The dilemma of choosing between an ultrabook and gaming laptop can sometimes get serious. Ultrabooks these days have become very capable in terms of basic computing performance, and most of them could also easily last up to 8-hours with a single charge, however these devices are not going to be able to run processor intensive tasks such as video rendering and gaming properly, which leads us to gaming notebooks, they are the portable powerhouse that does almost everything that a powerful desktop PC could do, but they are mostly heavy and do not possess good battery life. Fortunately on the portability department, MSI has done it with the GS series gaming laptops, and I have been using the GS73VR as my daily driver for both gaming and work for the past two weeks, so just how has this improved over its predecessor, the GS72?
Design and Hardware
At first glance, the GS73 may look very much unchanged from its predecessor, you still get that premium brushed aluminum finish that is already available on its current laptop models, a simple MSI gaming logo lights up when the laptop is turned on and there’s no flashy RGB lighting to be found around the body, it is a rather simple design I personally like and do not feel awkward while using it in a coffee shop.
There are a few design refinements on the GS73, which comprises of two additional cooling vents at the back, a slightly slimmer body profile at 19.6mm, significantly reduced screen bezels and some aerodynamic styling on the working area. The GS73VR is also the lightest 17-inch gaming laptop at this point of time as it weighs merely 2.4kg, a 200g weight reduction and with its shorter body dimensions, you can easily mistake this for a 15-inch gaming laptop.
Accessing the GS73’s hardware internals is requires very minimal effort by unscrewing all the available screws on the base, lift up the plate and you will find a rather clean motherboard design, the 2.5-inch 1TB hard drive is easily removable, but the RAM and M.2 SSD slot are nowhere to be found on the top, which you might probably need to perform some disassembly to upgrade these components. MSI’s new Cooler Boost Trinity cooling solution is available on this machine, which uses three cooling fans with 41 blades to dissipate heat effectively from the slim chassis.
The GS73VR hosts a generous number of I/O ports and this is something most slim laptops do not get these days, it has three USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, one Thundebolt 3, Killer Gigabit LAN port, two gold plated audio jacks and unlike the recent MacBook Pro, this laptop has a perfectly working SD card reader. For gamers who want to extend the laptop’s display, you’ll be happy to know that the laptop has a HDMI 2.0 and Mini-DisplayPort, you can of course take advantage of the Thunderbolt 3 port if you happen to have a compatible monitor.
Even though our review unit lacks the optional 120Hz display, I still get to enjoy the beautiful 4K resolution IPS display throughout my usage, although MSI didn’t specify if the display covers 100% of Adobe RGB color gamut like its predecessor, colors can be adjusted using MSI’s True Color software and color saturation is rather favorable to the average eyes, it is by far one of the best 17-inch laptop displays in the market.
Performance and User Experience
The GS73VR is technically the first gaming notebook that I have it in my work backpack for the past few weeks, while this is definitely no lightweight device when compared to my MacBook Pro, it is more capable of running extremely heavy tasks on the go. Granted, the GS73VR may have a Core i7 6700HQ processor that is more powerful than my MacBook Pro and commonly found in lower end gaming laptops, the fact that it has a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 GPU under its slim body is what makes it even more capable than the highest end Ultrabook, the GTX 1060 is a desktop class GPU that matches the performance of last year’s GTX 980, which it can already handle games with high graphics quality in Full HD.
Aside from that, the GS73VR’s working area is also one of my favorite when it comes to work, the ELAN trackpad has been significantly improved over its predecessor with a smoother surface and tracks more precisely, it is also reasonably sized to allow performing gestures. The SteelSeries engine keyboard is beautiful with customizable RGB lightings, the key travel distance is fine and allows me to achieve 110WPM on 10fastfingers.com, however I don’t like the arrow keys placed to closely to the numpad, which I always get confused when especially pressing the ‘Right’ key. When gaming or running processor intensive tasks, the right palm area gets warm while the left remains cool, which is perfect considering that I use the ‘W,A,S,D’ keys for gaming.
Unfortunately in the audio department, the GS73VR’s loudspeakers sounded a little underwhelming, though it is loud enough to fill an entire room, bass is lacking which you won’t really enjoy if listening to EDM or gun shots, it is something that I wished MSI would really address in future GS series laptops, but thankfully audio playback via headphones sounded really good. As a matter of fact, I find Bluetooth audio to be very decent as there were times I streamed audio to my Sony MDR1000x headphones.
The GS73VR performs silently when doing non processor intensive tasks, fan noise during full load doesn’t sound annoying as well, which is all thanks to MSI’s Cooler Boost Trinity thermal solution designed for the GS series, the GS73VR’s system temperature is also maintained around 70 degree Celsius on full load and doesn’t cause any performance throttle, which is really commendable.
I have not put any high expectations on the GS73VR’s battery life in the very beginning of this review, since MSI only installed a 3-cell battery to power all that hungry hardware, one shouldn’t expect it to past the 2-hour mark. True enough, I managed to kill the battery in a matter of 90 minutes and you can barely finish a blockbuster movie on the go, hence this isn’t an airport and college friendly device despite of its portability, so keep that power brick handy and stay close to a power source if you intend to game in a café.
The MSI GS73VR performs decent in our synthetic benchmarks judging from its specs sheet, simply because of the lower clocked GPU and processor, there is a significant variance in benchmark scores and they do not affect the overall user experience.
As claimed by NVIDIA, the GTX 1060 GPU is as powerful as last year’s desktop GTX 980 GPU, however the GTX 1060 features more RAM at 6GB as opposed to the GTX 980’s 4GB RAM, which gives it an advantage over the latter in turning on more graphics features in games, hence it is able to handle ultra-quality graphics setting in 1080p without much issues.
The GS73VR sadly doesn’t feature a RAID option for its solid state storage, however the PCI-e M.2 SSD has managed to produce very impressive data transfer rates especially in the 4K transfer test, which means it could handle multiple small file size transfers without much effort.