Top 10 laptops to replace your desktop PC

Bigger, heavier laptops with large screens (16 inches and above) can incorporate powerful hardware you won't find in smaller, lighter models. Most of these laptops are as powerful as a desktop PC

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Rating:

rating_icon_4_stars.gif

Pros:
Cool LEDs
Sturdy and not too heavy

Cons:
Only four USB ports
Touchpad is small, hard to use

Bottom Line: The GT683R is a powerful machine, but it'd be nice if external peripherals felt like an option, rather than a necessity.

REVIEW:
MSI's latest gaming notebook, the MSI GT683R, will catch your eye with its flashy LEDs, but it'll keep you interested with its speedy performance. This gaming powerhouse is one of the first laptops to ship with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560M graphics card, and it features all sorts of boosts such as MSI's Turbo Drive Engine technology (for overclocking) and Cooler Boost technology (for controlling the fans with a single touch).

Our review model, priced at $1450, came packed with a second-generation Intel Core i7-2630QM processor, a whopping 12GB of RAM (upgradable to 32GB), an Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M graphics card, and 1TB of hard-drive space spread over two drives. The GT683R also features a built-in 720p HD webcam, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a DVD-RW drive, and 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium.

The GT683R performs quite well, even for the desktop replacement category. This should come as no surprise, considering the GT683R is designed for gamers. In PCWorld's WorldBench 6 benchmark tests, the GT683R scored an impressive 146. This is one of the fastest desktop replacement laptops we've tested, though not the fastest (that distinction goes to the Origin EON 17-S). It is perhaps best compared to the Dell XPS 17 3D.

The Nvidia GeForce 560M graphics card gave the GT683R a boost in our graphics tests. In our Far Cry 2 test (high-quality settings, 1920 by 1080 resolution), the GT683R managed a frame rate of 47 frames per second. By comparison, the Dell XPS 17 3D managed only 30.8 frames per second with the same settings.

The GT683R is housed in an average-looking black chassis. The notebook's cover is made of shiny black plastic and features some aerodynamic-looking molding with an MSI logo in the middle. It looks a bit cheap, but it does grow on you. The machine isn't exactly svelte: The system weighs around 7.5 pounds and is 2.16 inches thick.

The inside of the notebook is more attractive. The keyboard is full-size, with a number pad and island-style keys. The deck is shiny and gray, and features a honeycomb texture. Above the keyboard is a shield-shaped power button, along with several touch buttons: Turbo, extra cooling, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi toggles, Eco mode, and LED controls.

That's a pretty typical chassis, right? Until you turn the machine on, that is. The GT683R adds pizzazz with funky orange LED lightstrips--one is on the cover, plus two on either side of the screen and two on the front (below the keyboard) of the machine. The lights are bright, but are thankfully situated out of the way, so they won't bother you while you're working or gaming (though they will look pretty awesome to people sitting around you). MSI includes software for tweaking the lights (choosing different performance modes, say), but when I tried to use it, all I managed to get was an error message stating, "LED light manager not supported."

Port-wise, the GT863R is set up like the gaming machine/desktop-replacement that it is. Several of the key ports, such as ethernet, VGA, eSATA, and HDMI are located on the back of the machine, while the sides are dedicated to USB ports, card slots, and audio jacks. It has only four USB ports, though two are USB3.0, which is nice. There's a multi-in-one card reader (SD/MMC/MS/XD) on the left side, and microphone/headphone/line-in/line-out jacks on the right side.

The GT683R's keyboard is, as mentioned earlier, full-size with a number pad and island-style keys. The keyboard is mostly comfortable to type on--the keys are widely spaced and feature a nice amount of tactile feedback. Still, it's a little flimsier than I usually like, and therefore not ideal for lengthy typing sessions.

Below the keyboard and slightly off-center is a medium-sized touchpad with a black matte surface. The touchpad isn't nearly as comfortable as the keyboard. It's ever-so-slightly too small, and the matte surface makes it difficult to move the mouse smoothly across the screen. Add a brushed aluminum rocker bar that's hard to press--instead of discrete mouse buttons--and it's generally not a fun experience.

The GT683R sports a glossy 15.6-inch full HD screen, which has a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. The screen is nice and bright, and throws back surprisingly few reflections despite being glossy. Colors tend to look a little washed out, though--a little more contrast and darker blacks would be good. The screen is also a little too bright, even at the lowest brightness setting.

Because the GT683R is billed as a gaming machine, its speakers are slightly better than what you'll find in most laptops. Only slightly, though. The two HD speakers and the subwoofer make for decently loud and full sound, but it's still not loud enough to compete with regular desktop speakers. However, remember that the GT683R has line-in and line-out jacks, along with microphone/audio jacks, so you're not dependent on the built-in speakers.

MSI's GT683R is definitely a powerful machine, but its peripherals (built-in as they are) leave something to be desired. This is a desktop replacement, so it's likely you'll have an external mouse, keyboard, and even speakers, but it'd be nice if these felt like an option rather than a necessity.

Origin EON 17-S
Origin EON 17-S Review, by Loyd Case August 5, 2011

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