MSI WS63 Mobile Workstation Review

by Reads (1,145)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 8
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 5
      • Usability
      • 7
      • Design
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 8
      • Features
      • 7
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.14
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Exceptionally thin and light chassis
    • Good port selection
    • Reasonable battery life
    • Good cooling performance
  • Cons

    • No Intel vPro support or SmartCard reader
    • 4K display offered only on more expensive WS63VR model
    • Cramped number pad layout

The WS63 is a 15.6-inch mobile workstation based on MSI’s GS63 gaming notebook. Most design elements are shared between the two notebooks, although there are some subtle differences that we’ll point out in this review.

MSI WS63 Mobile Workstation

The primary factor that sets mobile workstations apart from other notebooks is their inclusion of professional-grade graphics processing solutions. In the case of the WS63,that means an Nvidia Quadro P3000 “Pascal” GPU with 6GB of its own memory. MSI sells an even more powerful mobile workstation based on this chassis in the form of the WS63VR, which has a Quadro P4000 8GB graphics card. That notebook is virtual reality (VR) ready, whereas the WS63 we’re reviewing is not.

The top-grade hardware inside the WS63 doesn’t come cheap. Equipped as we reviewed it with a 1080p display, an Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core processor, 32GB of RAM, 512GB of SSD storage, and a 2TB hard drive, it goes for $2,599. A comparable Dell Precision 5520 workstation as we configured it was $2,546. However, the Dell had only Quadron M1200 4GB graphics, a far less powerful solution than the Quadro P3000 in the WS63. Finding other comparable workstations was tough. The HP ZBook Studio hasn’t been updated in some time, and on the Lenovo side of things, the ThinkPad P51S doesn’t offer a quad-core CPU, let alone the caliber of graphics solutions as the WS63. That puts this WS63 a very advantageous position in the thin-and-light mobile workstation world.

MSI WS63 Build and Design

The WS63 largely looks the same as the MSI GS63 gaming notebook on which it’s based. The design accents are toned down on this model for its professional audience. The red MSI gaming shield logo on the back of the lid has been replaced by a workstation shield. It’s backlit in yellow; the backlighting is powered by the display lid, so it can’t be turned off unless the notebook’s display is off. The other design accent on the back of the lid is the shiny MSI logo above the shield.

The exterior design looks rather subdued. The all-black chassis probably won’t grab attention from across a room. The top surfaces and lid of the WS63 are constructed of a lightweight magnesium-lithium metal. It seemed rather thin to our fingers, but its brushed aluminum surface did impart an elegant look. The lid had plenty of stiffness. It can be opened one-handed despite its strong hinges, and can also open 180 degrees, both of which are things we like to see.

The WS63 is about as thin and light as 15.6-inch notebooks get. It weighs just 3.96 pounds, which makes it lighter than many 14-inch notebooks. In addition, it’s just 0.7-inch thin. The rest of the chassis measures 15 by 9.8 inches, or about average for a 15.6-inch notebook. The bezel around the screen is about a half-inch wide.

The underside of the WS63 is covered in a felt-like material. This is probably there to keep the heat generated by this notebook in check. Later in this review we’ll discuss the WS63’s thermal performance.

It’s possible to perform some end-user upgrades on the WS63, namely the storage. The 2.5-inch drive bay is located under the bottom panel of the chassis. The panel is held on by numerous Phillips-head screws, one of which is hidden behind a “Warranty Sticker – Void if Tampered” sticker. (You’ve been warned.) Prying off the bottom panel after that is a delicate operation; we worked our way front to back and took our time.

Here under the panel you can see the 2.5-inch drive bay at the upper right, occupied in our test unit by a 2TB Seagate hard drive. The M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot for SSD storage wasn’t in plain sight under here, however; further disassembly will be needed to find that. Don’t bother looking for the memory (RAM) slots, however; there are none, as the memory is soldered to the motherboard in this notebook. That’s unfortunate, but the 32GB dual-channel configuration in our review unit is the maximum amount this notebook supports anyway.

MSI WS63 Input and Output Ports

Port selection is something that the WS63 has in abundance. Starting along the left edge, you’ll find the cable lock slot, an Ethernet jack, a full-size SD card reader, a trio of USB 3.0 ports, and headphone and microphone jacks. The fact that the card reader is full-size is convenient, although memory cards don’t fully insert into the slot, sticking out about one-half centimeter.

The right edge of the chassis holds the remaining connectivity. Here you’ll find a USB 3.0 port, a Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) port, full-size HDMI 1.4 out, mini-DisplayPort, and the AC power jack. The WS63 has a fingerprint reader built into its touch pad, an important inclusion on a business-class workstation. However, it lacks options for a SmartCard reader and an IR camera. The 720p webcam it does include had a blurry picture in our testing, with overly soft edges and average color reproduction. We’ve seen better ones, for sure.

Along the front edge of the chassis are the status lights on the right side, and nothing else.


MSI WS63 Screen and Speakers

The one and only display offered on the WS63 is the 1080p panel on our test unit. The wide viewing angle support from the IPS technology is a must-have on a workstation, as it keeps the picture from distorting if you look at it from an off-angle. The contrast and brightness of the panel looked fine to our eyes, even if the brightness wasn’t overwhelming. The color reproduction also looked well-balanced to us.

The pre-installed MSI True Color app gives you some control over the display’s color space and values.

Although 1080p (1,920×1,080) is a practical resolution for a 15.6-inch display, we would like to see a 4K (3,840×2,160) panel offered as an option. To get one of those, you’ll need to step up to the WS63VR, a model largely the same as our WS63, but utilizing a faster Quadro P4000 GPU. Naturally, the WS63VR is more expensive.

The speakers in the WS63 are integrated within the chassis. They have a tinny sound with little bass. The WS63’s headphone jack, on the other hand, had clear, static-free sound. It also provided an impressive amount of power to our headphones.

MSI WS63 Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on the WS63 has a familiar look, as it’s the same one MSI uses on many of its gaming notebooks. Designed by SteelSeries, the keyboard has island-style keys with multi-color backlighting. The backlighting is split into three vertical zones, each of which can be any color in the RGB spectrum. This is all configurable in the pre-installed MSI Dragon Center software.

The edges of the keys are transparent, allowing the backlighting to spill through. The text on the key caps doesn’t look laser-sharp, but both the main and the secondary symbols on the keys are backlit.

The feel of the keys is soft and rubbery. It lacks the precision feel of a Lenovo ThinkPad keyboard, but it was still comfortable for long typing sessions. There’s almost no flex in the keyboard deck.

The layout of the number pad could be better. The zero key at the bottom is a fraction of its normal size because the arrow keys have been forced into the main keyboard area; ideally they would have been divorced into their own cluster. In addition, the number pad keys are only two-thirds their normal size, requiring extra precision on your part.

The main keyboard mostly fares well in terms of layout. The lack of a left-side Windows key is a setback. For gamers, that might make sense, but we don’t see why, even when used on MSI’s gaming notebooks, that a left-hand Windows key isn’t included; just provide a way to disable it. We would also prefer to see dedicated Home and End keys; they’re inconveniently doubled-up with the Page Up and Page Down keys, respectively, at the upper right corner of the keyboard.

The touch pad is the proper size for the WS63’s 15.6-inch display. It has a sensible anti-glare surface and solid clicking action. Its diamond-cut beveled edge gives it a sharp look and tactile edge.

MSI WS63 Performance

The WS63 is sold in two configurations in the United States, with our 7RK-290US version being the more expensive of the two. It has an MSRP of $2,599, while the 7RK-280US model is $2,399. The specifications of the two models are largely the same outside of their memory and storage.

The WS63 is powered by an Intel “Skylake” Core i7-7700HQ processor, a quad-core chip powerful enough for just about any demanding task. Introduced in 2016, it runs at a base frequency of 2.8GHz, and can Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz under the right thermal and power conditions. Our only disappointment with this chip from a workstation perspective is that it doesn’t support Intel’s vPro remote management technology, which may be a feature that medium and large-size business would look for. If so, vPro’s omission could put the WS63 out of the running compared to workstation notebooks from Dell, HP, and Lenovo that do offer vPro. That said, it’s admirable that MSI was able to fit a processor this powerful into the WS63’s slim chassis.

The WS63’s workstation classification comes mainly as a result of its Nvidia Quadro P3000 professional graphics processing unit (GPU). Largely a tweaked GeForce GTX 1060, the P3000 has 1,280 unified shaders and 6GB of GDDR5 dedicated video memory. Combined with the Core i7-7700HQ quad-core CPU, this graphics solution gives the WS63 plenty of power for 3D modeling and graphics design. However, note that the WS63 isn’t virtual reality (VR) ready, as the Quadro P3000 GPU isn’t powerful enough to make it such. For VR readiness, you’ll need to step up to the WS63VR. That notebook is largely the same as the WS63 we’re reviewing, but it has a more powerful Quadro P4000, a GPU based on the GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU that you might find in gaming notebooks.

In case you’re wondering whether theWS63 is independent software vendor (ISV) certified, it is. That means it’s certified to work with products from Adobe, SolidWorks, AutoDesk, and other companies. It would be hard to call a notebook a mobile workstation without certifications like that.

Differences in storage and memory are what separate the two WS63 configurations on the United States market. Our 7RK-290US model has 32GB of DDR4-2400 dual-channel memory, a 512GB PCI Express SSD, and a traditional 2TB hard drive for storage. The lesser 7RK-280US model has half the memory (16GB) and SSD space (256GB), but keeps the 2TB hard drive. For serious multitasking and demanding work, we’d advise opting for our 7RK-290US model; the storage is end-user upgradeable in this model as we mentioned earlier, but the memory is permanently soldered to the motherboard, thus making it impossible to upgrade.

Wireless connectivity in the WS63 comes from an Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 802.11ac card with two antennas. The WS63 didn’t seem to pick up as many wireless networks as some of the other notebooks we’ve tested, but didn’t have a problem maintaining a wireless connection from within a room or two of our wireless router. In addition, the WS63 has Bluetooth 4.2 personal area networking.

The WS63 comes standard with a 3-year limited warranty. It would be rather unfitting for this notebook at this price point to come with any shorter warranty period. Nevertheless, it does go to show that MSI is doing its best to offer a model that competes with the rest of the mobile workstation market.

Our MSI WS63 7RK-290US review unit had the following technical specifications:

  • 15.6-inch display (1,920 x 1,080 resolution, IPS panel, anti-glare surface, eDP)
  • Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
  • Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core processor (2.8GHz, up to 3.8GHz Turbo Boost, 6MB cache, 45-watt TDP)
  • Nvidia Quadro P3000 w/ 6GB GDDR5 dedicated memory (1,280 unified shaders; 192-bit memory bus; 1,088MHz core, 1,215MHz boost, 1,752MHz memory)
  • Intel HD 630 integrated graphics w/ shared memory (Nvidia Optimus support)
  • 32GB DDR4-2400 dual-channel RAM (Max. supported; soldered/non-upgradeable)
  • 512GB M.2 Type-2280 PCI Express SSD (SAMSUNG MZVKW512HMJP)
  • 2TB 5,400RPM 2.5-inch HDD (ST2000LM015)
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 wireless card w/ Bluetooth 4.2
  • 3-cell battery
  • Dimensions: 15 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Weight: 3.96 pounds
  • 3-year limited warranty
  • Price: $2,599

MSI WS63 Benchmarks

On a side note, we did have some trouble getting the WS63 to benchmark properly in some of our tests. As this notebook supports Nvidia Optimus, both the Nvidia Quadro P3000 dedicated GPU and the Intel HD 630 graphics integrated into the CPU can power the display. Nvidia Optimus is supposed to switch between the two GPUs depending on application needs. That didn’t seem to happen on our review unit; we had to force the Nvidia GPU to be used via the Nvidia Control Panel to get proper scores for our 3D-related testing.

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):

3DMark Fire Strike is a newer DirectX 11 benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):

wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:

MSI WS63 Heat and Noise

Inside the WS63 are two cooling fans, one along each of the rear corners of the chassis. They tended to stay off if we weren’t doing something demanding, but we observed they were usually running at a low speed while we were surfing the Internet. The fans weren’t hard to notice while the notebook was running full-tilt, but they didn’t produce all that much in the way of total volume. The most noticeable part about the sound was the slight fan whine. With some background noise present, the WS63 shouldn’t be much of a bother, even if the fans are running at higher speeds.

We ran Futuremark 3DMark FireStrike Extreme in a loop for 10 minutes to test the cooling system on this notebook. This benchmark heavily stresses both the processor and graphics card.

HWMonitor reported that the Core i7-7700HQ CPU peaked at 82 degrees C during the testing. That’s with the acceptable temperature range for the chip. The Quadro P3000 graphics card, on the other hand, hit just 61 degrees C, a very cool temperature.

The outside of the WS63 became warm to hot to the touch just above the keyboard. Quite a bit of heat came from the underside of the chassis, but the felt material down there helped it feel not as extreme. Overall the WS63 didn’t get hotter than we expected. If you’re running something demanding on this notebook, it would be a good idea to make sure it’s sitting on a hard, flat surface. Most of the air intake comes from the bottom, and the cooling performance would suffer if the intake was even partially blocked.

MSI WS63 Battery Life

We use Futuremarks’ Powermark benchmark in Balanced mode to measure battery life. This test is a combination of automated web browsing, web conferencing, video playback, and gaming workloads to simulate heavy usage while on battery. The numbers recorded from this testing are significantly lower than they would be if all you were doing was surfing the web. We run the test at approximately 50 percent screen brightness.

Powermark battery life test results (listed in minutes):

Our MSI WS63 lasted for 3 hours, 12 minutes. That’s a very respectable time for a 15.6-inch mobile workstation. It would translate to somewhere between 5 to 6 hours of life if you kept the screen brightness low and performed minimally-intensive work. The WS63’s time wasn’t as long as the 4 hours, 37 minutes we recorded from the Lenovo ThinkPad P51, but that notebook is a lot thicker and heavier, and has a larger battery.

MSI WS63 Power Adapter

The WS63 comes with a 180-watt (19.5V x 9.23A) power brick with a three-prong wall AC plug. The connection to the notebook is a proprietary connector. The cables and the brick together weigh 1.6 pounds. The brick itself measures 6x3x1 inches; the cable from the brick to the notebook is 70 inches; and the cable from the brick to the wall is 69 inches. That gives you about a 12 foot range from an AC plug, which is excellent for a notebook power adapter.

Conclusion

The MSI WS63 provides a highly impressive level of performance for its size and weight. At just 4 pounds and 0.7 inches thick, the WS63 is thin and light for a 15.6-inch notebook in general, let alone a high-performance model. We were unable to locate a competing notebook that offered an equally or more powerful graphics card that was remotely close to its form factor.

Besides its performance, our long list of likes for this notebook includes its excellent connectivity, good-looking 1080p IPS display, multi-color backlit keyboard, and usable touch pad. Its cooling performance and battery life were surprisingly good, as well. It fell short in relatively minor areas, such as its subpar webcam and speakers. The keyboard’s number pad layout was cramped, and there were other minor layout nuances; that was most likely due to the WS63’s re-use of the SteelSeries keyboard from MSI’s gaming notebooks. Ideally there would have been a more business-oriented keyboard layout for this workstation model.

From a business notebook perspective, the WS63 falls short in a few key areas that could turn off larger businesses. One of them is its lack of Intel vPro remote management and SmartCard support, two things larger businesses may look for. It also has no dedicated docking solutions, although the inclusion of a Thunderbolt 3 port gives it many possibilities for third-party docking solutions. It’s nice to see a 3-year warranty is standard equipment, however.

The going rate of $2,599 for the 7RK-290US model we reviewed definitely puts the WS63 in the upper echelon of the notebook market. We configured a Dell Precision 5520 with a similar component loadout for $2,546 as we wrote this, but it lacked the MSI’s powerful Quadro GPU. At the moment, it would appear the WS63 is the thinnest and lightest workstation you can get with its level of performance, and it’s priced rather well. Assuming you don’t need the special business-class features we mentioned, the WS63 makes a fine choice for a mobile workstation.

Pros:

  • Exceptionally thin and light chassis
  • Good port selection
  • Reasonable battery life
  • Good cooling performance

Cons:

  • No Intel vPro support or SmartCard reader
  • 4K display offered only on more expensive WS63VR model
  • Cramped number pad layout



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