- Review Date: 8/21/2013
- Bottom line: The MSI GE40 2OC-009US is a gaming ultrabook that delivers solid performance on the go, with a low price and a few flaws that can be overlooked.
- Pros: Gaming ultrabook with slim portable design. Fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor. Nvidia GeForce GTX760M graphics. Decent feature set. Solid battery life.
- Cons: Gets uncomfortably hot. Disappointing display. Awkward button bar mars otherwise decent trackpad. No keyboard backlight.
The ultrabook ethos has made its way into gaming, as evidenced by the slim MSI GE40, the latest gaming ultraportable from MSI. Fitting into the same thin-bodied mold as the Razer Blade (2013), the MSI GE40 puts gaming prowess into a sleek aluminum clad chassis. But don't think that skinny designs mean skimpy feature sets or anemic performance. Boasting an Intel Core i7-4702MQ processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 GPU, there's plenty of gaming horsepower in this portable design.
The GE40 2OC-009US is dramatically slimmer than the 14-inch and 11-inch designs seen on the Alienware m14x R2 and the Maingear Pulse 11, yet it boasts better performance and longer battery life thanks to the latest components, which offer slimmer profiles and better thermal envelopes, packing gaming performance into the thin confines of the GE40's 0.87 by 13.35 by 9.42 inch (HWD) chassis. The thin chassis does run warm, getting downright hot at times. The lid and palmrest are clad in black brushed aluminum, aggressively adorned with two red glowing LED eyes on the lid. The rest of the chassis is plastic, which leaves the construction feeling a tad flimsy, but keeps the weight down to 4.4-pounds—just a little heavier than the 14-inch Razer Blade (4.1 pounds).
The 14-inch display has 1,600-by-900 resolution, just like the Alienware 14 and the Razer Blade 2013. This is simply the current standard for 14-inch gaming—the slightly lower than 1080p resolution allows for better frame rates, providing a smoother gaming experience. Aside from the resolution, there's both good and bad to the display thanks to a matte finish that cuts down on glare, and a TN panel which offers good color but poor viewing angles. To accompany the display, MSI has added SoundBlaster audio, which offers passable sound through the two built-in stereo speakers, but the real focus is on headset use, with an on-board Audio Boost amplifier chip and gold-plated headphone jack and simulated surround sound.
The chiclet keyboard is pretty good, with scissor switch keys, but the typing feel is pretty mushy. There's also no backlight, which will leave you in the dark when the lights are out. The keyboard layout is a little off, with the backspace and home keys right next to each other, leading to the occasional jump back into the text when trying to correct a mistake.
The trackpad has a subtle etched radial pattern which adds a luxurious texture, and the trackpad supports multitouch and Windows 8 gestures. The single button bar is a bit of a miss, however. Combining the right and left buttons into one button bar makes for more frequent click errors—which could be devastating mid-game—and the button bar is covered in smudge-prone chrome.
The GE40 2OC-009US is equipped with three USB ports (two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0), an SD card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), and Gigabit Ethernet. The MSI GE40 is also outfitted with HDMI and VGA output, which can be connected to two external displays, for a total of three simultaneous displays. Above the display is a built-in 720P webcam. For wireless connectivity, the GE40 2OC-009US offers 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, for connecting wireless peripherals.
The ultrabook design of the MSI GE40 ditches the optical drive, but since most PC gamers rely on web-based distribution, like Steam and Origin, it shouldn't be a problem. What is included, however, is a combination drive merging a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) with a 750GB, 7,200rpm hard drive.
The GE40 2OC-009US comes with Windows 8 preinstalled, and while it activates during your first startup, you won't need to go hunting for the installation number. Joining the OS on the system is a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security, a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office 365, and a handful of apps on the start screen. MSI covers the GE40 2OC-009US with a one-year warranty on parts and labor.
The GE40 2OC-009US is equipped with the same fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4702HQ quad-core processor found in the Razer Blade, paired with 8GB of RAM. The performance is naturally quite similar, though the Razer benefits from pure solid-state storage as opposed to the combo drive found in the GE40 2OC-009US. As a result, the GE40 2OC-009US is toward the front of the pack across the board, but consistently trailed behind the Editors' Choice Razer Blade.
The GE40 2OC-009US finished PCMark 7 with 5,339 points, falling short of the Razer Blade (5,904 points) but beating out all competitors from the previous Intel generation such as the Alienware M14X R2 (score) and the Maingear Pulse 11 (score). It also offered solid performance in multimedia tests, finishing Handbrake in 39 seconds and Photoshop in 4 minutes 1 second.
Thanks to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 760M mobile GPU, the GE40 2OC-009US offers real gaming prowess on the go, as seen in Alien vs. Predator with frame rates of 55 frames per second (medium detail, 1366 by 768 resolution) and 26 fps (max detail, 1600 by 900 resolution) and in Heaven, with 41 fps (medium detail, 1,366-by-768) and 19 fps (max detail, 1,600-by-900 resolution). Dial down the detail settings just a bit and you'll have playable frame rates at 1600 by 900 in just about any game. It's worth noting, however, that these results were reached while the laptop was plugged in—when running on battery power Nvidia's Optimus automatic graphics switching technology will revert to Intel's capable (but not as impressive) HD Graphics 4600. You'll still be able to play most of your games, but it may not deliver on the eye-candy.
You will, however, be able to enjoy the GE40 2OC-009US on the go, thanks to a long lasting 6-cell lithium-ion battery. The MSI GE40 lasted 6 hours 14 minutes in our battery rundown test, outlasting all of last year's ultraportable gaming machines, but falling short of the Razer Blade, which again led the category (6:52).
The MSI GE40 2OC-009US offers plenty of gaming prowess, delivering an ultrabook that will take you on the gaming grid even as you take it on the go. While it doesn't top the Editors' Choice Razer Blade (2013), it's the closest competitor we've seen offered yet, and the price is substantially more affordable. For a fourth-gen Core i7 processor, Nvidia graphics, and healthy collection of ports and features, the MSI GE40 is definitely the system to grab if the Razer Blade is just a bit too pricey for you.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.