If you're looking for a reasonably portable gaming laptop, the MSI GX640-098US is a 15.4-inch multimedia powerhouse that might just be for you. At a bit under three kilograms, it is easier to carry than similarly powerful laptops. Even so, it's still not the ideal, take-anywhere travel companion -- unless, of course, you just can't live without Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
Our review model, priced at US$1159 (as of May 20,2010), features a 2.27GHz Intel Core i5-430M CPU, an ATI Radeon HD5850 graphics card with 1GB of GDDR5 memory, 4GB of system RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. It also has a 15.4in, 1680-by-1050-pixel LCD screen, as well as a nine-cell battery, an 8X DVD±RW combo drive, and a full-size keyboard complete with number pad. The GX640-098US supports Bluetooth connectivity and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, and has both a 1.3-megapixel Webcam and a microphone built in. If you want to pay a little extra, you have the option of upgrading the CPU (to a Core i7) or the optical drive (to a Blu-ray Disc player).
The MSI GX640-098US features a black, brushed-aluminum design with red accents. The cover is fairly simple, with a silver, mirrored MSI logo in the center and a thin red plastic strip at the bottom being the only details. The inside has a red plastic border around the keyboard and touchpad, plus a futuristic-looking red-and-black strip of touch-sensitive buttons above the keyboard. The buttons include rewind, stop, pause/play, and fast-forward media buttons, as well as an 'Eco' button (for cycling through a variety of modes, including gaming mode and office mode), a 'Cinema Pro' button, a Webcam button, a Bluetooth button, a Wi-Fi button, and a programmable button.
Though MSI touts the GX640-098US as a portable gaming computer, I don't recommend replacing your netbook with it just yet -- it still weighs 2.7kg with the nine-cell battery, and it measures a sizable 358x260x31mm. The power block is also pretty clunky, and carrying both the laptop and the power block around is enough to make your shoulder hurt after about 15 minutes.
As for ports, the GX640-098US is pretty well equipped. You get an ethernet port, headphone and microphone jacks, two line-in jacks, a VGA-out port, an HDMI-out port, two USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port, an Express Card slot, and a four-in-one multiformat card reader.
The keyboard is a "raised Chiclet" style -- not quite regular, not quite Chiclet. It's easy to type on (the keys are springy and responsive) but it feels awkwardly placed, probably because it is. Remember, this is a full keyboard and number pad on a 15-inch laptop, so typing with your hands mostly on the left side of the keyboard will take a little getting used to.
The keys are lettered with a modern font (it reminds me a little of the Alienware M11x), which helps to contribute to the "futuristic" look of the laptop. The keyboard also caters, somewhat, to gamers: The W, A, S, and D keys are highlighted in red with the corresponding up, left, down, and right arrows on them, and the 8, 4, 6, and 2 keys on the number pad also have arrows. This is a nice touch, but probably not terribly useful if you're even a semiregular gamer. The Fn and Ctrl keys are swapped (the Fn key is in the lower-left corner, and the Ctrl key is to the right of that), which may cause typing mishaps (unless you're an avid Mac user). Mastering the layout doesn't involve a terribly difficult learning curve, but it is a little annoying.