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MSI GT80 Titan review: A crazy-fast gaming laptop with an old-school desktop keyboard

Gordon Mah Ung | March 17, 2015
MSI's has a real mechanical keyboard, and enough graphics power to tempt even the most committed desktop gamers.

Ah, the eternal Internet argument: Can a gaming laptop really be faster than a gaming desktop? As admitted hardware snobs with a bias for gaming desktops, the easy answer has always been no. Never. Not in our lifetime.

That answer may have gotten far more complicated with MSI's insanely fast GT80 Titan  SLI laptop. Believe it or not hardware snobs, it's faster than the vast majority of gaming desktops out there.

Even crazier, it's not the gaming performance of the GT80 Titan that grabs your attention--it's the inclusion of a mechanical keyboard that's the first the world has probably seen in a laptop since, well, the 1980s.

The keyboard isn't some knock-off clone, either. MSI tapped famed keyboard maker SteelSeries for a plank using genuine Cherry MX switches with replaceable keycaps. Even the most jaded laptop user will break out in a smile after hammering out a few sentences on the MSI's mechanical keyboard which imparts a solid feel.

Many will say the keyboard is a gimmick, but I have to say that after an afternoon with it I was hooked and it made me realize that I have been wrongly settling for the horrible, mushy laptop experience for too long. Will it spark a trend? Probably not.

There is a design cost to be paid for that keyboard. Mechanical keys suck up a huge amount of space--so much so that components that usually live underneath have to moved back, while the keyboard is pushed all the way to the edge. This means there's no palm rest to speak of, so MSI includes an old-style gel palm rest with the laptop. MSI also tosses in a lightly padded backpack, which is a nice touch because it's pretty hard to find bags that'll fit these monsters.

There's also no room for a trackpad, so MSI moves it off to the right side. Similar to what Razer did with its Razer Blade Pro 2014, it lets you use the trackpad as an ad-hoc mouse for gaming. It kinda works in a pinch, but it's no replacement for a real mouse. I see no point to building in a beautiful keyboard and then trying to live with a trackpad as a mouse for gaming. One interesting move that is definitely in the gimmick column: The trackpad converts into a virtual ten-key, with the numbers keys outlined in light at the push of a button.

The heart of any gaming laptop is its GPU. In this case, it's two GeForce GTX 980M units running in SLI. The desktop GeForce GTX 980 packs 2048 CUDA cores with a baseclock of 1.26MHz. The mobile version has 1,536 cores and a base clock of 1,038MHz.

 

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