Hands-On And First Impressions
[Editor's Note: The following content is intended to be a first look, with some hands-on impressions and a few benchmarks. We will be conducting full reviews of gaming laptops soon enough, with a battery of exhaustive tests, including more thorough benchmarks (we're currently revamping our benchmark suite), and deeper analysis. But we wanted to get some of the newer models into the lab for some early testing.]
MSI offers a wide range of performance points from its many laptop models, targeting prices up and down the scale. Its GS family, specifically, is tuned for a mobile crowd. Members in the line are thin and light, but still come armed with the horsepower to play modern games smoothly. Model names with "Stealth" or "Shadow" in them evoke notions of portability.
Today, we're testing the GS40 6QE Phantom, built to maximize the performance you can get from MSI's lean GS shell.
The GS40 Phantom's horsepower comes from its Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M GPU. Our sample contained 16GB of DDR4-2133 SDRAM, but you can get it with up to 32GB. MSI also packed in a 128GB Samsung PM951 NVMe SSD and a 1TB HGST Travelstar 7K1000 mechanical disk. Those are all staple components for mid-range gaming laptops, and we're making the GS40 stand up against machines with similar configurations.
We begin our tour on the GS40's surface, which sports a brushed metal finish with a metallic red lip at the top. Front and center, you'll find MSI's signature Gaming G Series shield logo. When the laptop is powered on, the dragon is illuminated in white. Just above the Gaming G badge, MSI's logo is printed in silver.
The same brushed texture is found inside, surrounding the keyboard and trackpad. Although the finish is impressive-looking, it does attract fingerprints. A day or two of regular usage becomes disturbingly evident, so regular cleaning is needed to keep the GS40 pristine.
The irregularly shaped power button is found at the top-left. The mirror-finished button emits a red light when the laptop is powered on.
The hinge offers a sturdy, yet flexible adjustment, folding back roughly 135 degrees when the display is extended as far as possible.
MSI bundles its Nahimic Audio Software with the GS40. Use it to pick a favorite audio profile, and then refine the sound through a basic equalizer. Additionally, Nahimic's microphone settings let you optimize your voice based on distance from the mic and surrounding noise. Finally, the HD Audio Recorder uses the pre-installed XSplit software to activate both the audio and microphone effects while streaming.
Sound emanates from Dynaudio speakers, which perform well and serve up impressive maximum volume. Unfortunately, they're located just below the laptop's front lip. With such an emphasis on audio quality, we would have liked to see the speakers placed better.
Redemption comes from the internal ESS Sabre HiFi Audio DAC. Plugging in your own headphones or speakers provides a much more satisfying experience.
MSI's GS40 6QE Phantom has a standard set of I/O interfaces. The right side of the laptop includes a USB 3.1 Type-C port, one USB 3.0 port, an HDMI output and one Kensington lock. The left side features an Ethernet port, a power jack, one USB 3.0 port, an SD memory card reader, a 3.5mm microphone input and a 3.5mm audio input that connects to the ESS Sabre HiFi Audio DAC. On the back, there is one mini-DisplayPort connector.
Hot air vents from the GS40's right side and back. Given the amount of thermal energy a GeForce GTX 970M can dissipate and the Phantom's thin chassis, we were worried about the system's cooling. Unfortunately, the Phantom does get extremely hot under load. Even under normal use (web browsing and word processing) it runs uncomfortably warm.
The GS40 6QE Phantom stands out from most gaming laptops by offering a 14-inch display with a resolution of 1920x1080. The IPS panel provides wide viewing angles and accurate color reproduction; it looks great on its own. But when you check back in to home base, the HDMI and mini-DisplayPort connectors let you hook up to larger external monitors.
Since the MSI GS40 6QE isn't wide, the included keyboard is relatively bare for a gaming laptop. There are no special macro keys, no number pad and no extra touchpad controls. The keyboard offers three levels of backlighting: bright, dim and off. The most intense setting complements the overall Phantom aesthetic, and isn't blindingly distracting either.
The keyboard features chiclet keys similar in layout and shape to a 13-inch Macbook Pro or Razer Blade. Its layout isn't cramped or limiting in any way, allowing for a comfortable typing experience.
The trackpad is also implemented well. While not exceptional, it provides a satisfying experience. The texture is smooth, preventing annoying artifacts like uncomfortable drag from occurring. Unfortunately, clicking with the trackpad presents the same problem as Lenovo's Y700 series; its stopping point travels uncomfortably past the actuation point, but not quite to the same extent as Lenovo's Y700.