With Intel’s Haswell launch officially behind us, we’re getting a steady stream of new notebooks and laptops that have been updated with the latest processors and GPUs. MSI sent their GE40 our way for review, a gaming notebook that’s less than an inch thick and pairs a Haswell i7-4700MQ with NVIDIA’s new GTX 760M GPU. At first glance, it has a lot in common with the new Razer Blade 14-inch laptop that we recently reviewed; on second glance, it has even more in common.

The basic premise is quite simple: pack as much performance as possible into a relatively small laptop, and if you do it right you’ve got a bona fide gaming notebook that doesn’t weigh eight pounds. In this case, MSI has managed to fit a full-blown quad-core Core i7 processor and an NVIDIA GTX graphics chip into a chassis that’s less than one inch thick. The performance is definitely there, with most games easily handling high detail settings at the LCD’s native 1600x900 resolution. Unfortunately, just like the Razer Blade 14, the GE40 has at least one major flaw: the LCD is junk. Yes, it’s a better resolution display than some laptops give you, but we’re talking about a $1400 notebook; we shouldn’t have to compromise on the display.

Before we get into the details of this review, here’s the quick overview of the specifications.

MSI GE40 2OC-009US “Dragon Eyes” (MS-1492) Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-4702MQ
(Quad-core 2.2-3.2GHz, 6MB L3, 22nm, 37W)
Chipset HM87
Memory 1x8GB DDR3-1600 (11-11-11-28)
(Second SO-DIMM slot available)
Graphics GeForce GTX 760M 2GB
(768 cores, 627MHz + Boost 2.0, 4GHz GDDR5)

Intel HD Graphics 4600
(20 EUs at 200-1000MHz)
Display 14.0" Anti-Glare 16:9 HD+ (1600x900)
(AUO B140RTN03.0)
Storage 128GB mSATA SSD (SanDisk X110 SD6SF1M128G)
750GB 7200RPM HDD (Hitachi HTS727575A9E364)
(One free mSATA port on this model)
Optical Drive N/A
Networking 802.11n WiFi (Realtek RTL8723AE)
(2.4GHz 1x1:1 150Mbps capable)
Bluetooth 4.0 (Realtek)
Gigabit Ethernet (Atheros AR8161)
Audio Realtek HD (ALC269)
Stereo Speakers
Headphone and Microphone jacks
Battery/Power 6-cell, 11.1V, 5900mAh, 65Wh
90W Max AC Adapter
Front Side N/A
Left Side 2 x USB 3.0
Gigabit Ethernet
1 x VGA
1 x Mini-HDMI
Exhaust Vent
AC Power Connection
Right Side Headphone and Microphone
Flash Reader (MMC/SD)
1 x USB 2.0
Optical Drive/HDD Bay
Kensington Lock
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 13.35" x 9.42" x 0.87" (WxDxH)
(339mm x 239mm x 22.1mm)
Weight 4.4 lbs (2.0kg)
Extras 720p HD Webcam
87-Key Keyboard
Pricing MSRP: $1400
Online: $1269

Interestingly, the dimensions are virtually identical to the AMD Kabini system that we reviewed a couple months ago, only the MSI GE40 weighs quite a bit more. Naturally, it’s also substantially more powerful, but at three times the price it ought to be. Everything that we’ve come to expect from a modern notebook is present, and at least on the higher end 2OC-009C model that we’re reviewing, we get hybrid storage with a 128GB SSD and a 750GB hard drive. The MSRP for this model is $1400, but you can currently find it online for $1269.

Outside of the slightly slower graphics card, plus the optional SSD+HDD storage, this is basically a significantly less expensive version of the Razer Blade we recently reviewed—the base model Blade comes with a 128GB and GTX 765M for $1800. We’ll see in a moment how the two compare in terms of performance, though it almost goes without saying that the Blade also has a level of style that the GE40 isn’t going to touch.

There are other differences as well, like the fact that MSI includes gigabit Ethernet. That’s a good thing too, as the included Realtek wireless adapter is the bare minimum single stream 802.11n 2.4GHz solution. Elsewhere, we get two USB 3.0 ports and a single USB 2.0 port (which can be useful for installing operating systems), VGA, and HDMI. The GE40 isn’t geared toward connectivity aficionados, but it should suffice for most users.

Cracking open the chassis requires the destruction of a super lame “warranty sticker—void if tampered” on the bottom of the laptop. So let me get this straight: MSI is shipping with a single 8GB SO-DIMM and leaving a second SO-DIMM slot open (not to mention the empty mSATA port), and the only way you can get at any of the parts is to void your warranty? If MSI actually enforces that option, we’re extremely disappointed; please get rid of the warranty void sticker—if you need to put one in there, put a couple on the CPU and GPU screws and at least let end-users upgrade RAM and storage options!

Other than the sticker, getting at the internals is pretty easy. There are five screws on the bottom cover to remove, and that’s about it—though you have to deal with plastic latches all around the edge of the cover, and my experience is that if you remove/replace the cover more than about five times you’re probably going to end up breaking one or more of the plastic clips. If you want to remove the 2.5” drive (where you could optionally have a slim optical drive it looks like, assuming you can find a compatible model), there’s one more screw underneath the cover that you have to remove. It should be possible to upgrade the RAM, storage, and CPU if you feel the urge. You could try to upgrade WiFi as well—I don’t know if there’s any device whitelisting in the BIOS by MSI; hopefully not, as slapping in a better 802.11ac WiFi adapter would be a handy upgrade.

MSI GE40 Subjective Evaluation
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Trinity/Richland simply aren't that powerful. Enduro might be part of the problem, but we can't test the notebook wit Enduro disabled. We're working to get a desktop simulation of the system going, but I don't have the necessary parts so it has to be someone else. I think Ian (over in the UK) may be doing this at some point in the next month or so. Reply
  • silverblue - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - link

    That's very much appreciated, thank you. Granted, no APU is fast in the grand scheme of things, but it'd be nice to pinpoint how much damage Enduro does to performance.

    It's very warm here at the moment so Ian can take his time. ;)
    Reply
  • max1001 - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    I think IPS 900p is what people would prefer. At least offer it as an upgrade option and charge extra $100. It's a win-win for both side. Reply
  • lanestew - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Yet another disappointing display. Are there any notebooks on the horizon that have a good panel? Reply
  • ijozic - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    It seems that the 14" size is still not that common and all available panels are older mediocre TN-film ones with HD+ resolution. But, as Lenovo Carbon X1 shows, at least it can have a decent brightness output. Reply
  • nicolaim - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    The Lenovo T440s (likely out in August) will have 14" 1600x900 IPS and 1920x1080 IPS LCDs. Reply
  • r3loaded - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    "the LCD is junk" - once again, I lose my appetite for reading a laptop review. Single stream 802.11n is also lame in a $1400 laptop. Reply
  • Jon Tseng - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    While your tests are normally quite comprehensive, one thing I don't understand is why you don't have a battery gaming test? (ditto for the Blade 14 review) After all this is a gaming laptop. A likely use case is to use it for, er, gaming on a long plane or train ride...

    Suspect the gaming loads are going to be signifiantly different from your Heavy test with full GPU usage. To me whether I'm going to get 1 hour or 2.5 hours of Skyrim has a significant impact on my purchase decision. I suspect others will be likewise.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    If you want decent gaming performance while on battery power, I don't know of any specific laptop off hand that will get more than an hour or so. Consider: the CPU has a 37W TDP, and under gaming loads it will at least get pretty close to that number. The GPU meanwhile also has a TDP in the realm of 35-40W. Add in the display, HDD/SSD, motherboard, chipset, etc. and under a gaming load (without throttling the GPU way down to, say, 1/3 the normal performance), you're looking at 80-100W of power use. Result: less than one hour of gaming.

    I'll go ahead and run a gaming workload tonight -- I'll probably just load Skyrim and sit in Whiterun and let time pass. My guess is at 200 nits (80%) with the GPU set to "Prefer maximum performance" ("adaptive" in the NVIDIA control panel will lower clocks on battery power), we'll be lucky to break an hour. Stay tuned....
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Okay, so that didn't take long to see what happens in terms of performance. Plugged in, Skyrim is running at around 67FPS in Whiterun, at the "High" preset with 0xAA and at 1600x900. Unplug it, and even with the GPU set to "Prefer Maximum Performance" it drops down to 30FPS. Looks like NVIDIA is detecting battery power and shooting for 30FPS, and anything more than that is unnecessary. It's not actually a bad way of doing things, but don't expect the same performance on battery as what you get plugged in.

    Specifically: plugged in, the GTX 760M is running at 718.5MHz/4008MHz GPU/RAM, at 0.893V. The GPU load is 90-97% at these settings. Unplug the laptop and the clocks drop to 627.1/4008MHz, but more importantly the GPU load is at 40-50% and FRAPS is reporting a steady frame rate of 31FPS.
    Reply

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