If you want a gaming laptop, you don't have too many choices that are simultaneously grunty, thin and light. Nvidia's new laptop graphics cards have changed that, though. MSI's GS70 Stealth Pro laptop looks like an oversized MacBook Pro, but it's much more powerful.
What Is It?
- Display: 17.3in, 1920x1080 pixel
- CPU: Intel Core i7-4710HQ, 2.5-3.5GHz
- RAM: 16GB DDR3-1866MHz
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M 3GB
- HDD: 3x 128GB M.2 LiteOn SSD, RAID 0, up to 512GB
- Dimensions: 420x390x27mm
The $2899 (as tested) MSI GS70 is a 17.3-inch gaming laptop with a 1080p Full HD display, built around MSI's excellent Stealth Pro chassis. It's a predominantly metal body with occasional rubberised plastic accents, and the top panel looks nice with a dark blue brushed aluminium finish with that standard centralised MSI Gaming logo. Measuring 420mm x 390mm x 27mm it's not the thinnest thin-and-light out there, but given its large dimensions it feels very slim and portable (as long as you have a bag that'll fit it).
Being a full-size laptop, the MSI GS70 has no shortage of external ports. You get a full-size SD card, two USB 3.0, the 12V power connector and a Kensington lock on the right, while the left is more action-packed with Ethernet, HDMI, dual Mini DisplayPort, two more USB 3.0 and triple analog 3.5mm stereo inputs. The front of the laptop, next to the slightly-centre-offset trackpad on the left, has a set of seven status lights to show you what's going on with your machine.
The GS70 Stealth Pro is a mid- to high-end laptop, and to that end MSI has specced it out with a Core i7-4710HQ 2.5-3.5GHz quad-core processor, Nvidia's new GTX 970M GPU, 16GB of RAM and three 128GB SSDs. That's all running through its 1080p 17-inch display, too, with more than enough power for a modern PC game to run at high quality settings.
MSI bundles a swathe of software on top of the regular Windows 8.1 experience, some of it useful and some of it not. The three-mode software Shift function lets you switch between various Green, Comfort and Sport power settings (although these aren't well explained), and the Dragon Gaming Centre acts as a sort of catch-all place for your games shortcuts to live. If you like these features it's nice to have them all in one place, but if you don't it's the work of 10 minutes when you first get the machine to uninstall them completely.
What's It Good At?
Despite its thin design, the MSI GS70 has oodles of computing power on tap. That's right, oodles. The newly reinvigorated GeForce GTX 970M from Nvidia -- the same one that performs so well in the Aorus X3 Plus -- gives the GS70 more than enough power to play almost any modern game at high detail levels at the machine's default 1080p screen resolution.
That's on top of the GS70's other performance credentials. Because it has three 128GB SSDs in RAID 0, you get three times the hard disk transfer rates of a single equivalent drive. While that isn't much of a bragging factor unless you're transferring files to a USB 3.0 or equally fast I/O port with an equally fast solid-state or flash drive connected, it is useful for giving you incredibly fast load times in game or incredibly fast start-up times for Windows programs like Chrome or Adobe Lightroom.
As with other MSI laptops we've tested, the onboard peripherals of the GS70 -- the Steelseries keyboard, which is RGB backlit, the very large multitouch single-piece trackpad, the DynAudio stereo speakers -- are excellent. These are small things but they genuinely do increase the usefulness of the laptop, making it entirely possible to actually use regularly for watching videos without attaching an external TV or monitor, or for writing long articles or reviews (like this one).
MSI has done something smart in designing the GS70, and that's speccing it out with a 1920x1080 pixel panel for its 17.3-inch display. It's not the best screen you'll find on a laptop -- more on that later -- but it's just the right resolution for the GTX 970M onboard to be a useful graphics chipset for gaming (whether you're on or off the AC power adapter). That means you'll be able to run most modern games at high settings at the native 1080p resolution, and things just look good.
What's It Not Good At?
It's expensive. You're paying a premium not just for the modern core computing hardware tech inside the MSI GS70 -- the Core i7 processor, the up-to-date Nvidia graphics, at least 16GB of RAM -- but for all the added bonuses you get when buying the Stealth Pro. Because of those goodies, the $2899 RRP of the GS70 2QE (as tested) really stings. It's easy to justify -- hell, I'd pay more -- but it's still a lot of money to commit to a single computing device.
Because the MSI GS70 Stealth Pro's screen is so large at 17.3 inches across diagonally, there is a moderate amount of lateral and diagonal screen flex if you move it with a single finger or push against a single edge. There's also a small degree of inaccuracy in the screen's colour balance, too; it's significantly cooler than most laptops we've tested and you might find your Web browsing has a slightly distracting blue tint to it.
Being a high-powered laptop, and one with a large chassis, the MSI GS70 produces a fairly significant amount of exhaust heat through its side-mounted ports. You can't use this laptop on your lap while gaming, because you'll end up with very warm legs. Because the fans draw air in through the base, too, you can't use this laptop for any kind of demanding work on a soft surface like carpet.
Battery life from the MSI GS70 is much improved from previous, more power-hungry models, but it's still not amazing. That's the trade-off you have to make when building a large-screen, but still thin and light laptop. I measured a solid but uninspiring 3hr 41min of 720p movie playback with the laptop's display at half brightness, while full-brightness 1080p drops that down to 2hr 12min. Obviously if you're gaming, this is going to be much less -- expect under 45 minutes at full ball.
Should You Buy It?
The MSI GS70 Stealth Pro has a touch of the MacBook Pro about it, but it's a much more powerful device than even the best that Apple can produce. The design, though, is 90 per cent of the way to Apple's excellence, and that's an impressive achievement. That squared-off design, with its smoothed corners and edges, looks beautiful and imparts a sense of the GS70's generally excellent build quality.
The keyboard and trackpad of the GS70 Stealth Pro deserve special attention for the precision with which they're built; it's an enjoyable exercise to spend some time typing away or browsing the Web since multitouch gestures work smoothly and as expected. The ports on offer should suit anything but the most demanding power user, and make for a laptop that can handle desktop use with an external monitor and peripherals just fine.
It's in the internals, though, that MSI has done its most revolutionary work. In equipping the GS70 Stealth Pro with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M, and maintaining the excellent high-end 2.5GHz Core i7-4710HQ, MSI has made a laptop that is in some games up to twice as fast as its 870M predecessor. It's these kind of under-the-hood changes that mean the GS70 is a capable portable gaming machine as well as a useful workday or general-purpose laptop.
It's features like the RGB-backlit keyboard, dedicated Killer networking card and triple RAID 0 SSDs (for ludicrously fast hard drive transfers) that make the MSI GS70 in an entirely different league to the Dells and Lenovos and Apple MacBooks of this world. If you need an attractive, professional, generally understated 17-inch laptop, then the GS70 Stealth Pro fits that mould almost perfectly.