MSI's gaming laptops have always held a special place in our hearts, in both good and bad ways. Good because they were reliably excellent value for money, and bad because their design was the stuff of Fisher-Price nightmares, with garish red plastic highlights nullifying the effects of the black brushed metal used elsewhere. Our previously-reviewed GX740 is the perfect example of great hardware packed inside a somewhat unattractive and flawed chassis.
However, not only does the company's new GT680 bring a completely different design to the table, it also sports specifications to make the most powerful laptops quake in fear. These include a quad-core Intel Core i7 Sandy Bridge processor that will run at up to 2.9GHz, Nvidia GTX 460M graphics, 8GB of RAM and twin hard drives in RAID! In fact MSI dubs it "the World's Fastest Notebook Ever" – can the GT680 live up to this claim and still maintain the company's value reputation?
Let's start off with the design. Visually, it's certainly a far more modest and attractive look overall. Unfortunately, it's not all good news. The lid has gone from being a durable and handsome brushed metal to moulded glossy black plastic. Not only does this act as a fingerprint and dust magnet, but it doesn't feel as solid and there's serious flex near the hinge (though keep in mind that we are looking at an early sample, so hopefully this will be improved on retail models). Build quality of the base is far better than that found on the lid, though there's still a little more flex than we would like near the hinge.
Inside, the semi-matte screen-bezel of the previous design is replaced by a glossy surround with a matt outer edge, where we would have preferred this the other way around. Like the lid, the palm-rest is now also glossy plastic rather than metal, though at least a prominent honeycomb pattern disguises smudges.
On to the positives, the colour scheme of blacks, greys, silver and a dark, metallic red is quite successful, and angular lines give it the edginess many gamers will appreciate. It's still not a patch on the awesome design of the Asus G73Jh, but at least you won't have to try to hide it at LAN parties.
Between its metallic-red-trimmed speakers you'll find the familiar MSI touch strip, with a white-backlit power button and controls that become backlit in red when activated. This fits in far better than the previous blue backlighting and jarring metal grille.
One of these touch buttons turns on orange LED strips in the lid and base of the machine, two of which act as floodlights for whatever surface it's resting on. We're not really fans of the effect and it's a pity you can't change the colour, but it will doubtless find some adherents. Overall then, at least compared to previous MSI gaming laptops, the GT680's visual design is an evolution.