MSI GS70 Stealth £1600
3rd Oct 2013 | 14:27
Is this the perfect gaming notebook?
The MSI GS70 Stealth breaks away from familiar desktop replacement conventions: instead of being bulky, heavy and ugly, it's little thicker than an Ultrabook and half the weight of some rivals - and it's one of the best-looking laptops we've seen for quite some time.
The GS70's vital statistics are backed up by great quality. It's mostly made from brushed aluminium, and the gunmetal-grey finish is paired with slick design. The MSI's lid and base gently contour toward subtle curves at each edge, and we like the little details: milled speaker grilles and air vents, discreet status LEDs on the front edge, and the total absence of garish stickers that usually disturb wrist-rests.
Build quality is excellent, too - impressive when the GS70's dimensions are considered. The base is sturdy and, while there's a little flex in the lid, it's what we expect from machines with a 17-inch screen.
There's only one concession to the sort of frippery associated with gaming notebooks, and that's the keyboard's backlights.
The LEDs are divided into three sections, and each can be configured with different colours. Several flashing and glowing patterns can also be chosen. Thankfully, the GS70 looks much classier with these options deactivated.
The keyboard section is sunken in the base to afford the keys more travel, and the keys themselves are comfortable: light, consistent, and with a solid base.
We were soon up to speed, and it's no surprise given that the keyboard is made by gaming peripheral specialists, SteelSeries. The touchpad is just as good - wide, smooth, and with support for Windows 8's edge-swipe gestures - handy, as the screen itself doesn't support touch.
The bottom of the machine includes a couple of speakers. There's a surprising amount of punchy bass and a snappy, clear high-end. There's enough volume to make games sound suitably explosive, although loud sounds elsewhere means the mid-range is sometimes drowned out.
The MSI GS70 is only 22mm thick, but it includes an Intel Haswell processor, current-generation Nvidia graphics card and two SSDs. The high-end specification and superb design means that the GS70 isn't cheap - this model costs £1,679.
The powerful components and smart design also means the MSI GS70 straddles the worlds of high-end office notebooks and gaming machines, and that means it's got plenty of competition. In the pure power stakes it's up against the Asus Zenbook U500, which has a high-end processor and a 15.6-inch display.
Those who like to play games could look elsewhere, too: the Razer Blade Pro is a similarly slim gaming notebook that also has a 17-inch screen, and the PC Specialist Vortex III 680 is a traditional desktop replacement: lashings of power in a chunky chassis.
There's another challenger in the form of the Schenker XMG P703 - a 17-inch gaming notebook that also has Haswell.
The MSI GS70 has a quad-core i7 processor, and it's one of Intel's new Haswell chips - so it benefits from a minor performance bump as well as architectural improvements designed to boost battery life when compared to last year's Ivy Bridge parts.
The Core i7-4700HQ comes from Intel's mobile range, and it's got four Hyper-Threaded cores clocked to 2.4GHz. That's higher raw speed than the 2.1GHz chip inside the Asus Zenbook U500 and the 2.2GHz core used by Razer inside its Blade Pro.
The MSI GS70 gets off to a good start with one of Intel's latest chips, but it's unable to match the Schenker XMG P703, which has a Core i7-4800MQ - it's also a quad-core Haswell part, but it's clocked 500MHz higher than the processor inside the MSI.
Graphics grunt comes from the GeForce GTX 765M. It's one of Nvidia's top-end mobile GPUs, and it's based on the desktop range's GTX 660 card. It's a 28nm part that boasts 768 stream processors inside a dozen clusters, and it's clocked to 850MHz. It also has 2GB of 4,000MHz GDDR5 memory that's accessed using a 128-bit bus.
It's a good GPU, but it's unable to compete with the GTX 770M that's included with the Schenker system. The XMG P703's core includes 960 stream processors clocked to 811MHz alongside 3GB of RAM.
The storage is worth a mention: it's created by fusing two 128GB SSDs together in a RAID 0 array. The two SSDs provide 237GB of usable capacity as well as a speed boost thanks to the striped array used.
Elsewhere, there's a 1TB hard disk, Killer DoubleShot networking and 8GB of RAM - which MSI has doubled in the model that's available for sale. A decent port selection is littered around the GS70's edges: four USB 3 ports, two mini-DisplayPort connectors, HDMI and D-SUB display ports and an SD card slot. Understandably, there's no room for an optical drive.
3DMark Fire Strike: 2,211
Cinebench 11.5: CPU performance, 5.99pts
PC Mark 8 battery Life (Home test): 1hr 56mins
The MSI GS70's quad-core processor rattled through our Cinebench test to a score of 5.99. It's a good result that beats machines with Ivy Bridge hardware - the Gigabyte scored 4.7.
It's unable to match the beefier Schenker XMG P703, though, which scored a mighty 7.21. The Schenker is the best laptop here for pure processing power, but don't discount the MSI GS70 - it's got more than enough grunt to handle work applications and intensive office software - and the processor's Hyper-Threading makes it a great multi-tasker, too.
The GTX 760M graphics core is no slouch, either. Its 3DMark Fire Strike score of 2,211 easily beats the 1,525 result from the Gigabyte machine, and it's able to handle modern games without breaking much of a sweat: it sauntered through Bioshock Infinite's top graphics settings at 1,920 x 1,080 at a smooth 42fps. In Battlefield 3, at its high-quality options, the MSI GS70 averaged 47fps.
It's not quite able to match the GTX 770M inside the XMG P703, though. The more powerful chip inside the Schenker laptop averaged 21.2fps in the demanding Unigine Heaven 4.0 benchmark - almost three frames ahead of the MSI GS70, which scored 18.4fps.
It can't outpace the XMG P703, but the MSI GS70 is still one of the swiftest gaming machines we've tested - it can handle most modern games without too much compromise in terms of quality settings and resolution.
There are downsides to packing high performance levels inside such a small chassis - heat and noise.
The processor and graphics core hit peak temperatures of 82°C and 87°C, with hot air noticeably being pumped out of the vents on either side of the system. The two fans inside produced a high-pitched whine when tasked with tough games, although the speakers easily drown this out.
The SSD array isn't exactly sluggish. Its sequential read speed of 826MB/sec is almost twice as fast as one SSD can manage, and its write pace of 374MB/sec is impressive too.
The GS70's 17-inch panel didn't let the side down, either. We used an X-Rite i1Display Pro and measured the screen's brightness at 318cd/m2. That's better than most laptops, and it's enough to ensure vibrant, punchy images in games and movies. The measured contrast ratio of 1,096:1 is just as impressive, and it's enough to deliver searing whites and deep blacks.
The MSI GS70 uses a TN screen, which means viewing angles are great, and our only minor issues concern colour accuracy. The Delta E of 7.6 is average, which means colour accuracy isn't quite good enough for advanced imaging work. The screen can render 83.4% of the Adobe RGB colour gamut coverage, which is good, but it's not quite as adept at handling the most intense red and purple tones.
There's one area where this machine can't really compete - battery life. The sealed unit inside the MSI GS70 lasted for 1hr 56mins when tested using its high-performance mode - and it only improved by around half an hour when we user power-saving mode.
The MSI GS70 is a consistently impressive laptop: it's got more power than most machines twice its size, and it's crammed inside a stylish, strong chassis that's got more in common with Ultrabooks than traditional desktop replacements.
The screen is good, and the speakers are decent, although battery life isn't great - and it's noisy when it runs tough applications, too.
There's little we can criticise about the MSI GS70's design. It's made almost entirely from brushed aluminium, its gunmetal-grey finish looks classier than most of the gaming-laptop competition, and it's covered in smart, demure details that are a far cry from the tacky stickers and garish lights that litter many other machines.
Build quality is excellent, and the keyboard and trackpad don't go far wrong: the former has consistent, comfortable keys with plenty of travel, and the latter is large and responsive.
The processor has enough oomph to handle high-end work applications, and the graphics card is powerful enough to play the latest games without too much compromise in terms of graphics quality. The storage is great, too: the dual SSDs are rapid, and the 1TB hard disk is more than big enough.
And, finally, there's the screen. Its 17-inch diagonal and 1,920 x 1,080 are good, and quality is generally high, with impressive measured brightness and contrast levels. As it's a TN panel, it's also got excellent viewing angles.
The MSI GS70 has a sealed battery that can't be replaced or swapped, and it's not exactly a class leader when it comes to longevity.
The screen's colour accuracy is only average, and that means it's not suitable for imaging work that depends on this kind of thing - a hard-nosed workstation machine, or an Apple MacBook Pro, will have a more accurate screen.
The MSI GS70 is a fantastic marriage of style and substance: plenty of power and a great screen crammed inside a chassis that's thinner, lighter and better-looking than most of its rivals.
Heavy, staid machines such as the Schenker XMG P703 are better for pure power, but if you want a machine that's powerful and portable - and you can afford the £1,679 price tag - the MSI GS70 is a contender.