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MSI GS63VR 7RF Stealth Pro Gaming Notebook Review

MSI’s GS63VR Stealth Pro notebook is one of those products that oozes appeal right from the first glance. Packing desktop class hardware into its slim chassis proves the old saying that you cannot have desktop class performance in a laptop form factor is truly dead. While high end gaming notebooks have always been available, they tended to be big and heavy power guzzling behemoths. With the advent of Nvidia’s mobile Pascal GPUs, that is no longer the case. The notebook performance level has changed so much that its generally possible to have ultrabook class machines capable of proper high fps and high detail gaming. MSI themselves have adopted the slogan ‘Shatter Desktop Performance Cliche’ They aren’t wrong. Read on to see if we think this machine performs as good as it looks.

 

Specifications

The GS63VR Stealth Pro comes loaded with capable hardware. The 4c/8t 7700HQ is easily capable of powering all modern games, and will likely do so for the foreseeable future. The advent of Nvidia’s Pascal generation of GPU’s means laptops are withing striking distance of their desktop brethren, with clock speeds the only differentiating factor in the case of the GTX 1060.

There’s NVMe storage, 16Gb of RAM, USB 3.1 Type-C with Thunderbolt 3 support, AC WiFi and a IPS full HD screen. Not bad at all for a laptop weighing 1.8Kg with the battery.

Note that there are slight model variations available. The specifications for the Singapore market version are listed below.

 

Design & Build Quality

The first thing you’re likely to think of when laying eyes on the GS63VR for the first time is the slim metal design and surprisingly light weight relative to the hardware contained inside. The shell is a lithium-magnesium alloy with a black color. The lid in particular with the MSI dragon logo gives the impression of a premium design and feel. Do be aware it is a bit of a fingerprint magnet though.

MSI have been designing gaming notebooks for several generations now and are a leader in the market segment. The GS series is their slimline range, which is accompanied by the high end GT series, GE series in the middle, with the GP and finally GL series aimed at the more budget segment. They know a thing or two about gaming notebooks and the GS63VR has all the hallmarks of being a refined design, free of a couple of niggles from previous generations.

The unit is free of flexing and the hinge mechanism is a good balance of sturdiness and flexibility. One of the interesting features is a felt covering to the underside. We’re not quite sure why its there, but when you lift it up and put it on your lap, it does feel nice. At least you wont get any cold metal on your legs when you put it on your legs and turn it on.

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Keyboard & Trackpad

Here’s a look at the SteelSeries keyboard. Its a really impressive addition to the overall experience of using the laptop. The level of resistance and key travel feels about bang on target, which, given the thinness of the unit, could have easily been a lot less admirable.

As you can see, there’s RGB support for this keyboard too. It is controlled from the Dragon Center software that we’ll go into later. There are three zones to select individual colors, but no per key support. There’s a range of effects that will be familiar such as wave and breathing. You can dim 2/3 of the keyboard leaving the WASD key area lit. Perhaps the key’s font is not to our ultimate taste, but that’s purely an individual preference and is far from a deal breaker.

Trackpads always seem like a necessary evil compared to a mouse. The GS63VR uses a ELAN trackpad. The lower corners function as left and right mouse clicks. It also features a three finger swipe for backwards and forwards operations. Very useful indeed. It’s in a good position offset to the left but is perhaps a little too close to the front of the unit, which might cause an issue if you are using it on your lap with your wrists in the way.

 

I/O Port Overview

Lets take a look at the sides of the GS63VR and its ports.

In the picture below we have, from left to right, a Kensington Lock port for anti theft, Gigabit LAN port, SD Card Reader (supporting SDHC and SDXC) three USB 3.0 ports and finally a headphone/line out and mic ports.

Gaming is a big part of this notebook and so the networking plays a key role. The LAN port is controlled via a Killer Networks (Qualcomm) E2500 chip. This controller and its software feature powerful traffic and packet options. For example, if you are gaming and streaming at the same time, you can prioritize your game traffic over the streaming, or have Skype running without interference in your DOTA pings for example. Quite useful if you are a hardcore streaming gamer.

The GS63VR also features a pair of 2x2w Dynaudio speakers. While tiny drivers just cannot produce the dynamic range or frequency response of a set of discrete speakers or headphones, these speakers can produce a very high volume level for their size.

 

Moving around to the other side of the unit, we have, from left to right, a USB 2.0 port, USB 3.1 Type-C port, HDMI 2.0 port, Mini DP v1.2 and finally the DC in port.

The USB Type-C port supports Thunderbolt 3, which means devices including external monitors and even external graphics cards are supported thanks to the 40 Gb/s on tap.

The HDMI 2.0 port is critical for connecting to a 4K monitor thanks to its 60hz capability. The GTX 1060 onboard is easily capable of driving multiple 4K monitors which the GS63VR can do,

We have to say, we aren’t great fans of the DC port location. this should be at the far right of the pic below, or on the back. It just seems intrusive in the middle there and has to snake over the cooler exhaust port.

Display

The GS63VR 7RF we have for review is fitted with a 1080p ‘IPS level’ (?) screen. It’s not a bad screen but it is merely average. There’s no G-Sync or 12oHz on this model. The display comes calibrated with a sRGB mode by default. The viewing angles are very good as you’d expect with a IPS screen, but in its default state, the screen just didn’t ‘wow’ us. There seemed to be a general lack of vibrancy, perhaps even a dullness with the color reproduction. At least its not a cheap TN panel. As a gaming screen this one does the job well enough, but there are competitors with better screens.

Underneath The Skin

As mentioned in the spec section, the GS63VR comes with an excellent spec including a i7 7700HQ processor. There are slightly better Kaby Lake mobile models, but they are a jump in price and have a diminishing performance return, especially in terms of gaming performance where the difference will be non existent. The 7700HQ CPU will have all the performance you’ll need in a laptop for years to come.

The other key spec is the GTX 1060 GPU. This is not your cheap charlie version of the desktop card, its the same one, with just a drop in clocks for power and thermal reasons. it’s very good choice for 1080p gaming. As we’ll see, it can run demanding DX12 games at 1080p with little compromise.

The RAM and HDD are user serviceable, but that means breaking the ‘void warranty’ sticker. Before attempting anything like this, please contact your local MSI service center to see their stance on this. It is different in different parts of the world. Some parts are not at all easy to get to.

The specific SKU for Singapore includes a 128gb NVMe drive. While the performance will be excellent, 128Gb is a little on the anemic side. We installed Grand Theft Auto 5 and that alone takes up 70Gb! The hard drive is a storage option only. Its a basic Seagate 5400RPM SATA model that won’t set any speed records. It’ll be great for loading up with movies or that box set for a TV binge though.

The battery is a 57Whr unit according to MSI, this is not the largest battery you’ll ever see, but it had to be compromised due to the slim form factor. Ask yourself, do you really care about battery life on a gaming notebook? For what its worth, we got to about 4.5 hours of general use, though without any gaming. Bearing in mind that we are using a 45w class CPU that jumps all around in terms of power consumption and clock speed, plus a RGB keyboard, wireless tech and mechanical HDD, we think this is pretty good.

A note about fan noise and temperatures. When the GTX 1060 kicks into high gear, so do the fans, though we never saw GPU temperatures higher than the mid 80’s which is acceptable for a notebook. The GS63VR, with its slim design is forced to compromise on fan noise. If you’re gaming with headphones, then you won’t notice it, but they do become quite apparent when spun up. If low noise is a priority for you in a gaming notebook, you’d be better of considering a GT series model like the GT62VR. Its thicker and heavier, but also has extra chassis space for more cooling fins and larger fans. The GS63VR noise isn’t terrible, but it is something to demo in person to see you accept it or not.

Software overview

MSI, along with many notebook manufacturers have been known for including excessive bloatware on their machines. It is with a smile that we can say that this is apparently no longer the case, at least with our review sample. There’s still a heap of software and control options, but these are now mostly contained within one piece of software. The surprisingly useful and functional ‘Dragon Center’.

As we see below, the DC is the one stop shop for all things related to the MSI ecosystem. The first screen we see here is the app portal.

SCM is where the WiFi, Bluetooth, webcam and monitor can be switched on or off. The SteelSeries engine relates to the keyboard and any other SteelSeries product that’s connected. MSI True Color is a display color setting app for gaming, movies, office etc. Xsplit Gamecaster is a very popular app for streamers who wish to broadcast or record their game play or shenanigans. Nahimic; we’ll go into that on its own shortly.

The System Monitor page is pretty self explanatory. It shows a nice selection of key parameters.

The LED wizard is the RGB control for the keyboard. You can see the various effects here. and the three zones, each with their own control.

The System tuner page includes various system parameters.  Items such as VRBoost and Xboost set system priority to real time. Shift alters the performance states of the system. Fan speeds are fairly obvious. If you’re gaming with headphones, you may wish to switch to the cooler boost mode as this should allow the GPU to run at higher boost clocks for longer, directly impacting game FPS.

Lastly there’s the mobile center for remote connections and a tools and help page with some extra features including backup tool, help desk, manual etc.

Overall the Dragon Center is a nice piece of software. It doesn’t feel like a slapped together piece of junk, but really does feel like an integral piece of the whole laptop. We foresee frequent access of this app and we’re happy to say it seems to be well optimized, quick to respond and had no apparent bugs or lag when using it. Well done MSI, its not to often that add on software is recommended as part of the entire experience.

Now we move along to two key apps that gamers will need to be aware of. The first is the Nahimic software app, which relates to the sound.

This software has its origins with the the French military. It has a whole heap of control options with the sound tracker overlay perhaps the most interesting. With this, there’s an overlay on your screen to tell you which direction gunfire is coming from, or footsteps. It’s chock full of equalization options and things like virtual sound fields.

At the end of the day though, its an equalization app. Most serious audio aficionados will eschew any sort of additional distortion adding app. That’s why minimalist $10000 pre amplifiers have a market.

 

Lastly we have the Killer network app, though it is not required to be installed, as a .inf file that’s a few Kb in size will allow use of the WiFi and LAN. This is a useful app for those who are doing several different network accessing things at once. It’s particularly useful for streamers in conjunction with the Xsplit app. Stream your game but keep your pings at the top of the priority list. The app still feels a little bloaty, but its much better than it used to be and is a key function of MSI’s gaming ecosystem.

 

Benchmarks

We ran through a selection of game benchmarks to see how the GS63VR performs. We have a Gigabyte SabrePro 15 on hand which has a very similar spec, but is more a ‘regular’ gaming notebook than a slimline one. Given the near identical hardware specs (7700HQ, 16Gb, GTX 1060) we’d expect the result to be basically identical.

We’d usually run more system benchmarks; ATTO or PCmark, but since our test model was slightly different to the Singapore retail one (ours had a 256Gb SATA SSD vs the retail NVMe SSD) it would be a misleading. Of course the NVMe equipped model will be significantly faster at disk transfer tasks and PC Mark would reflect this.

 

Its nice to see these games running at high settings at 1080p without having to dial back on the image quality. We’d expect the MSI and the Gigabyte models to be neck and neck and they are. The Gigabyte GPU is running a little bit cooler due to its beefier cooling solution, hence the slightly higher fps in games due to a tiny bit higher GPU boost clock.

 

Conclusion

When you pull the GS63VR out of its box, it really does look and feel like a premium notebook. Just a couple of years ago, a genuine high detail 1080p capable gaming laptop at well under 2Kg and 18mm thick was a pipe dream The GTX 970M was good, but nowhere near this good. The advent of Nvidia’s mobile Pascal GPU did indeed shatter the desktop gaming cliche, as MSI puts it.

If you want a truly portable gaming laptop, you’ll be giving a good hard look at the GS63VR. It does more than just have a good spec, it offers a complete gaming experience for the hardcore gamers and the not so technically oriented. Its great to see a notebook with truly useful software extras rather than the expected 100 apps of bloatware garbage. Streamers will love it, kids will love taking it to their friends place (and probably get better fps then their friends desktops!) but even casual gamers will appreciate its lightweight portability and power for everyday tasks too.

It isn’t perfect though, notebooks rarely are. You’ll have to put up with a bit of extra fan noise when you push it, but its not the sort of noise that’s a deal breaker. Despite the slim chassis, MSI seem to have found a good compromise between noise and temps.  An 18mm thick design with a 7700HQ and GTX 1060 could easily be pushing the 100c mark, but to come in well under this is a good achievement by MSI.

We also think the display could be a notch better. We’ve seen better screens on several high end notebooks, and a few cheaper ones too. Having said that, it isn’t bad.. it’s just.. average. G-Sync would be a nice inclusion on a notebook of this capability, or a 120Hz capable panel to offset the slight color weakness. When you’re in game and hunting or being hunted, this will not matter one bit though. At least there’s no ghosting or unacceptable screen behavior.

With a bit of shopping around, you can find the GS63VR for under $3000 SG which far from cheap, but you get a lot of laptop for the money (or is that a little laptop for the money?) it comes with a 2 year warranty.

So you get a great spec, a lot of ports and a slim and portable chassis that’s great for traveling. Proper 1080p gaming performance in current DX12 games is a huge tick along with a quality headphone output, an impressive value add software bundle and USB 3.1 with Thunderbolt. It’s a bit of a beast, but a nice sleek and subtle beast.

 

Pros:

Thin and light

Excellent keyboard

Software solution actually adds value

Audio solution

Powerful spec inc 7700HQ and GTX 1060

 

Cons:

Gets noisy under load

Display is average

A premium price to match

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