Last year, I got the pleasure of reviewing the MSI GS60 with both the 870M and 970M graphics cards.
I was so impressed with the 970M version that I decided to keep it. I still own it and use it as my daily driver, despite my disappointment with the trackpad and battery life. Fortunately they improved the trackpad drivers and I learned to live with the battery life, as the pros of this machine far outweigh the cons.
I was excited to see just how fast MSI released a Broadwell version of their lineup, particularly the GS60. I got a model in last week and I got to spend some time with it. I was curious to see if the Broadwell CPU was worth trading up for and to see if they made any additional improvements.
Read on to see what I found out.
The specs sheet
|MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 4K edition|
|Screen||15.6 inch, 3840 x 2160 px resolution, Samsung RGBW, glossy, non-touch|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell Core i7-5700HQ CPU, quad-core 2.7 GHz|
|Video||Integrated Intel HD 5600 HD + Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M 6GB|
|Memory||16 GB DDR3L|
|Storage||1x 128 GB M.2 SSD SATA in + 1TB HDD 7200rpm + 1 empty M.2 slot|
|Connectivity||Killer N1525 Wireless AC , Qualcomm/Atheros Gigabit ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Ports||3x USB 3.0, HDMI v1.4b, mini Display port 1.2, RJ45, mic, earphone, SD card reader|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||390mm or 15.35” (w) x 266mm or 10.47” (d) x 19.9mm or .78” (h)|
|Weight||1.96 kg or 4.32 lb|
|Extras||Multi-colored backlit keyboard, trackpad, HD camera|
As far as the physical design goes, nothing has really changed.
MSI chose to leave the chassis alone, using the same magnesium alloy for most parts and plastic for the rest. The lid has a brushed look and is adorned with a MSI dragon badge, with the text “Gaming G Series”. This badge glows with the backlight, for added effect. If you’re like me and hate the badge, you can carefully remove it and replace it with something else. I replaced mine with a cat with glowing eyes. Not exactly as subtle as I’d like but it’s a lot better than a glowing dragon, in my opinion.
Lifting the lid is a chinch with one finger. The lid is super thin and since there’s no touchscreen, the bezel is plastic. So there is some flex that you have to be careful of on the lid and it’s a good practice to lift it from the middle instead of the corners. Under the lid is the Steelseries keyboard, which is the same as last year. The keys lie in a recessed portion of the palm-rest and the tops are level with the upper vents located with the power button. This keeps the laptop thin and the keys off of the screen. Below the spacebar is an Elan trackpad. The branding for the keyboard, sound drivers and the Intel CPU are located on the top, but only the Intel sticker is removable.
On the underside, there are multiple passive vents, as well as small and large rubber feet scattered all over. When I first got this laptop, I wondered whether the rubber feet would last. Needless to say, they have and I’ve learned to appreciate how many of them there are since I can rest it easily hanging halfway off a counter without too much worry of it slipping or scratching the bottom. A multitude of screws hold the back cover on, as well as a hidden screw behind a warranty sticker. Speaking of stickers, this laptop is littered with them on the back. It’s probably the biggest eyesore of the whole unit, besides maybe that glowing dragon. They all come off luckily, but you’ll probably want to keep them on since your warranty may be at stake.
On the sides, you have a vent on each side for the exhaust of the GPU(left) and CPU(right). On the right side, there is a single USB 3.0, Memory card reader, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort and Ethernet connectors. On the left are another two USB 3.0, earphone, microphone, security lock and power adapter. Like all the edges, the sides are very well rounded and feel easy to grab. In fact, grabbing the laptop with one hand is pretty easy anywhere on the sides or corners.
I’d like to add that after over 9 months of using my Haswell GS60, I still think it’s very well constructed. I barely have a scratch on it and it still feels like this new one I’m reviewing. The only thing I can notice now is the smudging on the black metal. It was super obvious once I saw this new one and I immediately wanted to clean my old one. Obviously I got used to it and didn’t notice, so I guess it doesn’t bother me much that this metal is a fingerprint magnet.
Keyboard and trackpad
As I expected, nothing has changed with the keyboard either.
The unit comes with a SteelSeries brand full layout keyboard. The keys are well spaced and properly sized. The travel on the keys is ideal for this sized laptop and the feedback really couldn’t be much better. Touch typists will have no problem typing on this machine. The layout is a little odd though and might take getting used to. The Windows key is located on the other side of the spacebar and the delete key is hidden above the number pad. I can say with certainty that you’ll get used to it, but when switching between laptops, I sometimes have to think twice when hitting the Windows key.
Another nice feature of the keyboard is the backlighting options. You get to change the color of three different zones independently and have 4 different illumination levels. There are also 4 different hotkeys for different color profiles you can program. Even more, you can set effects such as fading in and out, constant color changing and a wave effect. I’m not sure I ever used any of the latter but if you’re into that stuff, it’s pretty cool.
In addition of the colors, the SteelSeries software allows for keys to be reprogrammed with alternate keys and even macros. It’s particularly useful if you game a lot. You can set different profiles for different situations and can switch between them pretty easily. You can also disable the Windows key completely if you wish, through the Dragon center settings. There’s even a utility that measures the statistics of key presses so you can measure your gaming performance. I honestly never used that feature, so I couldn’t tell you how well it works but it’s pretty cool in theory.
The trackpad on this machine has come a long way. It’s an Elan brand, clickpad style trackpad, with integrated buttons on the lower right and left corners. When I first tried it over a year ago, I wasn’t impressed at all. It didn’t track well and was pretty clunky. I eventually found Samsung drivers that improved the performance but didn’t fix everything. Now, after a couple firmware and software updates, I can say I like the trackpad a lot better with the stock drivers. It’s still no Macbook trackpad and I’ve seen better with high end Asus and Razer models, but it’s pretty good compared to most. I’ve grown very accustomed to it over the past few months and am able to navigate through Windows 8 like a breeze. It’s not jumpy for me at all and the multi-touch gestures are easy to actuate and repeat with little error.
One defect you’ll want to pay attention for is the keyboard flex. I didn’t experience it on the first two models I’ve had, but on this one it was pretty bad. I mainly noticed it because of the backlight – when hitting the keys in the DERF area of the keyboard, I noticed the surround keys would move a little. I highly doubt this is a mass defect since I’ve not seen it in the other models I’ve had, but it’s something you should look out for and be quick to exchange if you have the same issue.
Last year, I reviewed the 3k screen and loved it. Prior to that, I had my hands on a FHD model, which I also thought was great.
This time I chose the 4k model, even though I heard it might not be up to par. The verdict? Not so great.
In fact, it’s one of the two things preventing me from keeping it. If you remember from last year, I ranked the 3k screen on the following comparison chart:
- MSI GS60: A+; cons: minor BLB;
- Apple rMBP: A; cons: more brightness lost at extreme viewing angles;
- Gigabyte Aorus x3+: B+ ; cons: not so great viewing angles;
- Razer Blade 2014: B ; cons: not so great viewing angles + glare prone touchscreen;
- Lenovo Y50: C+ ; cons: RGBW panel has poor yellows. BIOS somewhat fixes it at high brightness levels only;
- Asus Zenbook UX303LN: D ; cons: same as Y50, except the yellows are not fixed.
Believe it or not, this is the exact same 4k screen I found in the Lenovo Y50. It’s a Samsung brand RGBW panel that’s packed with problems.
Firstly, the colors are a little off, particularly the yellows. Like Andrei has pointed out with the UX303LN, the yellows on some of these newer 4k panels are prone to being more of a mustard color. This machine is no exception. MSI has improved the settings a little in the BIOS but it’s still not perfect. Lenovo owners have argued that the BIOS fix uses a lot more battery life, but since this machine has always had the “fix” I can’t verify it with a before and after test. I can say that the screen uses an excessive amount of power though, which is explained more in the battery section.
Another flaw of the screen is the refresh rate. Not only is it unorthodox to have a 4k screen on a gaming laptop, MSI decided to limit it by choosing the 4k panel that is locked to 48Hz. This isn’t just at 4k resolution either, it’s at all resolutions. So gaming at 1080p(which you’ll do often with most games) will be limited to just 48fps as opposed to the standard 60fps. I guess you could look on the bright side and know that your graphics card will run a little cooler with V-sync on. I look at this as a major flaw though and would advise any potential buyers to stay away from it.
Aside from my gripes on the screen, the picture certainly is crisp and deserves some praise. The viewing angles are also fantastic, with the colors only washing out at the very extreme angles. Besides the noticeable difference in the yellows, my colorimeter still measured 97% sRGB, 72% NTSC and 75% aRGB. Don’t be fooled by these numbers though because they are calculated strictly by measuring blues, reds and greens, not yellows. Other specs I measured was a contrast of 580:1, maximum brightness of 300 nits and blacks measured at .5 nits – all quite good.
My panel had a slight amount of backlight bleed in the corner, but it wasn’t as bad as I’ve seen in previous models. Seriously though, if you’re going to buy a GS60, you might want to expect to get a little backlight bleed, as many in the forums have experienced a little bit somewhere on the edges. If you want to minimize how much you notice the bleed, I might recommend trying a FHD version of the laptop, as those screens are matte which might cover up the edge bleed a little better.
Hardware and performance
The main highlights of the machine are the high powered CPU and GPU they managed to fit under the hood. In the unit I got, there is an i7-5700HQ CPU along with an Nvidia GTX 970M. MSI also offers other options on the GPU, such as the lower powered 965M. In the previous models, they also have Haswell CPUs and Kepler GPUs, such as the 850M, 860M and 870M.
My unit has 16GB of RAM preinstalled, but I have seen some models out there with 12GB as well. I’d recommend going with 16GB since replacing the RAM is somewhat difficult to do.
Also equipped in my unit was a 128GB M.2 SSD and a 1TB 7200rpm HDD. The M.2 slot is SATA, not PCI-E, so your R/W speeds are limited to SATA III. There’s also a second empty M.2 slot that you can use to upgrade and even put the drives in a RAID configuration. The included SSD is quite fast and should be fine on its own for most of you. Space might be an issue if you have more than 128GB worth of programs and games. At least MSI was nice enough to include the recovery partition on the HDD, in order to maximize what you can put on the SSD. Some configurations from MSI also include a second 128GB SSD in RAID0, if you need the extra high speed space.
The timing in getting this model was perfect, as it coincided with me getting some faster RAM and two new SSDs. I decided to upgrade the laptop with one and both components to see if they helped performance in any way. The SSDs were a pair of Samsung Evo 850 M.2 drives and the RA|M was a pair of 8GB HyperX Impact 2133Mhz modules(16GB total).
I also had my Haswell version handy and ran benchmarks for comparison. For reference, the Haswell version has an i7-4710HQ, 970M, the same stock RAM as the Broadwell version and boots from a 1TB Samsung Evo 840 2.5” SSD. See below for the results of all the benchmarks I ran.
You can gather a lot out of these results. First, for gaming, you’re not going to see a whole lot of difference between the Haswell and Broadwell versions with the 970M. Even though the CPU is slightly better, the GPUs are the same and most games are going to rely on that for performance. CPU intensive games will see a slight performance boost, but not by a whole lot.
As for the Cinebench synthetic tests, it looks like the Broadwell CPU theoretically can handle things a little faster. Unfortunately it’s too close for me to be able to tell a real life difference. The PCMark scores, on the other hand, were so close that they might as well have been equal. On paper the Broadwell CPU is only slightly faster in non-turbo and equal in turbo, so these results being this close makes sense.
I was actually kind of surprised with the RAM though. Officially, the CPU only supports 1866Mhz RAM, but the system actually tried to run it at the full 2133Mhz and it did so successfully. But the difference was almost negligible if you compare the first and last columns. It’s too bad – I was really hoping it would make a difference, considering the cost of the RAM.
Because of the consistent results I got on the gaming benchmarks, I didn’t go all out on testing a lot of games. I did recreate the same two tests I did last year though, to compare with the Haswell version.
- Skyrim– played the first dragon fight from beginning to end
- all settings maxed out, 1920×1080 resolution – 48fps consistently. CPU 66°C, GPU 77°C
- max settings but no AA or AF, 3840×2160 resolution – 48fps with minor 1-5fps drops. CPU 67°C, GPU 74°C
- Crysis 3– Played through the opening scene for 10 minutes
- Medium settings, no AA 1x AF, 3840×2160 resolution – 20-30fps, CPU 74°C, GPU 78°C
- Very High settings, no AA 1x AF, 3840×2160 resolution – 5-15fps, unplayable
- Medium settings, no AA 1x AF, 1920×1080 resolution – 48fps, CPU 74°C, GPU 72°C
- Very High settings, no AA 1x AF, 1920×1080 resolution – 30-48fps, CPU 74°C, GPU 79°C
At 1080p, the benchmarks pretty much fall into the same results as last year. 4k results were a lot different from last year. With Skyrim, it was playable at 48fps but was also a little buggy. There was a “Level up” text floating in space on the lower part of the screen and there was no way to get rid of it. Crysis 3 was practically unplayable at 4k unless you really dropped the framerates pretty low.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
The GS60 is limited on space due to its thinness, so as you would expect it’s quite a struggle to keep the internals cool. Like most high end gaming laptops, there’s a dual fan cooling system on the inside. But instead of connecting the fans together, MSI decided to have one fan cool the CPU and the other cool the CPU. The intakes are on the top, which is also different than most of the competition. The exhausts are on both the right and left sides.
I took some thermal readings on the top and the bottom, both during normal usage and my Crysis 3 test. Both top and bottom charts are consistent, where the left side is the GPU side and the right side is the CPU.
As you can easily tell, the laptop gets quite hot under load. You don’t really notice it on top side but your left leg will certainly feel that GPU heating up. I won’t say it’s totally bad because I constantly play games on my lap. A TV tray does wonders in a pinch but a cooling pad helps best. Actually, since the intakes are inverted, cooling pads don’t really do anything except provide a spacer, so I constantly leave my fan off when using it long term.
As for physical noise, the CPU fan will constantly run and the GPU fan will stay off until needed. MSI recently released a fan tweaking software that allows for the fan speed to be adjusted at different temperature ranges. I leave the GPU fan alone but the CPU fan can be tweaked so the fan is off until the CPU reaches 60C or so. This allows for silent running when performing basic tasks such as light browsing or watching a movie.
The tweaking software certainly is a nice feature, but it doesn’t change the overall noise level of the machine. With the lowest fan speed on, it’s still noticeably audible compared to most notebook fans. That’s because the minimum fan speed is about 48% or roughly 2900 rpm. In very quiet rooms like a classroom, your classmates will probably notice.
Here are some readings I took at head level. Please note that my sound meter is far from professional grade and should only be used as a reference from the ambient noise reading.
- Ambient noise – all fans off: 17dB
- 48% CPU fan, GPU off: 21dB
- 75% CPU fan, GPU off: 30dB
- 100% CPU fan, GPU off: 40 dB
- 100% CPU fan, 100% GPU fan: 44dB
For connectivity, MSI decided to go with the Killer N1525 Wireless AC. This is a welcome move from the Intel 7260 card they used in the models of last year. Many have reported buggy and unreliable connectivity with the older card, but the Killer card is solid. Not once did I disconnect in my usage and I had a strong signal almost everywhere in my house. From 30 feet from my router, I reached download speeds of over 65Mbps. If you want faster internet speeds, there is also a Killer e2200 Gigabit Ethernet controller onboard. Finally, included in the wireless card, there is a Qualcomm Atheros AR3012 Bluetooth 4.0 controller.
The internal speakers aren’t the greatest, but they are pretty good for a gaming laptop. Usually this is the component companies skimp on. With the GS60, you get four speakers: one on the right and left facing down, and a pair centered on the back edge. I can’t say how much the back pair helps during normal use, but the front ones are audible enough. Of course when the fans ramp out, the sound gets washed out, so you’re going to want to use headphones in those situations. Most who play games on laptops are used to this.
Sound Blaster Cinema 2 is bundled with this laptop, to help improve the audio experience. I’m not usually a fan of software sound enhancements, but this is quite necessary to get any bit of performance out of these speakers. Turning it off results in a large amplitude drop as well as some flat equalizer settings. You get different options for EQ settings through the software, but I’ve tended to choose one and customize it to my liking.
My battery test consists of using the stock “Power Saver” power profile, 30% brightness(80 nits), WiFi off, Bluetooth off, and running a 720p movie in a continuous loop at full screen with the volume muted. I start the clock when it’s unplugged and stop it when the unit performs a self-shutdown. This GS60 lasted only 2 hours and 32 minutes before shutting down.
This is less than what I measured with the 3K GS60 last year (which lasted for 3h and 14 minutes in similar conditions) and can probably be accounted for with the screen.
Using Batterymon, I was also able to test the discharge rate at certain conditions and estimate how long the laptop would last under those conditions. Wifi and Bluetooth were on for all situations and the volume was set at 50%. Here are my results:
- Balanced mode, full brightness, surfing the web in Chrome – 35.0W – 1.5 hours
- Balanced mode, 100% brightness, surfing the web in IE – 25W – 2.1 hours
- Balanced mode, 100% brightness, Youtube 1080p IE – 25W – 2.1 hours
- Balanced 100% brightness, Youtube 4k IE – 31W – 1.7 hours
- Power Saver, 100% brightness, Idle – 19W – 2.7 hours
- Power Saver, 30% brightness, Idle – 17W – 3.1 hours
- Power Saver, 0% brightness, Idle – 15W – 3.5 hours
Price and availability
The only higher model includes a 256GB SSD (128×2 RAID) and will cost you about $100 more. If you want to save some money though, you can opt for 965M graphics or a FHD screen.
I’d recommend getting the 970M with FHD screen if you’re intent on buying Broadwell. This is a great time to buy, since the Haswell versions are also still in stock and are heavily discounted. If you can grab one with a 3k or FHD screen, you won’t regret it.
Well not much has changed with the GS60 except an updated CPU and a new screen option. MSI still continues to use the same chassis and be one of the top contenders for a lightweight and high powered laptop. It’s unfortunate they chose such a poor 4k panel to use though. It really diminished the experience, and I cannot say enough that I recommend purchasing a FHD option instead of the 4k one.
If you’re intent on having a high dpi screen, you might also consider picking up a 3k version of the GS60, although they are extremely hard to find with a 970M anymore. Most people looking at this laptop will also be considering the Razer Blade or the Gigabyte P35X, which also have 3k screens. Both are good options and come with their own pros and cons when comparing with the GS60. If you’re looking for a lightweight, powerful laptop with good build quality and lots of storage, the GS60 is for you. For “Apple-like” build quality but less storage space, go for the Razer Blade. For more power(980M), but a slight drop in quality and style, the P35X could suit you.
As with all Broadwell laptops, you have to be thinking about Skylake, which is right around the corner. MSI is excellent with getting the latest tech to market – from my experience, they are usually first. It’s safe to assume they’ll have a Skylake version of the GS60 up their sleeves within the next couple months. If you can wait a little, it might be worth it – even if it means still picking up a Haswell or Broadwell version that goes on clearance. If now is the time for you though, I’d say picking up either a Broadwell or even Haswell version will suit anyone just fine.
Hope you enjoyed this review. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments below. Also, if you have any experiences to share, particularly with the FHD version, I’d like to hear it.