The engineers and designers at MSI made a serious impression in 2015 with the arrival of the GT80 Titan gaming notebook. This 18-inch behemoth not only surpasses other gaming PCs in terms of weight, but also exceeds our expectations as to what a notebook can or cannot offer serious gamers when compared to a traditional gaming desktop.
The GT80S 6QE configuration that we reviewed here not only delivers two GTX 980M graphics cards and a fantastic mechanical keyboard that made the GT80 so impressive, but also leverages a new Intel Skylake processor and DDR4 system RAM for even greater performance.
The massive GT80 series gaming notebooks are unique thanks to a mechanical keyboard.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: The GT80 Titan is a huge desktop-replacement notebook. The GT80S system that we reviewed tips the scales at 10.9 lbs and is only rivaled by the Alienware 18 (12 lbs) in terms of sheer size and weight.
The screen lid and the top plate located above the keyboard are made of etched aluminum but the bottom of the notebook chassis is made of thick matte black plastic. The use of plastics was no doubt done to limit the weight of the notebook, but leaves a peculiar impression; almost as if the GT80 is trying to hide plastics under a thin metal veneer. Nevertheless, MSI delivers a visually impressive notebook thanks to the dragon-themed etching above the keyboard, plenty of LEDs, red plastic accents, and plenty of distinct angles … it just doesn’t feel as “premium” in your hands as you might expect a notebook in the $3000-$4500 price range should.
The screen hinges are relatively firm but the lid can still be opened with one hand. The lid will remain in place just fine if you’re using this notebook on a stable desk, but the hinges don’t have enough tension to prevent screen movement if you’re using the GT80 as a “laptop” PC.
The previously mentioned mechanical keyboard has a peculiar placement at the front of the GT80 because the dual graphics cards and the massive cooling system take up too much space to accommodate the added thickness of mechanical key switches. On the plus side, MSI includes a padded palm rest that you can place in front of the notebook so typing feels as natural as using a desktop keyboard.
Assuming you aren’t bothered by the atypical placement of the keyboard, our only other negative comment related to the build and design is criticism about the placement of heat vents. The fans on the GT80 Titan push a massive amount of heat along the sides of the notebook close to the rear corners. Side-venting notebooks aren’t usually a big deal, but the people buying gaming notebooks typically use a gaming mouse and possibly other gaming peripherals which are usually placed along the sides. The end result is that your mouse hand is going to get hot pretty fast.
Of course, most serious gamers looking for an 18-inch desktop replacement gaming notebook want to know how easy it is to upgrade or service the notebook. You can rest easy; simply loosen 10 screws and you can remove the entire bottom cover. From there, you have full access to the user-replaceable battery, half of the DDR4 memory slots, as well as the CPU and GPU sockets (hidden beneath two fans and an impressive set of heat sink pipes). If you want to access the remaining hardware you’ll have to remove two screws holding down the top metal plate above the keyboard. Slide the metal panel aside and you’ll find the optical drive, four M.2 SSD slots, two additional DDR4 RAM slots and a bay for conventional 2.5-inch SATA hard drive or SSD.
Ports and Features
As with most 18-inch gaming notebooks, the GT80 Titan has plenty of port. As a matter of fact, you’ll find five USB 3.0 ports and three video ports (one HDMI v1.4 and two mini DisplayPort v1.2) serve as the main ports. One of the benefits of all those connectors is that the GT80 supports up to four displays simultaneously (well, three external displays along with the built-in display).
The remaining ports boil down to a single Gigabit RJ45 Ethernet port, a full-size SD card reader, an optical S/PDIF for connecting external speakers, headphone and microphone jacks and a Kensington lock slot. The layout of the ports is better suited for right-hand users as the left side gets cluttered with USB cables if you’re connecting gaming peripherals. Similarly, given that most gamers will use this notebook as a desktop replacement, MSI probably should have moved all the video out ports and the Ethernet port, next to the power jack and lock slot on the rear edge of the chassis.
One nice feature of the GT80 is that MSI decided to still offer an optical disc drive despite the fact that an increasing number of gaming notebooks with 15-inch and 17-inch screens are sacrificing optical drives to reduce thickness and weight. Our GT80S comes with a Blu-ray writer that can read and write to CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs.
Wireless network connections are handled by a Killer 1525 adapter (WLAN 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac plus Bluetooth 4.1) from Atheros and optimized for gaming thanks to the Killer Network Manager software. We had no problems connecting and staying connected to networks via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and we never experienced any network-related issues like lagging or “rubber banding” during game play with various popular MMOs.
Screen and Speakers
MSI offers several difference display options with different configurations of the GT80 Titan series. Our GT80S 6QE comes with an 18.4-inch IPS dispaly with FHD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels). The screen surface is ideal for gamers; a matte anti-glare surface that gives you a perfectly clear view of your game rather than a glossy screen that might distract you or get in the way of your game with reflections or glare from lights in your room.
The wide viewing angles from the IPS (or Super-PLS according to MSI) mean that there is no annoying color shift on the screen if you aren’t looking at the dead center of the screen. Color accuracy is quite good but the screen brightness should be more evenly distributed across the surface of the screen. The screen itself is relatively bright with an average brightness of about 309 nits, but the LED backlighting isn’t perfectly even over the massive 18.4-inch surface; we used a solid white screen for testing and measured dim areas just below 290 nits and a bright spot in the center of the screen that was almost 350 nits.
The speakers inside GT80 deliver impressive, high-quality sound thanks to the partnership between MSI and Dynaudio. Music, audio from video sources, and even voices from web-based conference calls files sound rich with a balance of sharp highs, detailed mid range and powerful bass. Of course, the richness of the bass is largely thanks to the integrated subwoofer which rests beneath the keyboard. The speakers put out enough sound to fill a large room and we didn’t notice any distortion until we cranked up the volume to the absolute maximum setting.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Arguably the headline feature of the GT80 Titan series is the mechanical keyboard co-developed by SteelSeries with mechanical switches provided by Cherry. As someone who exclusively uses mechanical keyboards with my desktop, this reviewer has to say the GT80 has the best keyboard on any gaming notebook. The key travel is long (plenty of height between the unpressed and fully pressed key position) and the mechanical switches provide feedback that is both firm and precise compared to the typically “spongy” keyboards found on most notebooks.
We should also mention that the key action on a mechanical keyboard is much noisier than a typical laptop keyboard because the way the mechanical switches activate and deactivate as you press each key. Beginners usually need time to adjust to the “click and clack” of the keys or you may simply view the noisy keys as a negative.
The keyboard also features bright LED backlighting that is fully adjustable with three brightness settings. As previously mentioned, MSI includes a padded palm rest that fits in front of the notebook directly below the first row of keys.
Since the keyboard sits so close to the front edge of the notebook, MSI moved the touchpad to the right side. This takes some getting used to but isn’t too bad for right handed users. That said, anyone who is left handed might be pretty annoyed by the placement of the touchpad. The touchpad is also backside illuminated with red LEDs and also functions as a dedicated numeric keypad. Simply press the Num-Lock button on the upper left corner of the touchpad and you can switch between touchpad and number pad.
Our only criticism of this touchpad and number pad combination is that there is frequently a long delay after you press the Num-Lock button to switch betwen the touchpad and numeric keypad. Overall, The touchpad works well for general mouse activities despite the unusual width of just 2.4 inches. The surface is smooth a promotes fluid cursor movement with perfect recognition of multi-touch gestures, and the dedicated touchpad buttons are a pleasant little extra when so many other companies are moving to integrated buttons built into a “clickpad” surface.