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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  • yhselp - Friday, July 19, 2013 - link

    The revised conclusion looks great, the amount of detail you go into and the way you’ve put it all is very neat and clear. And yes, I absolutely agree with you -- the GE40 need a major cosmetic overhaul, the Blade is too expensive in general and the lack of a proper LCD in such a product is just outrageous. I genuinely wonder what happened, perhaps they were way into developing a 14.0” chassis and when they realized they couldn’t source a good screen of the same size it was already too late to go back to the drawing board?! Then again, their standard-sized 17.3” model lacks an IPS screen too. Anyway, I never argued these points, it seems as though this has turned into a GE40 vs. Blade along with Apple thrown into the mix sort of thing and that was not my intention.

    “Long-term” is a very elusive notion indeed. Hardware can always fail, but having a solid design and build quality goes a long way towards reducing the odds of failure, enables the use of more powerful components (at a certain cost, yes) and helps maintain optimal functionality throughout the lifetime of the product. Yes, fans are finned plasticy spinny little devils which can and do fail -- what can a man do... I know this reads like a bunch of marketing nonsense, but I really believe in those design ideals.

    Razer and Apple sell $2000+ laptops, they also pocket significant margins (Apple for sure) so their main priority probably isn’t optimal cooling, but one that just gets the job done; that seems to be the unfortunately reality of today. Despite this they are one of the few companies making advances in “slim-chassis cooling solutions”. I only quoted the rMBP 15 since it was the first laptop to feature a 45W quad-core CPU in such a slim chassis. I wouldn’t bet on Apple, however, to go any further than perfecting their current design as they probably won’t need to cool a hotter CPU (or GPU for that matter) in the future.

    Limited options and upgradability have become synonymous with truly optimized and thin designs. I am all for swappable memory and storage and I believe the industry can come up with a very slim, single-sided module which shouldn’t have a negative impact on slim designs. In my eyes, mechanical storage is a no-go for such designs (even a 7mm 2.5” drive); even if there’s enough space for it, it’d make more sense to put more battery instead. Nowadays, even mSATA looks big -- the smallest M.2 implementation looks better, especially for Raid 0 designs. Once you delve deeper even the keyboard becomes a problem, and you just can’t ship a great keyboard without proper travel. All these cannot become standard soon enough.

    I would like to thank you for listening to feedback and taking the time to revise the conclusion. I hope I haven’t been too much of a nuisance. Have a great vacation :)
    Reply
  • kondor999 - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    Excellent article. I just ordered a Sager-branded W230ST (4700/765m) which is considerably thicker than the GE40 and supposedly has a good LCD. I'm hoping that the increased thickness will potentiate sufficient cooling and therefore help avoid both throttling and excessive temps in general. There are no reviews yet, so wish me luck. Reply
  • sotoa - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    Nice article. I'm in the market for something this small and this was on my list (not anymore). LCD is junk? Classic!
    Please review the Clevo W230ST and fast! Hopefully the screen is as promising as it sounds plus 765m can hopefully be decent on 1080p.
    Reply
  • yhselp - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    Even if W230ST's LCD is not as good, you can easily swap it with a 13.3" IPS 1600x900 screen from LG; this will also increase performance. You can't do this with the Razer Blade 14 or the MSI GE40 because of their unusual screen size -- there are currently no 14.0" IPS screens (900p or 1080p) on the market. Hope this helps. Reply
  • yhselp - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    I just saw that the W230ST is already available at Mythlogic and they list the screen as IPS. Their pricing tends to be among the best; customization options are plentiful too, e.g. you can get an 840 Pro mSATA drive.

    Clevo's cooling is generally better than MSI's so if you have to order right now and you've been considering the GE40, it's a pretty safe bet to get the W230ST.
    Reply
  • ddonuts4 - Sunday, July 21, 2013 - link

    Just a side note; the battery life of this laptop is so good because there is an extra battery in the optical drive slot. Although this is a welcome addition to a laptop, is shouldn't be overlooked. This laptop isn't much more efficient than any other, it just has a bigger battery. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, July 21, 2013 - link

    Sorry, but that's just not true. The optical slot is where the 750GB HDD is sitting. I took pictures of the internals (see the first gallery on the first page) and there's definitely no extra battery to be found. Reply
  • chancar09 - Sunday, August 11, 2013 - link

    When I am playing a game, I am willing to tolerate the temperature and noise. But I don't want to have high temperature and noise when I am just accessing the internet, or editing a document. Is there any way I could set it to a low temp, or low noise in these case, or is it automatically running slow under these conditions so it will be cool and quiet? Reply
  • xKeL - Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - link

    Great review, one question though, I see that the keyboard has been removed in one of the pictures, how does one go about removing the keyboard? I need to replace mine due to water damage Reply
  • Darknessrise13 - Sunday, October 13, 2013 - link

    Could you guys do a review of the refreshed model of this with the 1080p display? The GE40 2OC-245. I'm wondering if the display refresh helps with the cruddy contrast. Reply

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