1080p PC gaming on-the-go at its finest
- Excellent screen and sound
- Performance pusher
- Stupendous keyboard
- Fleeting battery life
- A bit expensive
For almost as long they have existed, gaming laptops have been chasing after desktop-level performance. Over the last year, Nvidia has come close to making this happen, with its Maxwell mobile graphics chips and even porting the GTX 980 to select notebooks. Now coupling in Intel’s new Skylake processors, we’re seeing the beginnings of an even more impressive generation of gaming notebooks that starts in part with the newly updated MSI GS60 Ghost Pro.
While Intel’s Skylake processor might be best known for introducing smaller, 14nm transistors and longer battery life, its biggest improvements best serve gaming laptops. With the ability to dynamically overclock itself and some big integrated graphics improvements, the new Skylake chip (with the helping hand of an Nvidia GTX 970M) makes the GS60 Ghost Pro one of the best gaming laptops I’ve ever reviewed.
While the updated Ghost Pro features some new and impressive hardware, it’s actually both thinner and lighter than last year’s model. Measuring a mere 0.78-inches thick, the GS60 comes at a stark contrast to chunkier hardcore gaming machines, such as the Acer Predator 17 and Alienware 17.
Going thinner hasn’t brought any compromises to the GS60’s complement of ports. Along the sides, you’ll find two full-sized USB 3.0 and a HDMI port, mini DisplayPort, Ethernet and separate microphone and headphone jacks.
There also a new “Super Port,” which packs the daisy-chaining capabilities of Thunderbolt 3.0 into a USB Type C port. This in turn allows this machine to drive up to two 4K displays and quickly recharge devices.
Aside from the slightly smaller dimensions, the GS60’s design has largely remained the same year over year. That’s not a complaint, of course. MSI nailed a thin, light and simple look for the Ghost Pro years ago, and the black, brushed magnesium-alloy chassis has aged gracefully.
If it weren’t for the “Gaming Series” badge with an LED dragon logo stamped into the center of the screen lid, it would be easy to mistake this machine for just another Ultrabook. That said, turning on the keyboard’s multi-colored backlighting also helps this notebook stand out like a sore thumb.
The keyboard lighting zones effectively split the rows of keys into three sections, which you can program to glow in all the colors of the rainbow. MSI has also made the sides of every key clear. With the colored lighting turned on, it looks like someone arranged fluorescent candies on top of the keyboard deck.
Even without the backlight on, the black keycaps and their white edges give the MSI GS60’s keyboard a unique aesthetic you won’t find on any other mobile gaming rig.
Aesthetics aside, it just feels excellent to type on this keyboard. The keys offer plenty of travel, and they’re all coated in a slightly rough, soft touch paint that adds a tactile feel to tapping out a document.
The trackpad has also seen some improvements that fix the spotty multi-touch gestures plaguing last year’s model. Scrolling feels smooth and it stops dead in its tracks once you lift your fingers away. The same goes for zooming into text and rotating images; though, you’ll want to turn on palm rejection to stop any accidental commands.
The only potential annoyance is the touch-sensitive surface still features a slightly rough texture. This is fine for me, but it may annoy those with subtler fingertips
MSI’s latest version of the GS60 measures in at 15.35 x 10.47 x 0.78 inches (389 x 265 x 19.8mm) and weighs 4.2 pounds (1.82kg). By comparison, the model with a 3K display we reviewed last year tipped the scales at 4.36 pounds and sported 16.5 x 11.3 x 0.85-inch dimensions.
As for its competitors, the Asus ROG G501 weighs a bit more at 4.54 pounds (2.05 kg) but has very similar 15.08 x 10.04 x 0.81 inch (383 x 255 x 20.5mm) dimensions. Bogged down by an optical drive, the Gigabyte P55K v4 is an even more portly machine that weighs 5.51 pounds (2.5kg). The P55K v4’s built-in DVD reader also ends up making it thicker as well, measuring 14.96 x 10.59 x 1.34 inches (380 x 269 x 34mm) overall.
Here is the MSI GS60 Ghost Pro configuration sent to techradar for review:
- CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 6700HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost)
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M (3GB GDDR5 RAM), Intel HD Graphics 530
- RAM: 16GB DDR4
- Screen: 15.6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 eDP Wide View Angle
- Storage: 128GB NVMe M.2 SSD by PCIe Gen3x4; 1TB HDD (7,200 rpm)
- Ports: 2 x USB 3.0 ports, 1 x USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3.0, mini DisplayPort, HDMI, SD card reader, Ethernet, headphone jack, microphone jack
- Connectivity: Killer N1525 Combo (2 x 2 AC) Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.1
- Camera: FHD type (30fps, 1080p)
- Weight: 4.2 pounds
- Size: 15.35 x 10.47 x 0.78 inches (W x D x H)
Priced at $1,699 (£1,388, AU$2,699), this version of the MSI GS60 Ghost Pro comes with all the trappings of a modern gaming laptop including Skylake processors, Nvidia Maxwell graphics and DDR4 RAM. The only thing you might find lacking is the 128GB SSD, but thankfully, MSI makes it easy to swap out components with easily removable body panels.
There’s also a higher-end model that comes with double the solid state storage space and video memory as well as a 4K screen for $1,899 (£1,579, AU$2,899). Forking over an extra 200 smackers for these impressive upgrades might be tempting, but I would resist the siren call of Ultra-HD gaming. Playing games at a 4K resolution is still simply too much for most gaming laptops to handle even in 2015, unless they come packing the power of two discrete graphics chips.
Speaking of mobile rigs not ready for 4K gaming, the Asus ROG G501 falls into this exact problem, because it only has an Nvidia GTX 960 graphics processor to drive a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution display. If it weren’t for the 4K gaming laptop label, the G501 is an amazing deal that throws in a 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM with an Intel Core i7 Haswell processor for just $1,699 or £1,499 (about AU$2,122).
The Gigabyte P55K v4 is the most budget-friendly option, priced at $1,250 (£1,049, AU$1799). While it comes with a lower-end Nvidia GTX 965M graphics card, it has a newer Intel Broadwell CPU. Gigabyte also offers a higher end P55W v4 model, which upgrades the video card to an Nvidia GTX 970M for $1,399 (£1,149, AU$2,099).
While the Gigabyte machine comes at a bargain for what is essentially the same exact configuration as the Ghost Pro, the GS60 is thinner and lighter with a full metal chassis. The Asus ROG G501, meanwhile, is the least fit machine for playing games – especially at that resolution – and should only be considered if gaming is a lower priority.
In all honesty, I was a bit skeptical as to how well the MSI GS60 would play games with only 3GB of video RAM on hand, but it was able to run just about everything at a smooth 60 frames per second (fps). This is largely thanks to the added power of Intel’s new Skylake processors and their ability to overclock almost all the time.
Playing Metal Gear V: The Phantom Pain at 1080p and all the settings turned up was a relatively smooth, 60fps experience, save for the occasional frame rate drop. For less graphically intensive games, such as Rocket League, the MSI GS60 had no problems even with the effects dials set to 11.
Here’s how the MSI GS60 Ghost Pro performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 20,527; Sky Diver: 18,345; Fire Strike: 6,558
- Cinebench CPU: 671 points; Graphics: 61 fps
- GeekBench: 3,704 (single-core); 13,407 (multi-core)
- PCMark 8 (Home Test): 3,393 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours and 2 minutes
- Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (1080p, Ultra): 53 fps; (1080p, Low): 121 fps
- Metr Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 29 fps; (1080p, Low): 97 fps
Let’s just remind ourselves how that compares to the 2014 model’s scores:
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 100,052; Cloud Gate: 16,865; Fire Strike: 4,334
- Cinebench CPU: 645 points; Graphics: 97 fps
- PCMark 8 Home: 2,885 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours, 4 minutes
- Bioshock Infinite (1080p, Ultra): 54 fps; (1080p, Low): 168 fps
- Metr Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 18 fps; (1080p, Low): 75 fps
Sure enough, we can see the newer Skylake and Maxwell chipset has helped the MSI GS60 reach new heights in our benchmark tests. The new Ghost Pro is over 1,000 points ahead in the processor-intensive PCMark 8 test, and it can also play Metr Last Light at nearly 30fps using just one graphics chip.
Having a higher-end chipset also puts the Ghost Pro well ahead of the Gigabyte P55K v4. The GS60 put up a Cinebench score of 671 over the P55K’s 644 point performance, which means MSI’s notebook will be faster at processor-intensive tasks, like rendering 3D models and editing media. The Ghost Pro can also play games like Shadow of Mordor at faster frame rates and with sharper graphics.
Unsurprisingly, the Asus ROG G501 comes dead last in this heat, because it’s pushing quadruple the resolution compared to these two 1080p gaming machines. Trying to game at full resolution on the G501 sees frame rates drop between a disappointing 15 to 30fps, meanwhile, the MSI GS60 can play games above or at relatively steady 30fps even with every graphical flourish turned on.
While the MSI exceeds in performance and looks, it just flops over when it comes to battery life. The 15.6-inch gaming laptop lasted for a mere 2 hour and 4 minutes on the PCMark 8 battery test.
Even with the simple task of playing Guardians of the Galaxy over and over again with 50% screen brightness and plugging in a pair of headphones, the GS60 only managed to hang on for 2 hours and 28 minutes. I was able to stretch the battery life by about six more minutes while using the GS60 in a mix of everyday computing (word processing, web browsing and watching YouTube videos).
By comparison, the Gigabyte P55K v4 lasted a more respectable 3 hours and 10 minutes. Strangely, the Asus ROG G501 and its power-thirsty 4K screen lasted the longest, turning in after 3 hours and 36 minutes.
Standard screen, amazing sound
Visually speaking, the display panel MSI has gone with on the GS60 looks great, but it’s nothing exceptional. As another gaming laptop utilizing an IPS screen, colors look decent and the blacks are rendered well with distinguishable levels of contrast. Otherwise the display is finished in a matte coating that diffuses all light hitting the screen.
While the MSI GS60’s display won’t wow you with an incredible 100% Adobe color gamut, there’s a lot of software in play to make this display amazingly comfortable to use. First off, TrueColor comes pre-installed to easily color match whatever your lighting conditions are. MSI has also tuned the screen to reduce the amount of blue light it produces, which strains your eyes and makes it hard to look at a laptop for extended periods.
MSI has paid even more attention to the laptop’s audio setup by adding its Nahimic sound technology. Like Dolby surround on steroids, it creates a virtual 7.1 surround sound system, which came in handy for pinpointing patrolling soldiers in The Phantom Pain.
Most gamers will want to save all their precious SSD space for games, and thankfully MSI has fully taken note of this. Aside from the usual, pesky preloaded antivirus (Norton Security in this case), there’s isn’t much in the way of preloaded applications to get in the way of installing games on this notebook.
However, there are a handful of useful applications you’ll want to keep around. Again, TrueColor is a great way to auto-tune the white balance of your display. The Nahimic audio application, meanwhile, is instrumental for fine tuning the GS60’s simulated surround sound setup. XSplit also comes preloaded, in case you want to start livestreaming gameplay right away.
If you’re looking for a gaming machine that can tackle all of the latest games and future titles coming down the line, you’ve come to the right place. With a new generation of processors and graphics chips, the new MSI GS60 offers a level of performance that takes a huge step forward.
Playing games at their best quality without having to worry about a wobbly frame rate is incredibly empowering. And the fact that MSI has packed all this power into a laptop that’s no thicker than a nickel is pretty incredible, too.
The Ghost Pro also offers more than pure performance, with a great looking screen and dynamic sound. You’ll also be hard pressed to find a notebook with a typing experience that’s as pleasurable as the GS60’s.
I’ve come to expect poor battery life on most of these power-hungry gaming laptops, but it seems to be an exceptionally terrible problem with the MSI GS60. With battery life averaging around 2 hours and 30 minutes, this is one of the least mobile-friendly gaming laptops I’ve tested, despite MSI making it so thin and light for the sake of portability.
The terribly short battery life is a huge detractor – you can basically forget about taking this machine around as your daily driver. Instead, you’re more than likely to leave this machine plugged in at your desk, at which point it might make more sense to get a bigger and more powerful desktop replacement (or just build your own machine).
Despite its glaring battery life flaw, the MSI GS60 is one incredibly well put together device. It’s still one of the thinnest and most powerful gaming laptops in the world. While there’s a higher-end model with a 4K screen, I strongly suggest sticking with the 1080p configuration.
Though the Asus G501 is a better option from a value-proposition perspective, the Ghost Pro is simply a better gaming machine. And it’s practically the same story when comparing the Ghost Pro to the Gigabyte P55K v4.
While the GS60 comes at a slightly higher premium, the tech MSI has put behind the laptop’s display and sound system – plus the amazing keyboard – is well worth a few extra hundred smackers.