MSI CX61 review
Look past the uninspiring chassis and the CX61 offers top-flight performance and a Full HD display for sensible money
With swish Windows 8 tablets, hybrids and glitzy Ultrabooks hogging the limelight, it would be easy to overlook MSI's power-packed CX61. But while eye-catching style isn't its forte, this hefty 15.6in desktop replacement provides high-end components and a Full HD display for only £680 inc VAT.
You'd be hard-pressed to recognise the MSI's potential from a distance. Although the grey plastic exterior has a fake brushed-metal sheen, and the lid adds an extra layer of shiny gloss, it still looks like a bog-standard budget laptop. Portability isn't a strong point, either: the chassis measures a portly 38mm thick, and despite weighing a hefty 2.55kg, it feels plasticky and insubstantial, even by budget laptop standards. There's a lot of give in the right-hand side of the wrist rest, too.
Thankfully, the essentials don't suffer. There's no wallow in the keyboard's base, and the slightly scooped-out profile of the Scrabble-tile keys makes for comfortable typing. By far the worst aspect of the MSI's keyboard is its half-height Enter key – it took some time before we stopped dabbing the hash key above by mistake. The touchpad could afford to be a little larger, but it works well enough, and if you plan on connecting a USB mouse, the pad is easily disabled with a dedicated button located just above.
The pedigree of the components inside is also wholly to the CX61's credit. MSI has opted for a speedy, quad-core processor, the 2.4GHz Core i7-3630QM, and partnered it with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400rpm HDD and a Blu-ray reader. The mechanical hard disk means that the MSI doesn't feel as spritely as SSD-equipped rivals, but the quad-core processor ensures that there's no lack of raw performance – with an overall score of 0.91 in our Real World Benchmarks, the CX61 keeps up with far pricier rivals.
The same goes for the MSI's gaming performance. The Nvidia GeForce GT 645M isn't a particularly extravagant choice, but it's capable of coping with most modern titles. With Crysis running at 1,600 x 900 and Medium detail settings, the MSI averaged a smooth 53fps. Upping the detail to High and bumping the resolution to 1,920 x 1,080 proved more taxing, but the CX61 still managed a just-about playable average of 24fps.
Unlike many of its budget peers, the CX61 boasts a good-quality Full HD display. The matte anti-glare finish keeps reflections to a minimum, and the LED backlight reaches an ample maximum brightness of 275cd/m[sup]2[/sup]. Contrast and colour accuracy are good, too. Unlike so many laptops that pass through PC Pro's Labs, the MSI's panel covers almost the entire sRGB colour gamut. With a measured 638:1 contrast ratio and nigh-on perfect colour temperature of 6,367K, images teem with vivid colour and natural-looking skin tones.
If there's a fault to be found, it's relatively minor – the panel has a tendency to crush the very darkest greys into black, losing the last drop of shadow detail in darker images and movie scenes.
The luxurious display and powerful components take a heavy toll on battery life. With the MSI's display dimmed down to 75cd/m2 and Windows 8's Power Saver mode enabled, the CX61 lasted only 3hrs 52mins in our light-use battery test.
Connectivity isn't particularly generous, either. Two USB 3 ports accompany a single USB 2 port, and there are both D-SUB and HDMI 1.4 video outputs. There are also 3.5mm audio inputs and outputs, and an SD card reader hidden beneath the lip of the CX61's wristrest. Wireless connectivity includes single-band 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth 4 connections, with a Gigabit Ethernet socket on the MSI's right-hand edge.
Although it sacrifices style and sturdy build, the MSI offers a fine display and top-notch performance. Rivals such as our current A-List choice, the Asus N56VM, still trump it for overall quality, but we wouldn't rule the MSI out completely. If you're looking for an affordable powerhouse, but aren't bothered by mediocre battery life, this desktop replacement delivers a dynamite punch at a sensible price.
|Warranty||1yr collect and return|
|Dimensions||383 x 250 x 38mm (WDH)|
|Travelling weight with extended battery||3.1kg|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core i7-3630QM|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel HM76|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||2|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,920|
|Resolution screen vertical||1,080|
|Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Graphics chipset||Nvidia GeForce GT 645M|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||1|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray reader|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||yes|
|Wireless key-combination switch||no|
|USB ports (downstream)||1|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||0|
|3.5mm audio jacks||2|
|SD card reader||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||yes|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||no|
|Smart Media reader||no|
|Compact Flash reader||no|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
|Camera megapixel rating||1.0mp|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||3hr 52min|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||110fps|
|Overall Real World Benchmark score||0.91|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows 8 64-bit|
|OS family||Windows 8|