MSI GX640: $1100 for a Speedy DX11 Laptop

Last week we looked at the two current mobile GPU heavyweights: AMD's HD 5870 and NVIDIA's GTX 285M. We should have the super heavyweight GTX 480M in for a review in the near future, but all of the mobile GPUs we've mentioned thus far command a hefty price premium. The Clevo W860CU starts at $1550 from AVADirect, while the new W880CU with GTX 480M starts at $2400 with 4GB RAM. If you're willing to take a step back in performance, MSI's GX640 cuts the GPU down to an HD 5850 and uses a dual-core i5-430M, all at a price point that's $500 lower than the quad-core equipped W860CU. The result is a potent combination of features and performance at a stellar price.

MSI GX640 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i5-430M
(2x2.26GHz, 32nm, 3MB L3, Turbo to 2.53GHz, 35W)
Chipset Intel PM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1333 (Max 2x4GB)
DDR3-1333 @ 9-9-9-24 Timings
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5
(800 Stream Processors, 625MHz/4GHz Core/RAM clocks)
Display 15.4" LED Glossy 16:10 WSXGA+ (1680x1050)
(Samsung 154MT02-H01)
Hard Drive(s) 500GB 7200RPM
(Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB 16MB)
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW (TSSTcorp TS-L633C)
Networking Gigabit Ethernet (RTL8168/8111)
Intel WiFi Link 5100 (a/g/n)
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (Motorola)
V.92 56K Modem
Audio HD Audio
2 stereo speakers with line-in, mic, optical, and headphone jacks
Capable of 5.1
Battery 9-Cell, 10.8V, 7800mAh, 85Wh battery
Front Side N/A
Left Side Mic, Line-In, Headphone, Optical (5.1 capable)
1 x USB 2.0
Optical Drive
Kensington Lock
Right Side Flash Reader (MMC/MS/SD/xD)
ExpressCard/54 Slot
4-pin FireWire
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0
Cooling Exhaust
Back Side HDMI
AC Jack
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 14.1" x 10.24" x 1.22" (WxDxH)
Weight 6.3 lbs (with 9-cell battery)
Extras 2MP Webcam
103-Key keyboard with 10-key
Flash reader (MMC/MS Pro/SD/xD)
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
10 multimedia keys
Warranty 3-year limited warranty
1-year global warranty
Pricing Starting at $1070 Online

MSI doesn't skip out on any of the major features or connections with the GX640. Besides the usual USB 2.0, HDMI, and VGA ports, they provide FireWire, eSATA, Bluetooth, and an ExpressCard/54 expansion slot. The only things you might miss are DVI (you can use an HDMI-to-DVI adapter/cable) and DisplayPort outputs and USB 3.0. Even with those minor ommisions, there's plenty on tap here. MSI also has a 3-year limited warranty on the GX640, something we really like to see with laptops.

In terms of components, the dual-core i5-430M with HD 5850 will be more than enough to power through most tasks, and gaming performance is butter smooth at the native 1680x1050 LCD resolution. Speaking of the LCD, it's an older CCFL backlit model, but it does provide a good contrast ratio and is reasonably bright. This is one of those areas where a two-year-old LCD actually beats many of the current crop of panels—16:10 aspect ratio fans rejoice!

The remaining components consist of a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive—it's not as fast as an SSD but with a current price of $85, the capacity is much better. Since there's only one HDD bay and the goal appears to be affordable mobile gaming, skipping the SSD (for now) is a good choice. You can always add an SSD down the road to speed up general performance. Other features include a standard DVDRW drive, Bluetooth support, and MSI stuffs in a large 9-cell battery to try to keep mobility options reasonable. We're still looking at under three hours (best-case), but for short trips that should be sufficient. So let's dig in and see what the GX640 has to offer.

MSI GX640 Design and Internals
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  • NecessaryEvil-BC - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    Agreed, the 5730 is a substantial downgrade, as is the plastic, the lower resolution LCD, etc. It's still a rather potent gaming system for the $900 mark.

    While I realize that a current Quad won't have integrated graphics capability, if it used the HM55 instead of the PM55, is there anything the system would really lose? Switchable could be disabled for Quad i7s, and enabled for i3, i5, Arrandale i7's. I haven't found anything saying specifically that HM55's don't support i7 Quads..
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    The GX640 supports quad-core i7 chips, so what that means is the discrete GPU is required. That being the case, you have to have traces going from the GPU to the LVDS, VGA, and HDMI outputs. If you do old-style switchable graphics, you put a mux on each of those (actually two per video I think), so you add probably $10 to the cost of the mobo just in hardware, and there's a ton of validation stuff that you need to do. Then there's the other drawback: switchable graphics in this manner requires two drivers (one IGP and one discrete) with knowledge of each other, so you can't just update one driver very easily. The old Alienware M11x and ASUS ULx0Vt laptops use a single driver package from NVIDIA that has both NVIDIA and Intel drivers combined, and NVIDIA has to get permission to include the Intel drivers each time. The same holds for AMD/ATI with switchable graphics, so there's often few if any driver updates.

    Optimus uses just the IGP connected to the video ports, which means no hardware muxes and no extra validation. You just have to keep the GPU cool -- "easy". But then you need an IGP connected to the video or you can't use an Optimus GPU. So it's sort of no-win unless you decide to stick with IGP processors like Arrandale, or go the more expensive route of muxes and switches with the driver limitations. Sort of a Catch 22, until we get 32nm quad-core.
  • anactoraaron - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    My understanding is that HM-55 only supports the integrated graphics in an arrandale chip. PM55 allows discrete graphics and RAID. That's how it was with PM45. So if you were to use a quad in the HM55 I'm quessing discrete graphics would be lost. Which would also a mean pre-Arrandale i7 on a HM55 laptop would be sold without an lcd...
  • DanNeely - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    The text at the start says a 5850, the table immediately below lists a 5870.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Fixed... the 5870 runs at 750/4000MHz core/RAM compared to 625 core on the 5850. So I had the right clocks but missed updating the GPU name on that table. Sorry.
  • Hrel - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    If someone could do a review on the laptop that I currently suspect is the best "bang for your buck" out there. It's made by compal, and available on who's machines you've reviewed before. If you'd like it configured like I did, which I think is the best bang for buck, do this: Go to the website. mouse over 15.6" Laptops and click on the $999 Xplorer X6-8500. It has a 1080p screen. (I'm not sure why the people who run this site do this, but even though the other configurations use the same chassis when personalized they come out to cost more than this one; annoying since it makes me configure all 3 or 4 machines built on the same base chassis to figure out which one is cheapest/best for me.) Then I configured it with the Core i7-620M CPU. (to get it over 1K so I can take advantage of the 5% off.) 4GB 0DDR3-1333, hopefully 7-7-7-21, probably not, but hopefully. ATI MR HD5650 1GB GDDR3 320GB 7200rpm HDD (I did this cause I'm gonna take that HDD out and use the Seagate Momentus XT 500GB, thanks for that review!!) Everything else on that page I left untouched. The only thing I did on page 2 was switch to Intel wifi with bluetooth; Though I'm curious if the MSI option is equal/better; 17 bucks isn't nothing. It has HDMI out and a fingerprint reader. This page says 3 USB ports, the specs sheet says 4USB ports; not sure which is true. (I do wish they were USB 3.0 ports, but I was hoping you guys would test some stuff and tell me if that even matters for use with an external hard drive, mechanical disk 7200rpm. Transferring large files like movies and games mostly.) On page 3 I select "none, format only" for the OS. And select "LCD perfect assurance" cause even 1 dead pixel is unacceptable to me. This brings the total to $1008.90 after 5% off, or $992.75 if you get the MSI network card. So yeah, I really hope you guys can get a hold of one of these for review; as a loner or given as a review unit or maybe someone will just buy one and review it cause it's really tempting me right now... like a lot! If you're review is good I'm gonna start saving up and hopefully be able to buy it around Christmas. Thanks guys! A loyal reader. - Brian
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I'll see if we can get one, though I think you need to put the comparison in perspective. Removing the OS to reduce the cost is not something most people would do, and unless you really need the extra CPU performance, as a gaming setup you'd be far better off with HD 5850 in this GX640. The 5650 is the same as the Acer 5740G in GPU performance, but the 1080p LCD means native resolution gaming is going to be rough -- like you'd need to run medium or low detail at 1080p to get acceptable performance. Anyway, I can't imagine the Compal keyboard could be *worse* than the GX640 keyboard, and the display resolution is a nice extra. Hopefully we can get one sent our way....
  • Hrel - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    I keep reading reviews, I love the reviews on this site SO much, you guys all really do a good job breaking things down in detail. I really really really really really really want a review on that Compal unit from PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE review it!
  • bennyg - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I don't think I saw anything about temperatures in this review. In all high-performance laptops temperatures is a huge issue - espeically ones with subpar cooling systems like this G51J.

    I'm partcularly interested to see whether the G51J has been knocked off it's perch as king of the fireballs - one review suggested the GPU in this MSI lappy topped 100C.
  • numberoneoppa - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I don't think it has enough stickers.

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