Just like the recently reviewed Asus ROG Strix GL12CX, the MSI Trident X (starts at $ 1,999; $ 2,499 as tested) is a gaming desktop for the esports enthusiast or professional. Any gamer would enjoy its power, but its slim vertical design and easy-access, standard components are aimed at the esports world and those who move their towers often. The professional or aspiring esports player is a tiny niche, but the tournaments watched by huge audiences around the world do need to be played on PCs that guarantee smooth, high-settings gameplay. The Trident X is a much better value than the Strix given their similarities, but if you’re looking for something a bit less specialized for similar performance and slightly less money, the Corsair Vengeance Gaming PC 5180 is, by a narrow margin, our Editors’ Choice.
An Esports-Focused Design
For a powerful gaming system, the Trident X is quite slim. The last esports-focused desktop we tested, the Asus ROG Strix, takes on a much more traditional desktop-tower shape, while the Trident X is tall and skinny. It measures just 5.1 inches across, while standing 15.6 inches tall and 15.1 inches deep. That’s a much smaller footprint than the cube-like Vengeance (13.8 by 10.9 by 15.7 inches, HWD), even if it’s a couple of inches taller.
In terms of design, I noted some positives and negatives. Overall, the shape is pretty sleek-looking, and it has some eye-catching, though generally tame, accent lighting. The case stuns on first glance, but you’ll see a good bit of not-so-premium plastic when you look closer, especially on the front panel. The left panel is metal, with only a grated cutout for the graphics card and some lighting toward the top of the case. The metal door is a bit dull, but MSI does provide an alternative glass panel for this side of the case that you can install. It is a much better solution for enjoying the high-end parts.
The right side panel is tinted glass, with a cutout window for a case fan that features eye-catching circular RGB lighting. It’s hinged at the rear and held shut magnetically, so opening it up is as easy as tugging on the corner. This is easier than the left panel, for which you need to remove two rear screws for interior access. The easy-open door at least makes it simple to tinker with cable routing, but it’s pretty plain on this side on the interior. On the whole, I find the aesthetic design is much better than that of the ROG Strix, and the skinny design is appealing, but the Corsair Vengeance has the slickest look of the three.
Because of the skinny shape and vertical orientation, the component accessibility is much better than you might expect in a compact PC. The left and right panels co-host most of the parts, with the graphics card and an M.2 SSD on the left, and the hard drive, CPU (behind the fan), and power supply on the right. Even fitting the power supply inside such a compact case deserves a nod, as a PC this slim will often use an external power supply brick. This, instead, is an industry-standard SFX-form-factor power supply, so you can even swap it out down the road should you need more wattage.
As for what you’ll find inside, well, MSI spared little expense. This unit (model 9SE-002US) is outfitted with an Intel Core i9-9900K processor, the MSI Ventus OC version of Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card, 16GB of memory, a 512GB M.2 SSD, a 2TB hard drive, and a 650-watt power supply. There are two other SKUs available: One with a Core i7-7700K, an RTX 2080, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 2TB HDD ($ 2,299), and another with a Core i7-7700K, an RTX 2070, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD ($ 1,999).
Though it may stand slimmer than the rest, the Trident X is otherwise the same as your standard desktop. You’ll find several ports on the front panel for easier access, including USB 3.1 (Type-A), USB 2.0 (Type-A), USB 3.1 (Type-C), and a headset jack…
Around back, you’ll find two more USB 2.0 ports, a Gen 1 USB 3.1 port, two Gen 2 USB 3.1 ports, and another USB Type-C port.
Together, it’s not an excess of ports, but there’s enough to plug in all of your gaming peripherals, plus several high-speed data-transfer options.
Pro-Level Performance: Benching the X
Given that this is an esports-centric machine, you can already guess the Trident X is all about performance. In fact, the components are probably overkill for the types of PC games with the biggest esports followings, at least if you’re the average player.
If you’re a professional competitor, though, you can’t afford to drop frames in the middle of a match, and only overkill can really guarantee that won’t happen. Fortunately, the Core i9-9900K CPU and Nvidia RTX 2080 are up to the task. I compared the MSI Trident X to the Acer Predator Orion 5000, the Corsair Vengeance 5180, and the Velocity Micro Raptor Z55. (Unfortunately, the Asus ROG Strix I mentioned was tested with a different, older suite of benchmark tests, so its numbers are not comparable.) Their core components are listed below.
Productivity and Storage Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s storage subsystem. This score is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The Trident X topped the competition on PCMark 10, proving its general productivity chops (not that you wouldn’t expect a high-end gaming machine to also be speedy with everyday tasks). The drive speeds on PCMark 8, meanwhile, are all bunched close, as this batch of speedy SSDs are all quite quick for load and boot times.
Media Processing and Creation Tests
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time. As with Handbrake, lower times are better here. The Photoshop test stresses CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The Trident X almost swept these three multimedia tests (bettered only by the Raptor Z55 on Handbrake and Photoshop), showing how capable it can be for a content-creation machine. The tests also generally demonstrate the speed and multi-thread capability of the Core i9 processor. The Trident X’s focus may be esports and playing games, but those users’ needs can certainly overlap with video editors and streamers who can benefit from the speed. The others are in the same ballpark, though, so that alone shouldn’t make or break your decision.
Synthetic Graphics Tests
The 3DMark test suite from UL (formerly Futuremark) measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets.
Superposition’s scores are reported in frames per second (fps), which translates to how smooth the scene looks in motion. For lower-end systems, maintaining at least 30fps is the realistic target, while more powerful computers should ideally attain at least 60fps at the test resolution.
The Trident X was very proficient on the 3DMark tests, again topping this lot. That nearly held true on the Superposition tests, as well, but the Vengeance and Raptor Z55 just edged it on the Low and High settings tests, respectively. While you can quibble over a point or two here and there, the takeaway is the high level of performance, which stacks up well against other expensive gaming machines.
…and Some Real-World Gaming Tests
The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3D aptitude, but it’s hard to beat full retail video games for judging gaming performance. Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are both modern, high-fidelity titles with built-in benchmarks that illustrate how a system handles real-world video games at various settings. These are run on the maximum graphics-quality presets (Ultra for Far Cry 5, Very High for Rise of the Tomb Raider) at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K resolutions to determine the sweet spot of visuals and smooth performance for a given system. Far Cry 5 is DirectX 11-based, while Rise of the Tomb Raider can be flipped to DX12, which we do for the benchmark.
We don’t yet have enough data from our new benchmarks to compare results on these games, but the Trident X and its RTX 2080 did very well. On Far Cry 5 at Ultra, it averaged 127fps at 1080p, 109fps at 1440p, and 54fps at 4K. On Rise of the Tomb Raider at Very High, it averaged 117fps at 1080p, 105fps at 1440p, and 53fps at 4K. Clearly, anything less than 4K is a breeze for this system. 4K resolution is very demanding, but even then, this system comes pretty close to 60fps. Dial down a few visual settings, and you’re there.
This Trident’s the Tip of the Spear
The MSI Trident X does exactly what it sets out to do: It’s a slim, relatively portable gaming desktop ideal for enthusiast-gaming and esports scenarios. It’s expensive, as a result, but the price scales appropriately for the components compared to the competition.
The case didn’t blow us away, but the interior is accessible and packed with power. It can take almost anything you throw at it (guaranteed 60fps 4K gaming at max settings being just out of reach), and for esports gaming that focuses on high frame rates at lower resolutions, the Trident X is borderline overkill.
The Corsair Vengeance remains our Editors’ Choice for its slightly spiffier design and price, falling into virtually the same capability tier for a bit less money. But this is a very able alternative, and we’re extra-impressed by the upgrade potential of a system this size. Usually, machines like these are packed with some proprietary parts. Here, you’ve got industry-standard stuff top of bottom. We’d even give it the edge if maximum space savings and future upgrades are equally important to you.