With the launches of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 16-series GPUs and Intel's 9th Gen Core CPUs for high-performance laptops earlier this year, hardware makers have refreshed their offerings and we're now seeing a flood of them in the market. Many of these models are in demand right now, and we've seen some great prices during all the recent festive sales. MSI, one of the biggest names in the PC hardware and gaming space, has been quite successful in pivoting towards pre-built gaming laptops and the company's range in India is quite vast. It's no surprise then that we have with us the new MSI GL63 9SD-1041IN for review.
This model boasts of all the latest hardware and sells for under Rs. 60,000 which should make it very interesting. It's aimed at buyers who want a solid gaming laptop but can live without all the high-end bells and whistles. It's also relatively portable which could make it something of an all-rounder for various kinds of work.
Let's put the MSI GL63 9SD-1041IN through our usual tests and play some games on it to see whether it truly is bang for your buck.
MSI has of late been toning down its “gamer” aesthetic and going more mainstream. The GL63 9SD-1041IN is relatively sober but is still unmistakably a gaming laptop and will grab some attention. The lid is a plain matte black metal with two diagonal claw-mark creases framing the MSI dragon logo, and red LED strips accenting them. There are small hints of red such as the thin border running around the front and sides of the lower half, and the space beneath the hinge barrels.
The hinge is pretty stiff and it isn't possible to open this laptop with just one hand. The lid is also only supported by small hinges at the two ends, so there's quite a bit of flex to the lid and thereby the screen itself. The borders around the panel are relatively thick by today's standards so you don't get the kind of slick modern look that some companies boast of. A webcam is embedded right above the screen.
As with previous MSI laptops, the keyboard has been designed in conjunction with gaming peripherals company Steelseries. The model we're reviewing has plain red backlighting and you can choose between three brightness levels or turn the backlight off entirely. The keyboard layout is fairly standard. There's no Windows key on the left, which is to avoid accidental presses while gaming. The area around the arrow keys is a little cramped, but at least the keys themselves are full-sized.
We weren't totally happy with the typing experience, though. The keys themselves felt a little mushy and typing long passages took a bit more effort than we'd have liked. The trackpad has two physical buttons but they're slightly depressed within the chassis and not too easy to press. The whole trackpad is centred to the keyboard rather than the laptop's body, which is good.
You'll see chunky vents and exposed heatsinks on the left and right, towards the hinge. There are also large air intake grilles all over the bottom. All the ports are also on the sides – the left has a Kensington lock slot, Ethernet port, full-sized HDMI port, Mini-DisplayPort, USB 3.1 Gen2 (10Gbps) Type-A and Type-C ports, and individual 3.5mm headphones and mic sockets. On the right, you get the charger inlet, two USB 3.1 Gen1 (5Gbps) ports, and a full-sized SD card slot.
The MSI GL63 9SD-1041IN weighs 2.3kg which is manageable enough for everyday commuting, though not exactly ideal. The 180W charger that comes with it also weighs quite a bit. The overall build quality seems solid, except for the hinge, as we mentioned earlier. There's very little flex to the keyboard, and the palm rests are adequate for comfort.
We spotted a lot of different versions of the MSI GL63 laptop on MSI's website as well as on various e-commerce platforms. It's available with 8th Gen as well as 9th Gen Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPUs, and some variants feature Nvidia's older GeForce GTX 10-series and higher-end RTX 20-series GPUs as well. There are some options with SSDs as well as hard drives, and even variants with full per-key RGB LED backlighting instead of the uniform red.
We're specifically reviewing the MSI GL63 9SD-1041IN. This model features a 9th Gen Intel Core i5-9300H processor which is a a quad-core Hyper-Threaded model with base and boost speeds of 2.4GHz and 4.1GHz respectively. This CPU features 8MB of cache memory and an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU. There's 8GB of DDR4 RAM.
There's also a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU with 6GB of dedicated VRAM. You don't get Nvidia's flashy RTX ray tracing effects, but this is a cost-effective and up-to-date GPU in terms of performance. Our review unit was equipped with a 512GB SSD and no hard drive. This is a relatively fast NVMe SSD; a fact that the company strangely does not promote.
The screen is a 15.6-inch full-HD 1920x1080-pixel LCD panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. We're happy to see that it has a non-reflective finish. The battery isn't removable, and has a rated capacity of 51Wh.
Other noteworthy specs include Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5, a 720p webcam, a Killer Gigabit Ethernet controller, and dual 3W stereo speakers. The device isn't designed to give users easy access to its internals, but the RAM and SSD are both upgradeable. According to the official manual, there is a second unused M.2 slot as well as a 2.5-inch bay for a SATA hard drive or SSD.
MSI's Dragon Center software lets you customise fan profiles and manage some system-wide settings such as battery health and voice enhancement for in-game VoIP. There are even auto-tuning profiles for some popular games. Thankfully there isn't a lot of other bloatware – if you want things like a control panel for the Nahimic Audio enhancements or Killer network controller, you can follow the links in the Driver and App Center utility to them yourself. This is an approach we quite like. However we did have to deal with frequent, large Norton Security subscription popups.
One very interesting optional download is MSI App Player, an Android emulation environment powered by BlueStacks. After a fairly alarming installation process warning us that all our data might be lost and we should have backups, we were asked to sign in to the Google Play Store. Oddly, Google's security alert told us that we had just signed in from a OnePlus 5 smartphone.
The Android UI wasn't scaled properly, and we were asked whether to use Wi-Fi or cellular data as if we were using a phone (our wired Ethernet connection worked fine). We were able to install the Android version of Asphalt 9: Legends, and apart from a few graphics glitches on loading, the game ran quite well with keyboard input.
As far as everyday performance goes, the MSI GL63 9SD-1041IN does quite well. We didn't much care for the mushy keyboard but it's possible to get used to, and the layout is not frustrating, which would have been more of a concern. Not a lot of gaming laptops have numeric keypads, and that might help broaden the appeal of this model.
When we first set up our review unit, we were amazed by how loud the fans were all the time. Some investigation showed that they had been set to run constantly in MSI's Dragon Center software. The UI isn't very intuitive – there are presets called Performance, Theater, and Meeting, as well as fan profiles within each one called Comfort, Sport, and Eco. The fans settled down immediately after we chose Comfort mode, the middle of the three. They stayed quite silent unless we were gaming or running benchmarks. You can also force the fans to run at full blast using the physical button that's just next to the power button above the keyboard.
The screen runs at 120Hz whether you're using mains power or running off the battery, and interestingly enough, there's no 60Hz option. This definitely makes the laptop feel snappier even when performing mundane tasks. We were happy with the screen overall – it isn't very sharp but it's good enough, and colours seemed to pop nicely even with the brightness at 50 percent. The thick borders didn't bother us when we were focusing on what was on screen.
The speakers are surprisingly loud, but sound isn't balanced very well. They're great for the dialogue and background effects in movies or games, but not that good for music.
Kicking off our round of benchmarking, we start with the all-rounder, PCMark. We got scores of 3,968 and 5,120 in the standard and Extended runs respectively. Cinebench R20 gave us 420 and 1,881 points in its single-threaded and multi-threaded CPU tests. We also put the SSD through its paces using CrystalDiskMark, and got decent scores of 1603.3MBps and 1022.1MBps respectively for sequential reads and writes.
Our real-world file compression test, which uses a 3.24GB folder of assorted files, took 4 minutes, 26 seconds. Transcoding a 1.3GB AVI file to H.265 took 1 minute, 20 seconds. The Blender 3D rendering benchmark did not complete, but POVRay took 2 minutes, 41 seconds for its own internal benchmark.
Of course, the MSI GL63 9SD-1041IN is a gaming laptop so its graphics capabilities are the most important. 3DMark's Time Spy DX12 test returned a score of 5,315 while the Fire Strike Extreme test managed 6,397. We ran through several game benchmarks and played a few titles as well.
Starting with Shadow of the Tomb Raider's built-in benchmark, we chose 1920x1080 as our resolution with TAA on, the High preset, and 120Hz refresh rate, and the average frame rate came to 56fps. Far Cry 5 gave us 61fps at 1920x1080 and 120Hz, using the High preset. We also tried Metro: Last Light Redux at 1920x1080 using the High preset with SSAA off and 4x AF, which gave us a playable 37.03fps on average.
We ran through The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt manually with the graphics set to Medium and Post Processing set to High. The FRAPS tool showed us an average frame rate of around 70fps which is quite good. DOOM, a reliable classic, ran at over 65fps on average using its Ultra preset at 1920x1080.
While gaming, we felt that the centre of the keyboard got quite hot, and even the WASD keys were slightly warm. The left wrist rest area thankfully remained quite cool. The fans got loud enough to drown out game sounds, so you'll need a headset to be able to enjoy games to their fullest.
Battery life isn't great, even by gaming laptop standards. Our Battery Eater Pro test ran for only 1 hour, 18 minutes. With ordinary use not involving games, we got just about four hours out of a single full charge. If you're planning to use this laptop as a general-purpose machine, you'll need to plug it in quite often.
MSI has chosen a decent mix of mid-range components to keep prices in check. There are multiple variants of the GL63 laptop on sale in India right now, and we think that the configuration of our review unit is quite decent. We would add a second SSD or a spinning drive for more local storage though – even 512GB will fill up quickly with four or five of today's AAA games installed.
The keyboard and trackpad aren't ideal, but are by no means dealbreakers. The screen is pleasant, and even the speakers will keep a lot of people happy. We think that this laptop has some appeal beyond gaming, but MSI does now offer similar professional and workstation laptops with less of a “gamer” look. The only real problem keeping this laptop from being as versatile as we'd like is its poor battery life.
MSI has published an official MRP of Rs. 1,34,990 for this particular configuration, but it's available for far less than that online. In fact another variant, the GL63 9SD-1043IN, which is identical except for having a 256GB SSD (of unknown type) and a 1TB hard drive, often sells for under Rs. 80,000 online. There's also the GL63 9SD-1044IN which has a Core i7 CPU, and can easily be found for less than Rs. 90,000. Considering these street prices, the value proposition looks a whole lot better.