Turbo buttons were all the rage 10-15 years ago. They allowed users of old 386 or 486 desktop PCs to enjoy a quick speed boost with the minimum of fuss. However, we can't ever remember seeing such a system on a portable machine -- until today that is.
The MSI Turbobook GX600 has a built-in turbo button that the manufacturer says can instantly increase its performance by as much as 20 per cent, and cut boot times by approximately 50 per cent. But does it work? Are there any drawbacks to this £849 machine? Is it ultimately pointless? Let's find out.
The Turbobook GX600 looks gorgeous with the lid closed. The glossy black finish gives it a modern aesthetic that is in line with what the rest of the industry seems to be doing at the current time. Unfortunately, it all goes to pot when you open the lid.
The main problem is the presence of two garish red 'vents' -- or speaker grilles -- on either side of the machine just above the keyboard. The right-most grille is surrounded by an equally vomitous aluminium panel that looks really out of place. It does, however, serve to highlight the presence of the power button, Wi-Fi switch and the aforementioned turbo button.
We have major reservations about the keyboard and mouse on the GX600. Most 15-inch laptops have decent keyboards, but that isn't the case here. The GX600 uses a US-style keyboard, which has a painfully small enter key, an even smaller right shift key and cursor buttons that are so miniscule they might as well not be there.
It's possible to get used to the rubbish keys with practice, but if you survive that, you'll then have to contend with the mouse trackpad. This, we felt, was too wide. It's all too easy to make contact with the trackpad with the heel of your palm as you type, which triggers a mouse button press. As you can imagine, clicking the cursor in the middle of a Word document causes text to go all over the place. It's possible to temporarily disable the trackpad, but this requires two separate keypresses and is a pain in the backside.
On a positive note, the GX600 does have a good array of input-output ports. We like the fact it has front-facing audio jacks, which makes it nice and convenient for connecting a mic and headphones; there are four USB ports -- two on the left and two on the right, and three separate video outputs: HDMI, D-Sub and S-Video.
The Turbobook GX600 uses an Intel T8300 CPU running at a default frequency of 2.4GHz. As promised, we were able to overclock the CPU to 2.8GHz at the press of a button -- but only while the laptop was connected to the mains. Unfortunately, the 3GB of DDR2 667MHz memory can't be overclocked in the same manner, nor can the mid-range GeForce 8600M GT graphics card.
The GX600 really doesn't make the most of its 15.4-inch screen. The quality of images is fine for the most part, but the viewing angle is rather limited. The display quality has a tendency to deteriorate if you're not looking at it from a dead central position. This is especially true along the vertical axis.
The GX600 uses a 15.4-inch display. Our review sample shipped with a panel running at a native resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, but MSI says final retail models will run at 1,680x1,050 pixels, which is good news. We can't talk about image quality on those final samples -- since we've yet to see one -- but we were pleased with the colour reproduction, contrast and speed of the panel used on our pre-production sample.
There's plenty of storage in the Turbobook GX600. It packs a 320GB hard drive, which is ample space to house most people's collection of films and games. For reference, the average standard definition DivX movie is approximately 0.7GB, while games such as F.E.A.R. take up around 7.5GB. If you do run out of space, you can always back up your data to a separate USB hard drive or via the DVD rewriter nestling in the left side of the laptop.
MSI also includes a 1.3-megapixel webcam just above the screen, and an optional Freeview TV tuner, although our review sample didn't include the latter. It did, however, include all the usual gubbins you'd expect from a laptop sporting the Intel Centrino badge, most notably a wireless network adaptor that supports 802.11b/g and the high-speed Draft-N wireless protocols. Wired Internet is also supported and is of the Gigabit (1,000Mbps) variety -- not the slower, more common 10/100Mbps type.
Software is relatively scarce, but you do get a copy of Windows Vista Home Premium edition, which may or may not be a consolation depending on your view on the OS. We happen to think it's not as bad as many people make out.
With a name like 'MSI Turbobook GX600', you'd expect this laptop to be brutally quick. It's by no means the quickest we've seen, particularly when it comes to gaming, but it's quick enough to spar with the fastest Centrino laptops on the market. It achieved a PCMark 2005 score of 5,409 when running in standard mode, and a far more impressive 6,070 once we launched into turbo. That's not too far off the 6,616 achieved by the more expensive Alienware Area-51 M9750.
Its 3D gaming ability isn't as impressive, though. It scored 3,807 in 3DMark 2006, and hitting the turbo button didn't make much difference -- with turbo enabled, it scored 3,870. For reference, the current crop of high-end gaming laptops will score approximately twice as much as this.
Battery life on the Turbobook GX600 isn't particularly inspiring, but then we never expected it to be. It lasted 1 hour 5 minutes in our intensive Battery Eater test -- a figure you can also expect to achieve should you decide to run CPU-intensive applications while away from the mains.
With all this talk of red-hot turbo action, there must be a mention of temperature. We're pleased to say the laptop doesn't get particularly hot or noisy. The temperature increases once you hit the turbo button, and while we don't recommend using it on your lap, it won't exactly burn a hole through your table. System boot times were the same regardless of whether the turbo button was switched on or off.
The Turbobook GX600 is a mixed bag. It's great for anyone who does CPU-intensive work, as its overclocking feature works brilliantly and vastly improves core performance. Its graphics performance is rather average, however, so anyone who plays games might be better off with an Alienware M9750 or Dell XPS M1730.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday