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MSI is one of those companies that can be relied on to bring out a new gaming laptop with every major hardware revision. It generally offers very good value, too, while not being hamstrung by ODM designs like Rock or Novatech. In fact when we looked at the company's previous MSI GT627-246UK, the only real issues holding it back from a Recommended Award were its slightly unbalanced specification and unattractive design. Now we're looking at the MSI GT740-021UK, a similarly priced 17in gaming laptop, to see whether it has rectified these mistakes.
At first glance, it's decent value. A powerful Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU, generous 640GB hard drive, Blu-ray drive and nVidia GeForce GTS 250M graphics are all provided for just over £1,300. MSI even throws in a decent rucksack and a 1,600dpi gaming mouse to add further to the value - more on which can be read about in our GT627 review.
MSI has also made some subtle changes to the exterior design. Gone is the ugly red hinge section of previous models, replaced with an all-black lid and red trim, ensuring a far more coherent, less distracting exterior. We also like the brushed metal finish, which is both stronger and less high maintenance than the glossy plastic lids found on so many laptops.
Unfortunately all this good work is undone when you open the laptop. MSI's continued use of garish and cheap-looking bright red plastic really doesn't help the machine's look, especially when combined with the discordant blue backlighting for the power button and touch controls. There are some crumbs of comfort, such as the slim, non-reflective screen bezel and comfortable bushed metal palm-rest, but on the whole the GT740's design is to be tolerated rather than admired.
This malaise is well illustrated by the touch controls that are housed in an unattractive bar above the keyboard. These buttons comprise the usual playback controls, as well as separate Bluetooth and Wi-Fi switches and a handy user-defined application-launch shortcut. There's also a shortcut for launching the 2.0-megapixel webcam. Despite the ugly appearance, though, the blue-backlit controls are well spaced and responsive, with no annoying beeps to spoil the experience.
We've never been big fans of MSI's keyboard layouts and the GT740 does nothing to alleviate this. Though it does include a full number pad the layout feels cramped, which is completely unnecessary as there's plenty of free space either side of it. Our real complaint, however, is with the company's persistence in having the 'Fn' key to the outside of 'Ctrl' – an anomaly that most manufacturers manage to avoid.
It's even more of a shame as in terms of feedback the keyboard is superb. Each well-spaced key has just the right amount of travel with a nice, defined click, making both typing and gaming truly pleasurable experiences.