My first impression of MSI's Gaming Dock, which was resting on a table with a gaming laptop perched atop it in the company's suite at CES, was that it was an ugly, bulky brick, and I instantly became concerned with how I was going to politely communicate that sentiment to the room full of MSI reps.
It didn't take long for me to change my opinion.
The Gaming Dock houses a full desktop GPU that can take over the notebook's graphics, and it does so via a proprietary PCIe x16 slot that's built into the rear hinge area of the GS30 Shadow. To take advantage of the Gaming Dock's GPU prowess, you simply pop the laptop into the dock and lock it in place with a lever. You can secure it further by flipping the lock tab.
Turn on the laptop, and you're ready to go. With an external monitor connected to the Gaming Dock, you have yourself a powerful gaming machine ready to roll.
There currently isn't any hot-swap capability, but MSI said that it has some custom software that protects the laptop from damage if (when) one carelessly yanks the GS30 Shadow off of the dock without first powering it down.
The Gaming Dock has plenty of its own ports to augment those of the GS30 Shadow, including at least three USB 3.0 ports, LAN jack, and headphone and mic jacks. Obviously, it has its own small PSU, as well. There's space for a 3.5-inch hard drive for extra storage, as well as integrated speakers.
The Gaming Dock is user-upgradable, as you can see, and it looks easy enough to swap cards in and out.
None of the above negates the fact that the Gaming Dock is an ugly, blocky box. However, for some users, the box means freedom. For many of us, our computer setup consists of 1) a nice, powerful desktop, 2) a portable laptop of some kind, and 3) a smartphone. With the GS30 Shadow, you get that laptop, and when it's docked in the graphics-boosting Gaming Dock, you get a more powerful de facto desktop. Thus, you can remake your personal computing setup with just the GS30 Shadow, the Gaming Dock, and smartphone, with no desktop.
Granted, the GS30 Shadow is not a true desktop replacement, even with the external graphics juice. But it is a fairly powerful gaming laptop.
It has an Intel Core i7-4870HQ processor, Iris Pro Graphics 5200, 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 and 128 GB SSD RAID 0 storage. There's a gigabit Ethernet port with Intel 7260 (2x2) 802.11ac WiFi. It's a rather svelte machine for a gaming laptop, and it has a 13.3-inch 1920 x 1080 non-reflective display. Ports include two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, HDMI, LAN, and headphone and mic jacks.
It's a petite laptop that's easily portable but packs a relatively big performance wallop, and when it's docked, it functions more or less as a desktop. Fundamentally, that changes how many PCs you may want to purchase. Why buy a laptop and a desktop when you can buy a laptop and a dock that's much smaller than a regular PC?
This setup is not for everyone — especially at a $2,000 price tag for the pair — but MSI believes there's a large-enough percentage of the enthusiast population who will see the GS30 Shadow and Gaming Dock as an ideal solution.