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MSI Trident X Review

MSI Trident X Review

MSI Trident X review 07The MSI Trident X is a small PC that packs a big punch. It only weighs 6.5kg, but it includes an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card and one of Intel’s new Coffee Lake-S processors. To get this much power inside such a tiny case, though, you’re going to have to shell out £2,900 in the UK or around $3,500 in the US. Can this tiny PC justify that cost? Read our MSI Trident X review to discover the answer.

MSI Trident X Review – The Intel Coffee Lake-S Processor

The Coffee Lake-S range uses the same underlying architecture as last year’s Coffee Lake parts. Instead of changing the base design, Intel has altered its core count and clock speeds to deliver a performance improvement.

The Core i7-9700K inside the MSI has eight cores, but no Hyper-Threading. That contrasts sharply with the Core i7-8700K that still dominates many desktops. That chip only has six cores, but they’re Hyper-Threaded so they can address twelve concurrent CPU threads.

You’d think that the older chip’s support for twelve threads would give it an advantage, but that’s not the case. Eight native cores will do a better job than six cores with twelve artificial threads when it comes to multi-tasking and running multi-threaded applications. And, aside from that, hardly any games or applications actually need twelve threads to run – so they were largely wasted on the older CPUs, especially in demanding work situations.

MSI Trident X review 05The i7-9700K makes gains in clock speeds. It runs at a base level of 3.6GHz, which is 100MHz behind the i7-8700K. However, the i7-9700K can boost all of its cores to 4.6GHz and one core to 4.9GHz. The older i7-8700K can only reach 4.3GHz and 4.7GHz in those situations.

The inclusion of eight native cores and the development of Turbo speeds mean that the i7-9700K should be a true all-rounder. Its single-core pace should see it perform well in conventional day-to-day software and in games. Its boosted core count will help in multi-tasking and in productivity applications that rely on multiple cores to get the job done.

No rival machines use this CPU yet. The £2,800/$3,000 Corsair One Elite relies on the i7-8700K. In gaming systems, especially, that’s been the most popular CPU for the last year. The smaller MSI Vortex G25 has the standard i7-8700, which isn’t unlocked and has a lesser stock speed of 3.2GHz.

Thinking of a new system? Here’s our in-depth guide to AMD’s AM4 platform – and the best motherboards

MSI Trident X Review – The Rest of the Specs

The other key component is an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080. It’s one of the green team’s new Turing cards, and it’s designed to replace the GTX 1080 Ti – despite the different name. The new card has Nvidia’s integer, floating point and shader improvements, and the RTX 2080 has 8GB of new GDDR6 memory and 2,944 stream processors. The core starts at 1,515MHz and boosts to a solid 1,710MHz.

That’s a good core specification, but it’s not the whole story. Turing GPUs are still missing headline features that actually work properly. Ray-tracing won’t activate until Microsoft releases its DX12 update – and, even then, it’s only currently supported in a few games. Super-sampling needs to be implemented by Nvidia and by games developers on a game-by-game basis.

MSI Trident X review 03The Corsair One Elite has the GTX 1080 Ti that the RTX 2080 has replaced – so they’ll be closer contenders. The smaller and cheaper MSI Vortex G25 has the GTX 1070. That’s a fine GPU, but it won’t compete with the RTX 2080 or the GTX 1080 Ti.

The key components attach to a modified version of the MSI Z370i Gaming Pro Carbon motherboard. MSI has removed the RGB LEDs and the snazzy heatsinks. That’s no surprise, since you can’t actually see them inside the small, cramped Trident.

The MSI board is a mini-ITX unit, which means there’s no room to add memory and no extra PCI-E slots. That’s entirely standard for this form factor, though – and entirely in line with the Corsair and other MSI machines.

Elsewhere, the MSI has 32GB of memory and a 512GB Samsung PM981 SSD. There’s a 2TB hard disk, too. The storage is fine, and the memory capacity is huge, but its 2,666MHz speed is mediocre. You get Gigabit Ethernet, but no wireless.

The model we’ve reviewed here is the only MSI Trident X SKU that’s available. While the specification is excellent, a pricier model with an RTX 2080 Ti could have been a tempting option. And, at the other end of the scale, MSI could have easily offered a more affordable version or two with the new RTX 2070 and more modest processors.

Check out our picks of the best PCs for gaming, work and the home

MSI Trident X Review – Design

MSI Trident X review 04The MSI Trident X looks good, with RGB LEDs that glow through the front panel and the meshed sides of the system. Its front uses a mix of matte aluminium and glossy plastic, and its angles are eye-catching.

It’s certainly more outlandish than the modest, monolithic Corsair One. It looks more mature than the plasticky and underwhelming MSI Vortex G25.

MSI Trident X review 04The MSI Trident X is a relatively slim and small system, too. Its weight of 6.5kg makes it around one kilo lighter than the Corsair. It’s 396mm tall and only 130mm wide – so taller than the Corsair, but a lot narrower. That weight and those dimensions make it relatively easy to take the Trident to LAN parties and gaming events, even if it doesn’t have a handle. The port selection is solid, with plenty of connectivity including a USB Type-C connector on the front of the system.

The RTX 2080 dominates one side of the machine. Remove the side panel and you’ll find the card stretching the entire width of the machine. Below that is the rear of the motherboard, which houses the M.2 SSD.

The rest of the components are behind the MSI’s other side panel. At the top is the 2.5in hard disk and one spare 2.5in bay, and below that is the motherboard and power supply. It’s a tidy, clever design, but there isn’t much room to manoeuvre. Cables are crammed into every spare space, and the low-profile 120mm CPU cooler covers the entire motherboard. The only upgrade route is that spare 2.5in bay, but it’s tricky to use because MSI hasn’t installed a spare SATA cable on the motherboard and the connectors are difficult to reach.

Aside from the lack of space, our only issue is the inconsistent build quality. The plastic slats on the MSI’s roof are worryingly weak. The side panels only have mediocre strength, too. MSI includes a tempered glass side panel in the box, and it’s better – but regardless of which panel you use, we’d be careful when moving this machine around.

Need more news on the latest kit? Click here to check out the latest headlines.

MSI Trident X Review – Gaming Performance

MSI Trident X review gamingThe RTX 2080 is a formidable graphics card that competes with the GTX 1080 Ti in all of our benchmarks.

Its Witcher 3 minimum and average results outpaced the GTX 1080 Ti that was inside the Corsair machine, but the older card was a little faster in the Shadow of Mordor benchmark. The older card took a narrow lead in Fallout 4 and Crysis 3. However, in newer games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Middle Earth: Shadow of War, the RTX 2080 was a little faster.

The differences between the two cards were highlighted in 3D Mark tests. The GTX 1080 Ti was a little quicker in the less-intensive Fire Strike test. However, the RTX 2080 was faster in the tougher Fire Strike Extreme benchmark.

The RTX 2080 can’t entirely outpace the GTX 1080 Ti right now, but it’s no slower. That means it’ll handle gaming at 4K, on widescreen panels, at high refresh-rates and on VR headsets. The only thing that this machine won’t handle is 4K at a smooth 60fps in most games – for that you’ll need an RTX 2080 Ti, and that isn’t available on the MSI.

Also bear in mind that the new RTX 2080 should accelerate away from the GTX 1080 Ti as time goes on. The newer card will receive driver updates that the GTX 1080 Ti – which means more optimisations in newer games.

Ray-tracing will hopefully make games look far better when it’s finally unveiled, and super-sampling should improve visuals while freeing resources up elsewhere on the card. The RTX 2080 will have those features and the GTX 1080 Ti won’t run them nearly as well – so this is another area where the new card could gain an advantage.

Click here for all of our in-depth graphics card reviews – including the RTX 2080 Ti and RTX 2080!

MSI Trident X Review – Application & Thermal Performance

MSI Trident X review applicationsThe new processor is a barnstorming chip. The i7-9700K rattled through Geekbench’s single-core benchmark with a result of 5,858. That’s three hundred points ahead of the i7-8700K, and further beyond the standard i7-8700. That’s clear evidence that Intel’s revisions to Turbo speeds have made an impact in single-threaded tests.

The new chip inside the MSI scored 27,351 in the Geekbench multi-core test. That’s more than 4,000 points quicker than the i7-8700K, and nearly 6,000 points better than the i7-8700.

That’s a huge advantage. Having eight native cores without Hyper-Threading clearly works better than six Hyper-Threaded cores. It’s easy to see why: native cores will also handle multi-threaded workloads better than artificial threads, and the vast majority of applications and situations don’t need more than eight cores to run smoothly. So, in essence, you get eight more adept cores – rather than six slower cores that are handling two tasks at once.

This bodes well for all sorts of situations. The eight cores will handle everyday multi-tasking with more aplomb than rival machines, and games won’t be bottlenecked. The eight-core chip inside the Trident X is also better with work applications than the six-core part inside the Corsair.

Other benchmarks back up the MSI’s Geekbench results. It’s faster than both of its rivals in PC Mark 8 and Cinebench’s CPU test.

The SSD is good, too. Its read and write speeds of 3,361MB/s and 1,906MB/s are great – only a small step behind Samsung’s best 970-series drives. The system boots quickly, and games and applications will load speedily on this rig.

The MSI has solid thermal abilities. The CPU and GPU hit solid peak temperatures of 81°C and 67°C. Noise was fine, too – the MSI’s low rumble is no worse than a full-size gaming desktop. If you have speakers or a headset, it’s easy to drown out.

The Ultimate Guide to Intel Coffee Lake – including the Core i7-8700K

MSI Trident X review 08MSI Trident X Review – Conclusion

There’s a lot to like about this machine – as our MSI Trident X review demonstrates. The updated Coffee Lake-S processor delivers formidable power, with more ability in single- and multi-threaded applications – so it’ll prove faster than its rivals in every scenario. That means that the Trident X will work equally well as a general-purpose PC, as a gaming rig or as a work system.

The RTX 2080 hasn’t yet reached its full potential, but it offers comparable speed to the GTX 1080 Ti – and so, despite the slight risk involved in buying this card, it’ll handle almost all gaming situations.

Problems are minor. There’s loads of memory, but it could be faster. The motherboard is plain, but that’s normal for a mini-ITX machine. The chassis is small, relatively light and looks good, but it has few upgrades routes and inconsistent build quality.

The machine in our MSI Trident X review is expensive, too, but this machine does justify its price by offering stellar all-round performance inside such a tiny case. If you want a small gaming or productivity PC, you can’t get much better than the MSI Trident X.

The machine in our MSI Trident X review costs £2,900 or around $3,500. Discuss our MSI Trident X review on our Facebook and Twitter pages. And, if you need some more inspiration after reading our MSI Trident X review, check out our guide to our favourite laptops or go deep with our ultimate guide to 4K monitors – covering the technology, the terms and our top recommendations!  

The Good

  • Phenomenal power in every test
  • Small, good-looking design
  • Cool and quiet
  • Lots of memory

The Bad

  • Expensive
  • RTX 2080 hasn’t reached its potential
  • Few upgrade paths
  • Inconsistent build quality

The Specs

CPU: 3.6GHz Intel Core i7-9700K
Memory: 32GB 2,666MHz DDR4
Graphics: MSI GeForce RTX 2080 8GB
Motherboard: MSI Z370I Gaming Pro Carbon
Storage: 512GB Samsung PM981 M.2 SSD, 2TB hard disk
Warranty: 1yr RTB

Review Date
Reviewed Item
MSI Trident X

About Author

Mark Reed

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