MSI GE60 Introduction

Earlier this year, NVIDIA launched their latest and "greatest" GPU architecture, codenamed Maxwell. The first parts launched on the desktop in the form of the GTX 750 and GTX 750 Ti, but given the improvements in efficiency relative to Kepler, Maxwell seemed a perfect fit for gaming notebooks. A month later, NVIDIA confirmed the use of Maxwell in several new GTX 800M mobile GPUs, but there's a catch: not all of the new 800M GPUs use Maxwell, and in fact certain models (GTX 860M in particular) are available in both Kepler and Maxwell flavors. While we weren't able to test the new GPUs at launch, we now have shipping hardware in hand, courtesy of MSI's updated GE60.

For those unfamiliar with MSI's notebook lineup, the breakdown goes something like this, starting at the top in terms of performance and pricing. The GT series comes equipped with the fastest GPUs and CPUs and targets the enthusiast notebook gaming sector; one step down from that in performance is the GS series, which comes with sleeker and more refined designs, but also slightly slower configurations (generally speaking). Below that sits the GE series, which is more of a mainstream gaming platform, delivering reasonable levels of performance at a price point that won't break the bank.

At present, MSI has three shipping GE series laptops: the GE40, GE60, and GE70; we're of course looking at the 15.6" GE60 variant, and while some of what we say will apply to the GE40 and GE70, there are differences in the components, display, and chassis design that you'll need to consider when shopping for one of the GE series notebooks. There are several models of each notebook as well as "whitebook" offerings that can be further customized by notebook resellers; the specific model we received for review is the GE60 Apache Pro-003, with the following specifications:

MSI GE60 Apache Pro Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-4700HQ
(Quad-core 2.4-3.4GHz, 6MB L3, 22nm, 47W)
Chipset HM87
Memory 1x8GB DDR3L-1600 (Max 2x8GB)
Graphics GeForce GTX 860M 2GB GDDR5
(640 cores, 1019MHz + Boost 2.0, 5GHz GDDR5)

Intel HD Graphics 4600
(20 EUs at 400-1200MHz)
Display 15.6" Matte PLS 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(Samsung 156HL01-102)
Storage 1TB HDD (HGST HTS721010A9E630)
Networking 802.11ac WiFi (Intel Dual-Band AC-3160)
(1x1:1 433Mbps capable)
Bluetooth 4.0 (Intel)
Gigabit Ethernet (Killer e4200)
Audio Realtek HD ALC892
Stereo Speakers
Headphone and microphone jacks
Battery/Power 6-cell, 11.1V, 4400mAh, 49Wh
120W Max AC Adapter
Front Side Flash Reader (SDXC/SDHC)
Left Side Headphone and mic jacks
2 x USB 3.0
1 x HDMI
1 x USB 2.0
Exhaust vent
AC Power Connection
Kensington Lock
Right Side Optical drive
1 x USB 3.0 (Sleep Charging)
1 x VGA
Gigabit Ethernet
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 8.1 64-bit
Dimensions 15.08" x 9.82" x 1.27-1.48" (WxDxH)
(383mm x 249.5mm x 32.3~37.6mm)
Weight 5.72 lbs (2.60kg)
Extras 720p HD Webcam
103-Key 3-Zone Colored Backlighting Keyboard
Pricing Starting at $1200 Online

The core components are definitely sufficient for gamers on the go, with the i7-4700HQ processor backing the GTX 860M (Maxwell) dGPU, and of course NVIDIA's Optimus Technology is also present. I'm also pleased with the inclusion of a 1920x1080 wide viewing angle LCD using Samsung's PLS technology. In fact, everything looks good until we get to the storage configuration, where we encounter a pure HDD storage solution and a DVD-RW drive. I'm not too worried about the latter – I rarely use DVDs these days, but some people still like to have that option without resorting to a USB peripheral – but the pure HDD storage definitely rears its head when it comes to everyday tasks like booting up the laptop (or resuming from hibernation), loading applications and games, etc.

Considering we now have 512GB SSDs like the Crucial MX100 selling for $220, or 128GB SSDs starting at just $75, skipping SSD storage entirely is a painful omission. The good news is that MSI has other GE60 models available with SSD + HDD storage configurations; the bad news: finding a store that carries one of the SSD-equipped versions who doesn't charge a "too much" price premium can be difficult/impossible. Bottom line: if you want to get the GE60 with an SSD in place of the hard drive, either plan on doing the upgrade yourself, or look at some of the notebook vendors (e.g. Powernotebooks) and customize the build to your liking for a bit more money. Personally, I'm at the point now where it's painful to go back to pure HDD storage, and 512GB for $220 is enough that I really don't need a secondary internal drive. YMMV.

On the connectivity front, the GE60 is once again pretty good, with a few small concessions. MSI uses an Intel 3160 dual-band 802.11ac solution, but this is only a 1x1 solution so maximum throughput is limited to 433Mbps on 5GHz channels or 150Mbps on 2.4GHz. Additional networking support comes via Killer Gaming Network's Gigabit Ethernet adapter, Bluetooth 4.0 (also from the Intel 3160), two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports (one for charging devices while the system is asleep), and HDMI and VGA video connections. Some might prefer seeing all USB 3.0 ports, and the lack of DisplayPort (or mini-DP) for video is also a bit odd.

Overall, the core specifications look good, with only a few small omissions to help keep prices in check. If your primary concern is gaming performance, the GE60 has plenty going for it, and the price of $1200 for the model we're looking at is quite reasonable. Competing laptops with the GTX 860M include the $1100 Lenovo Y50, MSI's own bulkier 17.3" GE70 for $1050, 17.3" Gigabyte P27Gv2-CF1 for $1280, and if you really aren't too concerned with size or weight there's the 17.3" ASUS G750JM-DX71 for $1279. Of those, I'd say the Y50 is the most compelling alternative, but all of these notebooks are viable contenders depending on your specific needs.

MSI GE60 Apache Pro: Subjective Evaluation
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    The "Mainstream" results are high enough that bumping to 1080p isn't a problem at the settings we use, but then we wouldn't have anything to compare performance against as it's a non-standard setting. If we run one "non-standard" setting, it opens the door to all sorts of other possibilities. Maybe we should use the GFE recommended settings (or AMD's recommended settings) as another item to include?

    In fact, I'll go ahead and run those and update the Gaming page in a bit with results (as well as details on the precise settings used by GFE). If nothing else, it will be an interesting experiment. :-)
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    Page three is updated with 1080p GFE results, if you're interested.
  • nathanddrews - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Thanks for the update, it's very enlightening. A review of GeForce Experience vs Gaming Evolved would be very cool. I know that up until v2.0 or 1.8, GFE automatically targeted 40-60fps with no option to prefer quality (30fps) or performance (60fps) like it does now.

    Hopefully they update the applications for 120Hz or 144Hz users... or maybe have it target your monitor's refresh rate by default instead? Speaking of which, where are the variable refresh 4K 120Hz monitors? ;-)
  • DanNeely - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    First we'd need gpus to implement displayport 1.3 to have the outbound bandwidth. Then until we get another generation of 2x as fast decoder/ldc panel controllers we'll be back to the looks like 2 monitors over MST setup we enjoyed with the first generation of 4k60 panels.
  • xenol - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    If I may make a suggestion, please add thermals to laptop reviews. Not just how hot the components get, but how hot each area gets. My primary concern with these thin gaming laptops is that not only would the run really hot inside, but they'll create pockets of hot spots where I don't want them.

    For example, I had a Dell XPS 15z. Not quite a gaming laptop mind you, but if I fired up a game, the left side of the keyboard would get uncomfortably warm to the point where I had to get a 84-key keyboard so I could play something comfortably.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    My digital thermometer stopped working properly a while back so I haven't been able to provide numbers. I can order a new one but considering we haven't included surface temperatures for years it didn't seem necessary.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    I was able to use a kitchen thermometer from my wife to do some testing. :-) Page 5 has surface temps now if you're interested.
  • LeapingGnome - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    Thank you Jarred. I think surface temps are very important since it is a laptop that many people use in their laps. I appreciate you including them.

    xenol - a good site is notebookcheck dot net, they do a lot of laptop reviews and always include surface temps from 18 areas of the laptop. Their temps for this MSI look to be 3-4 degrees higher than Jarred saw.
  • shtldr - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    I have the laptop. It has solid CPU, GPU and display. I actually thought the display was some exceptionally good TN.
    I bought an SSD together with it to replace the HDD... only to find out that opening the laptop voids your warranty!!!
    Coming from an Acer laptop which had no such c(r)ap, this was a huge letdown.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    I've heard (but can't personally verify) that such stickers can't actually be enforced by law, but it's definitely annoying when they try to prevent end users from upgrading things like the RAM and storage. You could always email/call MSI and ask them for confirmation that you can upgrade the RAM/storage first and see what they say -- get it in writing, though! :-)

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