MSI GS40 6QE Review (14.0″, Skylake I7, GTX 970M)

++ Main reason to consider:

You’re really looking for a compact and lightweight high performance gaming laptop (and good keyboard, TB3 port, M.2 NVMe SSD, 16GB RAM and 2 years warranty)

-- Main reason to avoid:

Thermals handling isn’t great with high noise levels and some throttling under highest load, plus, the build quality is lacking for a premium laptop.

Availability
  • Amazon
  • BestBuy
  • Check the other, though I didn’t see it elsewhere when I wrote these lines
Pro : + Very good 3D performance with an I7 and GTX 970M
+ Compact and light at around 1.6kg
+ Very comfortable keyboard, in my opinion, with very good feedback, respond and travel depth and sufficient resistance
+ Cooling system keeps the CPU and GPU temps at reasonable levels (although the CPU could throttle)
+ Under load, the hotter parts of the chassis are not the ones that in use usually
+ High contrast and high brightness IPS display with good colors and viewing angles
+ Very good WiFi solution with good stability, low pings
+ M.2 "M" slot, allowing PCIe SSDs, housed by an NVMe SSD
+ Thunderbolt 3 port
+ 16GB DDR4 RAM
+ 2 years warranty
+ Dedicated DAC
+ Simple looks
Con : - Build quality is lacking, with soft outer lid and other parts of the base unit
- Some throttling under highest load of Furmark + Prime95, but not in Crysis 3
- Only 2xUSB ports including the TB3 port
- Speakers can barely make you feel anything inside
- Chassis could get quite hot in hot environment (summer)
- Power consumption for browsing/1080p youtube movie load isn't great
- Two RAM slots occupied
- Noise is high even at low levels of load
- No TPM
More Reviews :

Introduction

MSI GS40 6QE

The [relatively] new MSI GS40 6QE Phantom is MSI’s flagship small and slim gaming laptop. It’s packed with a Skylake I7, GTX 970M and small measures. Also includes with 16GB of RAM, TB3 connection port, and 128GB NVMe SSD (plus 1TB HDD). For around $1500-$1550 (with coupons), the MSI GS40 provides the same horsepower as some other GTX 970M+Skylake equipped laptops, only in a smaller form factor (that is, if horses can function as GPUs), although it is not as cost effective as other in terms of gaming performance (especially if you include discounts and deals that come from time to time).

The GS40 selling point is its measures and compactness, alongside the high gaming performance and IPS display. Let’s review it and see if it worth anything at all!

ComponentDescription
ModelMSI GS40 6QE Phantom
PriceAs tested, $1540
CPUIntel Skylake I7-6700HQ, 4C/8T, 2.6-3.6GHZ, 6MB cache, CZ-A1
GPUNvidia Geforce GTX 970M 3GB GDDR5, GM204 (Maxwell II), 1280 shaders, core@954-1037MHZ, GDDR5@1252MHZ, 192-bit bus
Motherboard / ChipsetLENOVO Allsparks 5B / AMD CZ FCH
4xPCI Express x1, 2xPCI Express x4, 1xPCI Express x16
RAMSamsung 2x8GB DDR4@2133MHZ M471A1G43DB0-CPB
StorageHDD : HGST HTS721010A9E630
SSD: M.2 NVMe THNSN5128GPU7 TO 128GB
M.2 : M.2 SATA or PCIe/NVMe 2280 (one)
Display PanelIn review: LG Display LP140WF3-SPD1 1080p IPS eDP (Monitor\LGD046D)
Weight / Dimensions1.6kg (~3.53 Lbs.) + ~0.5kg PSU
345 x 245 x 21.8-22.8 mm
13.58" x 9.65" x 0.86-0.9"
(w x d x h)
KeyboardRed backlit (3 levels including off)
Connection PortsRight side: 1xKensington key, HDMI v1.4, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C
Left: RJ-45 (1Gbit), AC power, USB 3.0, SD Card Slot, microphone jack, headset jack (DAC)
Rear: DisplayPort
Camera1080P 30FPS
WiFi / EthernetWiFi: Killer Wireless-n/a/ac 1525 Wireless Network Adapter
Ethernet: Qualcomm Atheros Ar81xx/Atheros e2400 PCI-E Ethernet Controller
Speakers / Audio2.0 Dynaudio speakers
Realtek ALC889
ESS SABRE HiFi DAC
Battery61Wh, 4 cells
Bios / EC version (test unit)E14A1IMS.106 /
Extra features

Build quality, Case, design and looks

Well, the MSI GS40 body feels all-plastic. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly looks and feels as such. It’s not bad by itself. Most of the chassis will bend a bit under high pressure – nothing too bad, but the parts ‘above’ the keyboard and around the hinges do yield under mild and even low pressure. The display’s outer lid is yielding under light pressure, which is a problem and a proper protection is needed if the laptop is carried in a bag, for example. The keyboard’s surface will also yield a bit under typing level pressure.

I also felt the the power plug is not that firm and a bit loose.

So, bottom line, the MSI GS40 chassis build quality isn’t that great, given that it’s a ‘premium’ laptop and there is a need to watch for the display health.

Looks

 

Maintenance and inner parts

Opening the MSI GS40 6QE is not hard and includes something like 8-10 screws. In this version, you’ll see the HDD, M.2 NVMe SSD, ~60Whr battery, two DDR4 slots. The M.2 slot is an “M” key slot and can house a PCIe x4 SSD.

MSI GS40 6QE Review : motherboard and inner parts

The CPU has two heatpipes and enjoys one dedicated heatpipe which is quite close to the fan. The GPU has three dedicated heatpipe, one of them is pretty big and leads to a dedicated ventilation fins set. The other two of them (the smaller ones) lead to the side ventilation fins set. This is a good configuration of heatpipes because it takes into account a various load scenarious on the CPU and the GPU.

Keyboard and touchpad

Keyboard. The keyboard quality is actually pretty good. The feedback is very good, and so is the responsiveness. Add to the clear pressure points, sufficient resistance and good travel depth and it makes a keyboard that is very comfortable for typing, with low relative ratio of misclicks and fingers that do not hurt. A little better resistance at the deeper points could make it even better, but that’s fine the way it is. Keys texture could be nicer.

Touchpad. The touchpad is quite average, but with a smooth surface so the fingers don’t get “stuck”. However, it’s not sensitive enough to a point that using it with gloves is a problem (no matter what is the configuration).

Sound & Speakers

MSI really tried to save on the speakers. Two speakers at the front’s bottom provides the waves, but don’t excel in it. Bass is obviously a big issue and barely exists and generally, many kinds of sound that should have been there (even compared to my lousy latitude e7440’s speakers) and that’s true with or without the “Nahimic” software bundled with the laptop. I don’t see why couldn’t they just invest few more dollars and get a little better speakers.

Anyway, there is a dedicated DAC which should be a little plus for head mounted speakers of a kind.

Bottom line, not that great and better not expect too much.

General subjective performance experience

Common performance is very good, probably also thanks to the 128GB NVMe SSD.

Added CPU-Z and GPU-Z screenshots.

 

Gaming Performance

Test Methods & Drivers

OS : Windows 10, fully updated

Drivers: Nvidia Geforce 361.60 Hotfix

Synthetic 3D benchmarks

3DMark performance – link to source:

MSI GS40 6QE Review 3DMark benchmark

Summarized gaming performance

The usual GTX 970M + I7 gaming performance:

 

Crysis 3

MSI GS40 Review Crysis 3 GTX 970M benchmarksMSI GS40 6QE Review : CPU & GPU core clocks Crysis 3 1080p

Thief

Thief sees some advantage using Mantle API over the DX11. Heavily Vulkan/DX12 optimized games/game engines should see much higher improvements.

MSI GS40 Review Thief GTX 970M benchmarks

Bioshock Infinite

MSI GS40 Review Bioshock Infinite GTX 970M benchmarks

Civilization : Beyond Earth

Sorry, couldn’t make it run..

Total War : Attila

The new iteration of Total War : Rome II, Attila is a much more demanding game and FPSs are much lower.

MSI GS40 Review Total War Attila GTX 970M benchmarks

Metro : Last Light

MSI GS40 Review Metro Last Light GTX 970M benchmarks

Battlefield 4 Campaign

BF4 campaign benchmark

MSI GS40 Review Battlefield 4 GTX 970M benchmarks

World of Tanks

MSI GS40 Review World of Tanks GTX 970M benchmarks

Elite : Dangerous

Lenovo Y700 AMD Review Elite Dangerous M385X benchmarks

Shadow Of Mordor

Dragon Age : Inquisition

MSI GS40 Review Dragon Age Inquisition GTX 970M benchmarks

Anno 2205

MSI GS40 Review Anno2205 GTX 970M benchmarks

Fallout 4

The new Fallout 4 is rather demanding, but the benefits of the high graphics presets are not clear to me.

MSI GS40 Review Fallout 4 GTX 970M benchmarks

Thermals, Throttling & Noise handling

As described before, the GPU and CPU has two heatpipes which are connected to two fans. Cool air sucked from the bottom of the machine (hence, it’s important to keep its bottom above the sitting surface) and is thrown from the rear ventilation hole.

Four tests:

1. Idle, power saver mode

2. Gaming : Crysis 3 gameplay. “very high” settings with SMAAx2 For Crysis 3, “High performance” power mode.

3. Prime95 torture test. “High performance” power mode.

4. Prime95 + Furmark on 1366×768 test, AAx2. “High performance” power mode.

MSI GS40 Review CPU and GPU temperatures updated

Heat

Under high load of Prime95 + Furmark, the upper parts of the keyboard get a hotter, especially the right part where the GPU and GPU cooling system is located, but not reaching annoying levels where it matters. The right palm rest also gets a little warmer. Given the small figure of this laptop, the cooling system does a good job. Check my master painting!MSI GS40 keyboard surface temps

Throttling

Under Furmark + Prime95 load, the I7-6700HQ automatically downclocks to the base clocks. The GPU core also downclocks to around 900-950MHZ. Applying -100mV to the I7-6700HQ core voltages results in higher clocks under Prime95, but with Furmark, the CPU again downclocks after a while, however it takes more time. ThrottleStop 8.00 was of no help with this machine. I think the reason is TDP or some kind of power limitation + MSI’s algorithm, but not temperatures.

While running Crysis 3, the CPU core clocks could keep 3-3.1GHZ and the GPU core its max core clocks of around 1037MHZ.

MSI GS40 6QE Review : Prime95 temperatures MSI GS40 6QE Review : Prime95 -100mV temperatures MSI GS40 6QE Review : Furmark + Prime95 temperatures MSI GS40 6QE Review : Furmark + Prime95 temperatures w/ -100mV core clocks MSI GS40 6QE Review : CPU & GPU core clocks Crysis 3 1080p

Noise

  1. Under light load, the laptop was generally quiet, if you set the the MSI power settings “green”. “comfort” or “sport” would result in some noise even under light load, even with 0% load.
  2. Under high load of gaming or Furmark+Prime95, the fans were very audible.

Screen & Screen quality

The GS40 uses the LG Display LP140WF3-SPD1 IPS 1080p display. Colors are good and so are viewing angles with the usual small distortion in colors – remember that these pictures were shot in (non-direct) sublight, so this is part of the reason for the small distortions. Contrast is relatively good and maximal brightness is high. Color accuracy may be lacking, though, relatively to some other higher end displays.

 

I found no PWM signs in my simple camera-based test, but I might be wrong. If indeed there is PWM mechnism in use for more common brightness settings, then it’s great. I didn’t feel eyes aches when using this screen so it might be just true.

I’m adding the xRite i1Profiler contrast and brightness readings, because they are different from the Spyder4Elite I use:

ContrastWhite LuminenceBlack LuminenceScreen Brightness
983.1649831652920.297100.00%
988.95027624311790.18150.00%
100870.8720.00%

MSI GS40 LP140WF3-SPD1 ICM calibration file

ContrastBrightnessBlack levelssRGBadobeRGBNTSC
6002280.38916964

Battery Performance

Battery performance isn’t that great. The MSI GS40 would quickly spike up its power consumption upon some kind of work load.

MSI GS40 6QE Review : Battery performance

Issues

Competing gaming laptops / Alternatives

Conclusion

Well, the MSI GS40 6QE is a very nice compact gaming laptop. It does most of what you’d except : very good gaming performance, very good 1080p IPS display, reasonable temperatures even under highest load, and it’s compact and lightweight. Keyboard is very good in my experience, at least for most people. The 16GB DDR4 RAM and 128GB NVMe SSD makes it even better and result in a very good experience overall. The Thunderbolt 3 makes it more future proof (hoping for an eGPU) and the DAC is a nice touch for people with good sound systems or $50 earphones (-:

However, some drawbacks. Speakers are one and build quality is the second with outer lid and some other parts of the chassis not being as rigid as you’d expect. The power plug is a bit loose too. The softness of the outer lid could result in some damage to the display under pressure and you’d need some padding and some hard cover to protect it. Battery performance isn’t great under reasonable work loads with power consumption too easily spiking up. Finally, the thermal performance isn’t as great as you’d want and although temperatures remain in the safe and even rather low zone (for such hardware), the noise levels are pretty high even at very low loads.

There are other few small things, but they’re not really that bad – only 2 slots for DDR4 and only 2xUSB ports including the TB3.

So, my conclusion is mixed, though as a compact gaming laptop it does has almost all of it and really almost convincing. Ofcourse, if that’s what you are looking for, and you can handle the noise, then this is a very good laptop for you. If they could just reduce the noise levels, we could forget the rest. Let’s see what the competition has to offer with Gigabytes’ P34Wv5 and then we’ll think it over. OK?

.

  • Thanks for the detailed write-up! Out of curiosity, aren’t all 970M machines pretty much loud like jet engines though?

    • Thanks!
      Not at all, many aren’t, like the GT72, Acer Predator and others which are more bulkier. Even the old Clevo P650SE and the newer P651 are relatively quiet..
      The 14.0″ laptops are louder also because they can – there isn’t much competition + not many people are reading and checking and stuff like that

      • Yeah – I think in the 14 (or less) form factor w/ these GPUs crammed in there, something’s gotta give. I remember my 2014 Razer (which I sold recently) being crazy loud when pushing graphics quality on most games.

        Looking for a 4 lb or less laptop w/ a solid GPU is difficult (there’s always something, sigh).

        • Ofcourse there is always something – how would they sell if they’ll do *one* good product (in their eyes)?
          But, then again, that’s what Apple – supposedly – did

          Anyway, you can get the G501VW with GTX 960M for $800 now, but it’s 4.54lbs

          I would suggest waiting few months to see what’s going on with eGPUs

  • yurk

    Hi again,
    nice review! is it possible to replace the screen and achieve the
    high brightness (and quality) as in asus rog?

    • yes! why twice!

      • yurk

        Lol, thanks,
        to my understanding, the brightness might be disabled (in bios maybe)?
        did you hear otherwise for the y700? any recommendations for an alternative panel?

        • What do you mean that the brightness could be disable?

          There are few, yes. You can get the good old B156HAN01.2

          http://www.laptopscreen.com/English/screen-part-number/B156HAN01.2/

          • yurk

            i can’t speak from a technical point of view, but i heard that the brightness of the panel can be REDUCED by the laptop’s manufacturer, (maybe in bios?) do you know anything about that?

            • I’m pretty sure they can – they can change also other parameters. But the default bios is unlocked and you can’t do that from there
              Why would you want it?

              • yurk

                what do you mean by “default bios”? it’s not possible to control the brightness (if indeed lenovo has limited the maximum brightness)? did you come across any users that upgraded the screen?
                i need the extra brightness for working outdoors. it doesn’t seem like the current panel will suit this purpose.
                currently the alternatives are y700 or vn7-571g, but i prefer the y700 (specifically in this price range i can only choose a dell, msi, lenovo. hp or acer)

                • 1. The maximal brightness of the Y700’s display is pretty high
                  2. The bios in most laptops is locked. Some business grade laptops (like Dell Latitude or the Thinkpads) are unlocked mostly. In the Y700, VN7, PE60/GE62, Dell 7559 and many others, you’d find a only small range of configurable options in the bios

                  • yurk

                    thanks, that help a lot. i guess that there isn’t a way to check prior to purchasing if the brightness is disabled in bios.
                    218 nits is high?.. i don’t need the screen to be very bright. were you able view the content of the screen on near a window in a sunny day, or outside in the shade, without squinting too hard?