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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  • hfm - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - link

    USB 3.0 is going to supplant thunderbolt. Reply
  • silenceisgolden - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Can the next laptop review that has a terrible display just have one sentence in it? "This LCD is junk" Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Nope. Reply
  • noeldillabough - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Careful when upgrading radios, it seems they're all putting whitelists pointing to new parts they sell...I have a 3G radio in my X220 which works great, popped it into the X230 I *had* to upgrade to (call me weak) and sure enough it wouldn't boot up. The "old" card wouldn't work. So I had to pony up 125 bucks for the "new" card...which is the exact same speed lol. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    The bigger OEMs (Acer/Gateway, Dell, Sony, HP, Lenovo) all definitely have whitelisting in the BIOS and it's difficult to upgrade the WiFi. I know you can often cover one of the pins on the adapter so that the card will always be on (I've done this on an Acer in the past), but that's not a perfect solution either. The whitebook laptops (like MSI, ASUS, Clevo) in my experience are less likely to lock out other WiFi adapters, but short of trying it out (or Googling), I don't know if they'll actually work as well. Hence why I say, "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." Reply
  • max1001 - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Someone need to start making IPS panel for this and Razer and sell it for $150. Reply
  • toyotabedzrock - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    I have never heard of device whitelisting for a pciexpress port, who does that?

    Has anyone ever fitted a high resolution display from another model. They used to use the same connectors but I haven't opened up a recent model.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    The biggest issue with LCDs is that many of the lower end laptops ship with single-link LVDS conncetors that basically max out at 1366x768 -- they don't have the wires in half of the cable to transmit data. If you have a dual-link LVDS cable, you can pretty much use anything up to WUXGA resolution in theory, but again there are other aspects to consider.

    One potential problem is with the whitelisting you mention. It's there on WiFi in theory to keep people from using unauthorized hardware -- FCC requires certification for any wireless devices. Well, there's also stuff in the firmware sometimes for LCDs. I had a Dell XPS 15z a while back where the LCD cracked. I got a replacement and while it would connect and power up fine, it never displayed content properly -- it was all garbled. The company that sold the LCD panel had me ship the original cracked panel back to them and they were able to copy over the firmware or something for the display so that the laptop would recognize it and work. Welcome to the proprietary world of laptop displays and wireless networking. Ugh.
    Reply
  • Zap - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Can't even upgrade RAM without voiding warranty?

    Lame!
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - link

    As of a few years ago (early netbook era); even in the US those stickers weren't legally enforceable. Reply

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