The secret to any successful update is to keep the things you love while improving the things you don't. MSI has accomplished that with the new MSI GS70 Stealth Pro. The $2,099 (starting at $1,999) laptop gets a welcome boost of power with an updated Core i7 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M GPU. It also adds some impressive software, including XSplit Gamecaster to capture the play-by-play action. You get all this in a 6-pound, 0.85-inch frame that continues to turn heads. With a chassis this slim, there's bound to be some compromises, but overall, the Stealth Pro is a summer blockbuster gamers shouldn't miss.
The Stealth Pro inherited the sleek looks of the original GS70, including its remarkably thin chassis. The inky black aluminum lid is cool to the touch and resistant to most fingerprints. The backlit red-dragon coat of arms continues to be the defining accent on the notebook's lid, highlighted by the chrome MSI logo and the hard strip of plastic residing at the top.
The notebook's black aluminum interior, with its large chrome power button centered above the keyboard, continues to remind us of the Razer Blade. However, what sets this MSI apart is the placement of a large speaker grille along the top of the keyboard and a smaller one in the hinge.
A large rear panel on the laptop's bottom is covered with a gray pleather that ensures a good grip when you're carrying the notebook.
Similar to the original GS70, the 16.47 x 11.29 x 0.85-inch Stealth Pro weighs 6 pounds, making it slimmer and lighter than the 6.6-pound, 0.88-inch Razer Blade Pro. The Digital Storm Krypton (8.6 pounds, 1.81 inches thick); ASUS G750JX (8.8 pounds, 0.66~1.9 inches); and the Alienware 17 (9.2 pounds, 2.26-2.23-inches) look corpulent by comparison.
Lighting and Macros
MSI recently switched from KLM software to the SteelSeries Engine UI for its customizable keyboard backlighting. While not as flashy as Alienware's Command System utility, SteelSeries has quite a few tricks up its sleeve.
In addition to setting colors and effects on different keyboard zones, you can create custom profiles for different applications. Just like on Razer's Synapse 2.0 software, gamers can assign actions to each key on the keyboard. Setting individual keystrokes and macros was as simple as selecting a key, entering the command and hitting Save. A Statistics feature shows how a particular user engages with the keyboard, highlighting the most frequently used keys.
We still love setting up our own personal light show. 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 one of three zones to customize the color. SteelSeries lets you create four separate color layers in one profile, allowing GT60 owners to switch lighting setups on the fly.
The GS70's 17.3-inch, 1080p display is truly a sight to behold. Colors looked bright and dynamic, despite the matte anti-glare finish. A 1080p image of poison dart arrow frogs was a beautiful display of lethality. Details were sharp enough to view the tiny black spots on the frogs' skin.
The 1080p trailer for "Guardians of the Galaxy" also presented a cornucopia of color. The blues looked lovely, as evidenced by the periwinkle suits worn by Glenn Close and John C. Reilly. Gamora's emerald-green skin was striking and made the perfect contrast to the intricate red markings on Drax the Destroyer's skin.
The vibrancy extended to our play-through of "South Park: The Stick of Truth," serving up bright yellows, reds and greens. We were particularly impressed with the fart-destructible objects as they slowly undulated from deep emerald to neon orange.
The Stealth Pro averaged 281 nits on our light meter, which is brighter than the 264-nit desktop-replacement average. Both the Alienware 17 and the G750JZ delivered a lower 268 nits, while the Digital Storm registered a sparkling 304 nits of brightness.
On our colorimeter test, the Stealth Pro produced only 89 percent of the sRBG gamut. This edges out the Krypton's 88 percent but fell short of the category average (100 percent) as well as the G750JZ (101 percent) and the Alienware 17 (106 percent).
During our Delta-E test, we discovered the Stealth Pro doesn't have the best color accuracy; it registered 8.4 (a score of 0 is perfect). That's worse than the 4.67 average but better than the Krypton (10.7). The G750JZ and Alienware 17 were mere tenths of a point from perfection, hitting 0.9 and 0.6, respectively.
We usually take issue with MSI's quiet audio output, but the company pumped up the volume on the GS70's Dynaudio speakers. This gaming rig easily filled our small test room with loud audio.
Michael Jackson's posthumous track "Love Never Felt So Good" blanketed our test space in rich guitar and piano. However, Jackson's vocals sounded flat, as did Justin Timberlake's contribution. The percussion section of the track sounded lighter than it should have, despite our attempts to tweak the audio via the SoundBlaster Cinema 2 software.
The flat audio persisted during our "South Park" play-through, relegating our epic rumbling farts to chuckle-inducing squeakers.
On the Laptop Mag Audio Test, which measures the volume of a notebook's speakers from 23 inches away, the GS70 hit a very loud 94 decibels, surpassing the 89-dB average. The Krypton and G750JZ registered 82 and 80 dB, respectively. The Alienware 17 continues to rule the audio roost with an earsplitting 99 dB.
Keyboard and Touchpad
SteelSeries keyboards are a multicolored delight. The full-size, island-style keyboard offers generous spacing and firm feedback, and a full number pad. The flat keys have a vertical travel of 2 mm, which is well within the typical range of 1.5 to 2 mm. We hit 60 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, which is better than our usual 55 wpm.
Measuring 4.1 x 2.7 inches, the Elan touchpad is comfortably large, enabling us to seamlessly summon the Charms bar or perform pinch-to-zoom, two-finger rotation and three-finger flicks. The bottom corners of the touchpad provided bouncy feedback with an audible click.
After running a full-screen video on Hulu for 15 minutes, the GS70 Stealth Pro's touchpad measured 79 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys reached 84 degrees. The laptop's underside blew 98 degrees, which is a few degrees above our 95-degree comfort threshold.
Following our 15-minute play-through of "Child of Light," the touchpad and G and H keys measured 88 and 93 degrees, respectively. The notebook's undercarriage hit a hot 110 degrees, while the hinge measured 95 degrees.
With a name like the Stealth Pro, you'd expect a fairly quiet experience. However, whether we were watching video or playing "Child of Light," the laptop's fan was a noticeable distraction. The noise is really pronounced in a quiet setting such as our office.
Images captured by the Stealth Pro's integrated 720p webcam didn't deliver very sharp images. Numerous test shots revealed rather grainy images with dull color. Our bright-red shirt looked ashen, and our neon-green headphones took on more of a pea-green tone. Although we could make out some details, such as the pilling on the inside of our hoodie, there was noticeable fuzziness throughout the photos.
The GS70 is packed with a bevy of ports, including two USB 3.0 ports, a 3-in-1 card reader and a secure lock slot on the right. The power jack also sits on the right side of the laptop, but it's placed awkwardly toward the middle of the chassis instead of toward the rear.
On the laptop's left side, you'll find another two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, dual mini DisplayPorts, a Gigabit Ethernet port and three jacks for S-PDIF, headphones and mic.
Gaming and Graphics
Equipped with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M GPU with 6GB of VRAM, the MSI GS70 Stealth Pro can rip through most games on the market. The laptop automatically switches over to its Intel HD 4600 GPU for times when you're not gaming.
On the 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme benchmark, the Stealth Pro notched 100,109, sailing past the 86,596 desktop-replacement average. Outfitted with more powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M GPUs, the Alienware 17, ASUS G750JZ and Digital Storm Krypton scored 95,245, 101,899 and 114,079, respectively.
When we ran the "BioShock Infinite" benchmark, the Stealth Pro notched a frame rate of 124 fps at 1920 x 1080 pixels on Low, which is several frames below the 127-fps average. The Krypton delivered 151 fps, while the Alienware 17 and G750JZ posted 144 and 141 fps, respectively.
The Stealth Pro's frame rate dropped to 53 fps on High, short of the 54-fps average. Both the G750JZ and Krypton hit 65 fps, while the Alienware 17 obtained 63 fps.
During the "Metro: Last Light" benchmarks, the Stealth Pro notched 70 fps, which is below the 84-fps average, as well as the Krypton (88 fps), the Alienware 17 (82 fps) and the G750JZ (81 fps).
At maximum settings, the Stealth Pro's frame rate dropped to 17 fps. That's below our 30-fps playability threshold, but almost nothing we've tested so far can hit the mark on this game. Our desktop-replacement average is 21 fps, while the Alienware 17 hit 20 fps and the Krypton and the G750JZ were in a dead heat, at 24 fps.
The MSI GS70 Stealth Pro has some serious power, thanks to its 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-4910HQ processor with 16GB of RAM. The laptop had no problem streaming an episode of "Attack on Titan" while running a full system scan with 12 open tabs in Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
On the PCMark7 benchmark, the Stealth Pro hit 6,193, beating the 5,496 desktop-replacement average. The Alienware 17, with its 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-4910MQ CPU, hit 5,838, while the ASUS G750JZ's 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU scored 5,969. The Digital Storm Krypton's 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4810MQ CPU topped the competition, with a score of 6,437.
Perhaps MSI should have named the GS70 "Swift" instead of "Stealth." The laptop's pair of 128GB solid state drives (SSDs) in Super RAID 2 configuration, which is faster than a RAID 0 setup, booted Windows 8.1 in a speedy 9 seconds.
The Stealth Pro duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia in an absurdly fast 9 seconds, for a file-transfer rate of 565.5 MBps. That's more than twice as fast as the 201.1-MBps average. The Alienware 17 scored 463 MBps, while the G750JZ and Krypton were far behind, at 283 and 159 MBps, respectively.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Stealth Pro paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 53 seconds. That's enough to top the 4:40 category average as well as the G750JZ's time of 4:03. However, the Krypton and the Alienware 17 clocked in with faster times of 3:33 and 3:29, respectively.
The MSI GS70 Stealth Pro lasted 5 hours and 1 minute on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness). That's longer than the 4:21 desktop-replacement average, the Alienware 17 (4:06) and the Digital Storm Krypton (2:54). However, the ASUS G750JZ was the last laptop standing, with a time of 6:26.
Software and Warranty
MSI continues to go against gaming-rig conventions, loading its machines with software. Fortunately, most of the included programs are useful. 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.
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For people searching for a more robust recording experience than Nvidia has to offer, MSI also preinstalled XSplit Gamecaster. In addition to capturing your latest gaming exploits on video, the GS70 Stealth Pro's webcam can also add a picture-in-picture view. Or, unleash your inner John Madden and draw on the video to show the blow-by-blow in your gaming strategy.
After initiating the software overlay (by pressing 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.
The MSI GS70 Stealth Pro is available in two flavors. Our $2,099 configuration features a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-4910HQ processor with 16GB of RAM, a dual 128GB SSD in Super RAID 2 configuration, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M GPU with 6GB of VRAM.
The $1,999 base model has a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7-4910HQ processor, 16GB of RAM, a dual 128GB SSD in RAID 0 configuration, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M GPU with 6GB of VRAM.
Once again, MSI has proven that a powerful notebook doesn't necessarily have to be a hulking behemoth. The $2,099 GS70 Stealth Pro houses a Core i7 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M processor in a 0.85-inch-thick chassis. It's a highly successful pairing of portability and power. In addition, the notebook offers a blistering SSD, a matte 1080p display and software to record your best moves.
However, some sacrifices were made in the name of portability. In the case of the Stealth Pro, it's not as powerful as its bulkier competitors equipped with Nvidia 880M GPUs. An Alienware 17 with a Core i7 CPU, Nvidia GTX 860M graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive costs $2,199 and offers a brighter display, better sound and a cooler keyboard, but it's 1 inch thicker and a full 3 pounds heavier.
Overall, gamers seeking a 17-inch laptop that's powerful but doesn't break their back will find the MSI GS70 to be an excellent choice.