Typically, when you have a gaming laptop as slim as the MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro (starting at $1,599, reviewed at $1,899), you have to sacrifice some performance. Not so with this model. Thanks to its powerful Core i7 processor and Nvidia Pascal video card, the 15-inch GS63VR can keep up with speedy desktop replacements, but without the backbreaking weight. Even better, the skinny system can support VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive without breaking a sweat.
Overall, the MSI GS63VR offers a great combination of small frame and big performance, but you'll have to live with some unpleasantly warm temperatures while you're gaming.
The Stealth Pro is a master class in feng shui. Somehow, MSI managed to fit all those powerful components in a 4.2-pound, 14.9 x 9.8 x 0.69-inch chassis. It's one of the slimmest 15-inch gaming laptops on the market, and it makes the Gigabyte P55W (5.8 pounds, 14.9 x 10.6 x 1.1~1.3 inches), Alienware 15 (7.1 pounds, 15.2 x 10.6 x 0.9~1.3 inches) and Digital Storm Equinox (4.2 pounds, 15.3 x 10.5 x 0.9 inches) look chunky by comparison.
But the Stealth Pro is more than a slim chassis -- it's also a sexy little minx. The laptop's black, brushed-aluminum lid gleams in anticipation of your touch. As pretty as it is, I had to restrain myself from running my fingers down the pair of raised ridges -- the inky metal does show fingerprints. Instead, I chose to admire the red and white backlit dragon emblem in the center of the lid as well as the fine red accents along the rear vents.
From there, I turned my attention to the notebook's black aluminum interior, where I was greeted by a design that's similar to previous Stealth laptops. There are a few slight changes, including an orange power light that now lurks at the center of the top-mounted heat vent and the red, chrome-lined touchpad. In between the two sits the backlit keyboard, glowing expectantly in its recessed dock. The laptop's undercarriage is lined with a gray, textured soft-touch material.
Along the Stealth Pro's right, you'll see a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.1 Thunderbolt port, HDMI, a Mini DisplayPort, the power port and the power button. There's a trio of USB 3.0 ports along the left, with a SD card reader, Gigabit Ethernet, a secure lock slot, a Hi-Fi headphone jack and a microphone jack.
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For such a covert name, the Stealth Pro's 1920 x 1080 matte display is begging to be seen. The matte, 15.6-inch panel serves up gorgeously vivid colors, particularly when it comes to red. Watching the Hidden Figures trailer, my eyes were immediately drawn to the various red lipsticks worn by most of the women. Janelle Monae's shade only served to highlight her warm cocoa complexion and to offset her taupe trench coat. Finer details such as a few flyaway strands of hair glistening in the midday sun were easy to make out.
I started heading downstream during The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with Geralt trudging through waist-deep water, creating miniscule ripples in the blue-green liquid with every step. When the water was deep enough, I dived down, admiring the warrior's ashen hair flowing freely about his face.
Most of the Stealth Pro's vividness comes from its ability to reproduce 111 percent of the sRGB color gamut (100 percent is excellent), which is better than the 90 percent mainstream average. The Stealth Pro's score matched Equinox, edged out the P55W (110 percent) and flat-out beat the Alienware 15 (60 percent).
Measuring 1.9 on the Delta-E benchmark (0 is ideal), the Stealth Pro's accuracy leaves something to be desired, however, falling short of the 2.5 average. The Equinox, P55W and Alienware 15 are much better at 1.4, 1 and 0.5, respectively.
The Stealth Pro also fell short on the brightness test, averaging 242 nits, missing the 264-nit mark. However, that was still better than the Alienware 15's 222 nits, but not the average for the Equinox (293 nits) or the P55W (321 nits).
Although they're relatively small, the pair of bottom-mounted speakers packed a potent punch, filling my bedroom with Sade's sultry, yet plaintive alto during "No Ordinary Love." The audio was clear enough for me to hear the strident strums of the electric guitar and the piano chords. However, the bass wasn't as pronounced as it should have been, and the drums took a backseat to the rest of the action.
I had a better result when I began playing Witcher 3. The meaty sound of my sword slicing through drowner flesh was just as satisfying as the staccato drumbeat, hand claps and violins that make up the game's battle music.
The Nahimic 2 software offers several presets to optimize your listening experience. For gaming, you have Role Play, Shooter, Strategy and Racing. Multimedia settings include Music and Comms. The app also offers several cool features that will help you get the jump on your gaming foes. For example, the SoundTracker feature points out your enemies' locations based on sound. There's also Audio Launchpad, which maps sound effects to keyboard shortcuts, letting you quickly accentuate a sweet move.
MSI and SteelSeries continue to make a great team. The island-style keyboard delivers firm, bouncy feedback, making it one of the best keyboards I've used this year. Thanks to the 1.9-millimeter key travel and 59 grams of actuation, I easily hit my 65-word-per-minute average on the 10FastFingers typing test. The multicolored backlighting illuminated my keystrokes, even with the lights off.
However the keyboard is more than a collection of glowing caps. Thanks to SteelSeries software, you can assign one of the three zones of the keyboard with one out of 16.8 million colors and four effects, for a cool custom creation. There's also the GameSense feature, which maps the keyboard zones to a specific game. For instance, the CounterStrike Go profile has the left side of the keyboard corresponding to your health, while the middle and right side map are linked to your Armor and Bullet inventory. Each section of the board will flash when a significant change in status occurs.
Performing gestures such as three-finger swipe and two-finger rotation on the 4 x 2.7-inch Elan touchpad was relatively smooth. However, while I was typing this review, there were several instances where the mouse inadvertently jumped to another section of the page, which became annoying.
Gaming, Graphics and VR
The Stealth Pro is one of the slimmest VR-capable gaming notebooks on the market, thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU (with 6GB of VRAM). The laptop hit 7.4 during the SteamVR Performance test, besting the P55W's 6.6, but not the 8.4 category average.
Nvidia Pascal also provides a significant boost to traditional games like Witcher 3. During my travels, I became surrounded by a pack of wild dogs. I rolled away from the mangy beasts, switching between sword strikes and fire spells, all the while maintaining an average 42 frames per second on ultra. Knocking the settings down to high raised the frame rate to a solid 56 fps.
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The Stealth Pro notched 58 fps on the Hitman benchmark on Very High at 1080p, which failed to match the 70-fps average, but is enough to top the P55W's 57 fps. The MSI held onto its lead during the Grand Theft Auto benchmark, scoring 49 fps, and beat the P55W's 33 fps, but not the 49-fps category average.
The Stealth Pro is outfitted with a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 16GB of RAM, which is comparable to most gaming laptops on the market. The notebook streamed an episode of "Stranger Things" with 14 open tabs in Google Chrome while running a full system scan.
The laptop was on a par with other gaming laptops in its class, scoring 13,339 on our synthetic performance test, beating the 7,780 mainstream average. Equipped with Core i7-6700HQ CPUs of their own, the P55W, Equinox and Alienware achieved 13,530, 13.525 and 13,494, respectively.
The Stealth Pro's 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD, which is paired with a 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, tore through the File Transfer Test, duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files in 9 seconds for a transfer rate of 565.5 megabytes per second. That absolutely roasted the 294.9-MBps average, as well as the Equinox, which obtained 424.1 MBps with its 256GB SSD. The Alienware 15 (256GB PCIe SSD) hit 201.1 MBps, while the P55W (128GB M.2 SATA SSD) delivered 124.1 MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the Stealth Pro paired 20,000 names and addresses in 3 minutes and 38 seconds, coasting past the 4:40 average. The P55W scraped out the win at 3:37, while the Alienware 15 and Equinox finished at 3:50 and 4:40, respectively.
All that power comes at a cost, and in the Stealth Pro's case, it's the battery life. The laptop lasted just 2 hours and 54 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's well below the 6:32 mainstream average. The Equinox lasted 3:09, while the Alienware 15 tapped out after 7:13.
After 15 minutes of questing in Witcher 3, the touchpad had a temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The center of the system hit 96 degrees, which is just above our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, the notebook's undercarriage measured a hot 123 degrees, so don't try balancing the GS63VR Stealth Pro on your lap.
The Stealth Pro can run a little hot, even when you're doing mundane tasks like watching a video. After 15 minutes of streaming a full-screen Hulu video, the bottom of the notebook measured 103 degrees. The space between the G and H keys and the touchpad were somewhat cooler at 92 and 86 degrees, respectively.
The 720p integrated webcam captures video at 30 fps, which will come in handy for streaming. However, the webcam isn't big on detail, as I could see pixelation throughout my test shots, which almost obscured my eyebrows. The color was also a little off -- a bright blue wall had a grayish tone and my salmon shirt looked neon orange.
Software and Warranty
MSI has given the Dragon Center app a makeover, creating an easy-to-access hub, placing useful apps such as SteelSeries Engine, Nvidia GeForce Experience, MSI True Color and Killer Network Manager under tabs.
The System Monitor tab allows you to check your system's status, while the LED Wizard helps you to create custom indicator lighting. System Tuner allows you to create profiles that control VR optimization, display color temperature and more. Finally, there's Tools & Help, where you'll find software for Burn Recovery and Battery Calibration.
Third-party apps include Flipboard, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Twitter and Magix Music Maker.
The MSI GT62 Dominator Pro ships with a two-year limited warranty.
Our $1,899 review model of the Stealth Pro has a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB M.2 SATA SSD with a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM, a 1920 x 1080 display and a Killer N1535 Combo (2x2 ac) wireless card.
The $1,549 base model also has the same specs as our review unit, except that it only has a 128GB SSD and an Intel 8260 802.11ac (2x2) wireless card. If you have the money, there's also a $2,099 edition, which upgrades to a 3840 X 2160 panel.
Don't take the $1,899 MSI GS63 Stealth Pro's slimness for weakness. Beneath that 0.69-inch-thick chassis lies a bona fide gaming laptop capable of delivering great frame rates and playing nice with VR helmets. It's even got blistering transfer speeds, a comfortable keyboard and a lovely display to boot.
All that svelteness doesn't come without a few caveats -- namely, the heat and subpar battery life. Our review unit was a little on the pricey side, but if you can deal with a smaller SSD and don't care about the wireless card, you can get similar performance with the base model of the Stealth Pro.
Overall, if you're looking for an extremely slim, VR-ready gaming laptop with great performance, the GS63 Stealth Pro is the laptop for you.