The good, the bad and the ugly: Putting MSI’s GS70 though its paces

On the surface MSI’s GS70 laptop is a good machine, but annoying flaws keep it from being great.

photo 2 1024x606 The good, the bad and the ugly: Putting MSIs GS70 though its paces

After ten minutes playing through Splinter Cell: Blacklist with MSI’s new GS70 slim gaming laptop one thing is certain: they certainly make better gaming laptops than YouTube commercials.

MSI WEIRD AD 3 The good, the bad and the ugly: Putting MSIs GS70 though its paces

But just as MSI’s YouTube commercials represent the great problem with the ever-insular Taiwanese corporate culture — saving face over solving problems; stability over innovation — as they were clearly not ran by anyone outside a tight knit circle of the company’s advertising troops, the GS70 has predictable flaws that would make for an easy fix should the company have listened to past reviews of its other products.

So what we’re left with is a technically impressive yet flawed specimen, that could have been a great product should MSI have given itself more development time.

The good

Looking at the GS70 the first thing you notice is the element that MSI did the best: the size and weight. The laptop, which MSI’s press says is the “world’s thinnest and lightest 17-inch gaming laptop”, is just 0.85-inches thick and weighs 5.73 pounds (2.6kg). This makes it noticeably lighter and easier to carry than competing desktop-replacement gaming laptops like the Alienware 17.

MSI has managed to pack in some impressive hardware into this mere 0.85 inches and 5.73 pounds. The GS70 comes in two editions: a $1,999 setup with a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU,16GB of RAM, dual 128GB SSDs, a 1TB HD, and a Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPU  2GB of memory or for a buyer on a (slight) budget MSI also offers a $1,799 version of the laptop with a single 128GB SSD and a 1TB HD

The GS70 features a large 1920 x 1080 display with an anti-reflective matte finish. Some gamers prefer glossy screens because of color range, but the matte on the display wasn’t a noticeable impairment. Games and images looked fine; the screen is vibrantly bright (1096:1 contrast ratio) and text crisp. I’m sure, however, that image buffs might be concerned about the impact on color range the matte finish on the screen has. Personally I like the matte finish as glossy screens have an annoying tendency to be too reflective.

Overall the GS70’s build quality is satisfactory. The quality is comparable to other high-end gaming laptops from the likes of Asus and Alienware. Considering that Dell has had build quality issues of late with its laptops, it’s nice to see a vendor committing to build quality.

But while MSI managed to do a respectable job with the build quality on the case overall, the laptop’s keyboard is where the trouble begins.

The bad

By default MSI enables this weird multicolor lighting on the keyboard, which sometimes rotates between different varieties of neon blue, green, or red. Fortunately for those who don’t like the luminosity of a Taiwan night market emanating from their keyboard this can be disabled.

keyboard The good, the bad and the ugly: Putting MSIs GS70 though its paces

The next problem with the keyboard is its odd positioning and size on the laptop’s body. Though it may not seem that way in pictures, it was uncomfortable for extended periods of time because of its positioning on the laptop’s body. It was sunk slightly lower than the average laptop keyboard, and it was further up the computer’s body than most are. Next, the keyboard seems to be slightly smaller than the size of an average laptop keyboard making it slightly awkward and inaccurate the first few times you use the computer. Paying careful attention to feedback during the design stage might have mitigated the problem, or prevented it from happening, but in the end the GS70 shipped with this gawky keyboard.

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Moving down the laptop to the 4.1 x 2.75-inch brings up more problems. During play testing and web browsing the trackpad was sometimes inaccurate because of a combination of misread and unread gestures. This spastic behavior could be because of faulty hardware, or errant drivers. We didn’t get to the bottom of this during our limited testing time, so it’s tough to properly diagnose the issue.

This leads to the biggest problem of them all with the GS70: heat and battery life. During benchmark tests, or play tests of Splinter Cell: Blacklist the computer got uncomfortably hot. So hot that it was impossible to use it on your lap for more than 15 to 20 minutes. The fans will kick in and start humming to compensate which dampens the onboard speakers that are already too underpowered and tinny to begin with.

Naturally such cooling requirements take a toll on battery life. During game testing the battery lasted just over an hour during gameplay, and approximately 4:30 during web surfing and office tasks. PCMark8 creative clocked the battery life at 1:39. Part of the reason for the difference in battery life is the GS70 will switch from its Nvidia GPU to the lightweight Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU when it isn’t doing things that are graphically taxing.

And ugly

While the GS70 gives more than adequate performance during gameplay, we noticed that during standard benchmarking tests it was scoring slightly lower than it should have.

MSI is notorious for shipping with throttling issues, and the GS70 was no different. With the exception of boot tests, the GS70 placed below the reported scores of the ASUS G750JX — a close contemporary from another Taiwanese rival.

On 3DMark Firestrike it scored a 2249 and on Firestrike Extreme a 1083.

On the Unreal Heaven Benchmark 4 test it scored 401 with an average FPS of  15.9. The variance ranged from a high of 36.7 to a low of 9.8.

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In Lost Planet 2’s benchmarking mode it got a “B”, averaging 35 FPS between the three scenes.

LP2DX11 2013 09 29 18 48 37 08 1024x576 The good, the bad and the ugly: Putting MSIs GS70 though its pacesCPUZ, GPUZ and other benchmarking details:

Conclusion

If the GS70 was given more development time it could have gone from a good gaming laptop to a great gaming laptop. Too many quirks and imperfections that are common with MSI’s machines were present, yet again, to give this laptop anything but a satisfactory grade.

There are better machines out there if you want the best bang for your buck, but the GS70 isn’t a terrible laptop by any regards. It’s just not great.

7 5 The good, the bad and the ugly: Putting MSIs GS70 though its paces

Pros:

  • Thin form factor and high-portability considering the specs.
  • Sharp screen.
  • Build quality is better than most laptops.

Cons:

  • Miniscule battery life hampers the portability that the small form factor provides.
  • High heat output makes it uncomfortable to use on lap.
  • Resource throttling means performance below expectations.
Sam Reynolds is a Canadian technology journalist based in Taipei. His interest is the intersection between politics, business and technology.