MSI GS30 Shadow

13-inch Ultraportable Laptop with a Gaming Dock for Desktop Graphics

MSI GS30 Shadow
MSI GS30 Shadow 13-inch Laptop. ©MSI Computer Corp.

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The Bottom Line

Jun 1 2015 - The MSI GS30 Shadow on paper offers an amazing combination of extremely small size and impressive performance. That performance comes at a very high literal price and with some major caveats. Battery life is very poor and gaming requires using with the Gaming Dock. This makes it a less than perfect choice for the mobile gamer.

Pros

  • Extremely Lightweight
  • Very Strong Performance
  • Desktop Class Graphics with External Dock

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Poor Battery Life
  • Gaming Dock Requires Use of External Keyboard, Mouse and Monitor

Description

  • Intel Core i7-4780HQ Quad Core Mobile Processor
  • 16GB PC3-12800 DDR3 Memory
  • Two 128GB mSATA Solid State Drives in a RAID 0 Array
  • 13.3" WUXGA (1920x1080) Display with 720p Webcam
  • Intel Iris Pro 5200 Integrated Graphics
  • Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wireless, Bluetooth
  • Two USB 3.0, HDMI, SD Card Slot
  • 12.59" x 8.93" x .77" @ 2.65 lbs.
  • Windows 8.1

Review - MSI GS30 Shadow-045

Jun 1 2015 - MSI's GS series of laptops bring a high level of performance designed for gaming that also features a very svelte profile for portability. The GS30 Shadow is a bit different from its larger counterparts though as it is much smaller but also relies on an external dock really for its gaming performance. It uses a similar design to the larger models. In fact is is just over three quarters of an inch thick and weighs an extremely light 2.65 pounds.

This makes it very similar to an ultrabook which will become more apparent. The design looks more like a traditional laptop rather than a gaming one other than the front edge of the system which features a white track light. This would not be so band if it was possible to turn the lights off but they are stuck on when the system is in use.

Unlike ultrabook systems, the MSI GS30 Shadow does not use a low voltage processor. Instead, it packs in a Core i7-4870HQ quad core processor that you would expect in a high performance laptop. This gives it some incredible performance that makes this portable system great for power users trying to do tasks like desktop video editing. The one downside here is that the small frame of the system can get quite hot when the laptop is running at high performance. The processor is matched up with 16GB of DDR3 memory which lets it run smoothly when multitasking or doing pretty much any application.

In order to have solid storage performance, MSI has elected to use solid state drives but it is configured a bit different than many others. Rather than using a single drive, it uses two 128GB SSDs that are then linked together in a RAID-0 profile. This provides it with 256GB of space and some extra performance over traditional single SATA drives. Performance still falls short of some of the newer PCI-Express based SSD drives but it is incredibly fast. The downside is that it does have limited space compared to a traditional drive. If you need to add more storage, there are two USB 3.0 ports for use with high speed external hard drives.

If you also have the Gaming Dock, that adds another four USB 3.0 ports.

The graphics and display setup are very interesting with the MSI GS30 Shadow. The laptop itself features a 13.3-inch display panel with a 1920x1080 native resolution. In features an anti-glare coating and a strong brightness that allows it to be used outdoors in bright sunlight. Sadly you won't also be using this display which I will talk about shortly. Now even though this is billed as a gaming laptop by MSI, the internal graphics for the system rely on the Intel Iris Pro 5200 integrated graphics system. This is better than the Intel HD graphics solutions but it still lacks much 3D performance such that it is not suited for most games and will run with limited frame rates at lower resolutions.

To really game, you need to use the external Gaming Dock.

The external Gaming Dock looks almost like a small computer box in many ways it is as it houses a 450 watt power supply and an expansion slot for adding in a double wide desktop PCI-Express graphics card. When you want to use this, you simply dock the laptop onto the top of the Gaming Dock. When you do this though, the internal display will be switched to the external graphics card (which you must supply yourself) and through its video connectors to an external display. This makes it very different than the Alienware 13 that can use an external graphics card to still drive the internal display.

The keyboard for the MSI GS30 uses an isolated design layout so common to many laptops these days. Overall, it offers a good level of comfort and accuracy but it certainly is not the best out there. It does feature a white backlight underneath it rather than a colored backlight that many other gaming laptops use. The trackpad is a nice large size and features an integrated buttons. It is accurate for both single and multitouch gestures. This works well for general use but gamers will likely use an external moose and keyboard which is required if it is docked.

MSI does not list the capacity rating for the battery in the MSI GS30 or the expected running times. This may be because it is relatively small in order to keep the size and the weight down. In digital video playback test, the system was only able to run for a very short two and three quarter hours. This is incredibly short and is likely the result of a limited size battery with the full power Core i7 processor. This makes it hard to recommend for someone using it as a mobile platform if they need long running times away from a power outlet. It can't even compete with the Alienware 13 with its dedicated graphics getting over six or the Apple MacBook Air 13 that achieves over ten.

Pricing for the MSI GS30 Shadow-045 is extremely expensive with a base price of around $1500 for the laptop itself with another $400 for the Gaming dock without a graphics card. This pricing makes it slightly more expensive than the Alienware 13 which is the closest of the competitors. The Alienware system is thicker and much heavier but offers a number of key features missing in the MSI. Namely, it has a dedicated graphics that lets it game in laptop only mode. It also offers a bit more style with its custom lighting. It also is more affordable by several hundred dollars. Consumers give up the performance though by using a Core i5-5200U processor.

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