The days of gaming laptops looking like hulking behemoths are at an end. The MSI GS60 Ghost, the latest in the company's line of sleek powerhouses, sports a 15.6-inch screen but is less than an inch thick and weighs only 4.2 pounds, making it one of the lightest gaming notebooks in the world. Starting at $1,699 ($1,799 as configured), the Ghost packs a powerful Intel Core i7 CPU, Nvidia's new 800 series GPU and a captivating 1080p display, making this a gaming rig that's powerful, portable and ready to play.
Sorry, we didn't see you standing there; we were too busy ogling this notebook. The black aluminum lid of the gorgeous GS60 Ghost features two subtle ridges that help play up the chrome MSI logo and the backlit red dragon emblem. However, it's quick to pick up fingerprints. But while the Ghost is an undeniable beauty, it doesn't quite surpass the scintillating anodized aluminum chassis of the Razer Blade 14.
The Ghost's interior is just as pretty, featuring even more black brushed aluminum. A thick speaker grille sits at the top of the deck, separating the chrome-lined, backlit power button and the keyboard. The backlit keyboard resides in a deep recess above a chrome-lined touchpad.
The laptop's underside is made from Magnesium-Lithium (Mg-Li). First used on NASA's Saturn V rocket, this light but sturdy alloy allows the 15.4 x 10.5 x 0.78-inch Ghost to weigh 4.2 pounds, the same as the smaller 13.6 x 9.3 x 0.66-inch Razer Blade 14. This machine makes the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p (15.2 x 10.2 x 0.6~1.4 inches, 6.4 pounds) feel bulky by comparison.
The Ghost's 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 display delivers all the visual oohs and aahs we've come to expect from an MSI panel. The company will also offer a 3K Edition laptop that features a 2880 x 1620 screen.
The matte anti-glare panel rendered images so well, we couldn't stop staring at a collection of cardinal-red houses on the screen. The picture was sharp enough to see individual blades of grass, as well as the veins of the leaves on the emerald green bushes growing around each of the buildings.
The laptop continued to impress during the 1080p "Maleficent" trailer. We appreciated the fine wrinkles and creases in the main character's headdress and robe along with the delicate filigree on baby Aurora's gold-and-white blanket. The viewing angles are wide enough to comfortably accommodate three people. "Borderlands 2" was scene after scene of gorgeous cel-shaded graphics. Intricate details, such as the rivets in Handsome Jack's mask, were on full display.
When we measured brightness, the GS60 averaged 319 lux, easily outshining the 223 lux mainstream average. However, both the Blade 14 and Y510p were slightly brighter at 323 and 321 lux, respectively.
Outfitted with a pair of Dynaudio speakers coupled with SoundBlaster Cinema 2 software, the GS60 filled our test space with loud audio. Volume isn't everything, however, as we found that the speakers were consistently thin in the bass. In addition, the usually docile harmonies on Pharrell Williams' "Happy" were rather piercing due to harsh highs that drowned out the already weak percussion.
The audio improved when we began playing "Borderlands 2," as the Ghost's speakers delivered passable oomph for the game's various explosions. Playing through the same scenes on the Y510p had deeper lows, adding some weight to our mushroom-cloud-inducing mayhem. Character dialogue on the GS60 was nice and crisp, evoking our usual giggles as we cut a wide swath of carnage through a countryside filled with monsters and bandits.
On the Laptop Audio Test (measuring a constant tone at a distance of 23 inches from the laptop), the GS60 achieved 84 decibels, which is short of the 87dB mainstream average. Both the Y510p and the Blade 14 hit 86dB.
The colorful backlighting was plenty bright, allowing us to easily type in dim settings. In addition to setting colors and effects on different keyboard zones, you can create custom profiles for different applications. Similar to Razer's Synapse 2.0 software, gamers can assign actions to every key on the keyboard. Setting individual keystrokes and macros was as simple as selecting a key, entering the command and hitting Save. The interface also offers a Statistics feature that shows how a particular user engages with the keyboard, highlighting the most frequently used keys.
Setting up our own personal light show continues to be a favorite activity. The SteelSeries utility offers seven effects, including Breathing, Wave and Gaming. Depending on the effect, these split the keyboard into up to three zones. After picking an effect, we clicked a zone to customize the color. SteelSeries provides the ability to create four separate color layers in one profile, allowing GS60 owners to switch lighting setups on the fly.
The 4.1 x 2.75-inch Elan touchpad gave us plenty of space to maneuver. More important, the device let us smoothly navigate Web pages and documents as well as perform multitouch gestures such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and rotate and three-finger swipe. Using Windows gestures to switch between apps or launch the Charms menu took only a quick flick of the wrist to the left or right. The bottom corners of the touchpad served as suitable mouse buttons, providing gentle clicks when pressed.
After streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad on the GS60 measured 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys was slightly warmer at 87 degrees. The laptop's underside reached a warm 109 degrees, which is well above our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, we were able to use the notebook in our lap for more than an hour with no ill effect.
The GS60 employs a dual-fan thermal cooling system in an attempt to keep things cool and quiet when gaming. However, after playing "The Cave" for 15 minutes, the laptop's undercarriage registered a rather uncomfortable 119 degrees. The touchpad measured 88 degrees and the space between the G and H keys hit 93 degrees.
The Ghost's 720p webcam captured warm colors when shooting photos and videos. The camera caught the red undertones in our skin for a more natural-looking complexion. The camera also accurately displayed the light blue of a banner in the background. The visual detail left much to be desired, however, as images were plagued with grainy pixels.
The GS60 strikes a good balance between maintaining a thin profile and having enough ports to satisfy gamers. The right side is outfitted with a single USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort, HDMI, Gigabyte Ethernet and a 3-in-1 card reader. An additional pair of USB 3.0 ports are on the left alongside a secure lock slot, gold-plated jacks for headphones and a microphone, and a power jack.
The MSI GS60 Ghost houses a Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. The middle child of Nvidia's 800 series, the 860 isn't as powerful as the 880M, but it still packs a punch. On those few occasions when we weren't gaming, Nvidia's Optimus technology switched the notebook over to the Intel HD Graphics 4600 integrated GPU to conserve power.
The laptop delivered gangbuster results on our tests, scoring a whopping 102,334 on 3DMark Ice Storm, more than doubling the 49,361 average. The Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p's pair of Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPUs hit 71,550, while the Razer Blade 14's Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPU notched 89,963.
When we ran the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the GS60 notched 181 fps on autodetect at 1080p. That's way more than the 95 fps mainstream average. The Y510p (1080p) scored 176 fps, while the Blade 14 and its lower-resolution 1600 x 900 display delivered a blistering 218 fps.
After we boosted effects to Ultra, the Ghost maintained a very strong 167 fps, crushing the 50 fps category average. The Blade 14 was a distant second at 92 fps, with the Y510p bringing up the rear at 81 fps.
The GS60 continued its full court press on the "BioShock Infinite" benchmark, hitting 91 fps on low at 1080p, topping the 50 fps average. The Y510p posted 67 fps, while the Blade 14 and its lower-res screen achieved 88 fps. The Ghost faded some when we switched to high, posting a playable frame rate of 35 fps. However, that was enough to surpass the 26 fps average as well as the Blade 14 and Y510p (30 and 27 fps).
When we put the Ghost through its paces on the "Metro: Last Light" benchmark, it hit an impressive 53 fps. The laptop soundly defeated the 30 fps average along with the Y510p (37 fps). The Blade 14 managed to keep pace with the MSI, hitting 51 fps, but at a lower resolution. On the high setting, the GS60's frame rate dropped to an unplayable 12 fps. This portable rig's competitors didn't fare well, either.
Greater performance is just one aspect of Nvidia's new family of GeForce GTX GPUs, which includes the 880M. The GeForce Experience app includes several features meant to enhance gameplay and endurance.
Battery Boost lets you cap performance at a predetermined frame rate. The app will then throttle the notebook's components, so that gamers can eke out a bit more juice without sacrificing too much performance. Battery Boost Custom Game Settings will let you tweak individual titles even further.
ShadowPlay lets you record gameplay at resolutions of up to 1920 x 1080p, and broadcast gaming sessions to sites such as Twitch.
GameStream, previously only available on Nvidia's desktop GPUs, allows you to stream games from your notebook to connected devices, such as Nvidia's SHIELD.
Thanks to a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM, the MSI GS60 Ghost is a lean, mean productivity machine. During our real-world testing, the laptop smoothly streamed an episode of "Star Wars: Clone Wars" on Netflix with 12 open tabs in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome--all while performing a full system scan.
The notebook notched 5,946 on the PCMark 7 benchmark, topping the 3,678 mainstream average. The Razer Blade 14 and its 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702HQ CPU was a close second at 5,873. The Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p's 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-4702MQ CPU mustered only 4,871.
The GS60's 128GB mSATA SSD and 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive booted Windows 8.1 in 11 seconds, cruising past the 20-second average. That time was enough to beat the Y510p's (1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive) 19-second load time, but the Blade 14's (256GB SSD) started in 7 seconds.
During the File Transfer Test, the Ghost duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 56 seconds for a transfer rate of 91 MBps, well above the 75 MBps average. That's more than enough to top the IdeaPad Y510p's 47 MBps, but not the Blade 14's 141 MBps.
The GS60 Ghost completed the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test (matching 20,000 names and addresses) in 4 minutes flat, beating the 5:29 mainstream average. The Blade 14 and Y510p were in a dead heat at 4:15.
During the Laptop Mag Battery Test--surfing the Web over Wi-Fi at 100 nits (30 percent brightness for this notebook)--the MSI GS60 Ghost lasted 5 hours and 34 minutes, matching the mainstream average. The Lenovo Y510p, which ran the test at 40 percent brightness, tapped out at 3:08. However, the Razer Blade 14 (40 percent brightness) clocked in with an impressive 8:07.
Editors' Note: We're in the process of normalizing the Laptop Mag battery test for 100 nits of brightness. The Lenovo Y510p and Razer Blade 14 were benchmarked prior to this change.
Unlike other gaming laptop makers, MSI continues to load up its machines with software. Fortunately, most of the programs this brand supplies are rather useful. Offerings such as MSI Battery Calibration, Killer Diagnostic and Network Manager are designed to provide optimal CPU, GPU and Wi-Fi performance.
Other utilities include the System Control Manager, which you can use to adjust screen brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, volume and the webcam. MSI Dragon Gaming Center lets gamers monitor general system health and set utilities to launch at start.
For those searching for a more robust game-recording experience than Nvidia has to offer, MSI has also pre-installed XSplit Gamecaster. In addition to capturing your latest gaming exploits on video, the webcam can add a picture-in-picture view. Or, you can unleash your inner John Madden and draw on the video to show the blow-by-blow in your gaming strategy.
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After initiating the software overlay (hitting CTRL + Tab), simply hit the Stream button to begin capturing footage and the Webcam button to add video of yourself. Gamers also have the option to share or stream footage to Twitch and YouTube.
Third-party apps include Skype, Cookbook by Slow Serve, a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office, Evernote Touch, MusicMaker Jam and TuMetro, a reader app that compiles stories using keyword semantics. The system also comes with a 30-day trial of Norton Anti-Theft.
Our $1,799 configuration of the MSI GS60 Ghost features a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM, a 128GB mSATA SSD, 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
The base model, priced at $1,699, has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU, 12GB of RAM, a 128GB mSATA SSD, 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
MSI will also offer a $2,099 configuration with a 2880 x 1620 display, 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM, a 256GB mSATA SSD, 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
MSI has proved that you can make a slim 15-inch gaming rig without making serious trade-offs. The $1,799 GS60 Ghost offers lightweight portability with strong graphics, fairly good battery life and a lovely wide-angle 1080p display. MSI also includes software that enhances your game play and a keyboard with fun, customizable backlighting.
Razer is scheduled to release an update to the Blade 14 that will cost the same as the high-end GS60, but feature similar specs and an even crisper 14-inch, 3200 x 1800 display. Overall, though, the GS60 Ghost is a great choice for gamers looking for a powerful and very portable gaming notebook with a larger screen.