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MSI GT80 Titan SLI review – hands on with the £3,500 desktop killer

We try out MSI's monstrous gaming laptop with mechanical keys, SLI 980M graphics and upgradable internals

Gaming laptops are often met with dismissive glances from PC gaming purists, but MSI’s GT80 Titan SLI, a 4.5kg, £3,500 monstrosity, is unlike anything we’ve seen before. There are lots of headline features to choose from: its mechanical keyboard, its dual GeForce GTX 980M graphics chips, its desktop-like upgradability, the free MSI Dragon keychain you get in the box. We had a look at all of these features (minus the dragon) when we got hands-on with the laptop at an event in London.

The GT80 Titan is immediately and unsurprisingly striking. The first thing you notice is what might appear to be the bizarre, frontal placement of the keyboard and touchpad. But as soon as you start to use the Cherry MX mechanical keyboard with its brown switches backlit by red LEDs, you wonder exactly why none of the other gaming laptop makers do the same. It’s of course partly because there are very few 18.4in laptops on the market that afford this sort of real estate but, either way, putting the keyboard quite literally front-and-centre is a great design choice. As you’d expect from Cherry MX keys, they’re satisfying to use and comfortingly noisy, but most importantly extremely sensitive and responsive. It’s a full-size keyboard in terms of key size; but there’s no number pad.

The number pad isn’t missing entirely, though: tap the backlit NUM area on the top left of the touchpad, and all the number pad keys you know and love light up under the pad. This is a clever solution to a minor problem, and reflects the impressive attention to detail that has gone into this machine.

Between the keyboard and the screen is a huge gap of nothingness. However, this blank area forms part of this laptop’s second killer feature: ease of access. Open up the panel by removing two screws and you’re given access to the (up to) four 256GB M.2 SATA SSDs, the Blu-ray drive and the two of the four sticks of DDR3L RAM. Carefully flip the laptop over and remove the bottom panel and alongside the other two sticks of RAM you’ll find the third killer feature of this laptop: dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M graphics chips. While we weren’t able to put these through their paces during our time with the laptop, MSI says they have more power than a single desktop GTX 980 chip. This isn’t surprising, of course, but it’s still impressive in such a comparatively small chassis.

PC gamers often cite a lack of upgradability as a reason to shun gaming laptops. MSI has put this problem to bed with the GT80 Titan by using mobile PCI-Express Modules (MXMs) for the graphics chips instead of soldering them to the mainboard, meaning they can be upgraded very easily. There are some limitations, of course: Nvidia only guarantees two generations of upgradability and you’ll have to ensure your reseller is a part of the upgrade programme. But if you’re worried about your laptop looking a bit anaemic in two years’ time, you can splash out on new innards without replacing the whole device.

Processing power comes in the form of the quad-core Intel Core i7-4980HQ processor with a base clock speed of 2.8GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost frequency of 4GHz: a mighty performer in a laptop chassis.

Perhaps the only disappointment is the screen. While the panel looks great, we can’t help but have wished for a higher resolution screen to make full use of the incredible graphics power the laptop has. Using the two DisplayPort connectors and the HDMI port, you can hook up the laptop to up to three 4K displays, but it would have been great to be able to play in 4K without the need for extra hardware.

MSI also likes to point out that DynAudio, which makes the  4+1 speaker system in the Titan, also supplies Bugatti with its in-car speakers. While we’re almost never impressed by show-off speaker brands in laptops, the huge chassis surely means there’s room for some decent audio kit. Sadly, the environment we tested the GT80 Titan in was noisy, so we couldn’t put it through its paces and will be something we return to in our full review.

What else do you get for your £3,500? You get a comfy phone palm rest, a set of gold-coloured  WASD keycaps, a mouse and mousepad, a backpack and the aforementioned MSI dragon keychain.

Our time with the GT80 was brief, but incredibly refreshing. While the price of this laptop is prohibitive to all but the most dedicated gamers or those who play for a living, it’s an impressive technical feat. We’ll put it through our rigorous benchmarks when we get one in for review.

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