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MSI GT680 - Connectivity and Usability
When it comes to connectivity, as you might expect from a next-generation laptop, the GT680 is very well endowed. Video can be output over either VGA or HDMI 1.4, which supports resolutions higher than 1,920 x 1,080 and Full HD stereoscopic 3D, as well as 7.1 digital audio. Uniquely to MSI (as far as we're aware), there are no less than four 3.5mm audio jacks so those without decoders can still output up to 7.1 to cheaper surround sound speaker systems, and one of these functions as a digital output too.
On the data front there's a card reader which supports SD/HC and MMC, two USB 2.0 ports, two super-speedy USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA II port, meaning transfers with compatible media should be lightning-fast. For networking there's Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi N, and Bluetooth rounds out its wireless credentials.
Even the webcam is worth a mention. As we also saw with the Dell XPS 17, it's of the HD variety, managing 720p at 30fps – perfect for HD video services like the new Skype.
Only the lack of a Blu-ray drive on our GT680R model disappoints, but MSI had to make cuts somewhere to maintain its (relatively) bargain price, and the PC game on Blu-ray has yet to come out. Besides, adding an external, slimline Blu-ray drive at any stage shouldn't set you back more than £80, while those who opt for MSI's GT680H get this and an SSD boot drive for £240 extra.
MSI has also made progress on the usability front. The aforementioned touch controls are very responsive, and the GT680's isolation keyboard now finally has its Fn key to the inside of Ctrl, a blessing to those who regularly switch between desktop and laptop keyboards. Key placement in general is excellent, with shortcuts exactly where you would hope to find them.
Keys are well-spaced and though feedback is shallow, they manage to give enough action to prevent typing from being unpleasant. More detrimental is that the entire upper left area (including the WASD 'gaming' keys) feels lose and keys rattle audibly - we're sincerely hoping that this is another fault that will be fixed in retail models. Even if it isn't, it's not nearly as off-putting as the dodgy spacebar on the Novatech X70 CA Pro, and the GT680 remains perfectly usable for both typing and gaming.
Like its predecessor, the touchpad here is large and comfortable, though MSI still hasn't added multi-touch. To be honest this is not a major concern, as we got on perfectly well without it for years, but it's a nice-to-have and practically every other laptop on the planet features it. The pad's buttons are worked into a single, brushed metal rocker switch, but aside from being a tad on the stiff side they offer no reason for complaint.