Over the past few years MSI have been building a good reputation in the gaming laptop market. Their early models always delivered decent performance, although the design could be a little extreme for some tastes but recently we have seen sleek, high performance systems. With a strong product catalogue in place, they are now looking to stand out from the crowd again and their latest system certainly does that. This is the worlds first laptop with Cherry MX brown mechanical keys (Backlit) in an 18″ chassis with GTX 980M SLI and the latest i7 CPU… to name just a few of the crazy specifications (did we mention 4x m.2 SSDs in RAID?). Read on to find out all about it in our MSI GT80 Titan SLI Review.
MSI GT80 Titan SLI Review – Packaging and Bundle
When you order the GT80 Titan SLI it will likely arrive in the plain MSI cardboard shipping box but things get a lot more interesting inside. First we get the “retail” box for the system which lists many of the key features and specifications. Sitting beside that is a large backpack which is MSI branded and ideal for moving this system from location to location. Inside the laptop box, as well as the system, we find a mousepad, software discs, wrist rest, mouse, dragon keyring and replacement metal caps for our most used gaming keys in a nice metal tin. As far as the PSU goes, MSI supply a 330w model from Delta Electronics.
MSI GT80 Titan SLI Review – External
Before we talk about the system itself, it is worth mentioning the packaging. The system as well as arriving inside 2 boxes then sits suspended in foam blocks and protected by both a plastic cover and fabric cover. This should be more than enough to ensure it arrives in pristine condition.
Looking at the external surfaces of the GT80 Titan SLI we have a mix of plastic and metal surfaces. The lid for example is primarily brushed metal with a couple of red flashes and MSI branding. The base and sides are plastic. In terms of overall dimensions the GT80 Titan is 17.95×13.02×1.93″ and weighs in at 9.9lbs.
Down the left edge we first find an air vent and kensington lock slot. Above them is the blu-ray drive and moving along we find an SD card slot. Our connectivity then continues with 3x USB 3.0, optical audio and then 2×3.5mm audio connectors which are gold plated.
The right side of the chassis mirrors the shape,however we have significantly less here on the port front. Just two USB 3.0 ports which sit beside the air vent.
The front edge of the GT80 Titan SLI has our status LEDs and nothing more but the back is a little more interesting. We start with dual mini DisplayPort connectors, then get an HDMI 1.4 port. The power input is up next and finally we have the GB LAN port (Killer E2200).
MSI GT80 Titan SLI Review – Lid Up
Opening up the system we immediately see what makes the GT80 Titan SLI unique… but before that a few words on the overall design. Behind the keyboard we have a large panel which houses our speaker grill (Dynaudio) as well as offering a section which slides of to reveal internal components. The screen has a significant bezel, but nothing too distracting and at the top of it sits a 1080p webcam and its microphone. The screen used by MSI is 18.4″, uses a resolution of 1920×1080 and has an anti-reflective surface which reduces glare.
Whats this??? It’s a mechanical keyboard… on a LAPTOP! And not just a bog standard one either, this is a SteelSeries deisgned unit which uses Cherry MX Brown switches. Just as many stand alone gaming keyboards do. The keys are each individually backlit (red) and the board beneath the switches is red too, adding some extra style. As expected we can access second functions on some keys using the Fn button (e.g. mute, volume, wifi on/off etc) and as noted earlier MSI provide replacement key caps for the WASD and escape keys should we wish to use them.
Over on the right of the palm area we find an oversize touch pad with two mouse buttons. This pad is dual function. We can use it to control our pointer or tap the discrete “num” area in the top corner which turns this section into a fully functional num-pad. Above the num pad are three buttons. One turns on the fans at full speed, another allows us to switch between GTX GPUs and Intel (Reboot required) and the third is the power button.
MSI GT80 Titan SLI Review – Specifications
Inside the GT80 Titan SLI we have a set of main components which begin with the CrystalWell based Intel i7-4980HQ CPU which is rated for 2.8-4.0GHz and features four cores with hyperthreading enabled. Built in to this is an Intel 5200 series Iris based integrated GPU which handles our desktop/productivity use. For more advanced tasks, such as gaming, the system is designed to use the dual NVIDIA GTX 980M cards which are installed. This is a Maxwell based GPU (GM204) and is built on the 28nm process. Here we have a 8GB GDDR5 configuration using a 256bit bus and our core config is 1536/96/64. As far as GPU speeds go, we have 1038Mhz core, with 1253MHz memory (5000MHz approx) and our boost clock is 1172MHz. (Worthy of note in the images above is the presence of a subwoofer in the bottom of the system)
Elsewhere we have four Toshiba m.2 SSDs in RAID0 for our OS/key applications drive and a 1TB, 7200RPM drive for storage. Wireless ac (Killer N1525 ac) and Bluetooth 4.0 are supported and our memory is 32GB of Hyundai DDR3-1600 (Cas 11). Finally our battery is a 8cell, Li-ion model with 5225mAh/75.24Wh rating.
MSI GT80 Titan SLI Review – Software/BIOS
MSI install Windows 8.1 on the GT80 Titan SLI. No updates were installed on our model. Also present a selection of basic extras, drivers and the like along with media software and anti-virus.
In terms of more MSI specific software we start with Dragon Gaming Centre which allows us to monitor key system aspects, launch apps and configure profiles. We can also configure our audio through the Sound Blaster Cinema 2 control panel and the final key application is X-Split. MSI provide us with a limited licence for this so that we can get up and running.
Every time we get a new high end laptop in for review, we hope to turn it on and see the new GUI based BIOS which has been present on motherboards for quite some time now. No such luck though. As with pretty much everyone else MSI stick with a standard BIOS. All the features we would expect are present, as is a nice touch of the ability to update from USB if needed.
MSI GT80 Titan SLI Review – Performance
Selected tests vs MSI GS70 Stealth (i7-4710HQ/GTX970M) and XMG P505 (i7-4710HQ/GTX980M).
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Music Conversion (2CD lossless to MP3)
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Video Conversion 4K to 720p
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Memory Bandwidth DDR3-1600
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3DMark FireStrike Extreme
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Alien Isolation 1920×1080 Ultra FXAA
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DOTA2 1920×1080 Max
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Call of Duty Advanced Warfare 1920×1080 Extra/Max HBAO FXAA
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F1 2014 1920×1080 Ultra 8xAA
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MSI GT80 Titan SLI Review – Conclusion
Starting with the build quality of the system it is pretty clear from the moment we unbox the GT80 Titan SLI that it is a sturdy system. Yes the majorty of the external surfaces are plastic but they are thick enough to ensure no noticable flex and aluminium panel on the lid adds a nice level of quality overall. Upon lifting the lid we find another brushed metal area behind the keyboard however it is the front section we most care about. The mechanical board offered by MSI (and SteelSeries) is excellent. It works and feels exactly like a desktop mechanical gaming keyboard with nice clear LED lighting, minus the num pad. That of course is provided by the touch pad on the right and while we appreciate the effort involved in adding it, the experience isn’t quite as good as traditional keys. Maybe MSI should have had a modular block here allowing us to switch between hardware keys or touchpad when using an external mouse.
Elsewhere on the build front we have a decent set of internal components. Quality drives from Toshiba for example, mixed with Killer Wireless-ac, Hitachi optical/mechanical drives and Hynix based memory. The speakers offer a decent audio experience, though we would still opt for standalone speakers/headphones and the screen is bright, detailed and offers good viewing angles. The “mouse” buttons are also nice and sturdy with a solid click when actioned. All good so far.
Turning to the design we have a system which could not be considered sleek, but certainly will draw attention. We like the easy access to the insides. The top panel slides off after removing a couple of screws and the base, a few more screws. The main components are all then within easy reach and available for upgrade. MSI are more than happy for users to do this themselves but with the UK spec system already being maxed out for the most part, it may be an unlikely scenario for some time. Elsewhere on the design we were pretty happy. The air vents still function when on our lap. The amount and location of the feet provide a stable surface. The ports are positioned appropriately, for example the surround capable displays all being back mounted. The USB ports on the sides and the headphone connector front corner close to us. Our only minor niggle about the whole system is the corners used at the left edge of the keyboard and right edge of the touch pad. For anyone who rests their hands on the corners of the system when typing, or during a break, the corners here will dig into the palm a bit so some adjustment of hand position will be required.
Before we talk about performance, a few words on value. Quite simply this is a VERY expensive system. Would you expect anything else though from something so unique, with 32GB of memory, 1TB or RAID SSDs, dual 980M’s etc? Probably not. So MSI have done a bit to soften the blow… we get a nice backpack. The mouse, rest, pad and extra keys/keyring and mascot are a nice touch and the X-Split licence also a valid inclusion. That said, maybe some extra software would have helped… or up to date software. The PowerDVD version for example is years old now. Given the price, surely MSI could have sorted out the latest, or even 2nd to newest version for their consumers? (As a side note, MSI also need to work a little on their main build. We don’t mind the inclusion of drivers, control panels and the like but bundling bloated Anti-Virus etc isn’t great on a gaming system for enthusiasts. That consumer group will have their preference already and so one of the first steps of ownership will be removing the software that isn’t needed/wanted which is a shame).
And so to performance… on that the MSI GT80 Titan SLI excels. Pretty much every aspect was exceptional. The CPU based tasks showed the system to outperform the more common gaming configurations based around the i7-4710HQ CPU. Memory bandwidth was competitive. The same can be said of USB and the mechanical drive. Past that though things get crazy. The SSDs for example offer industry leading performance, simply outstanding. Then we have gaming on the GTX 980M in SLI. This system can handle everything thrown at it using the native res of 1920×1080. There was one quirk in DOTA (driver related it seems) where the SLI config sat capped at 60fps even when forced off everywhere, but that was a solid 60fps throughout which is fine for that game. Alien Isolation averaged over 240fps and the latest Call of Duty, over 160fps. Fantastic. Down sides? This system can get loud. Pop the fans on full and its like a small hovercraft… that said, in non gaming tasks it does remain quiet most of the time. The temps remain well in check with the fan profiles used by MSI and battery life is decent. 3-4hours on the Intel GPU, a bit over an hour for the GTXs in SLI.
Summary: Just a phenomenal spec with performance and price to match. The MSI GT80 Titan SLI is one of the few products to be worthy of our Diamond Award.
Available to pre-order here.