MSI GE60 Introduction

Earlier this year, NVIDIA launched their latest and "greatest" GPU architecture, codenamed Maxwell. The first parts launched on the desktop in the form of the GTX 750 and GTX 750 Ti, but given the improvements in efficiency relative to Kepler, Maxwell seemed a perfect fit for gaming notebooks. A month later, NVIDIA confirmed the use of Maxwell in several new GTX 800M mobile GPUs, but there's a catch: not all of the new 800M GPUs use Maxwell, and in fact certain models (GTX 860M in particular) are available in both Kepler and Maxwell flavors. While we weren't able to test the new GPUs at launch, we now have shipping hardware in hand, courtesy of MSI's updated GE60.

For those unfamiliar with MSI's notebook lineup, the breakdown goes something like this, starting at the top in terms of performance and pricing. The GT series comes equipped with the fastest GPUs and CPUs and targets the enthusiast notebook gaming sector; one step down from that in performance is the GS series, which comes with sleeker and more refined designs, but also slightly slower configurations (generally speaking). Below that sits the GE series, which is more of a mainstream gaming platform, delivering reasonable levels of performance at a price point that won't break the bank.

At present, MSI has three shipping GE series laptops: the GE40, GE60, and GE70; we're of course looking at the 15.6" GE60 variant, and while some of what we say will apply to the GE40 and GE70, there are differences in the components, display, and chassis design that you'll need to consider when shopping for one of the GE series notebooks. There are several models of each notebook as well as "whitebook" offerings that can be further customized by notebook resellers; the specific model we received for review is the GE60 Apache Pro-003, with the following specifications:

MSI GE60 Apache Pro Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-4700HQ
(Quad-core 2.4-3.4GHz, 6MB L3, 22nm, 47W)
Chipset HM87
Memory 1x8GB DDR3L-1600 (Max 2x8GB)
Graphics GeForce GTX 860M 2GB GDDR5
(640 cores, 1019MHz + Boost 2.0, 5GHz GDDR5)

Intel HD Graphics 4600
(20 EUs at 400-1200MHz)
Display 15.6" Matte PLS 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(Samsung 156HL01-102)
Storage 1TB HDD (HGST HTS721010A9E630)
Networking 802.11ac WiFi (Intel Dual-Band AC-3160)
(1x1:1 433Mbps capable)
Bluetooth 4.0 (Intel)
Gigabit Ethernet (Killer e4200)
Audio Realtek HD ALC892
Stereo Speakers
Headphone and microphone jacks
Battery/Power 6-cell, 11.1V, 4400mAh, 49Wh
120W Max AC Adapter
Front Side Flash Reader (SDXC/SDHC)
Left Side Headphone and mic jacks
2 x USB 3.0
1 x HDMI
1 x USB 2.0
Exhaust vent
AC Power Connection
Kensington Lock
Right Side Optical drive
1 x USB 3.0 (Sleep Charging)
1 x VGA
Gigabit Ethernet
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 8.1 64-bit
Dimensions 15.08" x 9.82" x 1.27-1.48" (WxDxH)
(383mm x 249.5mm x 32.3~37.6mm)
Weight 5.72 lbs (2.60kg)
Extras 720p HD Webcam
103-Key 3-Zone Colored Backlighting Keyboard
Pricing Starting at $1200 Online

The core components are definitely sufficient for gamers on the go, with the i7-4700HQ processor backing the GTX 860M (Maxwell) dGPU, and of course NVIDIA's Optimus Technology is also present. I'm also pleased with the inclusion of a 1920x1080 wide viewing angle LCD using Samsung's PLS technology. In fact, everything looks good until we get to the storage configuration, where we encounter a pure HDD storage solution and a DVD-RW drive. I'm not too worried about the latter – I rarely use DVDs these days, but some people still like to have that option without resorting to a USB peripheral – but the pure HDD storage definitely rears its head when it comes to everyday tasks like booting up the laptop (or resuming from hibernation), loading applications and games, etc.

Considering we now have 512GB SSDs like the Crucial MX100 selling for $220, or 128GB SSDs starting at just $75, skipping SSD storage entirely is a painful omission. The good news is that MSI has other GE60 models available with SSD + HDD storage configurations; the bad news: finding a store that carries one of the SSD-equipped versions who doesn't charge a "too much" price premium can be difficult/impossible. Bottom line: if you want to get the GE60 with an SSD in place of the hard drive, either plan on doing the upgrade yourself, or look at some of the notebook vendors (e.g. Powernotebooks) and customize the build to your liking for a bit more money. Personally, I'm at the point now where it's painful to go back to pure HDD storage, and 512GB for $220 is enough that I really don't need a secondary internal drive. YMMV.

On the connectivity front, the GE60 is once again pretty good, with a few small concessions. MSI uses an Intel 3160 dual-band 802.11ac solution, but this is only a 1x1 solution so maximum throughput is limited to 433Mbps on 5GHz channels or 150Mbps on 2.4GHz. Additional networking support comes via Killer Gaming Network's Gigabit Ethernet adapter, Bluetooth 4.0 (also from the Intel 3160), two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports (one for charging devices while the system is asleep), and HDMI and VGA video connections. Some might prefer seeing all USB 3.0 ports, and the lack of DisplayPort (or mini-DP) for video is also a bit odd.

Overall, the core specifications look good, with only a few small omissions to help keep prices in check. If your primary concern is gaming performance, the GE60 has plenty going for it, and the price of $1200 for the model we're looking at is quite reasonable. Competing laptops with the GTX 860M include the $1100 Lenovo Y50, MSI's own bulkier 17.3" GE70 for $1050, 17.3" Gigabyte P27Gv2-CF1 for $1280, and if you really aren't too concerned with size or weight there's the 17.3" ASUS G750JM-DX71 for $1279. Of those, I'd say the Y50 is the most compelling alternative, but all of these notebooks are viable contenders depending on your specific needs.

MSI GE60 Apache Pro: Subjective Evaluation
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  • Khenglish - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    SLI class laptops already do not support optimus because nivida does not allow it with SLI, so these could do G-sync just fine.

    As for strong single card laptops then yes the iGPU is in the way. Alienware laptops allow you to run in optimus/enduro mode or in dGPU only mode which connects the dGPU directly to the display, but ASUS, Clevo, and MSI do not. Alienware actually has every display output directly drivable by the dGPU, so I feel it would not be very difficult for other makers to at least route the internal display with a BIOS option for iGPU/dGPU mode, or dGPU only mode.
  • yankeeDDL - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    This is a good machine. I am looking for an upgrade and this looks fast and with a spacious HD, which is a plus.
    That said, I wish start seeing laptops (especially in this size and price range), using an SSD paired with an HDD (less than 1TB means that you need to find some creative way to keep music, photos and videos with you, and 1TB SSD is still way too expensive).
    Maybe some of the Kaveri parts can compromise on the CPU while provide similar GPU power, all combined for a much lower cost. Let's see: so far Kaveri has been MIA.
  • Hrel - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    I picked up the GE60 i7 and GTX765M GPU for $800 off neweggflash a few months back. Couldn't be happier with it. Really amazing laptop, for that money I wouldn't expect a backlit keyboard, yet it has one. a 720p camera, stereo mic, Optimus, fantastic keyboard feel, though the layout could use some work. Some things are in odd places and there's some completely unused keys that could be replaced with nice keys, like a Windows key to the right of the spacebar. I'd also like the spacebar moved left some as it sits directly under my right palm. The Del key is also oddly far to the right, so that should be put back where it belongs.

    Nit picky stuff though, it's an amazing laptop. Seems completely wasteful to get anything more expensive considering what is offered in the GE series. I guess if you need something .5" thinner, for some unkown reason, the GS series makes sense. But I cannot fathom a function for the GT series besides just wasting money.
  • Taurus229 - Friday, July 18, 2014 - link

    Mainstream at $1200.00. Who's kidding who ?
  • grayson360 - Saturday, July 19, 2014 - link

    The Physx issue is because Metro Last Light installs an older version. If you install metro, then install the drivers, it runs beautifully. I had the same issue with my SLI'd 780's. The fps would plummet to single digits. After the fix, I had perfect smooth gameplay with zero slowdowns.
  • GreenMeters - Sunday, July 20, 2014 - link

    Is it possible to remove the tacky badge from the top cover?
  • DaveLikesHardware - Sunday, July 20, 2014 - link

    I prefer using a touchscreen to navigate Metro UI.
    Are GTX-class mobile GPUs and touch screens mutually exclusive?

    I was looking forward to the Y50 - thinking it'd be touch screen.
    How about the GS60 Ghost or GS60 Stealth? Neither are, are they?

    I'll keeping waiting...

  • CommandoCATS - Monday, July 21, 2014 - link

    I think there's a Lenovo Y50 Touch with a GTX 860M and touchscreen. Was that what you meant?
  • DaveLikesHardware - Monday, July 21, 2014 - link

    Yes, Commando, it is. Thanks - I missed it and only saw the Y50 non-Touch.
    That is the fastest GPU paired with Touch screen that I've seen so far.

  • romba - Thursday, July 24, 2014 - link

    On storage, on the other hand, this is the only laptop at this price with 2 msata ports. My GE60 is equipped with 2 x 1TB Sams SSD and 2 x 1TB HDD (one in a caddy in the optical drive). So if you are willing to get your hands dirty and self upgrade, this baby is for you.

    I dare you to find a laptop at this price that can house 4TB of storage.

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