First Impressions: MSI GS30 Shadow Pt2 - A powerful ultrabook

Welcome back! Yesterday I introduced the MSI GS30 Shadow, and today I will be talking about the specifics of the laptop and its performance whilst away from the docking station. Tomorrow I will talk about the dock in more detail.

MSI has come at this new approach to empowering gaming notebooks from a different angle from its competition, focused almost solely on value, performance and design in GS30 Shadow and GamingDock. The result is a machine that can be an Ultrabook in your backpack when you need to get things done and a gaming PC at home that can play with the big boys.
— http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/laptops-portable-pcs/laptops-and-netbooks/msi-gs30-shadow-1277918/review

Upon unboxing the laptop, there were a few things that caught my surprise. Firstly, it is packed at the bottom, with the weighty dock on top of it. More importantly however, the laptop looks really well designed, and is extremely light. The styling is quite plain, quite utilitarian, but on the whole very nice to see. This is not a garish looking machine like the Alienware laptops which screen “I AM A GAMMING MACHINE” at the top of their lungs, this is a quite but extremely powerfully little creature which doesn’t like the limelight. The GS30 reminds me of my older Dell Latitude crossed with my old Sony VAIO. I wish I could say that this design allows it to blend into a corporate environment, but MSI then decided the GS30 did need to look a little like its Alienware competitors. The front bezel has a white light along the front of it, not a simple little white light, but a long beam of white light which really does take away from the look. You can’t turn it off, dim it or change the colour. It is rather disappointing, and just drains battery in my opinion. 

The GS30 comes with an interesting array of hardware options, featuring an Intel Core i7 (4th Gen) 4870HQ CPU, 16GB of memory and two 128GB SSDs which are in a RAID0 (stripped) set. 
Having a quad core CPU, whilst there are significant reasons to have reservations about putting a such a  processor into a laptop, MSI appears to have pulled this one off quite well. Most people I have spoken to about the GS30 ask me one thing, “is it noisy?”. The answer to this is, well, sort of. The GS30 does appear to have some very efficient and well-designed cooling, however if you place a quad core i7 processor under load, there will still be quite a bit of heat generated that needs to go somewhere. Unlike many other laptops, which become hot to touch under extreme load, the GS30 remains cool. The fans can be loud, these are not the quite fans in your Surface Pro, I work in an office with quite a few MacBook Pros, and the GS30 fans are extremely comparable to those. 

Coming with 16GB of memory is probably suitable for most developers and gamers, however it would have been really nice to have the option for 32GB. I suspect the limitation here is more around the fact that DDR3 modules for laptops max out at 8GB, and there wasn’t the space to offer 4 memory slots, only 2. 

The storage configuration still seems a little bit of a waste for me. Whilst there does seem to be a performance boost, I don’t think it is significant enough overall, but I wonder what the design and cost implications to this one are. I really have to wonder why MSI chose 128 GB SSDs, this does seem to be a very small size, especially for something targeted towards the gamming community. I realise that I have another SATA3 HDD in the dock, but a little more whilst away from the docking station would have been nice. The good news, these drives are replaceable, if you want to touch the warranty void sticker.

The GS30 features a 13 inch, 1920*1200 resolution display with a matte finish. If you like an extremely glossy screen, you might want to look elsewhere. The screen is quite thin, much like any of the high end Sony, Dell and HP laptops, and whilst others have mentioned it seemed “flimsy”, I don’t seem to think it is. This is an extremely nice screen to use and I am very pleased to use it. Viewing angle seems extremely good, and the display is crisp and clear. I do wish for a few things, higher resolution, touch support and a wider opening angle. A higher resolution is always good however it can introduce its own set of issues; touch support seems pretty obvious these days, but it is something you can live without. The last, the opening angle, might seem to be an odd comment, however due to the design of the docking connector, the laptop screen cannot be opened fully and you are limited to about 120 degrees. This isn't a huge issue for me, but I could understand others wanting to open their laptop to almost flat.

The GS30 comes with an Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics card for times when you are not connected to the dock. This is new from Intel however I have found it to be extremely suitable with a great balance between performance and battery life. I will admit I haven’t tried gaming whilst mobile yet.

There are a bunch of little things that MSI has done really well in the GS30. I really appreciate that internal components like Ethernet, WIFI, Bluetooth and the SD card are not based upon internal USB connections like those found in some low end DELL and HP laptops, and in the Surface PRO. Tight integration with the PCI Express channels provides extremely suitable performance and reliability.

WIFI connectivity is provided by an Intel 7260, and Ethernet is provided (whilst undocked) by a Qualcomm Atheros AR8161. The GS30 doesn’t suffer from the WIFI drop outs suffered by the Surface Pro 1, 2, and 3. My connectivity in the office has improved quite significantly. I am left wondering why MSI didn't package a KillerNIC WIFI and Ethernet controller in the laptop. A significant proportion of MSI’s other devices feature the Killer Double Shot Pro, so why not this one? I thought that would seem pretty logical for their target market, one positive about the use of these two is extremely strong Linux and visualization performance. 

Battery life could be better. The GS30 provides about 3 hours battery life in the limited testing I have performed. This isn't great by any means, but isn't the end of the world.

A quick word on the keyboard. Yes it is back lit, however you do not get any control over the colour, nor are there programmable/macro key support like other MSI laptops. To some this could be a disappointment, however in the grand scheme of things, it is something you can live without.

Now for my big rant. I was quite gutted to see that the GS30 doesn't come with a TPM. I realize that this device is targeted towards gamers, and not the security paranoid let’s encrypt everything crowd that I belong to. This is however 2015, how much effort would have it taken to install one? Seriously, they are tiny chips. I can work around that, but this is the one thing I wish I could get MSI to fix!

Join me tomorrow when I review the GS30's dock, gaming and the performance over all.

Kieran Jacobsen