How MSI designed the insane GT80 Titan gaming laptop

An inside look at the first gaming laptop with a mechanical keyboard

We've seen seen massive laptops in our day, from the Alienware 18 to the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro, and more recently the PC Specialist Octane II and the Acer Predator 17X. MSI, however, took the concept of 'building a portable battlestation' to new heights when it introduced the GT80 Titan as the first-ever gaming laptop with a built-in mechanical keyboard. Weighing in at 9.9-pound beast and just shy of two-inches thick, it's designed almost like a foldable typewriter.

The hardware underneath this massive machine is even more impressive. The list of components includes two top-tier Nvidia GTX 980M GPUs working alongside the most extreme of Intel Core i7 processors and an absurd 32GB of memory.

MSI's Clifford Chun told TechRadar in an interview the school of thought with the GT80 Titan was, "How crazy can we get?" The MSI product manager explained that once the team realized it was working with a massive 18-inch space, they couldn't overlook the opportunity to create one of the most insanely outfitted gaming machines ever built.

Curiosity sparks

MSI GT80 Titan

Chun explained MSI came up with the idea to create a laptop with a mechanical keyboard five years ago.

"One day, it just dawned on us, and we thought, "Why won't we just integrate it?'" Chun quipped, noting the idea came in a moment of serendipity after using mechanical keyboards day in and day out for both work and play.

"The final straw was when we conducted a survey among our customers, and a massive 79.2% of the group told us they'd love to see a mechanical keyboard in a notebook," he said. "We simply had to create one."

Of course, it wasn't an easy birth for this over-the-top gaming machine. The MSI team went through dozens of designs working closely with Steel Series to build a laptop that could deliver the same tactile and responsive mechanical keyboard experience desktop PC users enjoy.

Hit the keys!

SteelSeries is one of MSI's earliest partners, and together the companies have had a long relationship of building special keyboard with a tactile feel, despite not being mechanical. Developing a switch-driven mechanical keyboard, however, was a whole other ordeal, according to Chun.

The mechanical keyboard featured on the GT80 doesn't just look the part; underneath each key cap are real Cherry MX switches, which most gamers prefer for their precision and responsiveness over the springy rubber dome keyboards found in most offices.

"We wanted end users to have the exact feel of using a real mechanical keyboard," Chun said. To that end the Titan is the same as a standard desktop mechanical keyboard, down to the same height and width. Even each row of keys slowly descends at a slant to perfectly replicate the desktop gaming peripheral.

MSI GT80 Titan

A mock up of the MSI GT80 Titan's internal layout

"We pushed the keyboard all the way to the front and push all the components up to where the screen side is at," Chun explained. "We didn't want to raise the keyboard to make it too thick, so the layout was optimal, although unusual."

In another shake up to the traditional notebook, the MSI GT80 Titan also features a tall trackpad where the number pad would usually rest.

MSI GT80 Titan

"It was probably the largest gamble we took in the design phase," Chun said. "We didn't want to make the notebook any larger than possible, and at the same time it's no use designing a mechanical keyboard that's smaller than standard."

After mulling on what to do for weeks, it became clear the solution was to create a touchpad with an integrated number pad. This way users could have a small surface to could control their computer without a mouse, while also offering a number pad that provides haptic feedback in the place of clicky mechanical keys.

Easy access panel

Of course, with nothing underneath the keyboard, you might ask where all the components have gone. Right above the GT80's signature keyboard is a large panel that hides all the laptop's internal goodies. The metal sheet spans the entire width of the machine, and just by removing two screws you can remove this cover to get to nearly every replaceable part including the system memory and solid-state storage drives.

Chun recalled [one user submitted a photo of his modded machine after he replaced maxed out his system with 32GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD storage arranged in Raid 0.

"We always have some crazy end users that just want to show off how they modded their machines," he said with a laugh.

MSI GT80 Titan

Easy access to the mSATA storage and RAM

"Ever since we did the GT72 we were already doing the upgrade panel in the back.In this one we've made it even easier with just two screws, and then the whole top front opens up giving you access to everything."

"When people are spending $1,800-plus on a gaming laptop, this is not a small chunk of money," he said, likening the GT80 to an investment.

By giving users easy access to upgrades, MSI hopes to make its gaming laptops something its users can keep using for three years or longer when most machines only last one to two in an age of constantly advancing in graphics card technology.