MSI, one of the cornerstones of the PC gaming industry, clearly has a new year’s resolution to take over the industry in 2015. The company showcased several new gaming notebooks along with a number of updates to existing lines at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show.
Existing notebooks that will get hardware updates in 2015 include the MSI GT80 Titan SLI, the world’s first gaming laptop with an integrated mechanical keyboard; the GS30 Shadow with upgradeable Gaming Dock, and the GT72 Dominator Pro. MSI also revealed a new and redesigned GE62 Apache for the next generation of MSI’s GE Series gaming laptops.
GT80 Titan SLI
The previously announced GT80 Titan SLI is the world’s first gaming laptop with an integrated mechanical gaming keyboard featuring Cherry MX Brown mechanical switches and a design from SteelSeries. This 18.4-inch Goliath is also the first gaming laptop from MSI to feature dual Nvidia GTX 980M graphics cards in SLI configuration. We really do feel the need to call them “graphics cards” rather than “GPUs” because these graphics processors aren’t stuck to the motherboard. MSI is using MXM graphics cards so that users can upgrade the graphics when needed instead of buying an entire notebook. MSI also designed an impressive dual-fan cooling system that pulls heat away from both graphics cards and the processor using an 8-heat pipe design.
Of course, the first thing that people notice about the GT80 Titan (other than its size and thickness) is the full-size mechanical keyboard located on the front edge of the chassis. SteelSeries did a truly impressive job bringing a mechanical keyboard into a notebook form factor. The key movement is as good as you would expect from a high-quality gaming keyboard with mechanical switches. Individual key noise isn’t as pronounced as some of Razer’s earlier mechanical keyboards, but I would say that the key texture isn’t quite as nice as what Razer is currently using on its keyboards.
Moving beyond the prominently placed keyboard, the GT80 Titan also supports up to four M.2 SATA SSDs in RAID 0 and up to 32 GB of DDR3 memory … all of which are easily accessible under a removable panel located above the keyboard. MSI clearly wants to position the GT80 Titan as a true gaming desktop replacement that offers virtually every advantage of an upgradeable desktop tower and quality gaming keyboard in a portable package.
That said, while we can say the GT80 Titan SLI is a “portable” gaming solution … it’s not exactly the most “convenient” solution for mobile PC gamers. The reality is that mechanical keyboards are extremely thick compared to typical notebook keyboards due to the added Z height needed for the mechanical switches under each key. That means there is no room for the motherboard and other components that are typically located under a notebook keyboard. All those internal elements (battery, port connections, storage drives, processor, GPUs, etc.) all have to be moved behind the keyboard stacked on top of each other … making the GT80 Titan SLI one of the thickest and heaviest notebooks we’ve seen in recent memory.
The bottom line is that you would have to buy a notebook that is almost as massive as the MSI GT80 Titan SLI if you want a high-performance notebook with SLI graphics … and then you would have to buy a separate USB mechanical desktop keyboard if you wanted an equally impressive keyboard. This notebook essentially saves serious gamers from having to carry a good gaming keyboard when they travel.
GS30 Shadow and Gaming Dock
MSI revealed the first laptop in an all-new gaming ecosystem last year with the announcement of the GS30 Shadow and Gaming Dock. This 13.3-inch notebook features fourth-generation Intel Core processors with Intel Iris Pro 5200 integrated graphics and is focused on providing an ultra-portable notebook PC solution with “good enough” graphics performance on the go. The GS30 Shadow measures only 0.77 inches thick and weighs less than 2.65 lbs., but its main selling point is that it’s the world’s first
Yes, the Gaming Dock that comes with the GS30 Shadow has room for a high-end desktop graphics card inside and MSI designed a proprietary docking station connector that provides a full-bandwidth pass-through for the desktop PCIe 3.0×16 slot used for desktop graphics cards. This means you can upgrade the GPU performance of the GS30 Shadow up to the highest-end desktop graphics card you can afford. MSI promises any PCIe 3.0×16 MSI desktop graphics card will work inside the Gaming Dock. Graphics cards from other manufacturers “should” work, but MSI will only guarantee support for its own cards.
Our only complaint about this impressive combo is that the notebook docking port is located on top of the massive gaming dock. This makes it all but impossible to use the notebook while sitting at your desk without an external monitor and keyboard. We would have loved to see a design that allows the notebook to rest at desk level when docked so that you can use the notebook’s keyboard and screen while docked and taking advantage of the added performance from the desktop graphics card.
The biggest announcement from MSI at CES is the next generation of affordable gaming laptops, the GE62 Apache. The GE Series might not have the bleeding-edge performance of the GT80 Titan SLI or the impressive upgrade potential of the GS30 with the Gaming Dock, but the gaming notebooks in this sub-$2000 are the “bread and butter” of MSI’s gaming notebook business. These are the gaming notebooks that most gamers can actually afford.
The new 15.6-inch GE62 Apache features up to an Intel Core i7-4720HQ processor with your choice of Nvidia GTX 965M or 970M graphics cooled by a dual exhaust system. This notebook features a 15.6-inch Full HD eDP wide viewing angle display and a SteelSeries gaming keyboard. MSI offers configurations with up to 12 GB of DDR3 system memory and up to 1 TB of storage. This notebook also comes with the Killer Gaming Network and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The GE62 Apache is a major update to the 2015 lineup in that it weighs less than 6 lbs. and measures only 1.14 inch thick. While that might sound thick and heavy for a 15-inch consumer laptop, that is still reasonably impressive for a full-featured gaming notebook starting at less than $2000. MSI also claims the new design of the GE62 Apache improves battery life by up to 46% when compared to previous models.