My apologies for the prose, I simply didn't have time to write one version for the forums and one for our site. OC'ing figures for 3DMark2003/2005 are forthcoming (I'd written them down somewhere that is presently inaccessible). Please note that the benchmark figures for each test are the best that were achieved through different settings in MSI's System Control Manager.
MSI MS-1029 Review:
The release of MSI Computer’s MS-1029 was highly anticipated by many as it represented one of the first laptops mating AMD’s new Turion processor with an ATI Mobility Radeon x700 graphics processor. As such we were excited to put this system to the test when we received our first unit. We also hoped to find out if MSI, who is a more recent player in the ODM laptop space, could maintain the reputation it has earned over the years manufacturing motherboards and other components. MSI was also responsible for the m510c (now badged MS-1003) which drew very positive reviews for build quality and performance. The MS-1029 certainly had a lot to live up to and we’ll share our impressions following testing.
The MS-1029 we configured for the purposes of this review included a Turion MT-32 (25 Watt, 1.8GHz with 512MB L2 Cache), 256MB DDR 3200, an 80GB 5400RPM hard drive (8MB Cache) and Intel’s Pro Wireless 2200 internal WiFi module (802.11b/g). The installed memory is lower than we would like to have seen, but we did not have additional DDR 3200 SODIMMs available at testing time.
The MS-1029 barebones includes a glossy WXGA LCD, onboard 10/100 LAN and, of course, an ATI Mobility Radeon x700 w/ 128MB VRAM. It should be pointed out that, although the test system was configured with only a WiFi module, the MS-1029 supports a combination WiFi + Bluetooth module (in short supply at initial product release).
Chassis Design and Build Quality:
We were pleased to see that MSI has utilized an aluminum alloy in the construction of the underside of the MS-1029. Such materials are also present in other MSI offerings and make for a much more solid chassis. Lifting the MS-1029 from the front corners evokes zero flex and does not elicit the creaking noises often associated with systems constructed entirely of plastic. The remainder of the MS-1029’s chassis uses a higher grade of plastic, thicker and more rigid than in many other manufacturer’s builds. There is a modest degree of flex when closing the LCD lid with one hand from either corner, but this is to be expected in all but ruggedized and semi-ruggedized systems.
Aesthetically speaking, the MS-1029, while not “breathtaking” is quite attractive and well thought out. Predominantly black in color, splashes of silver adorn the borders of the trackpad and keyboard. The MS-1029 also features a “cut-out” on the back of the LCD cover through which backlighting is allowed through. This should allow for some interesting illuminated custom badges. Activity LEDs are laid out vertically along the front right edge of the keyboard surface and offer status of such devices as WiFi, Bluetooth, hard drive and battery/power. WiFi and Bluetooth modules can be turned on and off through separate hot-buttons located just above the top right edge of the keyboard.
MSI has taken a unique approach to the placement of the 8-cell lithium ion battery in this laptop. Rather then sliding the battery pack into a dock in the underside of the chassis, the long and slender battery slides into the void at back of the MS-1029 below the LCD and represents the surface area above the keyboard.
The keyboard exhibits no flex during typing and the keys have a quality feel, though they do produce a bit of noise on each depression. The trackpad is responsive and precise and vertical scrolling can be controlled by sliding your finger up and down along the right edge of the surface. Left and right mouse click buttons are solid if a bit on the small side. They do require some getting used to as they are more sensitive at the center with clicks missed when depressing the outer edges.
The MS-1029’s glossy WXGA screen (1280 x 800) is stunning. Though we would have liked to see a WSXGA+ screen used on this system, the LCD is bright and crisp and has terrific viewing angles (though glare in a well lit room from the glossy surface diminishes visibility at more extreme angles).
In order to gauge system performance, we focused most of our testing on what we perceive to be the most important attribute of a laptop which our customers look for, the graphics processor.
Using ATI Tool we determined the stock core and memory clocks of the ATI Mobility Radeon x700 to be 351 and 297 respectively. Though not overly aggressive, 3DMark tests suggested that even the most demanding gamer or graphic designer will be pleased with the performance. All benchmarks were run with the system set for “Full Performance” through MSI’s System Control Manager software.
We expect that the MSI MS-1029 will handle the latest games with ease at a minimum of medium settings.
As we felt that the stock clocks of the GPU left a degree of headroom, we did explore the thresholds of these clocks through gradual overclocking and testing for stability. Only stock cooling was used apart from our substitution of the thermal pad included on the GPU heat sink with Artic Silver thermal compound. We achieved our best stable overclock (All benchmarks completed successfully with no artifacts or tearing) at a 400MHz core and 345MHz memory clock.
The release of AMD’s new lower powered mobile processor has made for a more viable contender to Intel’s Pentium M, the mainstay in most laptops today. The Turion MT draws only 25 Watts of power, significantly less than AMD’s last mobile chip which requires 62 Watts. We expected to see much better battery life than was offered by the Mobile Athlon 64. Though we did see a vast improvement, battery rundown tests showed that the Pentium M still reigns supreme in this regard. Testing the MS-1029 while looping a DVD yielded 2 hours and 10 minutes before the system initiated standby. This suggests that should you wish to view a DVD while unplugged, all but the longest movies should finish before the battery depletes. As a continually spinning optical drive consumes a significant amount of power, we also tested the unit while simply surfing the web using the installed WiFi module. For such light use we achieved 2.5 hours of battery life before standby.
Under heavy loads such as GPU benchmarking, the MS-1029 stayed surprisingly cool. There was no evidence of any heat build-up on either palm rest or from beneath the keyboard. It has been a long time since we have tested a laptop that ran this cool. Of course, as expected, under heavy load, the underside of the laptop in the vicinity of the processor/GPU and the hard drive does get pretty warm. However, not so much so that it becomes uncomfortable to use the system on your lap. One minor gripe is the placement of the CPU/GPU vent at the center right of the chassis. Under load when the fan RPMs ramp up, warmer air will blow onto the mouse hand (for right-handed users). The vented air is not uncomfortable and generally not even noticeable under most circumstances, however, we would have liked to see the vent located further back on the right-hand side or, even better, on the back or left-hand side of the system.
Overall, we feel the MS-1029 is an excellent gaming capable laptop. Of particular note is the system’s solid build quality and strong GPU performance. Though not without its quirks and a shortcoming or two, the MS-1029 represents an excellent and affordable laptop solution for those looking to purchase a system which can handle even the latest games while retaining portability (the system weighs in at about 6.4lbs) and offering support for 64-bit instruction sets.
Excellent build quality
Strong GPU Performance
Light relative to features
Bluetooth support with hardware on/off button