Gaming PCs are meant to be big, right? They’re meant to be in full-sized PC tower cases, with big loud case fans. And they’re usually pretty ugly, if we’re honest, and dump a whole bunch of waste heat at your feet while you’re playing games. Oh, and they’re meant to be built from off-the-shelf components, which means you’re almost always better off buying them yourself and putting your own machine together rather than buying a pre-built machine. MSI’s tiny Vortex G65 powerhouse gaming PC challenges all that.
What Is It?
The $3599-and-up MSI Vortex G65 is a tiny gaming PC, packing the kind of power that you’d usually find inside a full-tower ATX gaming machine — the Fractal Design Define R5, a popular gaming case, is 55 litres — into a chassis that’s only 6.5 litres in size. Measuring 192x278x203mm the Vortex is smaller than even the smallest Mini-ITX gaming PC that an enthusiast could build with a lot of time and effort devoted to picking out the right components, but it doesn’t skimp out on the hardware inside; it’s genuinely powerful enough to run modern games on at high resolutions.
- CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K, 4-4.2GHz
- RAM: up to 64GB DDR4
- GPU: up to SLI GeForce GTX 980
- HDD: up to 512GB SSD, 1TB HDD
- Dimensions: 192x278x203mm, 4kg
Inside the Vortex G65 you’ll find the latest and greatest Intel Core i7-6700K: an overclockable, quad-core, turbo-boosting-to-4.2GHz CPU. That CPU, and the Z170 motherboard and a 1TB spinning-disk mechanical hard drive for storage, are the same across the two variants of G65 available. In the basic spec, you’ll have yourself a total of 256GB of flash storage with two 128GB Samsung SM951 M.2 solid state drives in RAID 0, 16GB of DDR4 RAM and a pair of MXM Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 graphics cards in SLI. This is a perfectly powerful configuration, able to play modern games at 1080p resolution with smooth frame rates.
But if you want to spend more, this is when the Vortex G65 really comes to life and really demonstrates its potential. The same chassis and same motherboard and same cooling allows for 512GB of super-fast flash storage, a frankly ridiculous 64 gigabytes of DDR4 RAM, and two Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 graphics cards in SLI.
The Mac Pro is an obvious inspiration for the G65, and that extends beyond the vaguely cylindrical shape of the chassis design. Around the back of the Vortex G65, from top to bottom you’ve got optical and analog audio outputs and a microphone jack, four USB 3.0 ports, two HDMI 2.0 jacks, two Killer E2400 gigabit Ethernet ports, two reversible Type-C USB 3.1 ports and two USB 3.1-compliant Thunderbolt 3 ports, as well as a regular three-prong power plug.
What’s It Good At?
To have this kind of power within the Vortex G65’s small chassis is an impressive feat. The 450 Watt power supply inside the G65’s base keeps that gutsy i7-6700K CPU, three storage devices (two SSDs and one spinning disk), two desktop-grade graphics cards and an appropriately powerful single-fan cooling system humming along nicely, and it doesn’t get unreasonably loud under load. The reason for that is that the cooling system’s top-mounted blower fan draws in cool air from the base and exhausts heat out the top, using physics to the machine’s advantage; it’s also a large fan by diameter too and doesn’t have to run fast to move plenty of air.
You get good performance out of this machine, too: there’s a reason it’s marketed as Nvidia GeForce GTX VR Ready. I clocked it hitting 21,068 in 3DMark 11, which is bang on MSI’s own testing and represents great performance from the combo of GTX 980s and i7-6700K CPU. SLI machines rarely have a 100 per cent performance increase on their single-GPU variants, but with mature Nvidia drivers you’ll have great results in 1080p and 1440p resolutions in most modern games; it’s not quite powerful enough for 4K, but it’s powerful enough for generally smooth VR playback in at least the Oculus Rift’s various launch titles.
MSI Vortex G65: Average Frame Rates
Far Cry 4 (Ultra): 1080P: 118FPS 1440P: 70FPS 2160P: 32FPS
Battlefield 4 (Ultra): 1080P: 120FPS 1440P: 59FPS 2160P: 41FPS
Crysis 3 (Very High): 1080P: 139FPS 1440P: 48FPS 2160P: 31FPS
Metro: Last Light (Very High): 1080P: 67FPS 1440P: 45FPS 2160P: 22FPS
Tomb Raider (Ultimate): 1080P: 190FPS 1440P: 132FPS 2160P: 37FPS
We also have to give the G65 props for not having an optical storage drive. If it were my choice, I wouldn’t even have the 1TB mechanical disk inside the G65 either, but it makes sense for anyone that might use this as their sole PC and who might not want to use an external drive to store less commonly accessed data. It shows the fact that MSI is committed to the Vortex G65 as a properly small device, and that antiquated hardware has been removed to get the machine as refined and pared-down as it is.
What’s It Not Good At?
We’ve tested out the MSI Vortex G65 at a complicated time in the tiny gaming PC’s life; its basic configuration — CPU, RAM and storage — remains top of the line, but its paired GeForce GTX 980 graphics cards are now matched by a single of Nvidia’s just-released GTX 1080. We’ve no doubt that a future configuration will be released with the 1080, a paired set of lesser GTX 1070s or even a pair of 1080s. That doesn’t take away from the fact that the current Vortex G65 is an incredibly powerful machine and enough for the current generation of virtual reality gaming headsets, as well as current 1080p and 1440p titles, of course, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Like the Mac Pro that it looks extremely similar to internally, the MSI Vortex G65 is very expensive. For the base configuration which has 16GB of RAM, twin 128GB M.2 drives in RAID 0 and a pair of GTX 960 SLI graphics cards, you’re paying $3599. For the top-end spec, which has the same (excellent) Intel Core i7-6700K processor on the same Z170 chipset, but bumps the RAM up to 64GB, storage up to a RAID 0-d pair of 256GB M.2 drives, and has the (tested) GTX 980 SLI graphics configuration, you’ll be paying $6399 at RRP. That’s enough money to build two equally competent gaming PCs from parts — maybe larger, uglier, less refined machines, but two of them nonetheless. You’re paying for the privilege of MSI’s miniaturisation here.
The G65 also cedes — just a few — points for repairability for exactly that reason. Its GPUs are non-removable and non-replaceable, understandable because the entire system itself is barely taller than one of Nvidia’s reference PCI-Express graphics cards. Its cooling system is bespoke, so you can’t replace it — not that you should need to, but still. It’s much closer to a gaming laptop in that sense, and you should treat it as such — a super-high-end gaming laptop in the smallest possible desktop chassis, with the most powerful specs that a laptop could possibly have, competitive in that sense with a desktop gaming PC on the conjoined triangles of price and performance and size.
You have to really want the Vortex G65’s particular blend of size (tiny, tiny size) versus performance (impressive, and still perfectly reasonable in the second half of 2016) versus price to be able to justify purchasing it. There are plenty of situations where the G65’s tiny size is a huge advantage, like in the living room where it might be connected to your shiny new 4K TV, or in the corner of a media room or home office where you have a room-scale virtual reality space set up. These scenarios are only going to become more popular in the future, too, so it’s not like the concept behind the Vortex G65 is a misguided one.
Should You Buy It?
The $3599 MSI Vortex G65 is a very interesting PC, and it caters to a very specific market — it’s a lot like the Mac Pro in that sense, with the small form factor and bespoke circuitry and motherboard and component design to match, as well as the inflated price tag. If you need or want a gaming PC with one eighth the footprint of a home-made machine, with performance besting any laptop out there and with you have to be prepared to pay the price to suit.
Price: from $3599
- Ridiculously small case.
- Excellent 1080p/1440p performance.
- Great industrial design.
- Very expensive.
- Difficult to upgrade/repair.
- Now equalled by GTX 1080 graphics.
None of this changes the fact that the Vortex G65 is one of the most powerful pre-built machines we’ve tested, and definitely one of the few we’d happily recommend for this generation of virtual reality headsets. If you’re thinking of getting an Oculus Rift or a new HTC Vive, and you need a machine that can reliably power either of these headsets while fitting in the same box, then the G65 is just about the only PC that fits that bill.
It’s also a great look at the future of desktop PCs. We’ve come a long way from the horrid rectangular beige boxes of the early days of PC gaming, and I’d be perfectly happy for this kind of innovative construction — one where all system components are well cooled, but are also spaced closely for maximum efficiency of design — to become more popular. The Mac Pro was and still is an (incredibly beautiful) oddity, but the MSI Vortex G65 demonstrates that same concept has a future.
We’ve advocated laptops for this reason in the past — when you buy a notebook PC, you’re getting components designed with the tightest possible tolerances, squeezed into the smallest spaces, but with the power to do the tasks you need. As desktop-grade CPUs and GPUs and SSDs get smaller and more powerful and more efficient, the big hulking desktop PC tower is going to go the way of the dinosaur. MSI’s Vortex G65 is the first desktop PC in a post-dinosaur world.