Introduction, Design, Features
MSI is writing a new page in its gaming notebook lineup with its GE63VR Raider series. This 15.6-inch laptop is surprisingly thin and light, yet incorporates a powerful Intel Core i7 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics solution. That’s not bad for a sub-five-pound notebook that’s just 1.1 inches thick. MSI’s GS-series, such as the GS63VR Stealth ProNvidia Max-Q variant of the GTX 1070, as opposed to the full-power edition in the GE63VR. On the other hand, MSI’s GT-series notebooks, such as the GT62VR, are thicker and heavier than the GE-series, and can pack even more power.
In addition to a refreshed design, the GE63VR also brings a first to MSI’s gaming notebook lineup: a keyboard with per-key RGB backlighting. Designed by SteelSeries, the keyboard might look similar to the SteelSeries keyboards on previous MSI notebooks from a distance, but the fancy backlighting is a clear giveaway this isn’t the same keyboard. It has an improved feel, too.
The GE63VR is sold in numerous configurations in the United States. The Raider-231 model loaned to us for review is among the pricier ones. For $1,649, it’s capable of blasting through today’s AAA-rated titles at 1080p resolution without breaking a sweat. Its core specifications include an Intel Core i7-7700HQ quad-core CPU, the abovementioned GeForce GTX 1070 8GB graphics card, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). lts full HD display has a high 120Hz refresh rate, advertised 3-millisecond response time, and wide color gamut coverage.
The competition is fierce at this price point. As we wrote this, the Alienware 15 R3Acer Predator 15Omen 15Legion Y720. Overall, though, the GE63VR still has plenty of competition. Let’s see what it can dish out.
The GE63VR Raider is a different animal than the GE62 series that preceded it. The machines look similar from a distance, but up close, the GE63VR has a more modern appearance. The lid backing has a more aggressive look, including two red accents at the top…
The sides and front edges of the chassis are chiseled for a sleeker look. The GE63VR Raider also does away with the GE62’s tray-load optical drive. These days, there are few gaming notebooks (or notebooks in general) that include one, the Gigabyte P56XTAsus ROG Zephyrus GX501, but the GE63VR is much less expensive. Its extra thickness helps its cooling system as well, which we’ll detail a little later in this review.
The GE63VR is mostly a plastic build, minus the rather thin brushed aluminum covering on the palm rest surround and lid backing. The chassis has some minor flex in it, but the lid is impressively stiff. The display hinges are a tad too stiff to allow the display to be opened one-handed.
For wired connectivity, the GE63VR packs a healthy amount of ports along its left and right edges.
The left edge has the cable lockdown slot, a Killer E2500 Ethernet jack, HDMI and mini DisplayPort video-out ports, a Type-A USB 3.0 port, a Type-C USB 3.1 port, and independent headphone and microphone jacks. The Type-C port unfortunately doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3. On the bright side, the Type-A USB port is brightly backlit in red. We don’t recall seeing backlit USB ports on a notebook before, but we love the idea; no more fumbling around in the dark to plug something in. We hope you do too, since we didn’t see a way to disable the backlighting for the USB ports.
The right edge has the remaining connectivity: a full-size SD card reader and a pair of backlit Type-A USB 3.0 ports, plus the AC power jack toward the rear corner.
Above the display on this notebook is a 720p/30fps Webcam. The picture had a significant amount of grain even in good lighting, and sharpness was lacking. It might do for a casual Skype chat, but if you’re planning to entertain thousands in an online gaming stream, you’d be better served investing in a dedicated external camera.
The GE63VR is sold with two kinds of displays. Most of the configurations we found included the 1080p-resolution display, as did the unit we were loaned for review. A 4K display is offered, but for gaming purposes, the 1080p display can’t be beat. It offers a fast 120Hz refresh rate and advertised 3-millisecond response time, making it ideal for fast-paced games. The GeForce GTX 1070 GPU in our unit is more than capable of exceeding 60fps in the latest AAA titles at 1080p resolution, so the high refresh rate will definitely be put to use. (Put it this way; if the display didn’t have a higher-than-60Hz refresh rate, we’d say the GTX 1070 GPU would be overkill for 1080p gaming.)
The colors, contrast, and brightness all looked outstanding on the 1080p display. MSI advertises that it covers 94 percent of the NTSC color gamut, an unusually high number for a notebook panel. We didn’t verify the claim, but we can say the colors looked very rich, almost to the point of oversaturation. The possible downside of this display is that it’s a TN-type panel; looking at it too far off-center will result in a distorted picture. The 4K panel offered on the GE63VR doesn’t have this problem, as it’s an IPS-type panel with wide viewing angle support. However, gamers will nearly always be looking at the display head-on, so we aren’t docking points for the 1080p panel’s limited viewing angles.
The other technology this display lacks is Nvidia G-Sync support. Its presence might have smoothed out the gaming experience a bit more (hit up that article link to find out why), but we can’t say we noticed screen tearing or other glitches while we were gaming. The GeForce GTX 1070 is a monster performer at 1080p and doesn’t exactly have trouble maintaining playable framerates (and then some).
The GE63VR has a pair of Dynaudio-tuned speakers just under the palm rest. They sounded positively great for notebook speakers, with an ample soundstage, volume, and bass. There appeared to be no distortion or rattling at maximum volume. We’re certainly not disappointed.
One of the major upgrades in the GE63VR over past MSI gaming notebooks is its new SteelSeries keyboard. It has per-key RGB keyboard backlighting this time around, where each key can be individually set to one of 16.7 million colors. The pre-installed SteelSeries Engine software provides the ability to do this…
The previous SteelSeries keyboard on MSI gaming notebooks had just three vertical backlighting zones, so this is a big improvement. In terms of software configuration, we like the fact that the SteelSeries Engine allows you to set layered and multi-colored effects. You can, for example, do a “ColorShift” wave, where you select as many keys as you want; once you set the origin point, the backlighting morphs in a wave-like fashion over those keys between two colors of your choice. There are a number of preconfigured templates, and you can make and save an unlimited number of your own.
The software allows you to change the functionality of any key via a macro editor. It’s basic, but it gets the job done. The problem with this is that you only have existing keys to remap; the GE63VR has no dedicated gaming macro keys. There are two shortcut buttons on the right side of the keyboard to launch the SteelSeries Engine software and turn on the maximum fan speed, but they can’t be remapped in the software. Competing notebooks, such as the Acer Predator 15, include dedicated macro buttons that can be remapped.
The feel of this new SteelSeries keyboard is improved. The keys have more spring in them and an overall less rubbery feel. It’s a great typing experience that could have been even better if not for some layout quirks. There’s no left Windows key, for one; that means you’ll need to re-learn any shortcuts you’d use with that key. In addition, the number pad has small keys that require extra concentration.
The Raider’s touch pad is of the traditional variety, with dedicated left- and right-click buttons. The buttons are stiff and loud to press, but the pad itself is nicely sized and has a smooth, anti-glare surface.
The GE63VR is sold as a preconfigured model only; there’s no factory customization as you’ll find with Alienware, Dell, or HP. MSI’s Web site listed seven different configurations as we wrote this, which should cover most of the usage scenarios. The available Intel Core i5-7300HQ and Core i7-7700HQ CPUs both have four processing cores, although the Core i7 chip (which was in our loaner unit) has Hyper-Threading technology. Our benchmarking experience says Hyper-Threading doesn’t do much in gaming, but it does matter if you’re going to be rendering and encoding because it doubles the number of threads the processor can handle simultaneously (eight for the Core i7-7700HQ; four with the Core i5-7300HQ).
You have a choice between two Nvidia graphics cards in this notebook; the GeForce GTX 1060 6GBGTX 1070 8GB that was in our review model is available as an upgrade. Either card is virtual reality (VR) ready. Released in mid-2016, these cards are known quantities at this point. The GTX 1060 can still handle today’s best titles at 1080p resolution without sacrificing detail settings, while the GTX 1070 can be upwards of 35 percent faster.
The GE63VR has two memory slots; factory configurations are available with 8GB to 32GB of RAM, the latter being the maximum this notebook can handle. For storage, it has a single M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot for solid-state storage, plus a traditional 2.5-inch drive bay. The GE63VR Raider-213 model we were loaned for review included 16GB of single-channel RAM (one 16GB-DIMM), a 256GB SSD, and no 2.5-inch drive.
Taking apart the GE63VR was a task that we didn’t see to completion. After removing the screws in the base of the notebook, we managed to pry off some of the bottom panel, but the left side around the port openings just wouldn’t budge. We’re sure there’s a way to get it apart, but it’s probably a job best left to the pros. Assuming you can open it, the GE63VR should have a good amount of upgradeability, including its M.2 slot for SSDs, 2.5-inch bay for traditional storage drives, and both of the DIMM slots for memory.
The GE63VR’s fans have exhaust vents around the rear corners of the chassis. We only noticed the fans turning on while we were running benchmarks or gaming. There was some fan whine in addition to the sound of the air passing through the vents. It was hard not to notice the GE63VR while it was working hard, but at the same time, we don’t think it was obvious to the point of annoyance in most situations. Overall, the noise level seemed tolerable to us.
To test the GE63VR’s cooling, we ran 3DMark’s built-in 10-minute stress test using the FireStrike Extreme preset. That’s a long-enough time to get the system thoroughly warmed up. We logged the GPU’s temperature and core and memory frequencies while the benchmark was running.
This is a good-looking chart, as there wasn’t a whole lot of variance in the core clock (blue line); it averaged 1,606MHz. The GPU’s default clock is 1,480MHz, which means the GE63VR was definitely dipping into its boost clock. The latter is rated for 1,695MHz, however, indicating that some performance may have been left on the table. Given the stability of the core clock, however, it’s hard to complain. The memory clock (black line) stayed stable the entire time at its rated 2,002MHz frequency. The GPU temperature (red line) increased sharply at the beginning before leveling off. It topped out at just 77 degrees C, a respectable operating temperature for a notebook-bound GeForce GTX 1070. The Core i7-7700HQ processor also topped out at 77 degrees C during this test. (CPU temperature data isn’t shown in the chart.)
Let’s take a look at the GE63VR during the stress test through our FLIR One Pro, a thermal imaging attachment for Android and iOS devices.
The hot spot in the center of the keyboard gives away the location of the CPU and GPU in this notebook. We measured the surface at just 95 degrees F in that area, though, which is cool for a gaming notebook under full load.
Here’s a closer look at the keyboard area. The top left and right corners were 90 and 93 degrees F, respectably.
The temperatures on the bottom of the chassis didn’t break triple digits; in dead-center, it topped 94 degrees F.
The cooling system in the GE63VR appears to have worked very well, both inside and out. It’s not often we test a gaming notebook with a cooling system this efficient; the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming (7577) is another example, although it doesn’t pack nearly as powerful a GPU as this MSI.