Connections, performance and battery
One of the (few) advantages to having a chunkier laptop body is that it's practically the only place you'll find a full Ethernet jack these days, to say nothing of an optical drive. With dual video outputs (HDMI, VGA), you can use the new Nvidia GPU to push multiple displays at once.
Looking online, I spotted several different configurations of the GE60 from different resellers. It can be confusing, but our $1,349 configuration seems like an excellent balance of price and features, with an Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB, 7,200rpm hard drive, and, most importantly, one of Nvidia's new 800M series of video cards. In this case, it's the GeForce GTX 860M, which is two steps down from the top of the line but still excellent for a 15-inch laptop.
In our benchmark application tests, the MSI GE60 was the slowest of our representative panel of gaming laptops from 2013 and 2014, but the actual differences were slight; some of the other systems had faster Core i7-4800 or i7-4900 series CPUs, or else massive amounts of RAM, from 16GB all the way up to 32GB. For practical purposes, this is as much CPU power as you're going to need for any consumer-level task.
More interesting is the gaming performance. We compared the GTX 860M here with the faster 880M card (in the Asus G750), as well as previous-gen 780M and 760M cards. You won't find this terribly shocking, but the MSI GE60 with its GTX 860M turned in a better frame rate than a similar system with last year's GTX 760M, just as our new 880M beat a similar system with a 780M. However, an Origin PC laptop with two 780M cards in an SLI configuration easily topped them all. Check our benchmark charts below for Metro: Last Light and BioShock Infinite frame rates, but I'd consider this system fine for any new game at medium-to-high settings at 1080p resolution.
The MSI GE60 ran for 4 hours, 9 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which is on the low side for a 15-inch laptop of any stripe, and also a shorter time than the powerful 17-inch Asus G570 managed in the same test. For actual gaming while on battery power, you can expect even less. Nvidia, however, is promoting a new feature of its GeForce Experience software app that promises game settings tweaks to prolong battery life. That's not fully functional yet, but we'll take another look at it when it is.
I often have mixed feelings about gaming laptops. On one hand, I love how even a midline gaming laptop can run rings around next-gen game consoles, and the current crop of CPUs and GPUs make this the best time ever to be a PC gamer. On the other hand, these bricklike boxes make me mental with their outdated industrial design and dorm-room-chic vibe.
Keeping all that in mind, the MSI GE60 left me surprisingly impressed. The design was not as bro-tastic as that of some other gaming laptops, the keyboard is among the best for gaming that I've tried, and the brand-new Nvidia GPU and other high-end specs for a reasonable $1,349 all add up to an excellent mix of performance and price.
MSI GE60 Apache Pro-003
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M; 1TB 7,200rpm HGST hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-4800MQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 4GB Nvidia GTX 780M; HDD#1 256GB LiteOn SSD, HDD#2 750GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive
Maingear Pulse 14
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-4720MQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 760M; (2) 128GB SSD RAID 0 1TB 5,400rpm WD hard drive
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ; 32GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 880M;(2) 256GB SSD RAID 0 1TB 7,200rpm HGST hard drive
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 3GHz Intel Core i7-4930MX; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz;(2) 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 780M; (2) 120GB SSD RAID 0 750GB 7,200rpm WD hard drive
Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.