The MSI GS30 Shadow is an interesting product. On one hand, it is a lightweight and portable laptop with a very capable processor and integrated graphics. But once the laptop is connected to the GamingDock, it turns into one beastly gaming machine that can be equipped with a desktop graphics card. While this is a very interesting take on portability and power (when you need it), is it worth its asking price that starts from RM7,499?
First, let’s take a look at the portable aspect of the MSI GS30 Shadow: the laptop. At first glance, it hardly look like a gaming machine. Measuring only 19.8mm thin and weighing a mere 1.2kg, this is definitely a very portable laptop. I’d be honest: I was kinda hoping MSI would sell the laptop separately from the GamingDock. That’s how much I like it as a productivity machine.
While the GS30 doesn’t look like a gaming laptop at first, it changes once I powered it on. The first thing that got my attention is the strip of light on the bottom chassis of the GS30. It gives the impression that it is not a typical everyday laptop. At first, I like how it looks, but once I found out it cannot be disabled, I’d rather not have it in the first place. Not only does it get distracting after some time (especially in low-light surroundings), it also unnecessarily drains the battery, no matter how miniscule the power draw might be.
Complaints aside, I do like the overall design of the GS30. The keyboard has a standard layout, and the power button does look rather cool. I also like the pretty thick rubber feet, not to mention the generous amount of connectivity options, including two USB 3.0 ports, a full-sized HDMI port, an SD card reader, and an ethernet port is also a plus point.
The GS30’s GamingDock, on the other hand, isn’t as sleek as the laptop. Basically, it is shaped like a printer with two speakers and one woofer placed at the front of it. Thankfully, MSI has unveiled a slimmer and much sleeker-looking GamingDock that is a lot like a laptop cooler. While the dock we reviewed isn’t as aesthetically pleasing, I do like the four extra USB 3.0 ports that it offers.
Off the bat, the GS30’s matte display is nice and vibrant. I’m glad MSI didn’t decide to go all out and equip it with a display that is anything above 1080p. Any resolution higher than this is simply not ideal; especially for a gaming laptop.
When I started typing on the GS30, I was very impressed at how much travel the keys have. As I mentioned, the keyboard has a standard layout (which is always good), and they have a nice finish to it. In short, It’s simply bliss to type on this machine. The trackpad also tracks my fingers accurately. Why do you think I wish MSI sold the laptop separately from the GamingDock?
That being said, not all is well with the GS30. Even though the laptop itself is not equipped with a dedicated graphics card, it gets noticeably loud when put under load. While it doesn’t get too loud (like the Aorus X7 Pro), it does break the silence in a quiet environment.
When the GS30 is connected to the GamingDock, it’s the same case. Again, it’s not loud enough for someone to mistake it for a vacuum cleaner, but it is noticeable enough to raise a few eyebrows in the office. This is especially the case when I start gaming on it.
In terms of audio quality, the GS30 offers pretty good sound quality, but I wish it was louder. Don’t get me wrong; the speakers are not whisper quiet, but they’re not the loudest in the market either. The GamingDock’s speakers, on the other hand, can get very loud, but the audio quality could use some improvement in terms of clarity.
The GS30 was really enjoyable to use. I absolutely love its keyboard, and the matte display makes it possible to use the laptop outdoors without much issue. I just wish the system noise and audio were better. That being said, it is still one impressive product.
Our GS30 Shadow review unit is the top-of-the-line configuration that costs RM10,999, which comes equipped with a beastly NVIDIA GeForce GTX980 graphics card. It also offers 512GB of SSD storage instead of the 256GB SSD of the RM7,499 variant, which doesn’t come equipped with any graphics card either.
For this part, I will be splitting the benchmark results into two sections: laptop mode, and desktop mode. Let’s begin with the laptop mode results:
Based on these results, the Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 in the GS30 is pretty capable. At its lowest settings, all of the tested games are very playable at more than 30fps. At medium settings, however, the integrated graphics is clearly struggling, with only Tomb Raider and Grid 2 being somewhat playable.
At the highest settings, none of the five games I have tested were playable. I actually couldn’t finish the Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4 tests as they were impossible to play. If you notice, the result for the 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra benchmark test is also missing. That was because I couldn’t get the test to finish no matter how many times i ran it.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff: the desktop mode benchmark results.
The power of the GeForce GTX 980 truly shows in these results. All of the games are very playable regardless of the settings, and most of them – except for Crysis 3 – are also running at more than 60fps at the highest settings. At that frame rate, the games are very, very enjoyable to play. It’s extremely satisfying to see such demanding games run so fluidly, but this is expected of the GTX 980 graphics card; not that it isn’t impressive.
If you’re wondering why the PCMark 8 Home Conventional 3.0 test score is much higher on desktop mode, that is because I am using the laptop mode score from the battery test. This suggests that there is some degree of throttling on battery power, which isn’t all that surprising.
This is where the GS30 Shadow shows its weakness. I’ll just let the battery test results do the talking. Before the tests were done, I ensured the laptop was running on the high performance power plan. The display is also set to full brightness with the volume at 50%. The laptop is also constantly connected to WiFi throughout the tests:
Yes, the GS30 has a pretty short battery life, but this doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. While other “productivity laptops” (such as the excellent Dell XPS 13 and Asus ZenBook UX305) can last much longer than the GS30, it’s worth noting that this laptop is equipped with an Intel Core I7-4870HQ processor, which consumes more power than the Core U Series processors commonly found on said laptops. However, MSI could have still fit in a bigger battery into the GS30 to improve its battery life.
In terms of competition, the MSI GS30 is arguably in a class of its own. What other product offers the same kind of flexibility?
Well, to some extent, the Dell Alienware 13.
Just like the GS30, the Alienware 13 can be equipped with a desktop graphics card as well through the use of the Dell Alienware Graphics Amplifier. Unlike the GS30, however, the top-of-the-line Alienware 13 has a sharper 3200 x 1800 touch display and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M instead of an integrated graphics.
That being said, there are a few reasons why the GS30 is arguably the better buy. For starters, it has a faster Core i7-4870HQ processor vs the Alienware 13’s Core i5-5200U chip. The GS30 also has twice the amount of RAM at 16GB, not to mention the fact that it is considerably lighter and slimmer than the Alienware 13.
In terms of pricing, the Alienware 13 costs RM6,938 with the Alienware Graphics Amplifier bundled together. The GS30, on the other hand, costs RM7,499 without any dedicated graphics card. At the end of the day, the GS30 would cost more in order for it to offer the same or better gaming performance as the Alienware 13.
I really, really like the MSI GS30 Shadow. I love the idea of having a lightweight portable laptop when I’m out and about, and when I’m home, I can just connect it on the GamingDock to turn it into one beastly gaming machine. It’s a shame it had to be priced at such a high price point.
For RM7,499 (which, again, doesn’t even come with a dedicated graphics card), I can opt to build a gaming desktop of my own with enough money to spare for a portable laptop. The only issue with this idea is the fact that I would have to deal with two separate storage drives rather than a unified one, but it’s a sacrifice I would gladly accept rather than paying for the GS30’s steep price tag.
That being said, I would love for the GS30’s concept to be improved upon. MSI’s recent unveiling of a sleeker and smaller GamingDock is a step in the right direction. If future manufacturers can take this concept into the next level and price the products competitively, we might be seeing a whole new market segment that could prove to be really popular.
I know I’ll be excited for that day to come.