The history of 17-inch gaming laptops is a never-ending story of embarrassingly thick slabs of plastic and metal, typically done up in garish colors, covered in enough lights for a planetarium show, and designed to appeal to a visual aesthetic somewhere between '90s cyberpunk chic and a dorm room.
No matter that these systems have become steadily more powerful over the years, slowly closing the gap with traditional gaming desktops. For many who enjoy PC gaming but also want a laptop that actually works for everyday tasks without looking ridiculous, solutions have been few and far between.
MSI produces laptop bodies that other boutique PC makers use to build made-to-order systems, and you're likely to see something similar to this model tagged with other brand names. But the version MSI sells, called the GS70 Stealth, is a great example of the new slimmer, more modern-looking gaming laptop we're starting to see more of.
Razer and Lenovo, in particular, have become adept at making sharp-looking gaming laptops that do double duty as powerful, portable systems, and if you're considering this MSI, you're probably also looking at the 14- and 17-inch Blade laptops from Razer , and the Y50 from Lenovo .
This model includes a 17-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel non-touch display, an Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia's current-gen GeForce GTX 870M GPU, and a storage setup combining a 1TB HDD with 384GB of SSD capacity, all for $2,099 in the US. Similar configurations will set you back around £1,450 in the UK or AU$2,900 in Australia. You're paying a bit of a premium for the extra-slim body, and the RAID array of three 128GB SSD drives, but it's in line with current premium gaming laptops.
Note that, somewhat confusingly, MSI sells literally dozens of gaming laptops with very similar names and specs (including GX, GT, and GE lines), and your luck tracking down any particular exact model may vary. This is the GS70 2PE Stealth Pro, and it feels like a good reference point for the larger family, combining many features high-end gamers would want to have, but still leaving a few things off my wish list.
|PC Geekbox||MSI GS70 Stealth||Alienware 17 (2014)||Origin EON17-S (2014)|
|Price as reviewed (US)||$2,099||$2,967||$3,505|
|Display size/resolution||17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels||17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels||17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels|
|PC CPU||2.5GHz Intel Core i7 4710HQ||2.9GHz Intel Core i7 4910MQ||3.1GHz Intel Core i7 4940MX|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 870M||Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M||Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M|
|Storage||(3) 128GB SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm HDD||256GB SSD 1TB 5,400rpm HDD||(2) 120GB SSD 750GB 7,200rpm HDD|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11a/b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)|
The design of the MSI GS70 owes a lot, in some respects, to the classic 17-inch MacBook Pro. That discontinued model, like this one, contrasts a large screen with a thin body, and uses a subtle, mostly frill-free outer shell to further deemphasize the body's large footprint. MSI claims this is the world's thinnest and lightest 17-inch gaming laptop, and the extended surface area makes it feel lighter than its 5.8 pounds (2.6kg).
Where the MacBook Pro was silver with a backlit Apple logo, the MSI has its own logo and shield emblem against a black brushed-metal lid. The effect is muted and sophisticated, at least compared to the other 17-inch gaming laptops we've tested recently, including models from Alienware, Origin PC, and Digital Storm. Razer has a similarly understated design for its 14-inch and 17-inch gaming laptops.
The interior of the system is also minimalist, with only a large power button sitting above the keyboard in a wide patch of empty space. If anything, there's too much negative space, and I would have liked to see some dedicated multimedia keys, such as volume controls -- something gaming laptops almost never have, despite a clear need.
The keyboard is a system highlight. It's branded by accessory maker Steelseries, and feels great, considering it's a flat-topped island-style keyboard, which isn't always everyone's favorite for gaming. The keys are large enough to hit cleanly, there's no flex even under heavy typing, and the bundled Steelseries software allows you to customize the multicolored backlights under the keys, and even assign many different macros to keys for different games.
All that requires you to familiarize yourself with the Steelseries Engine software package, but frankly you can just skip all that and just use the WASD keys for out-of-the-box gaming as on any laptop.
The large touchpad, like most modern designs, is a clickpad-style pad, with no separate left and right mouse buttons. For gaming, you'll probably be using a mouse or game pad almost exclusively, but the pad is fine for everyday Web surfing -- although letting a finger drag near the right edge too often accidentally kicked up the Windows 8 charms bar.
The 17.3-inch, 1,920x1,080-pixel display has an antiglare coating that gives it just enough pop without harsh reflections. But, it's not a touchscreen, which is a shame in the touch-centric Windows 8 world. To date, very few gaming laptops have managed to combine Windows 8 and touch, and even then only in smaller models, such as the Razer Blade 14 and the 15-inch Lenovo Y50.
Gamers won't mind the lack of touch, but using the system for Web surfing and other everyday tasks, you're constantly reminded of it, especially if you're used to having a touchscreen Windows 8 laptop or hybrid.
The 2.1 audio system, with a small subwoofer and two top-firing speakers, is decent for gaming sessions, although with its thin body, this laptop feels like it's at a bit of a disadvantage compared to larger models.
One of the best things about using a 17-inch desktop replacement laptop is the wide range of ports and connections available to you. Despite the slim body, MSI still manages to pack in a lot, including four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and dual mini-DisplayPort connections. Even better, the system can drive all three video outputs simultaneously for a big multimonitor view.
In our benchmark tests, the MSI GS70 performed admirably when compared with bigger, thicker, more traditional gaming laptops, but it was not the top performer. Still, with an Intel Core i7-4710HQ CPU and 16GB of RAM, it's more than powerful enough for even serious multitasking, so you're unlikely to notice much difference outside of the latest games.
Likely because of the space and heat requirements of the thin body, there is a sacrifice to be made when it comes to gaming performance. While the other 17-inch gaming laptops we've tested recently all use Nvidia's GeForce 880M GPU, this model trades down one step to the 870M card.
That means it scored 67.6 frames per second in Bioshock Infinite and 16.0 frames per second in the very challenging Metro: Last Light test, both at 1080p resolutions and very high detail settings. The latest Alienware 17 we tested, with the faster GeForce 880M card scored 80.3 and 25.3 frames per second, respectively, in the same tests.
The MSI GS70 is still a great gaming laptop that ran every game we threw at it at full 1080p resolution and either high or ultra detail settings, so don't let these numbers scare you away from what is otherwise a nearly flawless gaming experience.
One thing to watch out for, however -- because of the small body and the cooling problems that presents, the system ran very hot when we played games for an extended period, making parts of the system uncomfortably warm to the touch, and forcing the internal fans to run frequently and loudly.
A desktop replacement laptop, particularly a gaming one, isn't expected to run particularly long on its battery, but the MSI pleasantly surprised us by lasting 3 hours and 39 minutes on our video playback battery drain test.
Before you get ideas about gaming on the go, however, note that the system only ran for 65 minutes in an anecdotal full-power gaming test -- hitting the CPU and GPU hard predictably runs the battery down quickly.
Especially compared to years of thick, bulky gaming laptops, the MSI GS70 Stealth stands out from the crowd with a slim body that at least won't cause your non-gamer friends to cringe.
You'll pay a premium for the combination of thin design and high-end components, and it's a shame that you'll have to skip the current top-end card, the Nvidia 880M, to make it all work. But despite a handful of compromises, I found myself reaching for the MSI over slightly more powerful systems from other PC makers when it came to PC game testing over the past several weeks.
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-4710HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 6,144MB Nvidia GeForce GT 870; RAID 0 (3) 128GB SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm HDD
Windows 7 Home Premium (64.bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-4910MQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 6,144MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M; 256GB SSD, 1TB 5,400rpm HDD
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-4940MX; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 8,192MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M; RAID 0 (2) 120GB SSD, 750GB 7,200rpm HDD
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-4810MQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 8,192MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M; 256GB SSD, 750GB 7,200rpm HDD