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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  • thesavvymage - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    in writing is not even always necessary, depending on local laws :) in Washington state, a verbal contract is a VALID contract. No need to write it and sign. There does need to be a third party to verify it though
  • ReedTFM - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    For Americans, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act applies. Just modifying/servicing your product doesn't void a warranty guarantee, unless the producer can show the modification caused the defect. This came about because of car manufacturers were pulling crap like, "Oh look you added an aftermarket exhaust, you voided your warranty and we will not cover the windshield wipers failing."

    With static discharges, however, it will be hard to refute user error, but still, it's always worth making the argument.
  • ramj70 - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    I contacted MSI and they said that opening the laptop will to upgrade will not void the warranty. I also bought an SSD and replaced the HDD
  • ruthan - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    Without inbuild 3g modem.. so not for real life.
  • Novaguy - Saturday, July 19, 2014 - link

    There are phone plans that come with data tethering or wifi hotspot options, and I find those work well.
  • Tanclearas - Thursday, July 17, 2014 - link

    No DisplayPort and no G-Sync. This is exactly the class of machine that would benefit the most from it. Even if the claim is that it's too expensive to integrate into the laptop panel (though Nvidia themselves talked about how it's easier on laptops), DisplayPort would have at least allowed for the possibility of using an external G-Sync monitor.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    No, G-Sync is actually a pain in the butt on laptops, for one reason: Optimus. To do G-Sync, you need to have the GPU and display communicate with each other, so the only way NVIDIA can do it is if they get rid of Optimus. But doing that means you just killed battery life as well. There are potentially ways around that I'm sure, but it's the reason there haven't been any G-Sync notebooks yet. I actually asked NVIDIA about it at CES and they basically said as much: "We're looking at ways to implement it, but right now we don't have anything we can talk about."
  • Tanclearas - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Wow. Interesting. Nvidia's response to AMD's "free sync" demo implied that laptops were easier to implement.

    "However, Petersen quickly pointed out an important detail about AMD's "free sync" demo: it was conducted on laptop systems. Laptops, he explained, have a different display architecture than desktops, with a more direct interface between the GPU and the LCD panel, generally based on standards like LVDS or eDP (embedded DisplayPort). Desktop monitors use other interfaces, like HDMI and DisplayPort, and typically have a scaler chip situated in the path between the GPU and the panel. As a result, a feature like variable refresh is nearly impossible to implement on a desktop monitor as things now stand."

    All of this just raises more questions.

    In AMD's demo, did they have to disable DSG for free sync to work? If not, how does an AMD GPU communicate with the display? If so, then what AMD showed was even more impressive if Nvidia is still "looking at ways to implement it".

    Are there laptops with free sync (officially) coming?

    I am not trying to take things off topic. I just want to reiterate that the reviewed laptop is exactly the class of machine that would benefit the most from G-Sync/free sync. If anything, it is more important for a laptop because you do not ever have the option of replacing the GPU once your framerates start dropping.

    One final (two-part) question. Could a laptop not have the DP connected directly to the Nvidia GPU? Is it not safe to assume that a person connected to an external DP monitor would have access to external power (and therefore not need Optimus)?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    So basically on a laptop if you plug directly into the dGPU, yes, it's easier -- but I'm not sure how much easier we're really talking about. Obviously it can be done with desktop displays with enough effort, the main benefit of laptops being you have multiple inputs into desktop displays with scalers and such. An interesting corollary is that AMD might have an advantage with laptops using AMD APUs -- both the APU and dGPU would be AMD software, so there's no "Intel iGPU" in the way.

    As to the question of when laptops with G/Free Sync are coming, I don't believe any have been announced yet, so your guess is as good as mine. I told NVIDIA that laptops would be great for this as getting >60 FPS on a laptop is rather difficult but ~40 FPS with G-SYNC would still be achievable. We might see this in the next year, or perhaps even earlier with non-Optimus solutions (e.g. ASUS has the G750 without Optimus, so it might be a target for G-SYNC in an update). Of course, the number of displays with G-Sync support is still very small (one or two ASUS are officially available, another ASUS display can be modded by the user; Acer and BenQ have displays coming but they're not out yet.)

    As for the second question: sure, an external G-Sync display could easily be driven by a laptop. But that sort of defeats the purpose of a laptop in large measure. :-)
  • Tanclearas - Saturday, July 19, 2014 - link

    At first it might appear that it defeats the point of a laptop, but there is (what I assume a growing) group of aging gamers that require a laptop for business/work, but still want to game at home. I have a Lenovo Y580 with 16GB of RAM, a 240GB mSATA SSD, and the Nvidia GTX 660m. It's great for work, and OK for games, but would be better with G-Sync or free sync.

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