Getting into PC gaming at any size can cost you a pretty penny, but MSI is at the forefront of affordable gaming laptops in 2013. The $1,299 MSI GE60 stuffs a blazing 2.4-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPU and a 128GB mSATA SSD into a fairly portable 5.6-pound package. In fact, this design is lighter than other gaming rigs with smaller screens. However, this rig comes with some caveats.
The MSI GE60's chassis makes use of multiple -- perhaps too many -- types of materials. The laptop's lid comes in a glossy black plastic with two red lines. Opening the lid reveals a 15.6-inch matte display surrounded by a thick, raised bezel of matte black plastic.
The keyboard deck is a panel of brushed aluminum wrapped by a band of stark red plastic. The lowered chiclet keyboard sits inside a glossy black well. Above the keyboard is a long speaker grille with red accents underneath that run the length of the deck.
On the left are controls for the keyboard backlighting and MSI's Cool Boost feature, and the power button sits to the right. Below the keyboard, the chrome-lined, brushed aluminum touchpad sits left of center. Along the front edge are seven blue status lights for wireless connectivity, battery, and hard drive activity, to name a few.
The bottom of the GE60 is made of a matte plastic, similar to what surrounds its screen.
While it's a more sophisticated look than previous generations, the GE60's combination of materials still feels a little disjointed, and not as premium as designs from Alienware and Razer.
The GE60 measures 15.09 x 9.83 x 1.27-1.46 inches and weighs 5.6 pounds, making it lighter and thinner than the 6.6-pound Alienware 14 (13.2 x 10.2 x 1.58-1.64 inches).
Sporting a 15.6-inch matte LCD with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, the GE60 produces gorgeous and accurate colors along with excellent detail. During the trailer for "Kick Ass 2," we could easily see every hair in Jim Carrey's stubble and the screen easily kept up with the action as Hit Girl kicked Kick Ass' ass in training.
In games like "Bioshock Infinite," this display offered brilliant color representation and terrific viewing angles with nearly zero color distortion. Games seem to look best on this screen at a slightly higher brightness and contrast. Once we calibrated the game to our liking, we could make out details in the darkest of rooms, peppered by bursts of light from gunfire and broken shields.
Brightness is an area in which the GE60 outshines the competition. The notebook's display registered 260 lux in our testing, which beats the category average of 207. The Alienware 14 put out 161 lux, which is terribly dim by comparison.
The speakers and gold-plated headphone jack on this 15-inch gaming rig put out respectable sound, powered by MSI's Audio Boost technology. According to MSI, this feature boosts output to headsets by 30 percent through an integrated audio amplifier chip.
Listening to Kanye West's "On Sight" through the GE60's speakers produced somewhat muddled bass notes but blisteringly loud volume and a crystal clear vocal track. However, we found that the synthesizers fought with Kanye's rhymes and often got lost throughout the track.
The same song through headphones didn't sound dramatically improved, but we did notice overall sound definition and less competition between sound sources. We could still hear Kanye's crass lines loud and clear.
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The GE60 comes with an island-style keyboard provided by gaming peripheral manufacturer SteelSeries. The notebook's size allows for a keyboard complete with number pad, and its keys are made of matte plastic. While this model in MSI's line offers backlighting, the feature is only available in blue and isn't very bright.
Typing on the keyboard felt comfortable and travel was swift, but the keys felt a bit squishy after continued use. However, comfort isn't synonymous with accuracy, and we often found ourselves overreaching for keys, especially the shortened Backspace and right Shift key. We could have done without the number pad if it would mean more room and normal-size keys.
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With a roomy 4.25 x 2.5 inches, you would think that the touchpad on the GE60 would be a delight to use. Unfortunately, even after a driver update, we experienced inconsistent performance. While two-finger scrolling significantly improved after the update, Windows 8 gestures (such as Charms and switching apps) only worked when we were slow and deliberate with our swipes. Also, tapping with two fingers to right-click was no longer an option after the update.
Gaming with the GE60's touchpad proved a challenge when exploring the floating city of Columbia in "Bioshock Infinite." New drivers allowed us to move our character with the WASD keys and look around with the touchpad at the same time, which was borderline impossible before. However, firing a weapon and walking simultaneously was still but a dream.
While most hardcore gamers will do this anyway, we highly recommend using an external mouse while playing games.
Even with its neat Cool Boost feature, the GE60 reached scorching temperatures while playing games. LAPTOP considers anything above 95 degrees Fahrenheit to be uncomfortable. This notebook skyrocketed to 120 degrees on its underside when running "Bioshock Infinite" for 15 minutes.
While the Cool Boost function -- which ups the fan speed considerably -- brought the rig down to 114 degrees while playing, that's still toasty. Plus, activating Cool Boost makes the fan about as loud as an original Xbox 360, so bring your noise-canceling headphones.
Watching an episode of "The Colbert Report" on Hulu for 15 minutes registered much lower temperatures: 83.5 degrees on the touchpad, 87 degrees between the G and H keys and 104 degrees on the far left of its underside. These heat levels are lower than what the Alienware 14 produced overall, but would still be uncomfortable on your lap.
Ports and Webcam
Gaming notebooks of this size have plenty of room for ports and other media slots, and the GE60 doesn't disappoint. An Ethernet port sits on the right side of the rig, equipped with MSI's Killer E2200 networking tech. The company claims that this feature automatically prioritizes latency-sensitive traffic -- like online games and streaming video -- for smoother experiences.
Joining the Ethernet port are a VGA port, one USB 2.0 port and a DVDRW/CDRW drive. On the GE60's right side, you'll find a lock slot, AC adapter port, one more USB 2.0 port and two USB 3.0 ports. Rounding the I/O selection are an HDMI-out port, gold-plated headphone and microphone jacks and an SD card reader front and center beneath the front-facing LEDs.
While the GE60 has ports aplenty, its webcam fails to impress. Only able to take stills at 0.9-MP, images looked terribly blurry and lacked detail, though color representation seemed accurate. While the webcam records at 720p resolution, offline video wasn't as crisp as you would expect.
Graphics and Gaming
The GE60 goes head-to-head with the Alienware 14 with its Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M, packing 2GB of GDDR5 video RAM, and it certainly shows. This gaming laptop registered 73 frames per second on the "Bioshock Infinite" benchmark test at low settings and 1920 x 1080 resolution. On the highest possible graphic settings, the GE60 reported a not-quite-playable 26 FPS. Regardless, its scores beat the Alienware 14.
Running the same benchmark, the Alienware 14 reported 71 FPS at its native resolution of 1920 x 1080 and low settings. The machine scored 24 FPS at the highest settings.
Despite our benchmarks, playing Bioshock -- and recording with FRAPS -- at the highest possible settings yielded better results. The rate fluctuated between a playable 28 and 35 FPS. Bringing the settings down to "High" boosted the FPS to between 45 and 50.
The GPU produced gorgeous particle effects and lighting, especially as our character's shield broke from gunfire. However, we also noticed some disconcerting screen tearing as we strafed from left to right.
On 3DMark 11, this laptop scored 4,453, which is not only far better than the 1,233 category average, it bests the Alienware 14 (4,136) by more than 300 points.
Our GE60 review unit came with Intel's fourth generation, quad-core Core i7-4700MQ processor clocked at 2.4-3.4GHz. (However, this was overclocked by its vendor, Xotic PC, through its Redline Boost service.) This unit also features a Samsung PM841 128GB mSATA III SSD -- the standard is a 750GB HDD at 7,200 rpm -- and 8GB of DDR3 RAM. This is a fine match for the Alienware 14, which boasts a 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor, a 256GB mSATA SSD and a 750 GB, 7,200 rpm HDD along with 16GB of RAM.
Throughout most of our synthetic and proprietary benchmark tests, the GE60 and Alienware 14 were neck and neck. Thanks to its SSD, this gaming laptop booted to Windows 8 in a blistering 6.3 seconds, and completed the LAPTOP File Transfer Test in 27 seconds. That translates to a 188.5 MBps transfer rate. Alienware's 14-inch machine booted to Windows 7 at a snail's pace by comparison, 30 seconds, but finished its File Transfer test with a rate of 204 MBps.
MSI's latest 15.6-inch rig finished our OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses, in 4 minutes and 5 seconds. That blows away the category average of 5:49, but the Alienware 14 finished the test 5 seconds faster. On the synthetic PCMark 7 test, the GE60 scored 5,654, beating the Alienware 14 (5,325) by more than 300 points.
Overall, these scores match this notebook's performance. The GE60 was quick in switching between the Windows 8 Modern and desktop interfaces, and loading games and apps was a breeze.
Where the MSI GE60 falls short is endurance. And that's even with Nvidia's Optimus technology, which switches from discrete to integrated graphics -- in this case, Intel HD Graphics 4600 -- for less-demanding tasks. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi at 40 percent brightness), this notebook lasted just 3 hours and 41 minutes on its 6 cell battery. This is far below the category average of 6:10, and the Alienware 14 lasted nearly two hours longer at 5:17. This model's little brother, the $1,299 GE40, lasted a record 8:20 on our test.
Software and Warranty
Thankfully, MSI and Xotic kept the bloatware to a minimum on the GE60, with not much more than the standard Windows 8 apps included. What gamers will care most about is the MSI Afterburner tool, which allows users to easily overclock the CPU and GPU with a few sliders.
Also included is the Qualcomm Atheros Killer Network Manager. This utility allows users to monitor and control the network bandwidth that each application gets through the GE60's Ethernet port. Finally, MSI offers custom power modes and control of the laptop's Wi-Fi, webcam and more through its System Control Manager app. MSI supports would-be customers with a two-year parts and labor limited warranty.
Our review sample of the MSI GE60 came with a Samsung PM841 128GB SSD with mSATA III, a 2.4-3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor and 8GB of DDR3 RAM. Also, the CPU was overclocked using Xotic PC's Redline Boost service and its 15.6-inch screen was given a professional monitor color calibration, bringing the grand total to $1,472. With a 750GB HDD at 7,200 rpm and without the overclock and monitor calibration services, the GE60 starts at $1,299.
In terms of performance, MSI offers one of the most impressive gaming laptops for the price in the GE60. However, that affordability brings with it some trade-offs, namely an occasionally frustrating touchpad and a cheaper-looking design than premium rigs.
Still, the fact that this notebook can keep up with the Alienware 14 in a lighter, slimmer body and larger display -- for hundreds of dollars less -- is a tough fact to ignore. Overall, the GE60 is a pretty good deal for gamers. Just don't forget your external mouse.