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Thankfully, the GT680's so-far excellent overall performance is supported by graphics that deserve the name of 'gaming-worthy'. Backed by 1.5GB of dedicated video RAM, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 460M is superseded by the GTX 470M, 480M and 485M, but is nonetheless still a very capable chip in the mobile space.
In fact, it comes out top in our standard TrackMania Nations Forever test, though that's more due to the fast CPU. In Stalker: Call of Pripyat (a more demanding DirectX 11 title) it shows its true colours better, slightly trailing the MSI GX740 and Asus G73Jh which both use AMD's top-end Mobility Radeon 5870.
Switching to Ultra detail and upping the resolution to 1080p in Stalker, the GT680 remained undaunted, managing a 43.8 frames per second (fps) average, where the G73Jh managed 48.6fps at the same settings.
Even the incredibly demanding Crysis is playable if you compromise a little, managing a smooth 35.7fps average at High Detail on 1,280 x 720 – again roughly on par with the Radeon 5870-equipped machines. Notching detail up to Very High at the same resolution resulted in a just-about-playable 23.1fps, but here it's really reaching its limits.
Unlike the Acer Aspire 5745DG's underpowered GT 425M, the GT680's GTX 460M is powerful enough to run quite a few games in stereoscopic 3D and on the GT680H 3D Blu-rays aren't an issue, though of course you'll need a 3D monitor/TV and glasses.
So far then, MSI has created an absolute beast, which doesn't get too noisy in use. As usual with sub-£1500 gaming laptops, graphics are its weakest link, but in every other regard you're getting power, connectivity and features that will easily match even recent desktops, paired with a good screen and very competent speakers. In fact, though we're not overly impressed with the design and build quality in general, and could have wished for the keyboard to be backlit, our only real niggle is with the rattle of keys in the upper right corner (which is hopefully a flaw that's unique to our pre-production sample).
As usual, the price of entry MSI charges is more than reasonable too, with an MSRP of £1,359.99 for this configuration of the GT680 (designated the GT680R). The version with an SSD boot drive and Blu-ray drive (GT680H) will set you back £1,599.99, and if you can afford it the £240 extra is definitely worthwhile. In fact, that model has a better chance of living up to MSI's claim, as it should be one of the fastest laptops around, with everything but its graphics as good as it gets in the mobile sector.
As retail prices for the GT680R are likely to be lower than £1,360 within weeks of its February launch, it's a bit of a bargain if you need what it offers. However, if you're on a budget, the older GX740 will offer similar performance in most games (though it's inferior in many other ways) and is available for under £900.
It's not the most stylish or best-built gaming laptop we've seen, but when it comes to features and power for the money, few rivals can match the MSI GT680. Throw in an above-average screen, impressive speakers and excellent battery life, and this is one portable games machine that's easy to recommend.
Scores In Detail
- Battery Life