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MSI's GX630 gaming notebook

Just how much game can $799 get you?

Manufacturer MSI
Model GX630-028US
Price (Street)
Availability Now

Although every major manufacturer has taken a stab at the gaming notebook market, the vast majority of entrants in the field carry high price tags. The PC gaming community can be a very lucrative market, but the reality is that few gamers may have pockets stuffed full of cash ready to splurge on the next powerhouse monstrosity from Alienware or Toshiba. If the generally poor showing of retail outlets this Christmas is any indicator, everyone is feeling the financial crunch right now. With cash in short supply but the desire to game still fueled by a fresh crop of holiday releases, where does the budget-conscious gamer go? MSI has come up with a pretty good option in the form of its GX630 gaming laptop.

The GX630 comes in at just $799—a bargain for such a loaded machine and certainly less than what even a frugal enthusiast could to pay for something comparable from major vendors like Dell and HP. Wrapped in a surprisingly light 15.4" package and equipped with a 32-shader GeForce 9600M GT graphics processor, this piece of kit stands to offer the complete gaming experience of its competitors at a fraction of the price. The big question, however, is: what corners did MSI have to cut to hit such a low price? Have too many concessions been made, or does the GX630 strike a good balance between build quality, performance, and value? That's what we aim to find out.

The GX630 at first glance
MSI's GX630 shares its basic chassis design with other 15.4" builds in what MSI collectively terms its "G series." The keyboard, brushed aluminum palm rest, and lid are common between the units, some of which sport red trim and others more neutral silver accents. The GX630 is the one of the few members of this family to use an AMD processor; the GX620 line employs Intel processors and chipsets, and comes with higher prices, to boot. MSI also offers the G series in the form of do-it-yourself whitebooks under the model numbers MS-1651 (for Intel-based hardware) and MS-1652 (for AMD-based hardware).

Processor AMD Athlon X2 QL-62 2.0GHz
Memory 4GB DDR2-667 (2 SO-DIMMs)
Chipset Nvidia MCP77
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT with 512MB GDDR3 VRAM
Display 15.4" TFT with WXGA+ (1280x800) resolution and CCFL backlight
Storage 5,400-RPM, 250GB Western Digital Scorpio mechanical hard drive
Audio Realtek ALC888 HD audio
Ports 2 USB 2.0
1 antenna input
1 4-pin FireWire
1 combination analog headphone output / S/PDIF output
1 analog microphone input
1 analog line out
1 analog line in
Expansion slots 1 8-in-1 card reader
1 ExpressCard 34/54 slot
Communications 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi via Ralink RT2790
Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR
10/100/1000 LAN via nForce Networking Controller
56K modem via Motorola SM56
Input devices "Full size" keyboard with dedicated number pad
Trackpad with two-finger scrolling
Camera 2.0 megapixel webcam
Dimensions 14.73" x 9.69" x 1.4" (374 mm x 246 mm x 35.5 mm)
Weight 5.6lbs (2.54kg) with battery
Battery 6-cell Li-Ion 4800mAh
Warranty One year limited parts and labor

The biggest difference between the GX630 and both its kin and the competition at large is the use of a processor from AMD rather than Intel. The 2GHz Athlon X2 QL-62 is based on the same Griffin core AMD introduced with the Puma platform's Turion Ultra processors. Thanks to its Griffin core, the QL-62 features a 3.6GHz HyperTransport interconnect and split power planes. It also enjoys a low 25W TDP, bringing its thermal characteristics in line with those of Intel's P-series Core 2 Duo chips. Opting for this less expensive but still capable processor likely helped MSI lower the GX630's cost. If 2GHz isn't quick enough for you, the system includes a Turbo button that automatically overclocks the processor to 2.3GHz.

Backing the GX630's Griffin-core Athlon X2 is a single-chip nForce MCP77 mobile chipset from Nvidia, complete with support for PCI Express 2.0 and HyperTransport 3.0. Given the low TDP of the processor and this single-chip motherboard solution, we should be able to expect reasonable battery life from the GX630. The MCP77 also includes an integrated Gigabit Ethernet controller, so there's no need to power an auxiliary networking chip.

While the MCP77 has wired networking covered, it doesn't offer anything on the wireless front. MSI taps third-party chips to give the GX630 support for not only Bluetooth 2.1, but also 802.11n Wi-Fi. 802.11n's market penetration has been growing slowly but steadily over the past few months, and it's nice to see this standard trickle down to an inexpensive laptop like the GX630.

The final element of the GX630's silicon payload is a GeForce 9600M GT graphics chip with 512MB of dedicated video memory. Based on the G96 GPU that powers the desktop GeForce 9500 GT, the 9600M has a 500MHz core clock, 32 DirectX 10-class shaders running at 1250MHz, and a 128-bit memory interface that MSI hooks up to GDDR3 memory running at an effective 1600MHz. GDDR3 memory is a welcome choice here, since manufacturers using the 9600M tend to pair the GPU with slower DDR2 memory. The 9600M also has a PureVideo HD decode engine that provides hardware-accelerated video playback for all common high-definition formats.

Although the 9600M's core and shaders run a respective 50MHz and 150MHz slower than those of the desktop GeForce 9500 GT, the two are essentially equivalent in terms of their capabilities. This might not be the most exciting GPU for gamers, but it should nonetheless prove powerful enough to handle gaming at the GX630's native 1280x800 display resolution.