Top 10 desktop replacement laptops

With fast processors, gobs of RAM, 3D graphics, and large screens (16 inches or higher), these powerhouses make ideal replacements for desktop PCs

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MSI GT660
GT660 Review, by Jon L. Jacobi August 23, 2010

Rating:

rating_icon_4_stars.gif

Pros:
Great input ergonomics
Excellent performance

Cons:
Hefty traveling weight
Middling battery life

Bottom Line: An all-around great gaming laptop and desktop replacement.

REVIEW:
The MSI GT660, with its powerful nVidia GPU and forceful looks, is aimed squarely at gamers, but it's also a surprisingly competent desktop replacement laptop. Look past the slightly over-the-top styling, and you'll find great performance, outstanding input devices, and state-of-the-art connectivity. The only downside is that the 1366-by-768, 16-inch display doesn't support full-resolution 1080p HD playback.

The MSI GT660 is more reminiscent(in a good way) of a 1950s-era Cadillac or 1970s-era muscle car than anything military or sci-fi--the styling gambits that designers favor for current gaming laptops. Put another way, it's more Grand Theft Auto or Mafia II than Halo. Across the top of the deck are several buttons bounded by a V-shaped piece of chrome trim, which is largely responsible for the antique Caddy vibe. The buttons allow you to enable or disable the wireless, Bluetooth, Eco mode--different power saving/display settings for playing movies, gaming, presentations, and so on--and Turbo overclocking mode, as well as the unit's decorative LEDs.

The GT660's core components are all top-notch: an Intel Core i7 Q740 running at 1.73GHz, 6GB of DDR3 memory in three slots, an nVidia GTX 285M GPU with 1GB of dedicated GDDR3 memory, and twin 500GB Seagate hard drives running ain a 1TB striped RAID array under the control of an Intel RST RAID controller. Everything on the periphery is state-of-the-art as well: 802.11n wireless, gigabit ethernet, HDMI, and a couple of USB 3.0 ports. If you haven't backed up to a USB 3.0 hard drive yet, you're in for a treat. It's nearly as fast as eSATA, and you don't have to reboot for the unit to recognize a drive.

MSI makes a fuss about the GT660's great audio, and--aside from underwhelming bass response--it's true. High frequencies are abundant and uncolored by the excessive midrange present in the average laptop. But even with the SRS TruBass cranked up in Windows Media Player, you're not going to get anything close to a thump. Video playback is excellent, and the HD Webcam produces a startlingly realistic compared to run-of-the mill cams.

The trade-off between battery life and performance is always tricky, but a span of 2.5 hours isn't bad at all for a notebook with WorldBench 6 score of 108 and Unreal Tournament frame rates approaching 150 frames per second at medium detail and 90 fps at high detail. The GT660's carrying weight is a bit over 8 pounds including the power adapter.

Anorther positive is the quality of the GT660's input ergonomics. Gamers won't tolerate shoddy keyboards or pointing devices, and the GT660 passes muster on both counts. The semi-Chiclet keyboard's action feels crisp, and the touchpad/rocker button combo is large and responsive. Also, there's plenty of room on the deck to rest your palms without having the front edge of the laptop dig into your wrists.

MSI ships the GT660 with a nice software bundle that includes utilities for overclocking and for the Webcam, plus WinDVD8 for DVD\Blu-ray playback. The desktop is a bit cluttered, however, so you may find yourself spending 10 minutes or so cleaning it up and removing some of startup entries with msconfig.exe. MSI provides a program to burn recovery DVDs. Do yourself a favor and use it...twice. Like most such utilities, MSI's lacks a verify function; and recent experience with bad media has reminded me that it's good idea to have two copies of your unverified recovery media on hand.

Despite being marketed as a gaming machine--a role at which it excels--the GT660 is a great all-around laptop, too. Strong performance, excellent input ergonomics, the latest connectivity--this laptop has it all. Unless, of course, you don't dig classic cars or you want a 1080p-capable display.

This story, "Top 10 desktop replacement laptops" was originally published by PCWorld.

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