GS73VR Stealth Pro: A Thin Gaming Future

MSI was first out of the gates with some of the most powerful VR products available to consumers. Many laptops and videocards on their site now has the “VR” nomenclature, and one of the most exciting is the topic of today’s review – the GS73VR Stealth Pro.

 

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What a difference 5 years make. Above shot is of an MSI GT683 gaming laptop equipped with a Core i7 2630QM and a GTX560M, released in 2011.

Think back for a moment, to 5 years ago. If you were a gamer or just wanted the best graphics and CPU power available in a mobile platform, you’d be able to avail of certain machines that in addition to serving as powerfu laptops, could also serve a secondary purpose as mobile bricks or high-tech barbells. They were massive, thick, heavy and had all the elegance of a Peterbilt truck. Not to say it didn’t have a certain amount of presence, but boy, it dominated a room with the amount of presence it had, to the point of distraction. These were big, mean machines which were unable to blend into anything other than a display wall in a big PC parts chain store.

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Side profile of the GS73 VR. It’s literally less than half the thickness of the GT683 pictured above.

Fast forward 5 years, and we see in front of us a visiting time traveler from the future. Or so it seems. With its sleek lines, 0.77” thickness, relatively low-key design, and innate power not even available to desktops a year ago, the GS73VR Stealth Pro is firmly in the present, and it has a presence unlike what was the norm of 5 years hence. It attracts attention for all the right reasons, and whispers elegance without coming out as ostentatious. The GS73VR is on hand, and boy am I glad the future is here.

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This would look even more amazing with thinner bezels.
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The lower bezel is especially prominent

Continuing with its looks, the GS73VR seems big. It is big, with a 17.3” screen and unfortunately some substantial bezels especially at the bottom. But it seems to shrink into your workspace the more you use it. Just 19.5mm thick, and of course even thinner when the screen is open, this 17” machine seems to occupy less space than you’d expect. This is probably an effect of the the backlit SteelSeries keyboard (with keypad) that fits perfectly in its body, and its brushed black aluminum shell and reduced “loudness” in its design, helping it blend into the high-tech background of our lives. Opinions vary, but the MSI badge is in turns garish and sometimes sleek, depending on who you ask. Relative to previous generations however, this is well toned-down for me. The machined aluminum of the lid and body, the scalloped metal below the touchpad, the shaped metal folded diagonally away from the keyboard, even the slanted rear vents of the fan exhaust all combine to create a design that I wouldn’t hesitate to bring into a multinational corporation’s boardroom. I’d change the SteelSeries backlighting to a more neutral white or red however. Call me an overgrown kid, but I also like the “Stealth” lettering at the rear, though that too, I’d cover somehow before going into the aforementioned boardroom.

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Stealth means its difficult to detect. But only when the lid is closed.

Other than the core components, a laptop’s usability can be gauged through features users most often interact with – the screen, ports, sound, keyboard and touchpad. The screen is a 120Hz, 5ms TN unit with 170° field of view and a 94% coverage of the NTSC standard. Subjectively, the screen reminded me of the first time I got a Samsung Galaxy phone with an amoled screen – rich colors, fine details and great contrast. There is an amazing array of connectivity options for a slim machine. 3 USB 3.0 ports are immediately noticeable on the left side of the GS73, and an additional USB 2.0 port on the right is ready to take your external mouse or keyboard.

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Left side connectivity. Notable is the ESS Sabre – backed audio ports and the Killer-equipped LAN port for prioritized gaming throughput

A Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 Type C connector future proofs connectivity, while display options range from HDMI 1.4 and mini Display Port 1.2, to the Thunderbolt 3 port mentioned earlier. The Killer-equipped LAN port, audio ports and an SD card reader round out the connectivity options. An ESS Sabre HiFi DAC is installed for excellent performance when using headsets, while Nahimic sound enhancement improves on-board sound – improvement that’s really noticeable, although bass is unsurprisingly unimpressive even with the installed 3W subwoofer.

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Right side connectivity includes a full size HDMI port, a mini Display Port, and the advanced Thunderbolt / Type C connector.

The keyboard is as usual made by SteelSeries, and has the expected SteelSeries Engine 3.0 software included for easy adjustment of lighting, color, macros, and key assignments. Key travel is good considering the thinness of the chassis, there’s no slop to the key travel and you always know when you’ve clicked the key you’re pressing – not always the case with laptops. The clickpad is a huge improvement from what I experienced on the GS60, with a revised finish that feels very smooth and accurate movement sealing the deal. I’d advise using an external mouse for any serious productivity or gaming though.

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Collaboration with gaming peripheral veteran SteelSeries has resulted in some amazing laptop keyboards, and the GS73VR is no exception.
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Aesthetically pleasing and very smooth, the clickpad is an above average effort for MSI and is a joy to use in routine tasks.

Other, less obvious aspects of performance include cooling, portability and build quality. Described succinctly, all three are excellent. MSI’s Cooler Boost Trinity adds an additional fan to the traditional 2, and improves the fan design with multiple, thinner fins that move more air using the same rpm. 5 thick heat pipes remove heat from the CPU and GPU quickly. MSI designed the cooling system with more emphasis on the GPU, with 2 of the three fans dedicated to it.

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Dual intake fans serving the GPU

The GS73VR weighs in at an amazingly svelte 5.3 pounds – I can only shake my head sadly at the memory of the old 17” CRT monitors sold before the advent of LCD screens. While this is still heavy for a mobile PC, the kind of performance available with this machine boggles the mind. Holding up a GS73, you hold the power and ability to do what a gamer, artist, editor, or programmer would have needed a full desktop PC decked out with top-of-the-line components to do a few years back.

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Maximum extent for opening the screen hinge.

Ergonomics for the main interface devices is excellent – the keyboard has no hot spots and is laid out in the normal manner except for the windows key on the right and media controls on the arrow keys instead of the function keys. The clickpad is good for routine work. Screen opening is more than adequate, as demonstrated above. There is minimal flex in the chassis, in fact you’d need to exert a disturbing amount of force to actually bend the bottom portion in any direction. The screen area is less stiff, but holds up well to the opening and closing process, whether you pull from the center or the corners.

With the peripheries of the GS73VR covered, we now go to the juicy part: The storage system, RAM, processor and the videocard. A super speedy Samsung 256GB PCIe x4 M.2 SSD combined with a large Hitachi Travelstar 1TB mechanical HDD spinning at 5400rpm ensures good options for both speed and capacity, while the 16GBs of DDR4 RAM leaves nothing to chance in the resources department. Intel’s Core i7 6700HQ quad core is currently one of the best performing mobile solutions available. It runs at 2.6GHz to 3.5GHz with boost, and performs admirably in heavy tasks like photogrammetry, video editing, and of course, gaming. Speaking of gaming, the real meat of this laptop is contained in the Nvidia GTX 1060 – a GPU nearly on par with its desktop equivalent – and I don’t say this lightly like in adverts and promotional material – this is “really real”. Benchmarks can be studied below.

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The Witcher 3 Ultra benchmark was a doozie. A more in-depth test might change that number, but for now we are happy with that result.

The GTX 1060 also accomplishes this feat with less heat and lower power consumption – not a new development for a newly released videocard, but certainly this is the first time the performance of desktop and laptop has been so close. As a quick comparison, the GTX1060 is faster than the previous generation GTX980M, and the 1060 is only the third highest model in Nvidia’s current lineup! It’s also almost as powerful as the desktop GTX980 – a dream card available for $549 when it was release in September 2014.

120hzScreen.jpgThe 120Hz screen installed on the GS73VR (FHD, not the 4K version) is a great fit. Smooth gameplay and the obvious lack of tearing is the best evidence of how fast GPU performance is. Performance versus the desktop 1060 is lower across the board, but not by much – in addition to the lower clock speed of the laptop 1060 (1670MHz vs 1708MHz on a desktop 1060), scores were also affected by the different configuration of the GS73VR compared to our desktop test bench. Having said that, the GS73VR performed smoothly in all our benchmarks, and since we test with V-sync off for conformity, we noticed how much better the GS73 handled tearing on-screen. The 120Hz panel comes into its own when combined with the speed of the GTX 1060.

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It’s a nice 5 peso coin besides an even nicer laptop.

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When you get down to it, laptops are meant to be brought from one place to another. The dichotomy here is that while the GS73 is indeed easy to move around due to its slimness and (relative) light weight, its battery cannot give you the freedom to be too far away from a power socket. On the other hand, the space savings and power to game someplace which isn’t your desk at home is real enough, and that alone in my opinion negates the disadvantage of the limited battery life. Besides, the 65Wh battery gives around 4 hours while browsing online and with low brightness, and can be made to last nearly 6 hours with no wifi and undertaking productivity tasks. Gaming will run the battery down in just a little more than an hour or so, but you’d need to be connected to mains power anyway to get the maximum performance from the laptop (since Nvidia automatically throttles GPU speed when not connected to mains power).

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Extra vents for additional cooling. Speakers are actually at the front edge of the laptop.

The GS73VR, with its Pascal internals and better fans, runs cooler than its direct predecessor, the GS70, or even my old laptop, the GS60 with its GTX 850M and Core i5. However, the price for this cooling performance is a fan that’s constantly on – it’s not loud per se, just consistently “there”, which may or may not be a problem for different users. The noise faded from my perception once I cranked up the volume and got immersed in a game or some music – since I usually game on an overclocked desktop PC with multiple fans anyway, the fan noise from the GS73 is negligible for me.

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An exciting unboxing..
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..and great extras.
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Discreet enough or not?

MSI’s focus on VR is well documented, with this laptop and many other products now emblazoned with “VR Ready”. With the performance afforded by its GTX 1060, this is no idle boast, and I can’t wait to get to test this unit again with our HTC Vive.

The GS73VR is a direct descendant of the 2013 GS70, with all the attendant and inherent design advantages that entails. It’s thinner, feels more solid, cooler, quieter, and performs much better due to its updated internals. The GS70 was an amazing development back then, and this improved version is a no-holds-barred example of extreme engineering that makes it feel like the future has already arrived.

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  • OS                                           Windows 10
  • CPU                                        Intel® Core™ i7-6700HQ
  • CPU Speed                           2.6 – 3.5GHz w/ Turbo Boost
  • Chipset                                 Intel® HM170
  • Color                                      Aluminum Black
  • Screen Size                          17.3″ FHD, Anti-Glare Wide View Angle 120Hz 5ms 94%NTSC
  • Resolution                           1920×1080 (16:9)
  • Visual Experience              True Color Tech.
  • GPU                                        NVIDIA GeForce® GTX1060
  • Video Memory                    6G GDDR5
  • Keyboard                              Steel Series RGB backlight w/ Anti-Ghost key+silver lining
  • Audio                                     Nahimic Sound
  • Speaker                                 Speakers x4 + Subwoofer x1
  • Memory                                16GB (8GB x2) DDR4 2400MHz
  • HDD Capacity                     256GB M.2 SATA + 1TB (5400RPM)
  • LAN                                        Killer Gaming Network E2400
  • WLAN                                    Killer N1535 Combo (2×2 ac)
  • Bluetooth                             BT 4.1
  • Card Reader                         SD (XC/HC)
  • Webcam                                FHD type (30fps@1080p)
  • USB                                         USB 3.0 x3, USB 2.0 x1
  • Thunderbolt                         Thunderbolt 3
  • Video Port                             HDMI 2.0 x1, mDP 1.2 x1, Thunderbolt 3 x1
  • Audio Port                             1/1/1 (ESS Sabre HiFi)
  • AC Power Adaptor              180W
  • Battery Pack                         3 cell (65Whr)
  • Dimension                            16.21″x11.21″x0.77″
  • Weight                                    5.35 lbs

Watch out for the video unboxing through this link! The GS73VR Stealth Pro will be tentatively available at your local retailers by October.

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