Table of Contents (in short):
- In the box
- Build quality, Case and design and looks
- Keyboard and Trackpad
- Sound and Speakers
- General subjective performance experience
- Gaming Performance
- Thermals, Throttling & Noise handling
- Screen / Screen quality
- Competiting gaming laptops / alternatives
++ Main reason to consider:
GTX 850M GDDR5 (almost 860M) + IPS display for $1000 in a compact 14.0″ laptop. Fastest 14.0″ for such a price.
— Main reason to avoid:
Unlike previous generation MSI GE40, bad battery running times. Also, like GE40, high heat emissions.
Some good competitors are available, like the W230SS.
+ Good gaming performance for $1000, close to the GTX 860M.
+ A rather good 1080p IPS display
+ Keyboard is not bad.
+ Simple design
+ Additional Sata port in ODD bay
+ Easier to fix or upgrade then other laptops (CPU can be changed)
+ Good battery performance of around 4-8 hours under light use (4-12W power usage)
– Not as fast as others for $100-$200 more (Y510p SLI, Eurocom M4) – No backlit keyboard
– CPU gets real hot under full load
Power consumption too high for some reason, resulting in a low battery performance. Seems fixed with latest bios/firmware and Windows 7 (maybe a new Windows 8 installation will fix it too)
|Price||~$1000 w/o OS|
|CPU||I5 / I7 (My configuration: I5-4210M)|
|GPU||GTX 850M GDDR5 (Maxwell), core@800-950MHZ, GDDR5@1,25GHZ|
|RAM||Micron 1x8GB DDR3@800MHZ|
500GB 5400RPM HDD
|LCD Panel||In review: AUO B140HAN01.1|
|Weight / Dimensions||~2kg / 4.4lbs w/ODD. Around 1.8-1.85kg w/o ODD
22.3-29.2mm (h) x 339 (w) x 239.4 (d).
|Keyboard||standard (non-backlit), no full numpad|
|Connection Ports||right side: USB 2.0, card reader, microphone/headphones, kensington lock
left side: 2xUSB 3.0, Ethernet, HDMI 1.4a, VGA
Front, Rear: nothing
|WiFi||WiFi: RealTek Semiconductor RTL8723AE Wireless LAN 802.11n PCI-E NIC
Ethernet: Qualcomm/Atheros e2200 PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet Controller
|Battery||6 cell, 49Wh|
The MSI GE40, which was released yesteryear, was a good offering for the time but a very lacking too. You’d get a 14.0″ compact, lightweight 2kg, gaming laptop with an I7 and a GTX 760M GPU, 8GB RAM and 900p display for around $1100-$1200 starting price which was later was reduced to around $1000. The GE40 was intriguing because it combined good gaming power, compactness and a 900p display. Furthermore, actual tests showed an excellent battery performance for such a laptop – around 7-10 hours of battery under light use , depending on the testing method.
However, the GE40 had two big caveats. One, the display quality which was average at best, even compared to good 1080p TN panels available with $1000 gaming laptops then. Secondly, it was getting rather hot, but that could be forgiven. For $1100-$1200, the price was too high for a laptop which was not as fast for gaming and had lousy display, while the Lenovo Y510p was selling for around $850-$900 with around 30-40% higher performance easily, better display, better speakers and being at least as hot (kidding). Later versions came with 1080p IPS display, but were selling for around $1400 (though with a 120GB SSD).
Now, the new MSI MS-1492, which is the base of the the MSI GE40 is available for around $1000 with an I5/I7, GTX 850M GDDR5, 8GB DDR3, 1080p IPS display and some basic 500-750GB HDD, no OS included for now. The difference is big. Not only we are talking about the GTX 850M GDDR5 version, which is very close to the GTX 860M in performance (basically , an unerclocked version), but also a good 1080p IPS display. All that for $1000. That’s a very good proposition and a laptop worth reviewing.
I must mention that as of writing these lines, the branded MSI GE40 has not been released yet and price might be higher (but also including an OS). However, this is basically the same laptop, with some modifications, wider MSI warranty and ofcourse branding.
Drivers disc, the MSI MS-1492 barebone laptop, which is the GE40, and a rather small PSU.
The MSI GE40 case is all plastic as far as I can see and the build quality of the MSI GE40 is very acceptable. The only parts where the the case yields rather easily is the ODD bay area and the display surrounding panel. The palm rests and touchpad are firm enough to a point that I couldn’t feel any flex under regular use. The keyboard surface is might yield on the edges a bit if you push enough, but it’s no concern and generally the keyboard area won’t cause you trouble. The outer lid of the display curved outwards and rigid as most other laptops, meaning – not really, but sufficient to provide shelter against small hits and pressure. There is some space between the bottom part of the case and the upper surface and dust / crumbs can take hold, which is a somewhat small problem.
Looks are plasticy and dated but not unpleasant, simply a little boring (fine with me though). The laptop is all black expect the touchpad edge and buttons.
Connection ports 3 USB ports with only two USB 3.0 is not perfect, but it’s ok for most. The standard HDMI + VGA video out and a card reader. A display port and an eSata could be useful.
Maintenance Few screws standing between you and the most of the motherboard. Adding RAM is no problem and you can also replace the CPU. GPU is not replaceable. The ODD can be pulled out and an mSata (only with an adapter) or SSD (native sata) can be installed instead. No other mSata is available except that.
Keyboard is not bad at all. Keys are well spaced and typing is easy. Feedback could have been better and keys push resistance should have been greater. I feel like I’m pushing too deep to get each character. No major flaws, but that’s no premium keyboard. The touchpad is small but very responsive and does not irritates the finger skin. Active surface covering practically the whole touchpad. The bad is two connected buttons which looks good but maybe not as practical as two separated keys. Also, a bigger touchpad would be better. The buttons themselves are not easy to click but not too hard either. You won’t get mistake clicks with these.
The speakers are not too bad (Clevo style), but the sound is blocked by the case and there is no bass. The “Sound Blaster Cinema” can “enhance” the quality / bass / surroundings effect, but really – it’s doing the usual tricks, saturating some frequencies and makes an echo effect. It doesn’t sound “better”, though some may find some extra value in movies or games. Music listening experience is plasticy unfortunately.
Using Windows 8.1, the GE40 barebone felt rather snappy, even though we are talking a basic 500GB 5400RPM HDD here. With some $100 250GB SSD / mSata (like these from Amazon), you would get a very responsive machine which is very fun and comfortable to use. Ofcourse, if you are talking Premiere / Photoshop and stuff like that, you better get faster HDD or some nice SSD.
The test includes the 3DMark synthetic benchmarks and a small amount of games and the point is to give a reference benchmarks compared to other machines. For more numbers are available over the web in sites like Notebookcheck.com. I had no real problems and stuff. Generally everything run as expected.
Using Nvidia 340.43 drivers, Windows 7 Ultimate fully updated as I write these lines. HWInfo was used to measure temperatures. The settings I used in each game differ from one to another and the reason is that I tried to find the highest settings which still let you play smoothly. All games are tested with 1080p resolution. There are enough standard benchmarks over the web to compare performance of different GPUs. For each game, I also wrote how I felt playing, if it was smooth or not.
I’ve removed unwanted results, like scene loading times.
I apologize in advanced for the little mess I have with the graphs, visually
Let’s start with the gaming performance for highest graphics settings@1080p resolution. These results are the lowest I could get, running the games on the most demanding scenarios (~60 players BF4 MP) What’s highest? In games with predefined profile, highest is the highest profile possible (BF4, Bioshock, TW2R, Thief, Tomb Raider, WoT). Otherwise and / or exceptions:
- Titalfall: highest settings, MSAAx4
- Skyrim, “ultra” settings, FXAA on and Ambient Occlusion set on “quality” using Nvidia control center
- Borderlands 2 : highest on everything, including Phsyx
- Crysis 3 : Very high ‘texture details’ and ‘system specs’, SMAA = 2TX
- LoL, Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2 – everything set on highest, VSync disabled
Remembering that these are the lowest results I could get, they are actually really good, as you could except from a GTX 860M level GPU. Note that Battlefield 4 multiplayer results were higher than the campaign results. While it is not illogical, the reason in my benchmarks is that it wasn’t easy to get into really messy situations (see videos). I guess that if you were in the same scene with a lot of other players visible, the results were lower. Anyway, the results in MP are pretty good.
Now, lets compare the GTX 850M GDDR5 vs GTX 850M DDR3 and also, GTX 850M GDDR5 vs GTX 860M. We are talking here highest settings@1080p, unless otherwise stated. The GTX 860M results come from the notebookcheck GTX 860M tests, taking the highest numbers and the GTX 850M DDR3 come from the Eurocom Electra 2.0 review. Here:
You can see that in most cases, the GTX 850M GDDR5 and GTX 860M are very close. Now, that’s not entirely makes sense, as the GTX 860M has the same GDDR5 memory and speed, but higher core clocks (like the GTX 850M DDR3). Except differences in testing methods and throttling which both can have significant impact on the results, the GTX 850M GDDR5 comes very close to the 860M in core clocks – the advantage of the 860M shouldn’t be more than 15%-16% max with highest clocks, which is more or less what we got.
The more interesting part, in my opinion, is the fact that I’m using an I5-4210M CPU, while Notebookcheck tests using an I7 CPU and at least according to my tests, the difference is not even bigger than the difference between the 860M and 850M. Now, ofcourse there is a difference in testing methods and so on, but as I said, I tried to get the most taxing situations I can, especially in Crysis 3 and BF4. Plus, remember that Tomb Raider, Thief and Bioshock have a built-in benchmark, so it’s more or less a standard and even then the difference is small in these games.
The advantage over the GTX 850M DDR3 is however clear almost for every game. I used the same methods and scenes, so it’s more reliable. Tomb Raider, Crysis 3, Borderlands 2, Thief, Bioshock Infinite, all show significant advantage for the GDDR5 version, although the core clocks are lower sometimes.
I’ve tested world of tanks using the highest settings only as I feel it shows the general idea – the GTX 850M GDDR5 will run WoT on highest settings, with FXAA@1080p on a very reasonable FPSs. You might want to set the graphics a little lower if you feel it’s better for you though.
highest settings@1080p – no problem here.
Using Crysis 3 predefined graphics presets for the texture details and system specs (“very high”, “High”, “Medium”). In all settings, SMAAx2 was used.
Very high settings are too high really, but “High” settings are more like it, but you’d probably have it a bit laggy in some situation. I suggest running Crysis 3 on “High” settings and if you feel a need in some cases for a little higher FPSs, try reducing some specific settings. I felt ok with “High” settings, also because mostly the scenes are not that demanding and the gameplay is pretty smooth.
I have used bioshock built-in benchmark to test it. The performance is quite good as you can see, with average FPSs of 41.6. Don’t mind too much the minimal FPSs – these are usually the parts where the screen is loaded and stuff like that. There was no slowness while running the benchmark. I want to mention again the fact that it is very close to the notebookcheck GTX 860M bioshock benchmark with an average of 44FPS.
|Average FPS||Min FPS||Max FPS||Scene Name|
|39.16||16.89||48.54||Scene Change: Disregard Performance In This Section|
|60.33||57.44||62.02||Benchmark Finished: Disregard Performance In This Section|
AO = Ambient Occlusion. It is forced through the Nvidia control panel.
Unlike the GTX 850M DDR3, the 850M GDDR5 can pull it quite easily even with highest settings possible @ 1080p. Remember that the Ambient Occlusion settings are not automatically set through Skyrim settings panel – you’d have to set it through the Nvidia control panel. So if you compare it to other benchmark, you should look at the benchmark without AO on.
We are talking here the most taxing situation I could get, so in the usual case you’d get even higher FPSs.
The 26FPS result, I got on the “Boom” scene with the huge guns, after the Hammerlock residence – there are a lot of flying debris, physx stuff, fires and flashes. This is what I got after getting shot for few minutes and it was for a split second. You can except very high FPSs and smooth gameplay on highest settings + phsyx on @ 1080p resolution and that’s what I’d suggest.
Battlefield 4, even on ultra settings@1080p runs well and mostly smoothly, but not totally. I would suggest something between High and Very high settings or simply using “High” settings with MSAAx2-4.
This is what I got for a multiplayer game with around 60 players, but I couldn’t get into too intensive situation all the time, so in some very intensive scenarios, with a lot of players visible (emphasis on visible), you’d probably get somewhat lower FPSs. But generally, you’ll be ok.
Well, nothing to say – you won’t have problem in TF2.
I used the Tomb Raider built in benchmark
The results are from Tomb Raider built-in benchmark tool. You can see that even on the highest settings (“Ultimate”), you’d get rather good average FPSs, though “Ultra” settings are much more playable and would be my suggestion.
Notebookcheck tests with GTX 860M and an I7 results in 45-46FPS average, for ultra settings, a difference of only 12-13% at most, which comply with the difference in the GPU core clocks speeds.
Highest settings, 1080p resolution.
Smooth. You could run Dota 2 on highset settings easily.
1080p resolution. Thief built in benchmark.
The difference between “high” and “normal” settings is a bit odd – almost nothing is gained by going to normal. I would use the “high” settings as you don’t really need a lot of FPSs in this game. You can see if it’s enough for you and go from there. I don’t know if it’s a matter of some bug or inefficiency in Thief game engine. The gameplay itself was ok using high settings.
From my experience, even on ultra settings, it’s quite playable, though not smooth – I’d go with “Very High” settings and try to add things like ambient occlusion and other features.
1080p resolution, Multiplayer.
Couldn’t get a lot of good readings, but the gameplay itself was rather good even with MSAAx4. I’ve played several maps to get more data. Got some lags due to network problem, but otherwise it was quite good. I’d go with MSAAx2 – it’s good enough and smoothness is higher.
1. Prime95: Torture test, In-Place large FFTs. CPU clocked at thehighest and 2.6GHZ (throttle).
2. Prime95 + FurMark 1280×720 burn-in test. CPU clocked at 2.6GHZ.
3. Furmark 1280×720 burn-in test.
4. Windows power mode on “high performance”
First, we see that the idle temperatures are quite high. We are talking “Power Saver” mode here and barely doing anything. This is probably also due to the fact the dedicated Nvidia GPU doesn’t sleep – there is some problem with some components going to sleep (check the battery review section for more info).
We also see that with Furmark + Prime95, you’d get very high temps – too high actually, even with CPU set on 2.6GHZ. Same goes for Prime95 itself. It might also be a result of thermal paste not properly applied as sometimes is the case in laptops. I’ll check it at some point and report.
It is clear from these results that an I7 would be too much.
The case itself was getting hot too, around the areas where the CPU, GPU and heatpipes are, which are around the upper part of the touchpad panel, just above the palm rest.
You can see in the images that the GPU core clocks when running Prime95 + Furmark are set on 800MHZ more or less – I don’t know why, but it’s probably the automatic throttling mechanism from MSI. This is not the case when running games. See below the Crysis 3 HWInfo recordings for GPU core clocks – 950-960MHZ on this very GPU+CPU intensive game. That’s why we don’t see huge differences compared to the GTX 860M 1050-1100MHZ core clocks (same memory clocks).
Under load the fan noise was rather loud but not as in other laptops (Clevo W650SJ or W350ST) and under low load or moderate, you might hear it, but it will be rather ok. I don’t have “objective” readings, but I listened to it at night, when you can hear even low noises easily.
The screen is pretty good for my test. Viewing angles are pretty good with mostly brightness changing on extreme angles. I do feel that contrast could be better, though, but it might be just me.
Colors are pretty good as shows in the Spyder4 tests with nearly all sRGB color palette covered and around 70% adobeRGB. It’s not perfect, ofcourse, but for the common Gamer Jose, it’s excellent. It would be also very good for many photoshop users as anyway most won’t get a too pricey display. Even the very popular Dell U2412M 24″ display has around the same color coverage, at best.
Contrast is ok with around 1:500-550. Color accuracy is not that good, but still OK.
UDPATE: seems like after all the bios and firmaware updates, reinstalling Windows 7 OS partially fixes the battery performance issues. A friend got 4W power usage with display off and around 7-12W power usage browsing the web. This translates to around 4-7 hours of battery running times with display on under light web browsing.
The sad part. It seems like the power usage of the MSI GE40 barebone is really high even on the most idle situation, with LCD brightness low. You’d get not more than 3 hours of battery, at best and usually around 2-2.5 hours if you’re using the laptop without too much restrain.
Well, it is divided into two parts because I couldn’t fit it all in one screenshot. You can see that although power saver power mode is set, the CPU and GPU usage is on 0%, no HDD activity and LCD brightness is rather low, the power usage is around 15-16W at least. It means 3 hours of battery at best more or less. That’s a lot less than the previous generation MSI GE40. I’ll add that I tested the power consumption on safe mode and with LCD off and results were minimal as far as power consumption go. It’s good to know that the LCD doesn’t require a lot, but it’s a problem of the system otherwise.
It seems like the discreet Nvidia GPU keeps running even though it is not in use. I couldn’t solve it nor running on safe mode changed nothing. It also seems like the case for other components as seen in this energy report (using Windows “powercfg /energy” command).
These all add up to some few watts. Remember the Lenovo Y500 / Y510p with dual GPUs and integrated GPU disabled? the same power consumption problem was there too, a lot because of the Nvidia GT GPU that was running constantly and even though you’d turn off the LCD, you’d get very low battery running times of around 3-3.5 hours tops. This is probably the same case here. The question is why.
I’m using the latest EC firmare from MSI site (here) and latest bios from the 28/5/2014. Is it solvable? Will MSI address this issue? don’t know. It just might be in purpose to make their retail MSI GE40 more interesting to stamp higher price for it. Also, no unlocked version of the bios or EC too currently. I’ve been told that the vbios is integrated in this case into the bios itself, so it’s a problem to unlock the vbios itself too.
Anyway, currently I have no better solution.
I added this section to summarize the main issues of the MSI GE40 as I see them:
- Most important, the battery performance issues with some components not getting into a more sleepy state
- Heat. The MSI GE40 gets hot – both the case and the CPU, to a point of being on the verge of too much
- There are suddenly problems with the WiFi (but not the LAN), I still don’t know if these are hardware problems or drivers problems
Currently there is not a lot of competition, so I’d mention the forthcoming options too
- [UPCOMING] The retail MSI GE40. Might have even a better display and maybe a better battery performance. Would probably cost more.
- [UPCOMING] Acer V7 14.0″ successor with GTX 850M. The 15.6″ successor is already here (link) with GTX 850M DDR3 and an IPS display. The 14.0″ successor should come soon and if it would be at least as good, it would have 6-8 hours battery, very good IPS display – the same display model as this one, though my tests were better for the V7. Prices for the V7 were lower at around $850 before.
- Clevo W230SS / Eurocom M4 13.3″ gaming laptop with a GTX 860M, I5 and a very good 1080p IPS display or around $900-$1000.A very good competitor, but bad speakers
If MSI will fix the power consumption issues, I’d recommend considering the MSI GE40 barebone, but currently it is a too hard choice between the GE40 and W230SS which besides being uglier and bulkier, it has all the main features like good 1080p IPS display, at least as high gaming performance and at least as good thermal handling.
Comapred to 15.6″ gaming laptops, the MSI GE40 does give some good sports. Current 15.6″ gaming laptops either have a lesser non-IPS display (Lenovo Y510p SLI, Lenovo Y50) or a significantly lower gaming performance (N550JK). So, the MSI GE40 does have some case, but given that the W230SS is available and no advantages are clear, it would be better to wait for updates about the GE40.
Ah. Almost there. If not for the battery issues, the MSI GE40 MS-1492 barebone could be an excellent choice for many. I hoped that the previous generation MSI GE40 battery running times will be the same here, but with the new barebone you’d get only
around 2.5-3 hours tops – see the battery performance update : with the latest bios/firmware and reinstalling Windows 7 OS (might be Windows 8 too), you’d get 4-7/8 hours of battery.
The GE40 packs a very good gaming performance for $1000, with a rather good IPS display, ok keyboard and touchpad. Currently, that’s a good combination, but it gives the GE40 no real advantage over the Clevo W230SS. The only real advantage, more or less, is the measures of the GE40 as it looks thinner, but you get larger display which might be more comfortable for some gamers.
would suggest waiting for the retail MSI GE40 branded laptop to see if the battery issues are only apparent in the barebone version (bad MSI! bad!), plus, whether there will be some bios / EC firmware update to address these problems. I’ve tried contacting MSI about it, but they sent me back to the vendor, which in turn contacted MSI again and no further reply since then.
Final words – better wait and see what time brings up in the following months. The new MSI GE40 does interesting as many other $1000 laptop either don’t have an IPS display (Lenovo Y50) or such a good gaming performance (N550JK).
The new conclusion, after fixing the battery issue, is that the MSI GE40 is a good option for those who want the IPS + GX 850M GDDR5 in an 14.0″ gaming laptop chassis. Still it has hard competition from the competitors like the W230SS and Y50 which are faster but also new GPUs are coming soon and moreover, the availablity is lacking (you can barely find it), so it’s not a really an option.