MSI's GE40, GE70, GT70 Dragon Edition 2, GX70, and GS70 Gaming Laptops
For anyone following the company's social media outlets, it's not news that MSI has redoubled its efforts to maximize exposure in the portable gaming market. With five new laptops equipped with 700-series mobile graphics processors or equivalently-powerful AMD options, it's clear that MSI has invested heavily in the future of portable gaming.
It's a tough market to compete in right now, though: Sager makes some of the highest-quality mid-range gaming laptops we've seen; ASUS has several offerings in the $1000-$2000 range; Lenovo has once again become a relevant force in the industry; Alienware - despite general negativity surrounding the brand - has a few good, small units; and even Gigabyte is trying to force its way into this market space.
Before getting started, here's a quick specs comparison of all the units we previewed:
|Specs||GE40||GE70||GT70 Dragon Edition 2||GX70||GS70|
|GPU||2GB GTX 760M||2GB GTX 765M||4GB GTX 780M||2GB 8970M||2GB GTX 765M|
|Memory Config||1x8GB||12GB (8+4)||4x8GB (32GB total)||1x8GB||1x8GB|
|Storage||750GB @ 7200RPM HDD||750GB @ 7200RPM HDD||3xSanDisk X100
128GB mSATA SSDs (RAID 0)
& 1TB 5400RPM HDD
|750GB @ 7200RPM HDD
|750GB @ 7200RPM HDD
Option for Dual-SSDs*
2x Mini DP1.2
1x HDMI 1.4
|Dimensions||13.35" x 9.42" x 0.87"
|16.46" x 10.61" x 1.54"
|16.85" x 11.34" x 2.17"
|16.85" x 11.34" x 2.17"
|16.47" x 11.29" x 0.86"
|MSRP||$1200 on TD||$1300 on TD||$2700 on Newegg||$1300 on TD||$1800 or $2000*|
* = More info in the detailed description below.
MSI GS70 Stealth Hands-On Video
$1200: MSI GE40 Specs & Impressions - Ultra-Mobile Gaming Laptop
Starting with the GE40, the smallest unit, we're faced with a 4.4lb, 760M-equipped tiny gaming laptop. The GE40 is powered by an i7-4702MQ (~37W TDP), ideal for its mid-range performance and better thermal outputs than more powerful mobile CPUs, though it's still i7-class and is still measurably powerful; the 4702MQ won't bottleneck your gaming and won't melt your internals, making for a solid trade-off that we can agree with. The unit is light, small (competing somewhat directly with the 14" Razer Blade - although that's ~$600+ more), and well-prepared for gaming tasks.
My only immediate hardware concern was related to the memory configuration: The GE40 includes a single 8GB stick of 1600MHz memory, but because its stock configuration is one stick, you're really going to be operating on single-channel performance. When questioned about the choice to include 1x8GB stick rather than 2x4GB sticks, MSI's representative noted that "in testing, we noticed about a 2% difference" between dual-channel and single-channel configurations. They further noted that users who feel they need 2 sticks would be buying their own hardware anyway and replacing the stock units, so why waste modules?
Out of curiosity -- and because I'm presently running a memory frequency test on our bench -- I figured I'd add dual-vs-single channel testing to the mix for a bit of fun. The bench remains the same as all our other tests, though memory config was changed to single or two-stick setups. Here were the results:
Now, this was an admittedly slimmed-down test to cover a burst of basic applications, but preliminary results do seem to indicate that dual-channel performance gains are largely unnoticeable for single-application usage (especially in gaming). What I didn't have time to test was proper parallel / simultaneous multitasking (i.e. running LAME & WinRAR simultaneously, which should theoretically create a large disparity in performance between single- and dual-channel configurations and might cause caching-out). There might also be a more significant impact when running the performance test on an APU or IGP, though that's not relevant in this quick test case, given the presence of a discrete GPU.
For purposes of validating MSI's claims, though, this proves that a single stick really won't matter much when you're just playing games and running a few core applications. As soon as you start doing serious multitasking with computationally-complex applications, it'll become more relevant.
The moral of the story? Simply buy another stick (or a new kit) of RAM if you really need it. Most users won't, but those hoping to double the laptop as a production rig might be well-advised to add another DIMM.
All this stated, the laptop is outfitted with a brushed aesthetic, rear-facing "dragon eyes," and an overall lightweight and mobile shell. It's worth looking into if you've got a specific need for relatively high-powered, small form factor computing. Your most immediate alternatives to research would be Razer's Blade series, Alienware's smaller units (AW 14" range), and Lenovo/ASUS' slightly larger (15.6") products.
(Note: Two versions of this product exist - at $1300, a 128GB SSD is included).
$1300: MSI GE70 2OE Specs & Impressions - A Bit More Traditional
The GE70 isn't as impressively small as the GE40, but does pack more powerful hardware and still fits in a "standard," non-bulky size. For starters, it ships with 12GB of RAM (4+8GB @ 1600MHz stock), a 750GB hard drive at 7200RPM, a Blu-Ray reader (definitely noteworthy), a GTX 765M, and a 17.3" display at 19x10 resolution.
RAID0 arrays with 2xSSDs can also be configured if you have money burning a hole in your pocket and a strong desire for 1GB/s IO metrics, though for gaming purposes, this is largely unnecessary.
In terms of size and aesthetics, the GE70 is a bit beefier at ~6lbs and is sized-out at 16.46" x 10.61" x 1.54". That said, despite the extra heft to it, the GE70 is still very portable for a laptop of its caliber. When asked for the thermal spec of the 765M in such a (relatively) cramped enclosure, MSI informed us that the card peaked at roughly 80C, but almost never went higher. Is it hot? Sure, that's a bit warm for a desktop, but not unreasonable for a laptop of this size. That said, you certainly wouldn't want to suffocate this system for air.
Speaking of thermal suffocation, one of the most common pitfalls of portable gaming products lies in the inevitable collapse of hardware under extreme heat conditions. Using a laptop atop a blanket, or in -- y'know -- a lap, or otherwise off of a hard surface can be a great detriment to airflow; as manufacturers like MSI and ASUS have come to realize this, they've relocated key ventilation systems to the sides (exhaust) and top (intake) of their units. This should help keep your system more healthily cooled when used on uneven surfaces.
An H87 (mobile edition) chipset means that you won't be doing any overclocking, but that's probably for the best. Most laptops ship at specs that are thermally-tested, since the components sit in what is effectively an oven.
$2700: MSI GT70 Dragon Edition 2 Specs & Impressions - Beefy Class
Priced at nearly 3 grand, the GT70 Dragon Edition 2 is coated in MSI's red dragon branding. The laptop ships with a 4GB GTX 780M, 750GB HDD (and SSD RAID potential), and an i7-4700MQ. It's a good deal larger, no doubt, weighing-in at 8.6lbs and measuring 16.85" x 11.3" x 2.2", but that's the price afforded when opting for something with a GTX 780M in it.
While we haven't tested the unit in-house yet, preliminary reviews by other outlets (namely Anandtech) seem to indicate that the GT70 Dragon Edition 2 is throttled by its own cooling limitations (single-fan cooling on a 780M). As the 780M heats up, its performance is throttled to prevent damage to the card or solder paste, and as such we see some of Anand's benches showcasing a 680M outperforming the 780M.
From a pure specifications perspective, it's an impressive laptop -- but it's also in the $2700+ range, making it more of a "desktop replacement" than anything else.
We've historically advised against purchasing the larger laptops for a number of reasons (thermals, price, general cost-benefit analysis), but if the GT70 is interesting to you, it's worth researching its closest competitor first: The M17x.
$1300: MSI GX70 Specs & Impressions - Back to the Mid-Range
MSI's GX70 is probably one of the more "normal" gaming laptops on the list thus far: it's not quite as flashy and unattainable as the GT70, but still attempts to offer the power needed for a good experience.
Stock, the machine ships on an AMD A10-5750M APU and 8970M (2GB) graphics chip, 8GB of RAM @ 1600MHz, a 750GB 7200RPM HDD, 17.3" display, and a SteelSeries-designed keyboard with full LED customization. It's a bit fat toward the rear of the chassis, measuring at 16.85" x 11.3" x 2.2", and weighs 8.6lbs. The housing is almost identical to the GT70, though the specs and price are a bit more controlled on the GX70.
The APU/8970M combo should do well for most gaming on medium/high settings, though we'll have to officially benchmark the laptop before commenting definitively on its performance.
$1799: MSI GS70 Specs & Impressions - Ultra-Thin 17" Gaming Laptop
For our final burst of MSI coverage, we look at MSI's ultra-thin 17" gaming laptop - the GS70 "Stealth." This is also seen in the above video.
The GS70 ships in two SKUs: An $1800 option includes an SSD + HDD (sizes yet unspecified) and the $2000 option includes dual-SSDs in RAID0 + a 1TB HDD. We'd generally push you toward the $1800 option unless you're in dire need of 1GB/s IO times (like for video production), as the impact on gaming will be insubstantial.
"This is one of the thinnest and lightest 17" gaming laptops out there," MSI told us, indicating the unit's 5.84lb weight and 16.47" x 11.3" x 0.86" dimensions.
Both configurations include a 2GB GTX 765M, i7-4700HQ, and 4xUSB3.0 ports on a somewhat standard 6-cell battery; MSI was uncomfortable supplying battery life targets at this time, as they're still performing internal testing. On the whole, it's an impressive amount of hardware in such a tiny space (and I'm dying to do thermal analysis on it) and the price isn't too outrageous for what you're getting. If you've got a specific need for something small and powerful, the GS70 should be on your shortlist along with a few of the other competing products we've already mentioned; if the small form factor isn't necessary for you, save the cash and get a cheaper machine and deal with the bulk.
The only complaint we walked away with on this one -- keeping in mind that it hasn't undergone a thorough benchmark -- was the input detection. The touchpad was overly-sensitive during our brief demo, meaning the mouse exhibited a bit of that oh-so-common erratic behavior when hovering an inch off the surface (typing, for instance). MSI noted that they're still calibrating the touchpad sensitivity and will be offering the driver for download, so if that's something that bothers you, it'll be resolved or user-serviceable by the time the GS70 ships.
And that's it for this round-up. We hope to publish some content on MSI's video cards and "Frozr" heat dissipation design shortly, so keep an eye out for that. Until then, go check out our Rosewill case & cooling giveaway.
- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.