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MSI FX600 15.6in notebook
A stylish, well built MSI laptop with good graphics performance and NVIDIA's Optimus technology
- Nice styling, excellent touchpad, dual graphics cards, good speed
- Only 2GB RAM, screen has poor vertical viewing angles, no easy way to manually switch between graphics cards
MSI's FX600 possesses good speed and is a reasonable model to consider if you want a gaming laptop. It also looks good and is comfortable to use -- its touchpad is among the best we've used. However, it only has 2GB of RAM and NVIDIA's Optimus dual graphics card technology doesn't always automatically pick the best graphics card for the job.
Price$ 1,399.00 (AUD)
MSI's FX600 is a stylish, well built and comfortable 15.6in laptop that's suitable for work and play. It's available exclusively from Officeworks and is designed to offer a mixture of good graphics performance and long battery life through the use of NVIDIA's Optimus technology. But to get the most out of this technology, you really have to tweak it to suit your needs.
FX600: Design and features
On the outside, the FX600 has a mixture of textured and glossy surfaces as well as a silver trim. Its keyboard has a chiclet design with the keys spaced approximately 2mm apart and it even includes a number pad. We found it comfortable to type on for the most part, but it does bounce slightly in the middle. The touchpad has a fine texture on it that sometimes tickles, but it's among the best touchpads we've used. It was accurate during our tests and very sensitive to multitouch gestures; we could effortlessly scroll and zoom using two fingers.
Around the edges of the FX600 reside a DVD burner, eSATA, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0, HDMI and analog audio ports. There are three USB 2.0 ports in total when you take into account that the eSATA port also doubles as a USB2.0 port. An SD card slot is located on the front of the notebook and can be a little hard to access. On the inside you get an Intel Core i5-450M CPU, 2GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, Bluetooth, 802.11n Wi-Fi and two graphics adapters: an integrated Intel GMA HD adapter and a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 325M adapter. Through NVIDIA's Optimus technology, these two graphics adapters work as a tag team; which one is used depends on which applications you're running.
FX600: Optimus technology
Because Optimus works automatically in the background, there is no physical switch for you to toggle between the adapters. The technology decides which adapter to use depending on the programs that are running and it doesn't always work to your advantage. For example, in our battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise the screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the laptop lasted 1hr 59min — this isn't a good result.
When we checked the NVIDIA control panel, there was no profile for Windows Media Player and we suspected the test was done using NVIDIA graphics. We set up a new profile to run Windows Media Player with the Intel graphics adapter and the result was 2hr 22min. This is more along the lines of what we expected out of the MSI's 6-cell battery, and it's a similar time to other 15.6in Core i5 notebooks we've seen, such as Dell's 15R N5010. However, it's nowhere near the three hours achieved by Acer's Aspire TimelineX 5820TG.
The small difference in battery life between the two graphics adapters is disappointing and it is even less than the difference we saw in the MSI CX420 notebook, which uses an ATI-based dual graphics solution. Battery life notwithstanding, there is a wide performance gap between the Intel and NVIDIA graphics cards, with the latter providing an appreciable boost in 3D processing. In 3DMark06 the Intel graphics recorded a score of 1610, while the NVIDIA graphics scored 6118. You can comfortably use this notebook for playing games at a resolution of around 1024x768 (or 1366x768 if your games support this setting), but you will have to double check the Optimus settings for some games to make sure they will use the faster graphics card before you start playing.
The CPU frequency of the MSI FX600 is 2.4GHz and it can reach 2.66GHz with Turbo Boost. MSI has included a further turbo feature — TDE (Turbo Drive Engine) — that can force the CPU to run at 2.74GHz instead. You can enable this speed by hitting the P1 shortcut button above the keyboard.
You wouldn't think a gain of 80MHz is something to boast about, but it actually supplied a good performance boost in our video encoding test, in which we convert a 3.45GB DVD file to a 1.5GB Xvid file. With TDE turned off, the FX600 took 1hr 13min to complete this task, which is 2min quicker than what the Acer Aspire 5741 accomplished with the same CPU, but 3min slower than the Dell Inspiron 15R N5010 (even though the Dell has a slower CPU). When we enabled TDE, the MSI completed the task in 1hr 6min, which is 4min faster than the Dell. It's a feel-good moment when a feature like this actually provides a noticeable increase in performance.
In our Blender and MP3 encoding tests, the MSI performed well and recorded quite fast times of 55sec and 54sec, respectively. However, the MSI's hard drive wasn't fast. In our transfer tests, it recorded a rate of 22 megabytes per second, which is barely faster than a typical netbook. If you won't be performing much disk-intensive work, then this shouldn't be too much of an issue, but during our tests the laptop was sometimes very slow to launch applications.
The screen is 15.6in, glossy and has a native resolution of 1366x768. As is the case with many 15.6in laptops we've seen, the MSI has very narrow vertical angles that can be a nuisance when viewing photos and videos. Reflections in the screen will also be a annoying.
Overall though, the MSI FX600 is a great little unit. We love its touchpad, it's well built and relatively light at just under 2.5kg and you can use it on your lap without it feeling awkward or getting too hot as long as you are using the Intel graphics. We think it's a good unit to go for if you want a comfortable laptop that's got a good amount of CPU and graphics grunt under the hood. However, we do wish that there was a switch so that we could more easily dictate graphics card usage. Also, it only ships with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive, which isn't enough capacity for a $1399 system.
MSI Green Policy
You can visit MSI's Web site to read all bout the company's Green Policy. One of the environmentally friendly features of the FX600 is its ECO Engine, which is a power management utility that can be invoked by pressing a button on the shortcut panel above the keyboard. It's a nifty way to change the power scheme depending on whether you want to watch a movie or write a document. Of course, the Optimus technology is also intended to help conserve power.
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