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MSI Trident 3 Arctic review: PC gaming at console sizes

Computer Shopper
24 Jan 2019
Expert Reviews Best Buy Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,390
inc VAT

Armed with a Core i7 processor, the Trident 3 Arctic offers true desktop power in a living-room-friendly package

Pros 
Respectably powerful
Easy to reconfigure
Wide array of ports
Cons 
Not particularly cheap
A little bulky
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Games consoles are essentially locked-down PCs, at least in hardware terms, so it makes sense that we’d eventually get PCs that resemble consoles. The Trident 3 Arctic is one such system: it’s a lot thicker and wider than, say, the Intel NUC Kit NUC8i7HVK, but in true console style can easily fit within a tiered TV stand, or even propped up on the floor, thanks to the bundled stand that holds the whole thing upright.

This is also the only gaming-focused PC in this group test to come fully built, complete with 16GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, a 1TB hard disk and Windows 10 Home operating system. This is reflected in the price, as even a decked-out Zotac Magnus ER51070 would cost less, despite having an 8GB GTX 1070 as opposed to this system’s 6GB GTX 1060. However, the Magnus ER51070 also has a much more powerful processor.

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MSI Trident 3 Arctic review: Processors and performance

With enough room to adequately cool a proper desktop chip, this Trident 3 Arctic spec includes a hexa-core Intel Core i7-8700, the top non-overclockable CPU of Intel’s 8th-gen Coffee Lake line-up. We’ve also seen a Core i5-8400 model, with 8GB of RAM, for £1,096.

Unsurprisingly, the Core i7-8700 utterly demolishes the Ryzen 5 1400 of the Magnus ER51070, as well as the Intel NUC Kit’s laptop-spec Core i7-8809G. In our 4K benchmarks, its high image score of 155 demonstrates very capable single-core ability, but its multithreading where the Trident 3 Arctic really shines, scoring 213 in the video test and 241 in the multitasking test.

Overall, MSI’s system scored 217, opening up a big lead on the Intel NUC Kit and doubling the Magnus ER51070’s equivalent score. This bodes well for its gaming performance, and also makes the Trident 3 Arctic the best PC of these eight models for more serious workloads, such as media editing and encoding. It bears repeating that this comes at a higher cost, but it does seem worth it so far, not to mention the lack of hassle involved with having to source and install your own individual components before you can even get up and running.

The added single-core muscle particularly helps in Dirt Showdown, where at 1,920x1,080, the GTX 1060-powered Trident 3 Arctic surprisingly beat the Magnus ER51070 by averaging 130fps. It even squeezed out two more frames per second at 2,560x1,440, averaging 101fps.

At 4K, however, the Magnus ER51070 took the lead – 10fps, to be precise, as the Trident 3 Arctic could only put up 56fps. MSI’s PC was also consistently slower in Metro: Last Light Redux, where its CPU advantage couldn’t carry the weight of a lower-end GPU. At 1,920x1,080, it averaged 53fps, which is good in itself, although behind the ER51070’s 64fps.

Likewise, the Trident 3 Arctic’s 30fps at 2,560x1,440 and 13fps at 3,840x2,160 put it behind Zotac’s barebones box. While disabling SSAA meant we could get a very playable 58fps at 1440p, it only improved 4K performance to 27fps.

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The Magnus ER51070 would therefore appear to be the wiser choice if you’re specifically looking for a mini-PC capable of high-resolution gaming. That said, the difference between the two is smaller than might be expected of the respective hardware: the Trident 3 Arctic never fell more than 11fps behind, which suggests the ER51070’s less powerful processor is holding back its graphics card. The GTX 1060 may be a full step down from a GTX 1070, but with the Core i7-8700 in charge, there’s no evidence of similar bottlenecking.

MSI Trident 3 Arctic review: Connectivity

What’s more – and assuming you have even more cash to burn – the Trident 3 Arctic makes it even easier than the Magnus ER51070 to swap out and customise components. Not so much in terms of cracking open the case – here, it requires removing two separate panels, not just the one in Zotac’s design – but once that’s done, it’s not only the RAM and storage you can play with.

The CPU and graphics card are at the top of the pile, just as they would be in a full-size desktop, and even the processor’s heatsink and fan can be removed with just a few loosened screws. Admittedly there aren’t many good options that would make a worthwhile replacement to the existing Core i7-8700, but the flexibility is there, and much more affordable upgrades (such as to the RAM) are just as easy, if not easier.

Connectivity, too, is excellent. The front I/O panel contains two speedy USB3.1 ports, a USB Type-C port and an HDMI output. Just as Intel has done with the NUC Kit, MSI has evidently been considerate of VR headset owners, adding this more easily accessible front port to hook up a headset without needing to reach around the back.

Not that there’s a shortage of rear sockets, either. The graphics card alone provides two HDMI and two DisplayPort outputs, plus a single DVI-D output, while a further two HDMI ports connect via the motherboard, in case you need to use integrated graphics to troubleshoot the graphics card, for example.

MSI Trident 3 Arctic review: Verdict

Four USB2 ports and another USB3.1 port round up general peripheral duties, and you can choose between wired Ethernet or the built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi, just like the Magnus ER51070. And, unusually for a small form-factor PC, there are separate line out and headphone jacks, so you can have both connected at once (and swap between them via Windows settings).

Yes, it is expensive, and yes, even if it is small for a PC it is rather bulky for a mini PC. Regardless, the Trident 3 Arctic’s combination of raw power and easy internal tinkering make it a great bet for performance-minded users, even more so than the Magnus ER51070.

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MSI Trident 3 Arctic specifications
ProcessorIntel i7-8700 4.6GHz
MotherboardN/A
Memory16GB
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
CoolingSilent Storm Cooling 2
Storage128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
ChassisN/A
Power supplyN/A
Dimensions 346.25 x 232.47 x 71.83mm (WxDxH)
Operating systemWindows 10