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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  • alex_l17 - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    actually... if you are just doing some upgrade of the RAM, MSI will still honor the warranty.. i had experience of that before. I called and spoke to the tech support, and they replied saying the RAM upgrade doesn't void warranty. Reply
  • xenol - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    What's starting to annoy me is still, a lot of these laptops that aren't ultrabooks and whatnot, come with a VGA port. I mean, sure, a lot of external displays can take it, but it just feels very out of place. Throw in a Mini-DP and another USB port! Reply
  • airmantharp - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Projectors. It's sad, but it's a real limitation everywhere. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Yup. There are a ton of projectors out there that pre-date HDMI and DP. It would definitely be nice to be able to run three digital displays off of a laptop, but most companies are so busy cutting corners that it's not even a minor consideration.

    Engineering: "For $5 extra, we can add two more digital video ouputs."

    Management: "What!? Forget that -- we can save $0.05 by using 100Mbit Ethernet instead of Gigabit Ethernet. That's what we need to do! And while we're at it, find a cheaper LCD -- there's no sense spending $75 for a display that most people won't notice! All they care about are mega-whatevers and giga-things, and we need to give them lots of those. Screw abstract ideas like build quality and color accuracy...."
    Reply
  • Bob Todd - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - link

    Hahaha...you brought up one of the things that drives me bonkers. There's no excuse for 100Mbit Ethernet STILL showing up in so many laptops. The BOM difference has to be almost non-existent these days, and yet we still see machines north of $500 only offering 100Mbit. I've seen so many machines in the past year that look kind of interesting as low cost general compute devices, then I scroll down and see "Fast Ethernet". It's like a cruel joke. Reply
  • Lacrimosa - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - link

    We have exactly opposing sources for annoyance :-) I am looking for these kinds of machines because I want something that I can take with me on business trips: powerful enough to game on when in hotels on evenings and good for doing my work when on client premises. I need to hold a lot of presentations so connectivity to projectors and external screens is important. Some of my collegues use these dongles to connect HDMI or some other port to those VGAs that are everywhere, but often those dongles are lost, or broken, or twist so that suddenly picture disappears... not good. I have had to pass on quite a few machines because they do not have VGA port anymore (for example that Razer Blade does not have one). Reply
  • yhselp - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    Alright, great review in general - helpful, objective and well-written and I really mean all that. Thank you for that.

    However, every once in a while I come across a comment or conclusion in one of the articles I read which makes me go - whaaat?! Why did they (this is not aimed directly at Mr. Walton) write this...

    I don't mean to be disrespectful, but how can you say "The truth is, we’re probably still a couple years away from seeing this level of performance in a laptop this size that runs cool and quiet;" when such a laptop exists today, not to mention your colleague review it and reached the opposite conclusion.

    Not to mention the following statement or, more importantly, what it implies - "... physics can be such a drag,", yes, indeed physics not only can, but always is a drag. Why would you, however, have your audience believe that laptops such as the Razer Blade 14 and the MSI GE40 are the best thing for thermal design since heatsinks? Yes, the Razer is very well-engineered (the MSI is just bold and reckless) but neither of which pushed the envelope to the limit. I'm not trying to play wannabe thermal engineering here but if we have to talk about the facts of physics better thermal solutions for thin laptops can be designed right now, not a couple of years from now. Yes, it's easier to cool more efficient and thus cooler parts but thermal design isn't stuck, we're far from greatest in this field. The fact that it hasn't been done so far doesn't mean it's impossible. I suspect it's a matter of unwillingness/cost rather than a physics barrier. Designs such as the rMBP 15 and the Blade 14 are but a glimpse into what can be done with custom cooling solutions.

    I'm sorry for this rant, but it's really unpleasant to read such a conclusion to an otherwise excellent review. I hope that at least a few people agree.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - link

    Which laptop have we reviewed that's thin, light, and powerful without running either hot and/or loud? The Razer Blade 14 hits 93C under stress testing, just slightly lower than the GE40. It could cool more with higher fan speeds, but I consider "cool and quiet" to be more like 70-80C max on the CPU and GPU with fan noise well under 40dB. We are nowhere near that level right now.

    The rMBP 15 is larger and while it doesn't get quite as hot, it's not exactly cool under a full load. More importantly, it's slower on the GPU than either of these laptops by a sizable gap. GT 650M is half the cores of the GTX 760M/765M -- it's not a bad GPU, but it will struggle quite a bit with higher detail gaming. I'm not trying to say any of the current designs are bad for trying, but if you want something that's as fast as the GE40 in a similar size chassis, and you don't want it to run loud or hot? It's just not going to happen right now. You either need to be thicker/larger to get more cooling, or you are going to make some noise to cope with the heat, or you're going to get hot. We've seen different laptops balance those factors to varying degrees, but really we will likely need one or two more generations of iGPU upgrades and at least one more process shrink to get to the point where we can have a combined 35W TDP for the CPU and GPU with the performance of the GTX 760M.

    The Crystalwell parts from Intel offer a bit less performance than GT 650M. Maybe Broadwell can get us there, but more likely it will be Skylake -- and when Skylake arrives, we will want twice the performance of it's iGPU, just like today, in order to run all the games at acceptable levels with moderate-to-high detail settings.
    Reply
  • yhselp - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - link

    Thank you for responding; you should know it was not my intention to be offensive. I agree with the vast majority of what you say, and I also like how you speak your mind freely and tackle different issues - $5 extra for video outputs vs. $0.05 less for Ethernet – so true. I’m not trying to question your knowledge, on the contrary – I take your professionalism for a given. It’s more of an issue of presentation and possible misinformation. Which, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is not the intended effect. It’d be unfortunate if I’m being perceived as some sort of crazy internet troll, I’m just trying to give feedback here.

    The thing is that your conclusion might be read and understood as ‘if you want a thin & light gaming laptop the MSI GE40 compromise is your best bet for now and that’s because it’s physically impossible to do better’. None of which is actually true (again we might be arguing linguistics here); and I’m not acting crazy, I’ve had 4 people, with and without technical knowledge, read the last page of your review and they all agree that’s a very likely interpretation.

    Yes, Blade 14’s CPU goes into the lower 90s and while that’s hot, it’s not out of spec. In my opinion, there are more important factors to consider. Your colleague concluded that Blade 14’s cooling solution is quite adequate and capable of handling the heat. He also noted there’s room for improvement which is absolutely true. It’s not just a matter of raw numbers, for example, both Blade 14 and GE40 hit the 90s, however the former has a far superior cooling solution and shouldn’t have problems in the long run.

    If a certain temperature doesn’t cause throttling and is safe to run at for years, and provided the surface of the product it’s in doesn’t get hot to the touch, what is the problem? No, it isn’t optimal, it isn’t perfect but it gets the job done; let’s say it’s ‘consumer-ready’. I’m not saying we should be content with running microprocessors at 90+C, but I also don’t think we should accept huge “laptops” *cough*Alienware*cough* and wait for integrated solutions to get better for ‘thin & light performance’. Besides, as you said, by the time iGPUs get at this level of performance it wouldn’t be sufficient anymore.

    I also cannot accept what you seem to continually suggest – that we cannot get better cooling in the same form-factor. Getting thicker is the crudest way to better cooling performance and not the only solution. We can use denser and wider (not taller) heatsinks, bigger and more efficient fans, better materials throughout, etc. Those things would take up more space, but space management is not optimal nowadays either. We could go even further into more exotic solutions and by exotic I don’t mean crazy expensive. There’s a whole world of possibilities out there but it takes time, money and innovative engineers.

    Yes, you’re correct, we probably won’t get better products right now but not because of physics.

    I apologize if I’ve been a little too harsh in my quickly-written first post. I sincerely hope to get another response from you. Thank you for your time.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    I figure when Razer and Apple have products at $2000 and can't get cooling to the point where we think it's working ideally, it probably won't happen right now. There's definitely a balancing act and space management could be improved, but there are tradeoffs with changing the way space is used as well. Go with mSATA or M.2 SSDs for instance and you drastically limit what options are available. Better fans and heatsinks are certainly a possibility, which is something I hope a revised GE40 would look into, but that's probably a 5C or maybe 10C difference at best.

    Anyway, I've tweaked the conclusion a bit to make it clear where I think the GE40 stands. Razer is a bit cooler, quieter, faster...and a lot more expensive. Both need better displays. GE40 also needs improved industrial design IMO. Long-term, the Razer is less likely to have problems I think, but what I've learned over the years is that "long-term" is very hard to judge. Fans can fail on expensive as well as cheap laptops, and while I'd hope the fans used in more expensive laptops would last longer... well, I wouldn't make a bet on that! (I have had plenty of $400-$500 GPUs that had fans wear out after a year or two.)

    So which laptop is truly "better" out of the Blade 14 and GE40? Probably the Blade, but roughly $700 extra to get there makes it pretty much a wash in my book. If the Blade had an IPS panel, then it would be just about perfect -- expensive, yes, but with no huge flaws. The GE40 needs far more work before it could get the same sort of recommendation.
    Reply

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