Do you need a gaming monitor? Not really. Does it make gaming on your PC better? Measurably, especially if your computer’s powerful enough to push past normal framerates. MSI’s Optix MAG series is in the middle of the pack as far as features go, but it’s a happy medium between price and versatility.
The Optix MAG272CQR (rolls off the tongue, huh?) is at the top of this particular line, featuring a curved 2560×1440 panel, an impressive 165Hz refresh rate, forward-looking USB-C connectivity, and an upgraded stand with vertical adjustment. With all those bonuses, it’s still only $400—not bad, though not the best value available, either.
It’s a solid pick if you’re looking for an all-around monitor that can handle intense gaming sessions, but doesn’t offer anything to make it outstanding. Those looking for a discount can check out the rest of the surprisingly robust line, which trims away a few of the above features.
Business in the Front, Gamer in the Back
From the front, and with the branding sticker removed, the MAG272CQR (I’m just gonna call it “MAG” from now on) looks like a pretty conventional monitor design. It’s a little bigger than usual at 27 inches, with the curved panel that’s becoming ubiquitous. Thanks to thin bezels with a thick base, it’s almost exactly the same size as my dusty 24-inch Dells.
Turn the monitor around and you can see MSI’s “gamer” aesthetic in action. The brazen dragon badge, the red control stick, the circuit board accents, and of course, the slash of LED lighting. This is a monitor designed to be seen from the back … presumably on an eSports stage somewhere.
The stand is angular and brushed with a handy hole for cable routing, and I appreciate the inclusion of five inches of vertical height adjustment. The screen moves up and down with a light amount of pressure, and stays put reassuringly. Note that, while the MAG 27 does support standard VESA mounting, the stand cannot rotate for vertical mode.
The Technical Stuff
The MAG 27’s spec sheet reads like a checklist of all the things gamers want, with only a couple of exceptions. First and foremost is the refresh rate, 165Hz, enough to give a dramatic boost to in-game animations (if your PC can handle the framerate). It’s not the highest out there—240Hz and 300Hz monitors exist—but it’s a substantial upgrade and more than worth it in this price range.
Next, the resolution: 2560×1440, known alternately as 1440p, 2K, or “quad HD/QHD”, is quickly becoming the new standard for gaming. Just enough to give a boost to sharpen in-game graphics, without overtaxing an graphics card at 4K. 27 inches is a good size for it, too—big enough to appreciate the boost, but small enough so that you can’t count pixels, like some 32-inch monitors.
Elsewhere you get a curved VA panel (not universal in the MAG series), one-millisecond response time for intense multiplayer games, and a somewhat silly pop-out hanger for your gaming headset. It drooped when I put a lightweight plastic set on it, and I haven’t messed with it since. I’d much rather trade this plastic gimmick for a second pair of USB ports on a more accessible edge.
In terms of connections, the MAG has the usual DisplayPort and HDMI (two of the latter), but there’s an upgraded option here: USB-C. I love to C it. [Editor’s note: Michael, I hate you.] This allows for a video connection and access to the monitor’s headphone jacks and two standard USB-A ports, but take note: even my slinky little Pixel Slate complained it was a low-power charger.
That means more powerful laptops, especially anything with a discrete GPU, will need more juice than this thing can deliver. You won’t be able to plug a laptop into this screen and get anything but a trickle charge off of it, and it will probably drain a bit unless you also plug in an AC adapter.
Note, the MAG is compatible with AMD’s FreeSync, like most new monitors, but lacks the dedicated hardware to take advantage of NVIDIA’s G-SYNC system. That’s not a bad thing—that usually drives up the price of a gaming monitor considerably, and NVIDIA cards now use a kinda-sorta-FreeSync compatible mode, too.
Using the MAG was enjoyable, without being remarkable. I slid it into my triple-monitor array in place of my own Samsung 32-inch, also a curved VA panel with 1440p resolution. I found more or less the same performance, with perhaps a bit of extra brightness. 165Hz is better than my usual 120Hz, but not so dramatic that I could immediately appreciate the difference—younger users with better eyes might be able to see what I can’t.
In-game, the performance was almost flawless, delivering smooth and relatively bright graphics to my sessions of Overwatch, Rocket League, and Skul: The Hero Slayer. Boosting the Hz obviously lowers the brightness, as is the case with any monitor, but I didn’t find the 165Hz mode to be noticeably darker than the 144Hz mode on my Samsung monitor.
Naturally, I had the same issues I have with the Samsung: its color accuracy isn’t quite enough to trust when I’m doing graphics work. I have to move Photoshop over to the Dell Ultrasharp to get precise white balance. But I recognize that this is a pretty trivial matter for most users, especially those looking specifically for a monitor to game on. It’s not a deal-breaker for a VA-type panel, otherwise an excellent compromise between the speed of TN and the accuracy of IPS.
There are a ton of options in this monitor. In addition to the usual monitor stuff, you get various “modes” for reading, watching movies, maximizing HDR content, etc., plus gaming-focused features like a targetting overlay, It’s just a shame that using the all of these complex options is a pain with the little joystick button, the only way to access them directly. The layout and interface of the internal system is confusing and unnecessarily stylized.
The good news is that you don’t actually have to use it, or at the very least, you don’t have to use a joystick that you can’t actually see. With MSI’s OSD utility for Windows, you can control the various hardware settings of the MAG monitor. You can activate it as a standard program, or by pressing the “G” button opposite the power button (which can also be bound to specific profiles or a window manager). The program also allows you to activate preset profiles—including the important brightness-altering refresh rate—with keyboard commands from any program.
It’s a good system paired to a bad user interface. Allowing universal keyboard commands helps alleviate most of that. As someone who’s spent hours fiddling with monitor buttons trying to get multiple screens to match each other’s color profiles, I can certainly appreciate it. I just wish, oh how I wish, you could use it with only the USB-C connection—the program won’t detect the monitor unless you have the cumbersome old-fashioned USB-A-to-USB-B cable plugged into your machine. That’s not a big deal for a big gaming desktop that never moves, but for a laptop it’s an unnecessary pain.
The monitor’s RGB lighting is … well, it’s there. I can sort of see it on the wall in my office when I’m using it, but it’s both weak and asymmetrical, so I didn’t like it from an aesthetic point of view. It also doesn’t help that I need a second program to manage it—you can’t control the color or animation from the MSI OSD program or the broader MSI accessory driver. If you want lighting, get a USB light strip instead.
There is one more thing I’m going to praise: the MAG uses a standard power cord, the same kind that a desktop PC uses. I appreciate this, especially because many monitors (even gaming models!) are moving to external power supplies, which creates awkward laptop-style power cords. Thanks for keeping the back of my desk tidy, MSI.
A Few Annoyances
Aside from the almost-useless headphone hanger and the overly complex on-screen display, the only other problem I have with the monitor’s performance is light bleeding, visible on the left side of our review panel. It isn’t visible most of the time, but watching darker videos or anything in letterbox will show them.
That isn’t a big deal most of the time, and once again, the primary gamer audience probably won’t care. What’s more concerning to me is how the monitor handles power. On my desktop, it wouldn’t properly sleep—when Windows shut down monitor screens after 10 minutes, it remained on, displaying all black but still clearly engaging the backlight. That’s wasteful of electricity and bad for the health of the LCD long-term. This may be addressed in a future driver update, but at the moment it’s very distracting.
Wait for A Sale, or Pick a Different Optix
On the whole, these are minor issues. But combined with other small annoyances like the need for a second USB cable to control the OSD or the lack of high-watt charging from USB-C, they leave the MAG decidedly in the middle of the pack.
At $400, there’s not a lot of reason to pick up this screen over any of its similar competition. That said, there are a lot of very similar models in the 27-inch MAG range, all of them cheaper than this flagship. If you can live without 1440p resolution, or USB-C connection, or don’t need a stand because you already use a multi-monitor array, some of them may be more appropriate for both your setup and your budget.
Otherwise, the onscreen system accessible from Windows may appeal to those who constantly need to change settings, but that’s about it. If you can find the MAG model on sale for $50 or more—which seems likely, if you keep an eye out—it’s worth considering. Otherwise, keep looking.
Here’s What We Like
- USB Type-C Connection
- Solid, versatile stand
- Good resolution and hz for gaming
- OSD can be controlled from Windows
And What We Don't
- Headset stand is janky
- Low USB-C wattage
- OSD can't be controlled over USB-C