers, nicely hidden above the keyboard, and although not loud or good enough, they can still come in handy.
In case you end up needing a dial-up connection, the modem features an RJ-11 connector, and next to it you’ll find the Kensington Lock. This side features the third USB2.0 connector.
MSI GX620X comes with good multimedia support, and rich offer of video outs on the back serves as a proof to that claim.
Although this laptop’s monitor doesn’t support full 1080p resolution, the HDMI out enables connecting an HD monitor or an HD TV device that does. The Geforce 9600M GT comes with PureVideo HD and VP3 engine which unloads some burden off of the CPU when playing video, and the HD decoding is partially managed trough the GPU. HDMI cable can also bring the audio to the external HD device, and you’ll also find the older, VGA out next to the HDMI out.
The picture can be fed to two monitors simultaneously, and it’s up to the user to pick his configuration of choice – laptop monitor + external monitor or two external monitors. MSI’s laptop automatically recognized the external monitors, and everything went without a hitch.
Capturing short video clips as well as video chat are an easy task for the internal 2MP camera, located on top center, above the monitor.
MSI encourages its users to utilize the camera in the right way. One of those is introducing security measures, where users who downloaded MSI’s “Easy Face” program can make sure that their pet stays off until their face is in front of the camera. You can download this program here, and other programs here.
The first thing we noticed is the numpad and sensorpad. Due to the additional space required by the numpad, other keys got reduced in size, and some were small enough to cause a couple of nervous fits on our side.
Most notable reduction has been done on the right Shift, but the arrow and Enter keys aren’t quite standard sized either. This is not the first laptop where MSI switched positions of the left shift and Fn key, and although many users have complained, MSI still decides to use this strange and hard to get used to layout.
As far as monitors go, we loved our GX620X’s one. It’s visible from all angles, and we didn’t even see the back lighting coming trough while we were watching a movie in the dark. The color contrast is exactly what you’d expect in this price range – pretty good. We forgot to mention that the packaging also includes a piece cloth intended for cleaning your monitor.
We were quite happy to see that MSI opted on the Sensorpad, so multimedia keys, camera, Bluetooth and WLAN are all one touch away, and glow blue when activated. The same row features playback keys as well as a P1, programmable key, which you can program the way you see fit.
The area around the Sensorpad is made of mesh grill-like metal, and it hides the speakers nicely.
The most important sensor keys are Turbo and ECO, and we’ll say more about them on the following page.
The wrist-rest is aluminum and seems quite nicely built. Although black, it doesn’t leave too many smudge-marks but it’s not hard to clean either. The spot under your right hand can get hot during some more intensive work, but the aluminum is usually cold.
The battery of choice is Lithium Ion “BTY-M66” 4800mAh. We measured about 2h and 10min of video playback (from the hard disk) and music playback and web browsing at about 10-20 minutes longer, but we wouldn’t recommend gaming on the battery. For such a feat you’ll need the AC mode, as running on battery alone offers lower performance levels, and we’ll talk about it some more later.
Let’s check what’s hidden under the hood.
We really liked the easily accessible CMOS battery, as wrong BIOS settings might result in your laptop not booting up. Desktop systems’ motherboards feature a reset-BIOS jumper, but that’s not the case with laptops, so all you can do is disconnect the battery and reset the BIOS. Many laptops come with soldered on batteries, so the aforementioned method might not work, but MSI’s GX620X’s battery is connected to the motherboard via the 2 pin cable.
Some MSI’s laptop models come with Turbo Drive Engine technology, providing users with an easy route to overclocking. If you need more juice – a simple click on the Turbo button will do the trick and raise the performance to another level.
In order for Turbo mode to run, the laptop must be plugged in the wall outlet, meaning AC mode. The Turbo key is located in the center of the Sensor pad, and its size speaks volumes of what this feature means on the GX620X. We must concur, as not many laptops feature such a simple and effective means of overclocking.
Another special feature on the GX620X is the ECO engine. This technology, when used, should provide longer battery life. Power management has 5 profiles – Gaming mode, Movie Mode, Presentation Mode, Office Mode and Turbo Battery Mode.
In order to switch modes, you’ll need to repeatedly press the ECO quick launch key. Depending on the mode of choice, battery life will be prioritized for certain tasks and for instance in Turbo Battery mode you’ll notice that monitor backlight is down to minimum. Gaming mode, on the other hand, is not quite the power saving mode as the processor runs at max and the panel backlight is at its max.
ECO engine is a nice idea but there’re still a couple of things to polish. Gaming mode, while running on battery, should overclock the GPU to 500MHz, but it stays at 169MHz. We were trying to play and not save battery, and we couldn’t help but wonder what the purpose of Gaming Mode. To cut a long story short – no AC outlet, no gaming.
The Movie Mode enables 130 minutes of video playback, but we measured similar minutes without it. The Turbo Battery mode managed to squeeze out an additional 7 minutes, mostly due to minimum monitor backlight.
ECO engine builds on the three power consumption modes offered by Vista OS. We noticed that while monitoring what happens when turning the ECO modes on.
The Turbo Battery mode should be the best power saver, and upon activating it we noticed that it takes control over the power saving mode offered by Vista (Energiesparmodus in German). This will be clearer after looking at two following pictures.
The pictures show before and after we turned the Turbo Battery mode on.
The same goes for the rest of the ECO engine modes. Gaming and Movie mode come in place of high performance (Höchstleistung on German) whereas Presentation and Office modes are Balanced modes (Ausbalanciert on the picture)
The last three modes won’t let the CPU overclock from 1.6GHz which is actually the idle speed of the Core 2 P8400 processor, resulting in lower consumption. Gaming and Movie mode enable the processor to run at its standard speed of 2.26GHz, handy when gaming or watching a movie. We recommend the Turbo mode for gaming, as the CPU additionally overclocks to 2.6GHz.
The following pictures show what we’ve just told you.
What happens in Turbo mode? In idle mode, the CPU runs at 1596MHz, whereas the Turbo mode, also in idle mode, is 1851MHz (15% overclock) or 1915MHz (20% overclock). We mentioned earlier that BIOS lets you choose whether the Turbo mode will overclock your CPU by 15% or 20%.
The following pictures show the CPU clocks after we turned on the Turbo engine with a 20% overclock, first in idle mode and then during operation.
The Turbo engine, as we’ve said before, can’t be used without AC power, or else the battery would be depleted in no time. Note that the System Control Manager also has to be installed.
MSI GX620X is advertised as a gaming laptop, so we decided to test its graphics power by running a couple of Vantage tests first.
The scores show that the Turbo Engine mode does a good job of increasing the CPU performance. However, Vantage calculates results based on both the CPU and the GPU scores, and although CPU performance benefited from overclocking, the GPU results stayed the same and such a scenario resulted in minimum total score increase. The pictures speak more than words, so you can see for yourself.
MSI’s Turbo engine doesn’t affect the graphics card’s GPU.
A 20% CPU overclock increases its score by 8%, but total Vantage test scores increase by less than 1%.
The following picture shows Vantage scores in Presentation mode, where the processor stays at 1596MHz. Let us remind you that the CPU, when in gaming mode, runs at 2.26GHz, whereas turning the Turbo mode results in a 15% or 20% overclock, overclocking the CPU to 2.6GHz or 2.7GHz respectively.
3D Mark 06
3DMark tests scores a bit higher than 5K, which would be a great result a couple of years ago, but today it’s not quite impressive. Still, it shows that the 9600M GT packs some gaming potential, and you’ll probably comfortably play some older titles. The Gaming mode scores less than the Turbo mode, which is again due to lower CPU clock in Gaming mode.
Before we see how the GX620X handles FarCry 2 in DX10 and DX9, we’ll see how PC Vantage rated our system.
Far Cry 2
We only played Far Cry 2 at 1280x1024, since 1680x1050, although supported by the GX620X, is too tough cookie for the Geforce 9600M GT. As we’ve said so far, if the laptop isn’t plugged into the wall outlet, the performance is so low that gaming at 1280x1024 and low detail settings will still be an impossible task.
Even at 1024x760, we managed to squeeze out less than 20fps, whereas 800x600 resulted in a framerate of 20-23 fps.
In Vista DX10 mode, on AC mode, performance is a couple of fps lower than in DX9 mode. At 1280x1024 and high settings, we managed to muster about 22fps, whereas medium graphics settings resulted in average 33fps – of course, we’re talking about DX9. The Turbo option helped a bit, and resulted in 1-3fps more depending on the location within the level.
Call of Duty - World at War
Just like Far Cry 2, you won’t be playing this game at higher than 1280x1024. With no antialiasing and aniso filters, performance averaged at 23.74 ps in Gaming mode and 24.58 in Turbo mode. Still, you can game nicely despite the low framecount. All the options, such as shadows, dynamic leaves, and such were on.
HDD Test - We tested MSI GX620X notebook with the OCZ SSD disk here.
GPU temperatures were kept in check, and we didn’t measure higher than 71 degrees Celsius. Again, note that the laptop can get quite hot on the right side, where the CPU and the graphics card are located.
Riva Tuner obviously didn’t read the graphics card’s memory clocks correctly, which overclock to 800MHz in 3D mode (1600MHz effectively). GPUZ did a better job, and it’s evident from the following picture.
Processor temperatures under maximum workload (we used the prime 95 test) went up to 68 degrees, again acceptable levels.
Today, we’ve seen how MSI’s GX620X laptop handles gaming, and we must admit that with a nearby power outlet, it does quite a job. You’ll need power to start the Turbo engine, that can overclock your CPU by 15% or 20% as the choice is yours. Turbo engine is MSI’s unique feature but it will be of better use during CPU intensive operations rather than gaming.
The overclock applies for the CPU only and not the graphics card, so it only brings minor in-game benefits. However, if Turbo was to apply for graphics cards too, it would’ve been an instant hit, but it would probably additionally boost temperatures as well so MSI didn’t opt for such a move.
Gaming at 1280x1024 is not a problem, and you’ll be playing newer titles as well but with lowered detail settings.
Looks-wise, the GX620X looks nice and sturdy, as well as its 15.4in monitor supporting the 1680x1050 resolution. We found a couple of cons to be certain key's size, but that's about it. One of the most appealing features are the sensor keys, where you'll find the on-the-fly Turbo key, which overclocks the CPU from 2.26 to 2.7GHz.
Priced at about €950, and with such nice technical characteristics, MSI GX620X rightfully deserves our award, but we wouldn't go and say it's a real gaming laptop. We hope that the future version will get a bit graphics and this will probably happen sooner rather than later.
Reviewers: Sanjin Radoš and Edita Radoš