Gaming notebook makers have become obsessed with having the skinniest rig on the block. Case in point: MSI's new GS70. The $1,999 notebook is a mere 0.85 inches thick, making it the world's thinnest 17-inch gaming notebook. The company hasn't skimped at all on the specs, however, outfitting the GS70 with a fourth-gen Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GTX graphics. But can such a lean laptop compete against the reigning beasts on the market?
We'll forgive you for the lustful feelings that the GS70 elicits. We were immediately captivated by the notebook's lithe, slinky profile. MSI is the latest company to take inspiration from a jet, modeling the GS70 after the F22 Raptor stealth fighter. Instead of employing severe angles and vents molded to mimic exhaust pipes like the ASUS G750JX, the GS70 takes a page out of Razer's book and goes for a more elegant, streamlined approach. Overall, though, we prefer the look of the all-aluminum Razer Blade compared to the GS70.
With the exception of the top inch made of hard plastic, the GS70's lid is draped in gray brushed aluminum. Its vertical pattern helps to play up the MSI logo and white backlit dragon in the red insignia located top center.
We couldn't help but feel a sense of déjà vu when looking at the deck; its large, chrome-lined power button centered above the keyboard is more than reminiscent of the Razer Blade.
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While the majority of the GS70 is made of gray aluminum, the rear panel is covered with a gray pleather material that ensures a good grip when carrying the notebook.
At an even 6 pounds, the 16.47 x 11.29 x 0.85-inch GS70 is slimmer and lighter than the 6.6-pound, 16.8 x 19.9 x 0.88-inch Razer Blade Pro. The ASUS G750JX (8.8 pounds, 16.1 x 12.5 x 0.66~1.9 inches) and the Alienware 17 (9.2 pounds, 17.9 x 12.9 x 2.26-2.23-inch) look corpulent by comparison.
Click to EnlargeThe GS70's 17.3-inch 1080p display is truly a sight to behold. Colors looked bright and dynamic despite the matte antiglare finish. A 1080p image of poison dart arrow frogs was a cerulean display of beautiful lethality. Details were sharp enough to view the tiny black spots on the frogs' skin.
The colorful cavalcade continued on "Tomb Raider." Despite playing a nighttime scene, we could still see the lush emerald green foliage. The surrounding rock formations had their own unique depressions and outcrops. As a row of pagodas burned in the backdrop, we were treated to undulating flames of red and gold and blackening wood.
Click to EnlargeA 1080p trailer for "The Grandmaster" looked absolutely gorgeous. Details were sharp enough to see the intricate lacing of IP Man's ivory hat as he threw vicious kicks and punches at foes. A baby swaddled in a brilliant red satin cloth drew our eye, but the regal women with the jade earrings held it. Viewing angles are wide enough so that we could see the action on screen well past the 45-degree mark.
Measuring 261 lux on our light meter, the GS70 managed to top both the 251 lux desktop replacement average and the G750JX's 240 lux. The Alienware proved to be the brightest, though, with an average of 307 lux.
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The GS70 isn't the loudest gaming notebook we've heard, but still managed to fill our small test space with clear, albeit hollow, audio. Despite sporting a pair of speakers in the hinge and a subwoofer embedded under the right palm rest, the bass was nonexistent on Meek Mill's "Ima Boss" (Remix). However, the vocals sounded nice and clear, and we heard crisp hi-hats and snares. The trumpets in the background were almost gratingly brassy.
We heard clear dialogue during our "Tomb Raider" playthrough, including menacing threats from hostiles. Sound effects, such as the soft clucks of a chicken and the bone-chilling growls of a cornered wolf, were spot on. Although it wasn't the loudest, the background music still had the desired effect, swelling and waning at the right moments.
On the LAPTOP Audio Test, which measures the loudness of a notebook's speakers from 23 inches -- the distance from the screenAlienware 17 -- the GS70 was a loud 83dB. That's good, but it wasn't enough to top the Alienware 17's crazy 97dB output.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeTyping on the island-style SteelSeries keyboard was an overall pleasant experience. The keys are large with generous spacing, but the number pad keys are slimmer than we would prefer. Still, the GS70's layout offered good travel and feedback, which enabled us to hit 60 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test. That tops our normal 55 wpm.
MSI wisely relocated the Windows key from the left side of the spacebar to the right. This prevents gamers from inadvertently going to the Modern home screen in the middle of a heated gaming session.
Click to EnlargeThe GS70's multicolored backlighting is bright enough to view in a dimly lit room. Similar to other MSI gaming rigs, the GS70 comes preinstalled with the KLM utility. The software allows users to customize the keyboard's backlighting, offering more than 1,000 colors and five effects (Wave, Breathing, Dual Color, Gaming and Normal). However, we prefer Alienware's AlienFX software, which has custom lighting profiles for a growing library of games, including "Metro: Last Light" and "Hotline Miami."
Click to EnlargeA spacious 4.1 x 2.75-inch Elan touchpad gave us plenty of real estate to maneuver. The chrome-lined touchpad allowed us to effortlessly switch between open apps, summon the Charms menu and use snap screen. Multitouch gestures such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and three-finger swipe were also quick and responsive. The bottom corners of the touchpad offered firm, bouncy feedback with an audible click.
When we ran the Laptop Heat Test (streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes), the touchpad and the space between the G and H keys measured 82 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. The underside of the notebook measured 94 degrees, just below our 95-degree comfort threshold. Toward the rear of the GS70, near the hinge, we saw a temperature of 98 degrees.
MSI outfitted the GS70 with a dual fan thermal cooling system. When it's time to game, the two fans draw in cool air via the air intake atop the keyboard deck. From there, hot air is blown out through the vents on the sides of the notebook. While we were plundering ancient tombs and taking out baddies, the GS70's fans were surprisingly quiet.
We put the cooling system to the test with a playthrough of "Tomb Raider." After 15 minutes, the touchpad and the space between the G and H keys measured 87 and 94 degrees. The notebook's underside hit 111, while the hinge stayed at 98 degrees. The Razer Blade wasn't quite as hot, hitting 108 degrees on the bottom, 86 in the middle of the keyboard and 99 on the touchpad.
Click to EnlargeMSI outfitted the GS70 with a 720p HD webcam that works in concert with Windows 8's camera software to capture video and stills. During our natural light test shots, images looked very pixelated, obscuring the designs cut into our ring. The color was also slightly oversaturated, making our dusty rose shirt dress appear bright red.
Click to EnlargeThe GS70 is packed with a bevy of ports, including a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a 3-in-1 card reader and a secure lock slot. The power jack can also be found on the right side of the laptop, but it's placed awkwardly toward the middle of the chassis instead of toward the rear.
A second pair of USB 3.0 ports sit on the laptop's left with HDMI, dual miniDisplayPorts, Gigabit Ethernet and three jacks for S-PDIF, headphones and mic.
Gaming and Graphics
Thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPU with 2GB of video memory, the MSI GS70 can play with the big boys...just not as hard. The notebook stumbled out the starting block, as its score of 4,066 on 3DMark11 missed the 4,574 dAlienware 17cement average. The ASUS G750JX and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 770M GPU achieved 5,202, while the Alienware 17's Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M GPU scored a blistering 5,903.
Playing through "Tomb Raider" on Normal, the GS70 rendered several waterfalls, a series of burning buildings and combat between our heroine and a pack of angry villagers without breaking a sweat. While the audio could have been louder, the graphics and gameplay were fluid, easily sucking us into the battle.
On the "Tomb Raider" benchmark, the GS70 averaged 30 fps on Low at 1080p with V-Sync off at 60Hz. When we bumped the settings up to Normal, the notebook delivered an unplayable 24 fps.
When we ran the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the GS70 delivered 73 fps on max settings at native resolution (1080p). That's below the 102 category average, as well as the G750JX (102 fps) and the Alienware 17 (103 fps).
During the "BioShock Infinite" benchmark, the GS70 scored 66 fps on low at 1080p, missing the 97 fps average. The G750JX delivered 91 fps, while the Alienware 17 took the lead with 106 fps. When we shifted to Ultra settings, the GS70's frame rate dropped to an unplayable 22 fps, below the 39 fps average. The Alienware 17 and G750JX hit 35 and 37 fps, respectively.
Click to EnlargeThe MSI GS70 offers silky smooth everyday performance. The laptop's 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM easily streamed "Poltergeist II" over Netflix with 12 open tabs in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox while running a full system scan.
When we ran the PCMark 7 benchmark, the GS70 notched 6,083, trouncing the 4,670 category average. However, the ASUS G750JX, which has the same processor as the MSI, scored 6,115. The Alienware 17 and its 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ CPU delivered 5,492.
The GS70's dual 128GB SSDs in RAID Windows 8ration and 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive booted Windows 8 in a blazing 8 seconds. The G750JX and its 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive started Windows 8 in 11 seconds.
On the File Transfer Test, the GS70 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 33 seconds for a transfer rate of 154 MBps. That's enough to top the 124 MBps average, but it still falls short of the G750JX's 170 MBps and the Alienware 17's 182 MBps.
During our OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the GS70 matched 20,000 names and addresses in 4 minutes and 8 seconds, faster than the 4:38 average. The G750JX is slightly faster at 4:05, but the Alienware 17 clocked in with a lightning-quick 3:42.
When it came to running the Laptop Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), Nvidia's Optimus technology took over, switching to the MSI GS70's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU. That resulted in the notebook lasting 4 hours and 59 minutes during the Laptop Battery Test, topping the 4:07 desktop replacement average. The ASUS G750JX was a close second with 4:57, with the Alienware 17 posting a time of 4:09.
Software and Warranty
Click to EnlargeMSI continues to go against gaming rig conventions, loading its machines with software. Luckily, programs such as MSI Hybrid Power, Qualcomm Atheros Killer Network Manager and Nvidia's GeForce Experience are designed to provide optimal CPU and GPU performance.
Other utilities include the System Control Manager, which allows users to adjust screen brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, volume and the webcam. There's also MSI Burn Recovery to help users back up their precious data.
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.
If that's not enough to satisfy your app hunger, there's BlueStacks, which enables Android apps to run on Macs and PCs and its large cache of apps, including Pulse and WeChat.
The MSI GS70 comes with a two-year limited warranty and a one-year global warranty.
Our $1,999 configuration of the MSI GS70 (20D-002US) features a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM, dual 128GB SSDs in RAID 0 configuration, a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
A $1,799 model (20D-001US) has a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, a 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, an Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPU with 2GB of VRAM.
Click to EnlargeThese days the question with gaming laptops isn't how low you can go, but how thin. The $1,999 MSI GS70 offers good overall performance, solid battery life, and a lovely 1080p display in a svelte design. However, some beefier rigs outclass this one in terms of graphics and audio performance.
An Alienware 17 with a Core i7-4700MQ processor, Nvidia GTX 770M graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive costs $1,924 and offers a brighter display, better sound and a cooler keyboard, but is 1 inch thicker and a full 3 pounds heavier. A similarly specced Razer Blade Pro -- which is also 0.6 pounds heavier than the GS70 -- would set consumers back $2,499 -- $500 more than the GS70.
While it's debatable that any 17-inch notebook should be considered portable, gamers or creative professionals who want a notebook that's both powerful and won't break their back (or wallet) will find the MSI GS70 a solid choice.