MSI Aegis X review

The MSI Aegis X is one Gundam-looking beast of a gaming rig.

MSI Aegis X review

High-end gaming power in a seriously compact form factor. That’s the promise of MSI’s Aegis X machine. Well, that and the promise of owning a PC which looks like you’ve decapitated a Gundam.

With great PCs comes great responsibility. The responsibility to make sure they’re plugged into the best gaming monitor around.

And after all, who among us hasn’t harboured the fantasy our powerful gaming PC is the disembodied head of some kind of futuristic battlemech, or that we’ve jump-started Bishop’s milky stained remains to fire up a quick game of Overwatch using what’s left of his neural pathways? The MSI Aegis X may not actually be a robot’s bonce it’s still a seriously powerful little gaming PC.

Can’t wait to see the how the little gaming rig performs, or just desperate to see the score? Click on the jump-links below to go straight there.

MSI Aegis X specifications

Whatever your thoughts on the angry-looking, angular aesthetic, the insides of this diminutive gaming rig read like a hardware wishlist. The obvious headline-grabber in this £2,000 spec is the Nvidia GTX 1080 GPU quietly going about its pixel-pushing business. Obviously it’s an MSI-branded card, the Armor 8G version, and that means it comes with a little factory-overclocked GPU boosting and a third-party chiller. The ZeroFrozr cooling MSI have used is of the 0dB sort where its twin fans only start shifting when the GPU itself tops 60°C. When you’re not doing anything particular graphically-intensive the card stays completely silent.

Twinned with that is the Intel CPU staple for high-end gaming rigs, the Skylake Core i7 6700K, and 16GB of DDR4 memory all sat together in a mini-ITX MSI motherboard. The CPU isn’t operating with a base overclock and the memory is running at the DDR4 standard of 2,133MHz, but MSI have though plumbed the Core i7 into a closed-loop water cooler. That seems to be more about trying to save space (a big active air-cooler simply wouldn’t fit) and being able to deliver an impressively quiet gaming experience even under full load.

There is the option to activate a one-touch overclock on the machine via the rubbery dragon-faced button on the front, but while it does change the MSI Gaming App profile our sample showed no discernable difference in GPU or CPU speeds. Unless you’re running at pointlessly low resolutions you’re games will be GPU bound before the processor really needs to start picking up its heels, so the fact it stays running at 4.2GHz here isn’t a real issue.

This version of the MSI Aegis X is also stuffed full of speedy storage too. There’s a two terabyte hard drive taking care of the mass storage grunt work, but the real heros of the piece are the twin M.2 Toshiba SSDs MSI has dropped into the system. Paired up they produce a super-quick boot time and make the whole machine feel seriously slick. The only disappointment is you are trading off capacity for that speed. At only 256GB there’s not going to be much space on the primary partition for the Windows 10 Home OS and a healthy Steam library. You’re going to have to choose your games carefully.

Underneath the whole thing, and smartly separated from the rest, is the 600W SFX power supply. It’s got more than enough juice to power the Aegis X, as powerful as it is, and by keeping it clear of the inside of the chassis it’s not going to get too hot itself or toast up the rest of your micro rig.

In the US you can pick up a barebones version of the Aegis X for just $500. That will get you the case, motherboard and power supply. Add in your choice of CPU, GPU, memory and storage and you’re on your way. There are slightly different versions of fully specced out rigs in the US too and you can check Amazon for the various SKUs on offer. There’s a similar GTX 1080-powered version, with a 1TB SSD and 32GB of DDR4 for $2,900, but there are other versions too.

MSI Aegis X benchmarks

MSI Aegis X gaming performance

MSI Aegis X performance

MSI Aegis X GTX 1080

When it comes to gaming performance MSI’s Aegis X is an absolutely stellar gaming rig in this configuration. The combination of Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia’s Pascal-powered GTX 1080 is the dream pairing right now. At 1440p settings the Aegis X is able to blow the two GTX 980 machines I’ve benchmarked next to it out of the water. Though those are two machines which retailed around the £1,500 mark when they launched.

And when it comes to its 4K prowess the Aegis X with that Pascal GPU is capable of genuinely playable Ultra HD gaming. We’re not quite talking 4K at a solid 60fps yet, that’s still to come with the GP102-powered cards like the new GTX Titan X and GTX 1080 Ti.

In CPU terms though the use of a stock-clocked processor – despite that instant OC button on the front – means the Aegis X sits behind the other two machines in the Cinebench tests, those were running the same Skylake CPU at 4.7GH and 4.5GHz respectively. Given the GPU-bound nature of most games, however, that’s not necessarily a particular black mark on the MSI’s sheet.

The data-handling performance of the Aegis X though is seriously impressive. The twin M.2 NVMe SSDs from Toshiba pair up beautifully together to deliver 256GB of super-speedy solid state storage, which translates into lightning-quick boot times and an incredibly responsive system as a whole.

Because of its miniature scale, and the powerful components packed inside, it does get a little hot, though the CPU and PSU vent out of the back so it’s not going to heat up your desktop. I did have my benchmarking SSD connected via the USB sockets on the rear of the motherboard, however, straight in the line of the vents, and by the time I shut the system down it was almost too hot to touch. That said the GPU fans only spin-up in-game and the CPU cooler stays relatively quiet too. Under load it gets more noticeable, but considering the dimensions of the Aegis X that’s not much of a surprise.

MSI Aegis X verdict

MSI Aegis X performance

In this £2,000 build the MSI Aegis X is a quite remarkable gaming machine. It’s small, easily transported (thanks to that carry handle on the back) and performs like a Trojan. Which I guess is kind of apt given the mythological name.

Obviously though it’s a hell of a lot of money for a gaming rig, but there are lower specced Aegis X variants available for £1,699 and £1,399. I’d maybe suggest opting for the i5 6600K CPU instead and ditching the RAID0 SSD array in favour of a larger capacity single SSD. That will save you a decent amount of cash and still deliver the astounding gaming performance of the GTX 1080. There are i7 / GTX 1080 machines available from other retailers for under £2K, but in general this is the sort of price you have to pay for a full rig with Nvidia’s powerful GPU. The smart engineering which has gone into the Aegis X’s compact chassis may add a small price premium, but it’s mighty competitve in terms of both cost and overall spec.

My main concern with the Aegis X though isn’t the internal components at all. My issue is with that tight, Gundam-headed chassis. It’s a very striking design, and while I may not be a fan of the general aesthetic I can still see the appeal and appreciate the engineering efforts to fit such high-end parts into a small space. What I’m not so comfortable with is the limited space for growth. For me, purchasing a full gaming rig is just the start – you want that to be the base of your next few PC builds. The Aegis X though is so cramped that creating a build inside is going to take some dexterous finger work and probably a lot of sloughed skin in the process. That said, I don’t think GPUs are going to get much bigger going forward, and that is one of the easiest components to switch out of the Aegis X chassis.

For the serial tweaker then I’m not convinced the Aegis X is going to deliver the continued experience you might crave, but for someone who would rather their PC arrive as a closed unit, never to have its shell cracked, then it’s an impressive, powerful micro-machine.