Introduction, Design Features
The archetype of the boss-level gaming desktop may still be the big hulking tower, but nowadays, it’s not uncommon for gaming computers to come in way smaller packages, yet still pack killer graphics.
You can buy a Trident in a bunch of ways. The Trident as a bare-bones system goes for $599. For that, you’re getting the case, its power adapter, the pre-installed motherboard, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 desktop-grade graphics. Providing a Socket 1151 Intel processor, laptop-style SO-DIMM DDR4 RAM, a storage drive, and an operating system are up to you.
The Trident is also available in several pre-configured models. The one we received for testing happened to be the priciest of the lot, at $1,099 (specifically, SKU “010US”). It includes a Core i7-6700 quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), a 1TB hard drive, and Windows 10 Home. The price difference for all this relative to the bare-bones version seems quite reasonable, as we weren’t able to assemble it ourselves for less by adding the same components singly to the bare-bones model.
All considered, $599 for a bare-bones PC without a CPU is a little pricey, even if it comes with a respectable graphics card. MSI’s larger Nightblade x2 bare-bones unit is $399 without a graphics card, but it’s otherwise equipped much like the Trident bare-bones unit. The Trident’s 3GB version of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 is $199 on its own, so you do the math. The overall benefit with the Trident is that it’s smaller and more compact than the MSI Nightblade x2—or, for that matter, most compact gaming PCs that can host a virtual-reality-capable video card.
The only rain we can see on the Trident’s parade is its proprietary nature. Its GTX 1060 is removable just like a standard half-length desktop graphics card, but it is customized by MSI for this model. In other words, future upgradability for the graphics is uncertain.
The Trident’s all-black exterior and horizontal lines remind us somewhat of an old-school VCR when it’s sitting under a TV. (We mean that in the nicest way possible.)
Size-wise, the Trident is a little larger than a Microsoft Xbox One or a Sony PlayStation 4. The 13.6×9.2-inch chassis is easy to fit on a shelf or in a TV cabinet, as it’s just 2.8 inches tall when lying down. The system weighs just 7 pounds, but that’s without its external 230-watt power adapter. Judging by the hefty size of the adapter, we suppose it wasn’t feasible to integrate it into the Trident’s chassis. Nonetheless, the adapter significantly expands the Trident’s physical footprint.
The angular exterior has a classy look. The brushed aluminum and the MSI “gaming shield” logo on the top has a premium look-and-feel.
The Trident’s power button is on its left side. Just above it and running along the corner is an RGB LED strip. This can be set to any one of 16.7 million colors, or completely disabled. It can also be configured in various patterns via the pre-installed MSI Gaming Center software.
The Trident can be positioned two ways. The first is laying horizontally on a desk, as shown in several of the previous images. In that orientation, four rubber feet on its underside keep it from sliding around. The second is vertically oriented in its included stand. The stand has a precise, secure fit, and it also has rubber feet on its underside.
The Trident has an excellent port selection, one that rivals what we see on many mid-tower desktops. Most of them are on the desktop’s rear panel. Starting on the left is the full-size DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI-D ports on the custom GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card. To their right is the so-called “VR Link” HDMI port, which actually serves as a loopback mechanism. MSI includes a male-to-male HDMI cable, which is designed to connect between the GTX 1060’s active rear HDMI port and the VR Link HDMI port. Doing this enables the HDMI port on the front of the desktop. This is an important feature on a desktop to be used for VR, as you’ll need an HDMI cable to be connected to your VR headset, and connecting that to the front of the PC is a lot easier.
A four-prong power-adapter slot, the onboard HDMI port (disabled, with the GTX 1060 in place), four USB 2.0 Type-A ports, a single USB 3.1 Type-A port, an Ethernet jack, a Kensington-style cable-lock notch, and a trio of audio connectors round out the remainder of the connections on the back panel. You can see the lot here, along with the back of the GTX 1060 card…
On the left of the Trident’s front panel is the disk activity light, a feature we always like to see. It’s followed by separate headphone and microphone jacks, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, two USB 3.1 Type-As, and the front “VR Link” HDMI port, which works in the way we discussed earlier.
All that’s truly lacking on the Trident is a flash-memory-card reader.
Wireless connectivity comes from an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3168 card, which also supplies support for Bluetooth 4.1 wireless. The wireless Internet signal strength was strong from across the medium-size room where we tested.
The Trident’s cooling solution comprises two fans. The first and largest is on the GTX 1060 graphics card. It takes in air through a dedicated grate in the side of the chassis, and sends it out the back. The other fan is located on the processor’s heatsink. Its exhaust air goes through the heatsink’s cooling fins, exiting out the desktop’s rear and a small grate in the left side, visible below.
We noticed the Trident made practically no noise throughout our testing process, including in our gaming sessions. There’s not a hint of fan or motor noise. CPUID’s HWMonitor utility reported that the processor topped out at 82 degrees C during a 30-minute session of Rise of the Tomb Raider. That’s comfortably below its maximum rated temperature. The GTX 1060 hit just 76 degrees C, also below its maximum.
In light of the observed temperatures and overall quietness, we’d say MSI did a fine job with the Trident’s thermals.
As we mentioned, the MSI Trident is sold as a bare-bones system, and in several fully configured variants. All variants include the case, power supply, motherboard, and custom GTX 1060 graphics card. The bare-bones unit (SKU “001BUS”) leaves the rest up to you. All of the other configurations sold as of this writing were ready to go out of the box.
The least expensive is the $899 “008US” variety, which nets you Windows 10 Home, a pre-installed Core i5-6400 quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. The $949 “009US” SKU adds a 128GB SSD to the mix. The top-end $1,099 “010US” SKU is the one we’re reviewing; it significantly ups the processor, to a Core i7-6700 quad-core.
The Trident indeed has a desktop-class upgradable processor. It accepts Socket 1151 Intel processors with up to a 65-watt thermal-design-power (TDP) rating. The Core i7-6700 in our review unit is currently the most potent of the choices. It was close to the Core i7-6700K in most of our gaming benchmarks. The Core i7-6700 is a good pairing for the GeForce GTX 1060, and it shouldn’t be a bottleneck while gaming at reasonable resolutions.
As we noted in our introduction, the Trident’s GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card is custom-tweaked for this chassis. It’s a Mini-ITX-format card that MSI doesn’t sell separately. The Trident’s future graphics-card upgrade potential is uncertain because of this. MSI says it may be possible for another, future Mini-ITX format card to work, assuming it physically fits and doesn’t exceed the limits of the Trident’s 230-watt power adapter. But it’s not a guarantee. We’d recommend not planning definitively to upgrade the Trident’s graphics later on. After all, the top-end Mini-ITX cards of the last two generations of Nvidia GPUs have been GeForce GTX 970 and GTX 1070 cards, but there is no guarantee they will fit here, in terms of both power profile and size.
Nonetheless, being “stuck” with the GeForce GTX 1060 isn’t exactly doom and gloom. It’s a relatively new card, and it should be plenty powerful for 1080p gaming for some time to come. MSI lists the Trident as available with either the 3GB or 6GB flavors of the GeForce GTX 1060; our review unit had the 3GB variety. We recommend opting for the 6GB version, if budget allows. Some modern AAA games, such as Square Enix’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, recommend 4GB or more of graphics-card memory for handling the upper texture-quality settings. MSI told us the bare-bones version of the Trident is currently available with the 6GB card, and it will soon be offering the pre-configured systems with the 6GB cards, as well.
Nevertheless, the GTX 1060 is VR-ready in either memory configuration. In case you’re wondering if it’s possible to get a faster graphics card in a form factor smaller than the Trident, the Zotac Magnus EN1070, which we haven’t reviewed yet, comes with a GeForce GTX 1070. It’s restricted to Intel 35-watt-TDP processors, however, and it runs a steep $1,199 as a bare-bones machine, making it rather pricey by comparison.
The Trident’s service manual, available for download on MSI’s support page, is required reading if you’re planning to upgrade its components. (Look for the “Quick Guide.”) The right-side panel of the desktop comes off with a little effort; be careful to avoid stressing the clips too much. Four Phillips-head screws later, the top side of the desktop will slide off toward you. After it’s removed, you’ll have access to the Trident’s twin SO-DIMM slots (which support DDR4-2133 notebook-style memory), plus the processor and graphics card.
The RAM in our review unit was a single 8GB SO-DIMM. The Trident accepts up to 32GB via two 16GB SO-DIMMs. We’d recommend 16GB for the latest games; none of the preconfigured Tridents offers that much, as of this writing. But it’s not too hard to drop in a second 8GB DIMM after the fact. Many of today’s AAA titles, like Battlefield 1, require 8GB of RAM to play.
The storage is on the underside of the chassis. After removing the three required screws, the chassis can be pulled apart by grasping both sides and gently pulling in opposite directions. (As we said, you’ll definitely want to look at the service manual.) The Trident’s 2.5-inch bay and M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) SSD slot are then in plain sight.
With practice, we were able to get the Trident disassembled to access its storage drives within five minutes. Realistically, we think it takes more effort than it should. Pulling the chassis apart to get to the storage drives is heavy-handed; we’d like to see a dedicated access panel on the bottom of the chassis, as on the Zotac Zbox Magnus EN980.
Software-wise, the non-bare-bones MSI Trident configurations include Windows 10 Home. We were mildly irked to find a Norton anti-virus trial installed, but apart from that, the Trident was clean of unwanted software.