The days of gaming laptops looking like hulking behemoths are at an end. The MSI GS60 Ghost, the latest in the company’s line of sleek powerhouses, sports a 15.6-inch screen but is less than an inch thick and weighs only 4.2 pounds, making it one of the lightest gaming notebooks in the world. the Ghost packs a powerful Intel Core i7 CPU, Nvidia’s new 800 series GPU and a captivating 1080p display, making this a gaming rig that’s powerful, portable and ready to play.
There’s a new fad trending in the world of gaming laptops, and we like it: thin, light and simple. Three years ago, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a gaming rig that fit those adjectives, but they’re perfectly suitable for the GS60 Ghost. Save for a few manufacturer logos, a silver-accented mousepad and a small, angular shelf surrounding the keyboard, this laptop is as plain as they come. There are no gaudy color schemes, aggressive shapes or unnecessary embellishments – just a lightly brushed, black magnesium-alloy chassis.
This simple elegance doesn’t cripple the device’s connectivity options, either – Ethernet, Mini DisplayPort and HDMI sockets run down the laptop’s right edge, accompanied by an SD card reader and a USB 3.0 port. Two more USB 3.0 connections fill out the device’s left side, flanked by a pair of audio jacks and the machine’s AC adapter. Air vents circle around the back of the GS60’s slim 0.78-inch frame, quietly teasing the graphical prowess hidden within. All in all, if it weren’t for MSI’s Dragon Army branding on the lid, the GS60 Ghost could easily be mistaken for a 15-inch Ultrabook.
While the notebook’s metal frame lends it the countenance of a sturdy, well-built machine, it also makes it an easy target for scratches – which is probably why MSI ships a soft, zippered case with every unit. The protective sleeve is only lightly padded, but it’s a nice freebie nonetheless.
The Ghost’s 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 display delivers all the visual oohs and aahs we’ve come to expect from an MSI panel. The company will also offer a 3K Edition laptop that features a 2880 x 1620 screen.
The matte anti-glare panel rendered images so well, we couldn’t stop staring at a collection of cardinal-red houses on the screen. The picture was sharp enough to see individual blades of grass, as well as the veins of the leaves on the emerald green bushes growing around each of the buildings.
The laptop continued to impress during the 1080p “Maleficent” trailer. We appreciated the fine wrinkles and creases in the main character’s headdress and robe along with the delicate filigree on baby Aurora’s gold-and-white blanket. The viewing angles are wide enough to comfortably accommodate three people. “Borderlands 2” was scene after scene of gorgeous cel-shaded graphics. Intricate details, such as the rivets in Handsome Jack’s mask, were on full display.
When we measured brightness, the GS60 averaged 319 lux, easily outshining the 223 lux mainstream average.
Outfitted with a pair of Dynaudio speakers coupled with SoundBlaster Cinema 2 software, the GS60 filled our test space with loud audio. Volume isn’t everything, however, as we found that the speakers were consistently thin in the bass. In addition, the usually docile harmonies on Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” were rather piercing due to harsh highs that drowned out the already weak percussion.
The audio improved when we began playing “Borderlands 2,” as the Ghost’s speakers delivered passable oomph for the game’s various explosions. Character dialogue on the GS60 was nice and crisp, evoking our usual giggles as we cut a wide swath of carnage through a countryside filled with monsters and bandits.
On the Laptop Audio Test (measuring a constant tone at a distance of 23 inches from the laptop), the GS60 achieved 84 decibels, which is short of the 87dB mainstream average.
The colorful backlighting was plenty bright, allowing us to easily type in dim settings. In addition to setting colors and effects on different keyboard zones, you can create custom profiles for different applications. Similar to Razer’s Synapse 2.0 software, gamers can assign actions to every key on the keyboard. Setting individual keystrokes and macros was as simple as selecting a key, entering the command and hitting Save. The interface also offers a Statistics feature that shows how a particular user engages with the keyboard, highlighting the most frequently used keys.
Setting up our own personal light show continues to be a favorite activity. The SteelSeries utility offers seven effects, including Breathing, Wave and Gaming. Depending on the effect, these split the keyboard into up to three zones. After picking an effect, we clicked a zone to customize the color. SteelSeries provides the ability to create four separate color layers in one profile, allowing GS60 owners to switch lighting setups on the fly.
The 4.1 x 2.75-inch Elan touchpad gave us plenty of space to maneuver. More important, the device let us smoothly navigate Web pages and documents as well as perform multitouch gestures such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and rotate and three-finger swipe. Using Windows gestures to switch between apps or launch the Charms menu took only a quick flick of the wrist to the left or right. The bottom corners of the touchpad served as suitable mouse buttons, providing gentle clicks when pressed.
After streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad on the GS60 measured 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys was slightly warmer at 87 degrees. The laptop’s underside reached a warm 109 degrees, which is well above our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, we were able to use the notebook in our lap for more than an hour with no ill effect.
The GS60 employs a dual-fan thermal cooling system in an attempt to keep things cool and quiet when gaming. However, after playing “The Cave” for 15 minutes, the laptop’s undercarriage registered a rather uncomfortable 119 degrees. The touchpad measured 88 degrees and the space between the G and H keys hit 93 degrees.
The Ghost’s 720p webcam captured warm colors when shooting photos and videos. The camera caught the red undertones in our skin for a more natural-looking complexion. The camera also accurately displayed the light blue of a banner in the background. The visual detail left much to be desired, however, as images were plagued with grainy pixels.
The GS60 strikes a good balance between maintaining a thin profile and having enough ports to satisfy gamers. The right side is outfitted with a single USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort, HDMI, Gigabyte Ethernet and a 3-in-1 card reader. An additional pair of USB 3.0 ports are on the left alongside a secure lock slot, gold-plated jacks for headphones and a microphone, and a power jack.
The MSI GS60 Ghost houses a Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. The middle child of Nvidia’s 800 series, the 860 isn’t as powerful as the 880M, but it still packs a punch. On those few occasions when we weren’t gaming, Nvidia’s Optimus technology switched the notebook over to the Intel HD Graphics 4600 integrated GPU to conserve power.
The laptop delivered gangbuster results on our tests, scoring a whopping 102,334 on 3DMark Ice Storm, more than doubling the 49,361 average. The Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p’s pair of Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPUs hit 71,550, while the Razer Blade 14’s Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M GPU notched 89,963.
Thanks to a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ CPU with 16GB of RAM, the MSI GS60 Ghost is a lean, mean productivity machine. During our real-world testing, the laptop smoothly streamed an episode of “Star Wars: Clone Wars” on Netflix with 12 open tabs in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome–all while performing a full system scan.
The GS60’s 128GB mSATA SSD and 1TB 7,200-rpm hard drive booted Windows 8.1 in 11 seconds, cruising past the 20-second average. That time was enough to beat the Y510p’s (1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive) 19-second load time, but the Blade 14’s (256GB SSD) started in 7 seconds.
During the Laptop Mag Battery Test–surfing the Web over Wi-Fi at 100 nits (30 percent brightness for this notebook)–the MSI GS60 Ghost lasted 5 hours and 34 minutes, matching the mainstream average.
MSI has proved that you can make a slim 15-inch gaming rig without making serious trade-offs. The $1,799 GS60 Ghost offers lightweight portability with strong graphics, fairly good battery life and a lovely wide-angle 1080p display. MSI also includes software that enhances your game play and a keyboard with fun, customizable backlighting.