We’ve come to think of gaming laptops as massive, heavy, loud machines. The assumption, when buying one, is that you’re only ever going to use it on a desk in one place, not carry it around with you every day. The appeal so far has been portability, which isn’t necessarily the same as mobility. Laptops that try to be the best of both worlds, such as the stylish HP Omen, usually cut back on the powerful hardware and so aren’t as good for gaming. It’s been hard to strike a balance between these two objectives.
However, technology keeps improving and every so often there’s a leap that lets devices get smaller and more powerful. In this case, it’s Nvidia’s 10-series GPUs, which we’ve been very impressed with on the desktop front and are now appearing inside laptops. The GeForce GTX 1060 in particular is powerful enough to meet the minimum spec for VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive yet runs cool enough to fit into a slim laptop.
MSI has made that specific attribute the main attraction of its latest gaming laptop, which just happens to be extremely slim and light. While it’s too soon to test VR functionality, that power can just as easily translate to 1920x1080 gaming. We’re eager to see whether MSI has managed to find the balance that has long eluded gamers.
MSI GS63VR 6RF Stealth Pro look and feel
The GS63VR is a solid, minimalist block of a laptop; flat on the top, bottom and sides with only slightly rounded corners. It isn’t much larger than most mainstream 15.6-inch laptops, though of course it isn’t anywhere near ultrabook territory. The exterior is black as opposed to the greys that are common nowadays, and there’s a nice brushed metal texture on the lid. We aren’t fans of the huge lighted MSI badge with its dragon logo on the lid, which really takes away from the minimalist aesthetic. Apart from this one thing though, the laptop is well deserving of the “Stealth Pro” suffix in its name.
You’ll notice a few unusual things about this laptop’s design. First of all, the ports are all arranged towards the front of the laptop, leaving the rear clear for large vents. That’s matched by the positioning of the keyboard, which doesn’t leave much room for your wrists. On the other hand, the hinge opens to just a bit beyond 180 degrees which is great for flexibility.
You’ll find an actual Ethernet port (no dongles needed), an SD card slot, three USB 3.0 ports, and two individial 3.5mm audio sockets on the left. Opposite them, there’s the DC power inlet, Mini-DisplayPort and full-sized HDMI display outputs, one Type-C Thunderbolt 3 port, and a lone USB 2.0 port. That arrangement is particularly interesting because it allows you to connect either of the leading VR headsets and all required accessories without any adapters. Finally and unusually, the power button is also on the right edge as well.
The screen is a full-HD panel which seems about right for gaming and general use given the size and hardware capabilities of this laptop. There isn’t much wasted space around the sides, though we did find the reflective silver panel around the webcam a bit too distracting. There’s a large grille above the keyboard which matches the air vents on the sides and bottom. We initially thought that the laptop’s speakers would be positioned here, but instead they’re on the bottom and this space is exclusively for the laptop’s cooling apparatus.
The keyboard has the obligatory RGB lighting with effects that can be customised. In terms of layout, there are a few issues. First, there’s no Windows key on the left and no Windows menu key at all – both frustrating and inconvenient. Second, there’s no Caps Lock indicator, which is just bizarre. The arrow block and numpad are also somewhat squashed into each other but that at least isn’t hard to get used to. There are no programmable macro keys or shortcuts. The trackpad is large and has a decent texture, but we found that right-clicking only worked in the extreme lower right corner.
At 17.7mm thick and just 1.8kg in weight, the GS63VR is certainly much less imposing than most gaming laptops. The design prioritises thinness, and there are slight ergonomic issues because of that, but nothing too severe. As for whether performance is affected, we’ll find out soon.
MSI GS63VR 6RF Stealth Pro specifications
MSI has chosen the components for its thin-and-light gaming laptop well. There’s a sixth-gen Core i7-6700HQ CPU which runs at between 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz, with a relatively modest 45W TDP. There’s a generous 16GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD as well as a 1TB hard drive. That SSD is a little small, especially if you want to install lots of games, but it is a very high-speed NVMe M.2 model and can also be swapped out somewhere down the line.
The IPS screen has a native resolution of 1920x1080 and a claimed ability to accurately show 72 percent of the NTSC gamut. There aren’t any gaming-specific features like G-Sync or a high refresh rate. It’s driven by Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, based on the Pascal architecture. Nvidia has dropped the ‘M’ suffix from this generation’s mobile parts because they’re supposed to be efficient enough to run in laptops as-is – that said, core speeds are reduced and thermal considerations are way different so we’d still expect to see lower performance from a GTX 1060 running in a laptop and one implemented as a full-sized desktop graphics card.
The HDMI port on the side supports 4K60fps output and the Thunderbolt port supports an additional DisplayPort video stream. You can have three displays running at any time, so you can choose any combination of the three outputs and the laptop’s own screen. Additionally, the 3.5mm headphones socket doubles as an S/PDIF digital audio output.
MSI has gone quite overboard with its software, and we counted a ridiculous number of apps running in the background. There’s MSI True Color for choosing display settings, MSI SCM for smartphone-style quick toggles, MSI Battery Calibration, MSI Dragon Centre for assorted system-wide settings and shortcuts, plus links to MSI’s Dragon Army gaming website, help site, Facebook page and YouTube account.
On top of all that there’s Norton Security, Norton Online Backup (both trial versions), the SteelSeries keyboard app, Nahimic sound app, Killer networking app, Nvidia GeForce Experience app, and an Elan trackpad app which actually offers no options but occupies space in the system tray anyway. We had to deal with loads of popups, most of them from Norton and an indeterminate MSI app, which constantly told us to keep at least 25 percent of the SSD free and create a recovery disk. Finally, dragging any window anywhere on screen causes a guide overlay to appear, ostensibly to help you tile multiple programs. This kind of thing is useful on huge screens, but it’s just irritating here.
Options such as overclocking, fan controls, and performance monitoring are buried within Dragon Center, and other functions such as keyboard LED controls are duplicated here for good measure too. One interesting touch is that Dragon Center is also available as iOS and Android apps, and you can link any such device to your laptop to control functions without interrupting what’s on screen.
MSI GS63VR 6RF Stealth Pro performance
The MSI GS63VR looks good and has a long list of impressive components, but it all comes down to usability and performance. We’re happy to say that most core functions work really well. The screen is just right – not too saturated, not too dull, and not at all reflective. Motion is smooth in games, and viewing angles are good even though you’ll really only be using this display head-on. The keyboard is solid to type on, but the tops of the keys sit flush with the surrounding deck which makes the lowest row difficult to use. There’s also the infuriating lack of a Caps Lock indicator – even onscreen popups – despite the tons of otherwise useless software. The trackpad, as mentioned, is a bit too crude.
The speakers are completely awful – sound they produce is grossly distorted even at low volumes. Basic game sounds and effects are completely destroyed, and music just sounds like a mess. Speaking of sound, we come to the GS63VR’s biggest problem – fan noise. When anything even slightly intensive is happening, such as copying files over from an external hard drive, the fans start making the loudest noises we’ve heard in a long time. It’s harsh, whiny, and extremely distracting.
Heat is another issue, but it’s relatively less annoying. The centre of the keyboard became uncomfortably hot while gaming, but it wasn’t a problem when we had only our left hand on the WASD keys and our right hand on a mouse. The underside of the laptop also got hot, so you’ll want to do all your gaming at a table, not on your lap.
The MSI GS63VR supports different power and fan profiles, of which the default when plugged in is the fastest “Sport mode”. This could have been the cause of the fans spinning at their highest possible speed all the time, but we chose to conduct all tests at the laptop’s default setting to reflect MSI’s default customer experience.
Benchmarks ran superbly, and we had to remind ourselves just how good the hardware inside this slim laptop is when we saw how good some of the scores were. PCMark 8 gave us 3,636, 3,138, and 4,566 points in the Home, Work, and Creative runs respectively. Cinebench R15 produced 653cb points, and POVRay ran its render benchmark in just 3 minutes, 1 second. SiSoft SANDRA showed strong scores as far as CPU bandwidth, memory, and storage were concerned.
We kicked off the gaming and graphics tests with 3DMark, which managed even the Fire Strike Ultra test, which targets 4K-resolution performance. That test gave us 2,683 points while the regular Fire Strike test score was 9,628. The DirectX 12 Time Spy test also ran flawlessly, producing a score of 3,593. We then ran Unigine Valley at 1920x1080 with the Extreme preset and still came out with an average of 54.3fps. The more graphically intense Star Swarm battle simulator managed 29.12fps.
Metro: Last Light Redux’s built-in benchmark ran at an average of 67.25fps with the quality set to High, 4xAF, SSAA, normal motion blur and high tessellation, which is quite impressive. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided gave us 56.7fps at its High quality preset in DirectX 12 mode. For unknown reasons, Ashes of the Singularity crashed each time we tried to run it.
Both Rise of the Tomb Raider and Far Cry 4 ran exceptionally well when we ran through them manually. We didn’t see any tearing or stuttering, and our FRAPS frametime graphs show that these games had no trouble pumping out smooth, consistent frames. The older Far Cry 4 averaged 84fps at its Very High preset and though there was considerable variation in frame timings, 99.9 percent didn’t dip below 30fps at all. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a little more demanding but still averaged 53fps and stayed well above 30fps too at its Very High preset.
It really should be noted that true to Nvidia’s claims, the GeForce GTX 1060 GPU inside the MSI GS63VR laptop performed only very slightly worse than the desktop GTX 1060 cards we reviewed earlier this year. Not all scores are directly comparable and different laptop manufacturers will implement different designs, but our tests do indicate that this generation’s mobile GPUs can be considered to be in the same performance class as their desktop counterparts – and that is no small achievement.
Battery life was weak, with Battery Eater Pro showing exactly 2 hours of life on a single charge. When we weren’t gaming, we got just about four hours’ worth of useful life before we needed to reach for the charger.
MSI has managed to produce a game-changing laptop which looks perfect on paper, but needs a lot of improvement when it comes to real-world usage. The GS63VR packs in an extraordinary amount of power, considering its size. However, everything from fan noise to bloatware reminds us that MSI doesn’t have the kind of experience that Dell, HP, and Lenovo do, and consequently, there are things it needs to learn.
The GS63VR could have serious appeal outside of gaming as well – graphic designers, students, and professionals of all stripes could easily leverage this kind of a machine. The MRP of Rs 1,77,900 might seem steep, and so you have to weigh its lack of polish against its power and portability. Those disillusioned with the MacBook Pro 2016, for instance, might find this model to be more suitable for heavy work, at roughly the same price level.
We hope that MSI does see the potential in pushing laptop design and power boundaries, and brings its skills to other segments of the market. Meanwhile, we also have to acknowledge that a lot of credit for this model’s capabilities goes to Nvidia.
Price (MRP): Rs. 1,77,900
Ratings (Out of 5)