A closer look
The latchless lid of the GX630 is black brushed aluminum with a silver MSI logo and cherry red accent at the hinges. Happily, the hinges are incredibly firm without making the unit too difficult to open; typical jostling from typing won't make this one budge. While the brushed aluminum is attractive and understated, it's also a substantial fingerprint magnet. This isn't a major knock on the GX630, though. Most modern notebooks have some kind of glossy finish that picks up fingerprints just as easily.
Opening the GX630 reveals what is probably its singular fashion faux pas: the frankly hideous car-like grill above the keyboard. The grill hides the speakers, but it looks decidedly cheap. I guess if you're going to make a laptop for gamers, you're going to have to tart it up somewhere. The labeling on the touch-sensitive buttons within the grill doesn't do it any favors either, but at least the buttons light up with the familiar, pleasing glow of blue LEDs that has been all the rage for the past half decade. You'll also find indicator LEDs along the front of the unit, with the battery glowing green instead of blue while the system is charging.
Compared to more audacious gaming laptops, the GX630 isn't as gaudy, or as liable to embarrass you in public.
The overall build quality of the GX630 is another in a series of trade-offs. With the lid open, a stronger individual could flex the entire unit. Even my puny musculature, atrophied from years of sitting in front of the computer typing reviews and playing Doom, can give the system a little twist. The lid itself is more flexible, but that's par for the course with notebooks other than those made by Lenovo and not a serious issue. Of course, all this flexibility does come with one major bonus: the GX630 is remarkably light for a 15.4" gaming laptop. At 5.6 pounds with the battery installed, it's nearly a full pound lighter than the 15.4" Asus G50V we recently reviewed.
The GX630's underbelly features two panels that provide access to its internals. The larger one opens up on the processor, memory, wireless card, and a Type II MXM slot that houses the GeForce 9600M GT. All you'll find behind the smaller access panel is the system's hard drive. Unfortunately, warranty stickers cover two important screws that secure the access panels in place. According to MSI, removing or puncturing these stickers will void the system's one-year parts and labor warranty, so there's a price associated with do-it-yourself upgrades. The GX630 mercifully comes equipped with a decent Wi-Fi card and 4GB of memory, but not being able to upgrade to a speedier 7,200-RPM hard drive without sacrificing warranty coverage leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Risk-takers might also want to upgrade the system's graphics module, although MXM cards are rarefied and don't come cheap (even a Mobility Radeon HD 3650 goes for $200 on eBay). One should also keep in mind that the GX630's cooling system is only designed to handle the GeForce 9600M GT.
Interfacing with the GX630
The screen on the GX630 is standard fare for a budget laptop, so don't expect it to win any awards.
Measuring 15.4 inches across, the display has a relatively low 1280x800 resolution that should be modest enough given the system's graphics horsepower. The screen has a glossy finish and isn't hard to look at, but its viewing angles are somewhat poor, with the proverbial "sweet spot" difficult to find. A run through PassMark Monitor Test 3.0 reveals middling contrast and highlights some backlight bleed at the bottom of the screen. This kind of bleed makes the sweet spot hard to find, because it creates an imbalance between the brightness at the top and bottom of the screen. If you set the screen's brightness based on the top, the bottom will be blown out. Likewise, if you set the screen's brightness based on the bottom, the top will be too dark. At least PassMark didn't reveal any obvious banding, leaving us with the kind of decidedly average screen one would expect to find at the low end of the market.
Below the screen and in the middle of the GX630's heinous grill are touch-sensitive buttons that control MSI's ECO power management software, the laptop's turbo mode, and toggles for the webcam, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. There's also a button designated P1 that can be configured by users to launch applications. Though touch-sensitive buttons have gained in popularity, their glossy surface is fingerprint prone, and the lack of feedback can be annoying. This last characteristic proved particularly problematic for the ECO button, which cycles through multiple power schemes. Without any feedback, you're forced to tap away at the button and wait for MSI's software to confirm which power mode you've entered.
The GX630's keyboard spans the entire width of the notebook and features a dedicated number pad, distinguishing the system from many of its 15.4" peers. The keys are responsive, and the board is largely flex-free. Yet the dedicated number pad brings with it some complications. In order to accommodate the number pad, several keys had to be squished, and two of the page navigation keysHome and Endare only available on the number pad when Num Lock is disabled or as part of a Fn combo with the Page Up and Page Down keys. The arrow keys are also roughly two-thirds the width of the normal keys, but this arrangement isn't nearly as troublesome as the period and question mark keys, which have undergone similar shrinkage. I understand compromises had to be made to squeeze in the number pad, but squishing frequently used keys can make typing on the GX630 difficult, especially compared to more elegant implementations like the ones found in Asus' Nv series of laptops. The placement of the Fn key on the far left, rather than between the Ctrl and Windows, keys may also be a sticking point for some users.
Placement aside, the keyboard's color scheme is also questionable. MSI uses white lettering for most keys, but the text on the function and arrow keys is an incredibly dark red that's very difficult to read in anything other than direct light. The blue text used to denote Fn functions is only marginally brighter than the red, making secondary functions fairly difficult to read without squinting. What makes these colors particularly unfortunate is the fact that the GX630 is targeted at gamers, who often play in the dark or with dimmed lightingenvironments in which many of the system's keys are virtually impossible to read.
Below the keyboard sits the touchpad, which is just textured enough to be useful. The touchpad is very sensitive, but the buttons are cut into the aluminum palm rest and feel a little stiff as a result. They're clicky, although not overly so, and certainly not enough to draw attention. Incredibly, the touchpad only uses the default Windows driver, which doesn't offer dedicated scrolling zones or multi-touch capabilities.
To the far right of the touchpad is a small hole in the surface of the palm rest that leads to the built-in microphone. The placement of the microphone seems odd, since the mic is liable to be muffled by the user's right palm. This placement isn't likely to be a big deal while gaming, since the user's right hand will likely be busy with the mouse. However, it could be an issue for those who want to talk and type at the same time.
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