Gaming notebooks Reviews

MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro review – ultraportable with NVidia 1060

There's no other 17-inch notebook like the MSI GS73VR right now

 

MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro review – 17-inch ultraportable with Nvidia 1060 graphics and a 120 Hz screen
MSI laptop’s keyboard

Our score for MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro: 4..15 / 5
Price when reviewed: $1799 – $2199

 

 

THE GOOD

MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro have Excellent keyboard; 120Hz screen; Good color gamut; External GPU compatibility; Portable, with a powerful GPU; Fast performance and good thermals

THE BAD

the bottom casing of MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro may have sharp edges; slow SD card reader speeds; difficult to upgrade SSD and ram

Now that Pascal GPUs have finally hit the market and NVidia has announced that the mobile specific models are no more, we’re finally starting to see some Pascal laptops hit the market.  As usual, MSI, Asus, and Gigabyte are quick to the punch.  There are a number of options available with the GTX 1070 and 1080 chips, but all of them are very thick and heavy laptops.  I set my sights on the models containing 1060, in hopes, there will be a thin and light laptop to suit my wants and needs.

I’ll admit, I am a little disappointed in what Asus and Gigabyte have to offer so far.  It’s pretty much more of the same as last year, only with a better GPU.  But MSI appears to have redesigned their models a little, which perked my interest.  Specifically, the GS73VR and GS63VR are more compact models of the GS70 and GS60.

I decided to give the Stealth Pro GS73VR a shot first since I’m really interested in having a 17” laptop that can fit in my bag and won’t weigh a ton.  The model I received has a FHD 120Hz screen, which is a pretty cool feature to have on a laptop since it’s not widely available in most other options.  Given my past use of the GS60, I have some expectations in this new model.

Keep reading, to see how I feel about it after a week’s usage.

The specs sheet of MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro

MSI Stealth Pro GS73VR
Screen17.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, TN, 120 Hz, Wide angle and gamut
ProcessorIntel Sky Lake Core i7-6700HQ CPU, quad-core 2.6 GHz (3.5Ghz boost)
VideoNVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5 VRAM and Intel HD 530 (with Optimus)
Memory16 GB DDR4 2400Mhz
Storage256GB M.2 SATA + 1 TB 5200rpm HDD
ConnectivityKiller Wireless-AC 1535, Qualcomm Atheros Bluetooth 4.1
Ports3x USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 1.4b, mini-DP, USB 2.0, mic, earphone, ethernet
Battery65 Wh
Operating systemWindows 10
Size412 mm or 16.21” (w) x 285 mm or 11.21” (d) x 19.5 mm or .77” (h)
Weight2.43 kg or 5.35 lb
ExtrasMulti-colored backlit keyboard, trackpad, FHD webcam

Design and first look of MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro

If you ever handled an MSI GS60 or GS70, the GS73VR will seem very familiar.  The construction on the outside is very similar and the materials used are pretty much the same.  The laptop is solid black and the metal is made of a magnesium/aluminum alloy, same as the previous years.   Being only .77” thick and under 5 and a half pounds, the weight and overall balance is pretty good.  The build quality also feels well-constructed, with the exception of one major detail which I’ll get to in a moment.  For the most part though, the level of quality is pretty good.

The lid has a smooth brushed look.  There are two small ridges on the sides, which don’t stand out a whole lot and look pretty nice.  The typical MSI logo adorns the lid with the text “Gaming G Series”.  Like I’ve said in previous reviews, I don’t like this emblem at all, especially since it glows with the backlight and can’t be turned off.  If you’re looking for a thin and powerful laptop that can pass as looking professional, this logo pretty much ruins it.

I was kind of surprised the lid didn’t open with one hand like in the past.  MSI really beefed up the hinge strength on this model.  It’s unfortunate, but at the same time, the laptop feels more securely shut when the lid is closed.

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Under the lid is a 17.3” matte panel, which I’ll cover in more detail shortly.  The panel is surrounded by a plastic bezel with the MSI logo adorning the bottom part.  The bezel isn’t overly thick, except for the bottom.  The design is an improvement over the previous model since the bezel now snaps inside the metal lid, instead of fusing them together and having a gap on the edge.

The keyboard and palm rest area is pretty much all metal.  All the top edges are well rounded and won’t cut into your wrists when typing.  The SteelSeries keyboard is recessed slightly below the palm rest to make room for the screen when the lid closes.  Above the keyboard are some intake vents for the CPU and GPU.  To the right of the vents is a power button, which is actually just a piece of metal that bends to actuate a switch when pressed.  It’s a pretty clever idea, however, numerous times I have pressed it and failed to turn on the laptop on the first try.  I’d prefer an actual button, in hindsight.

Above the vents are those strong hinges.  The casing for the hinges is plastic, but it feels very sturdy and will likely never get touched.  It matches the metal pretty well, so it’s tough to notice it’s even plastic.  The gap between the lid and the hinge is pretty large, and in my opinion, kind of ugly.  I find myself noticing it a lot, especially since I usually have a light on in the distance in front of me.

Below the keyboard, centered below the space bar is the trackpad, which I’ll cover in more detail along with the keyboard in the next section.  The edges of the trackpad are chamfered and have a red color.  I prefer the neutral silver color of the previous models but it still looks very nice.  It’s also a decent distance from the lip of the laptop, which is a small gripe I had with the GS60.

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When I originally reviewed the FHD version, I had some sharp edges on the bottom cover, as you can see from the lineouts above.  I assumed it was a factory defect but there were many complaints about it in the forums, so the defect was a little more widespread than I had hoped.  I got a tip that the 4k version didn’t have the issue though and it turns out they were correct.

It’s probably just a bad lot and hopefully, it’s limited to just a few units.  Nonetheless, this is something you should be wary of when receiving your unit.  Check it carefully and be prepared to exchange it if you aren’t happy.  The good thing is MSI is capable of fixing it because the 4k unit I received is completely tolerable.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than the previous version.

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Another small issue I have with the bottom cover is the mounts.  There are 9 of them, which is good considering the size of the laptop, but I think one of the mounts is a little off.  My front left corner slightly depresses when I rest my palms down to type on a tabletop.  It’s only a minor annoyance and it can probably be corrected by messing with the mount, but I wanted to mention it.

Still, on the topic of the bottom cover, it’s littered with stickers.  You have to see the pictures to understand what I mean, but MSI really continues to put an excessive amount of information on the bottom cover, with no way to hide it.  You can peel most of these off but I have no idea how that would affect your warranty, especially since one of the stickers is actually a warranty sticker.

I think I’ve beaten the bottom cover to death, so let’s move on to the options on the sides and front.  The front is simple – there are no connectivity options but there are a number of indicator lights on the right-hand side.  The symbols make them self-explanatory and the color coming from them is red.  The holes are so tiny, but don’t be fooled – that light shining through is super bright!  It’s a small step down in intensity from them using lasers.  At night, I can see a red glow on my shirt, from the light emitted.  It’s fine really, but I do find the rapid blinking sleep indicator a little distracting to see blinking when all the lights are out.   A touch of Sharpie would fix the problem.

MSI went all out with the connectivity options on the sides.  Starting on the left-hand side is a Kensington lock, Ethernet port, SD card reader, 3x USB 3.0 ports, a HiFi headphone jack and a dedicated microphone jack.  The GPU exhaust vent is also located on the left-hand side (which is two fans btw).

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The right-hand side also has an exhaust vent for the CPU fan (one fan).  Additionally, there is the power adapter, a mini-DisplayPort, HDMI, Thunderbolt 3 and a USB 2.0 port.  I don’t really understand the USB 2.0 port but it should be fine for those that use a wireless USB mouse.  I do have an issue with the power adapter positioning though because the wire tends to get in the way of my mouse since I’m right handed.

Most of the ports work well but I did struggle a little bit with connecting some devices to the USB 3.0 ports on the left-hand side.  The right-hand USB port was fine though.  Upon a closer inspection, it looks like the alignment of the ports is ever so slightly off on my unit.  They all still work, it just takes a little more effort than I’m used to.

This misalignment might also be the cause of the abnormal fit of the bottom cover.  It could be that the cutouts on the casing don’t match the motherboard correctly and the outer edges are being pushed outward away from the cover.  That could also be why the edges of the ports also feel a tad sharp because normally the USB ports would be flush with them.  Regardless, this is something I would expect to not be an issue on such an expensive machine.

Keyboard and trackpad on MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro

The SteelSeries keyboard on the GS73VR is identical to previous designs and is arguably the best keyboard I’ve ever typed on, for such a thin notebook.  Typing on it felt very natural and the keys are all properly spaced apart.  I took a typing test and scored about 4 wpm higher than my average and made no mistakes.

I did some thorough checking and there was hardly any keyboard flex at all.  The key travel is actually really impressive, measuring an average of 2.2mm of travel per key.  The feedback is also stellar, at about 65 grams of force needed to apply a keypress.  There are very few thin laptops out there that don’t skimp on at least one of these spots, due to space constraints.

Another nice feature about the keyboard is it’s RGB backlighting and brightness settings.  There are three brightness levels and hundreds of different color options to choose from.  There are also three different color zones, so you can create different color patterns and effects.  You can’t change the color per key like you can with Gigabyte and Razer’s new laptops, but most probably I wouldn’t use that feature even if they had it though.

The key layout is a little strange and takes some time to get used to.  The Windows key is on the right-hand side instead of the traditional left.  If that bothers you, you can switch the FN and Windows keys in the bios.  Another odd keyboard placement is the delete key, which is hidden away above the Num Pad.

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Another oddity of the keyboard is the font.  It’s not terrible but it’s definitely not professional looking.  Most of the letters lack proper curves, for example with the W and U keys.  It’s another thing you get used to, but if you’re looking for a professional looking machine, this is a score against that.

If you’re familiar with the trackpad on the GS60 and GS70, this one is pretty much the same thing.  It’s has a plastic feel to it and the texture isn’t the greatest but is not bad either.  The key is having dry hands because even the slightest moisture will make the trackpad feel tacky.  I quickly adopted to it because I had a GS60 for so many months, but others might find it takes a little time to get used to.

The good thing is it works very well, once you’re used to it.  It tracks accurately and also allows for a number of multi-touch gestures that work pretty well.  It’s an Elan brand trackpad, so you can pretty much use Elan drivers to get the multi-touch gestures you want.  In fact, I highly recommend changing the drivers if you decide to go with this model and here’s why.

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I have been experiencing a minor issue and I think it’s caused by the drivers that came with the unit.  Occasionally, my trackpad will stop responding when there are a lot of system tasks going on.  Specifically, if I try to open up a big program and glide the mouse pointer across the screen, it will randomly stop or stutter.  It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s enough that it caught my attention.  I uninstalled the drivers and let Windows pick the default ones for Elan.  So far, my problems have disappeared.  If that changes, I’ll be sure to update this post.

In the end, the keyboard and trackpad are both strengths to the machine.  So many other laptops lack in these areas and it’s painful to deal with, especially when spending this kind of money.  If I had to rank keyboards amongst the gaming laptops I’ve dealt with, this one would easily be at the top of my list, even above Alien ware and the Razer Blade.  The trackpad doesn’t rank quite as high, but I’ll put it on my top 5.  The Razer Blade still has the best gaming laptop trackpad, in my opinion.

MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro Screen

The screen on the GS73VR is another highlight of the machine, even though one of its key features is something many will not like.  First of all, it’s a TN display.  But before you stop reading and decide to look elsewhere, I should point out that it’s a REALLY nice TN display – probably the nicest one I’ve ever seen.  It’s a 17.3” matte panel with a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080.  Let’s not forget that it also has a 120 Hz refresh rate.

I tried looking up the technical specs on the panel but, unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, there were zero details online.  The model is Chi Mei CMN1747 and the part number is N173HHE-G32.  The reason I was looking it up was because I was questioning whether or not the panel was IPS or TN.  I was able to confirm it was TN though by looking at the bottom viewing angle.

So many already know this, but one of the biggest weaknesses of TN panels is the horrible viewing angles.  This is not the case with this panel though.  The side to side angles are actually pretty good.  You lose a little brightness, but the colors stay pretty consistent and text is very legible up to about 70ish degrees.  Looking from the top is a similar experience, but unfortunately looking from underneath, the TN starts to show its true colors (get it?).  This is ok though because I cannot think of any time I actually look at my laptop screen from that angle.

The color space is pretty good for this one as well.  Using a Spyder4Pro, I measured sRGB to be 100%, NTSC 85%, and AdobeRGB 88%.  This is excellent for photo work that requires a wide gamut screen.  Sure, it’s not as good as the 100% aRGB panels out there, but it’s still better than other TN panels and even your typical IPS panel.

Screen of the MSI laptop
Screen of the lap

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The contrast ratio was also pretty decent, with levels greater than 700:1 in all brightness levels.  Blacks at full brightness measured .32 nits.  It’s unfortunate though that the screen brightness couldn’t get higher than 280 nits.  That’s pretty decent, sure, but the surrounding edges were typically around 250 nits and it’s not enough to fight the sunlight outdoors – even with the matte finish.  In all indoor lighting conditions, I was able to use it just fine.

  • Panel HardwareID: Chi Mei CMN1747 (N1733HHE-G32);
  • Coverage: 100% sRGB, 85% NTSC, 88% AdobeRGB;
  • Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 282 cd/m2 on power;
  • Contrast at max brightness: 880:1;
  • White point: 6600 K;
  • Black on max brightness: 0.32 cd/m2;

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Below is a chart showing the brightness distribution of the screen and over here you can find the calibrated ICC screen profile.

screen-brightness-coverage

The alternative to this 1080p panel is a 4k screen, which is advertised to have 100% AdobeRGB coverage.  I think many are going to be torn on this decision for a lot of reasons. First off, it’s the same panel as reviewed in the Alienware 17, which is probably the nicest display I’ve ever seen.  The panel is made by AU Optronic and has model number AUO109B or part number B173ZAN01.0.

The 4k screen has a pretty good contrast ratio of about 600:1. Minimum brightness is about 6 nits and the peak brightness was also 310 nits, which is great in order to fight that sun glare.  Blacks at full brightness were .49 nits.  The best part is, I see almost no backlight bleed – something I was very nervous of considering the thin screen construction.

  • Panel HardwareID: AU Optronic AUO109B (B173ZAN01.0);
  • Coverage: 100% sRGB, 98% NTSC, 100% AdobeRGB;
  • Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 310 cd/m2 on power;
  • Contrast at max brightness: 600:1;
  • White point: 6600 K;
  • Black on max brightness: 0.49 cd/m2;

The advantages to the 4k screen are it being IPS, so the viewing angles are pretty much perfect.  The color space is also a lot higher.  I measured 100+% sRGB, 98% NTSC and 100% aRGB.  The crispness of the picture quality is much better than the FHD panel and I found that multitasking is a little easier when reading the smaller text on split screen views.

Below is a chart showing the brightness distribution of the 4k screen.

screen-brightness-coverage-4k

The TN panel has its own advantages though.  120Hz is a huge bonus for FPS gamers.  It’s also a really nice thing for other games because they look that much smoother (assuming you have the graphics settings set up right).  It also has a 5ms response time, which is excellent for FPS gamers as well.  The IPS screen probably has a typical 20-25ms response time.  Finally, the battery life is probably better but keep in mind it’s just a hunch, not fact.  In general, FPS players are going to want this 1080p panel, hands down.

One last thing I’d like to mention about the display is the lack of G-sync support.  I’ve been seeing a lot of feedback in the forums about how terrible it is that some models don’t have G-sync, including this one.  I’m not positive on this, but I assume that MSI and others have ignored G-sync on the thin and light models mainly because of battery life.  My theory is that since Optimus would be disabled (is not compatible with G-sync), the battery life would be abysmal instead of the already so-so status it’s in now.  Those that buy thin gaming laptops are probably interested in using it on the road, so the more battery life, the better.

Let me tell you though if you haven’t actually witnessed G-sync, you probably don’t know what you’re missing.  I only recently saw it for the first time 2 days ago.  Yes, it’s a really nice feature and I can see some slight improvements for sure, but I don’t think I would trade battery life for it.  So, I won’t exactly discredit MSI for omitting it in this model, but I would like for them to consider having an option for it in the future so the buyer can decide.  Maybe with something in the bios that can be changed.

Hardware, performance and upgrade options

So enough about the screen – let’s talk about the rest of the hardware.  This laptop comes with the Sky lake i7-6700HQ quad-core processor.  We’ve seen this same processor in almost every gaming laptop that has come out from late 2015 to the present.  It’s an excellent CPU to put in a thin laptop, balancing power with heat production.  MSI is able to independently cool the CPU with a single CPU fan.

Coupled with 16GB of DDR4 RAM, this laptop is very snappy when it comes to day to day tasks.  Minus that trackpad stuttering issue I mentioned earlier, all programs and games have opened and operated very quickly.  I did a lot of multitasking, including watching movies, surfing the web, a little CAD work and writing this article – all went smoothly.

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The GS73VR is equipped with something special in the graphics dept. – a full NVidia GTX 1060 chip.  I’ve noticed that some on the forums were expecting a GTX 1070, but it should be noted that NVidia has dropped the “m” off the GPU model and is mimicking the desktop variant for laptops.  This GTX 1060 is recognized to be on par with the desktop GTX 980, so you can imagine how much heat it puts off.  The GTX 1070 and 1080 would require a much bigger fan and heatsink.  MSI made the right choice with 1060.

The GPU comes with 6GB of VRAM and is an absolute beast when it comes to handling games.  It gets kind of hot under load, which I discuss in more detail below, but it’s within the “normal” range of thin and light gaming laptops of the past couple years.

Of course, without G-Sync, the GPU runs with switchable graphics using Optimus.  The nice thing about the GS73VR is the power light doubles as an indicator as to what GPU you are using.  Red indicates the iGPU and orange indicate the dGPU.  This is a welcome departure from the giant circle that went from blue to orange in the previous models, but it’s unfortunate you can’t change the colors to anything you desire.  The red really clashes with the keyboard backlighting if you choose any color but red.

As far as upgrades go, you’ll have to break the warranty sticker to get inside.  Once in there though, it’s a pretty easy task to update the 1TB HDD, if desired.  But getting to the SSD and RAM is another story.  It’s a delicate operation and it will require unscrewing the motherboard and be getting to the other side.  I’ve done this before with the GS60 and while it’s a time-consuming task, it’s not that difficult provided you are organized and patient (and you know what you’re doing).  If you’re uncomfortable with this, just make sure you buy a configuration with the right RAM and SSD from the beginning.

I’ve put up together a step by step guide on how to access the internals on the MSI GS73 and you should check it out here if interested in upgrading any of the components.

Speaking of the SSD, MSI kind of cheaped out and went with an SATA M.2 instead of an NVMe.  I say “kind of” because although it’s SATA, it’s still a pretty decent one.  If you compare it to the crappy PM951 NVMe drives the other guys are putting in their machines, the speeds aren’t all that different.  If it keeps MSI’s prices down, I’m OK with it.  Besides, I really doubt most users could tell any real-life difference.

I ran some benchmarks, which you can see below.  I also ran Time Spy for the first time.  I haven’t done any research on this one, but hopefully, it’s a better balance of the CPU and GPU that relates to how games actually play.  I also benchmarked a number of games to give you an idea of how 1060 performs.

Here’s what I got:

  • 3Dmark 13:  Time Spy – 3579, Fire Strike – 9497, Sky Diver – 23551; Max CPU temp 84C, Max GPU temp 76C
  • PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 3252, Accelerated –  3751 with 73 C max temp
  • CineBench R15: OpenGL 100.13 fps, CPU 678 pts, CPU Single Core 119 pts.
  • Fallout 4– Around Lexington and Corvega Plant during a thunderstorm. Lots of fighting.
    • Ultra-settings, Max AA and AP 1080p – 48-60fps
    • Default high settings at 1080p – 60 fps
  • Witcher 3– Played through the opening scene and the battle tutorial
    • Ultra, 1080p – 45-50fps
    • High, 1080p – 65-70fps
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition– Walked around one of the first camps and got into a battle. Played for about 10 minutes for each session.
    • Default ultra-settings, MSAA x2 at 1080p – 49-54fps
    • Default high settings, no MSAA at 1080p – 81-88fps
    • Peak CPU temp 79°C, peak GPU temp 76°C
  • Crisis 3– Played through the opening scene
    • Very High, AA x1, 1080p – 45-65fps
    • High, AA off, 1080p – 62-100fps
    • Peak CPU temp 76°C, peak GPU temp 79°C
  • No Man’s Sky– Running around on the planet, getting on the ship and rushing to another spot, forcing regeneration rapidly.  This was after 1-hour session.
    • High, FXAA, no Vsync, 1080p – 55-85fps
    • On battery, High, FXAA, no Vsync, 1080p – 30fps
    • Peak CPU temp 89°C, peak GPU temp 85°C

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As you can see, the GTX 1060 makes a tremendous difference over the 970m version of the GS70 last year.  It took a long time to get a refresh from NVidia, but it was certainly worth the wait.  Getting 60+ fps on The Witcher 3 on such a thin laptop is truly an amazing feat.

I’m pretty pleased with the internal temperatures staying in the high 70s, for the most part.  Of course, those sessions weren’t all that long and pushing the card with my No Man’s Sky session eventually led to higher peak temperatures.  But the average temperatures in the game are much lower than anything I measured with the 970m and 980m thin notebooks of last year.

could this mean there is room for 1070?  Perhaps.  But I wouldn’t want to be hitting 90+C on a regular basis.  I’d also like to have some overhead room to overclock the GPU, if I desired  I took some time to overclock and was able to achieve a 100Mhz overclock on the GPU and 200Mhz on the memory speeds.  You can bump it a little more, but the temps start getting into the 90s, which I’m not comfortable with.  Dragon Center applies this overclock automatically with Sports

mode, but if you choose to leave Dragon Center uninstalled like me, you can manually apply it with MSI afterburner or any compatible software.

I also tested the laptops limits by running a stress test with Prime95 and Fur mark.  I initially set Fur mark to 720p and ran the test for 10 minutes.  The CPU quickly stabilized out at 2.8Ghz with a temp of 92C.  The GPU held steady at 1.24Ghz with a temp of 80C.  Turning Fur mark to 1080p really tested the limits.  The CPU ended up hitting the thermal limits at some points and stabilized out at 2.7Ghz with a temp of 95C.  The GPU topped out at 88C and ended up with a 1.19Ghz clock speed.

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The only other thing I want to touch on is the amount of bloatware.  MSI went a little too far with this one in that department.  In fact, there was so much that I only lasted 30 minutes before I decided to do a fresh install of Windows.  If you also choose that route, MSI has all the drivers you need on their site.  All it takes is to download Windows 10 from Microsoft and load it on a bootable USB drive.  The entire process took about 30 minutes and it was a night and day difference.

If you stick with what MSI gives you, you’re going to have a lot of annoying pop-ups for backups, registering your laptop and anti-virus software.  Uninstalling it all will probably take you longer than doing a fresh install.

Some of the MSI software is decent, but the vast majority of it is merely a skin of some Windows settings.  Dragon Gaming center is basically quick settings for a couple power plans and shows you some crude fan speeds and temps.  There’s even an app to change the scaling, which is the exact same setting found in display settings.  The only MSI software I installed on my fresh install was the SteelSeries engine and I’m not looking back.

Emissions (noise, heat), Connectivity and speakers

I’m much more impressed with fan technology than I ever have been before.  The fans on the GS73VR are a big improvement over previous versions.  First of all, the fans are not in series.  Like before, a single fan independently cools the CPU.  Unfortunately, it’s always on, but it’s very quiet at the lowest speeds.  The intake is actually through a grate on top of the keyboard and the exhaust is shared out the side and the back.  It’s a very short distance from the CPU, making it pretty efficient and able to cool at low RPM.

But instead of a single fan cooling the GPU as well, MSI opted to double the coverage and have two fans dedicated to the task.  The intake is the same, from the vent above the WASD keys.  The exhaust is also the same, being out the left side and back.  I didn’t open this one up, but I did count at least 3 heat pipes dedicated to cool the GPU.  These fans are off while the GPU is inactive, by the way.

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The good thing about having two fans for the GPU is the cooling coverage is almost too good.  Not only are the GPU temps in gaming fairly decent, the airflow in that area is significantly higher, resulting in lower surface temps in the WASD key area.  As you can see in my temperature readings below, the left side of the laptop is significantly cooler than the right, under gaming load.  It’s also not a whole lot different than when under normal load.

Don’t get me wrong though – this laptop gets pretty hot.  Playing on your lap is certainly possible but your legs will definitely warm up.  I’ve felt worse though, particularly with the Gigabyte P35X.  It’s about equivalent to how the Razer Blade feels while playing on the lap.  There is an advantage to the cooling system though.  Since the intake vents are on top, you really aren’t hindering cooling performance by playing on your lap.

UPDATE: If you are interested in lowering the temperatures a few degrees, I was able to apply a CPU undervolted of about 160mV without hindering any performance.  I was able to lower my CPU temps by up to 10-15°C in most benchmark tests.  Some games improved by a little evener.  To top it off, the GPU temps improved slightly, since one of those heat pipes is shared.  Specifically, with Time Spy, my CPU temperatures went from 85°C to 71°C and my GPU temps went from 82°C to 79°C.  The catch is you have to uninstall Dragon Center to reliably do it, which means you lost your +100Mhz overclock on the GPU.  This can be manually restored with MSI afterburner though so it’s no big deal.

I took some noise readings from my S7 edge using Android sensor box.  The ambient reading was 23dB.  With the fan on during normal usage, I measured 25db at the ear level and 30dB at the exhaust.  Under full gaming load, the fans ramped up reaching levels of 35dB at ear level and 45 dB at the exhaust.  The pitch was pretty low and almost pleasant actually.  It certainly blended in when my air conditioner was on and it seems like a much better improvement over my old GS60.

I took some temperature readings on the keyboard and underneath during some conditions.  Here were my results:

temperatures-dailyuse-gs73 temperatures-load-gs73*Daily Use – 1080p YouTube clip in EDGE for 30 minutes
*Load – playing No Man’s Sky for approximately 60 minutes on high FHD settings

The speakers are downward facing and are located on the bottom front edge, unfortunately.  At least there are four of them though.  They get plenty loud but you have to do some work for it by messing with the settings in the included Nahimic software.  There’s also a subwoofer, but I’m not entirely convinced it is doing what I want it to do.

I measured a peak level of 80db at ear level while playing a song on YouTube.  For reference, the ambient noise levels in the room were 24 dB.  The treble pretty much takes over, as I could reliably not detect bass levels below 70Hz.  That ties into the issues with the subwoofer, because I swear it is only outputting higher frequencies and is merely a 5th speaker.  I actually had to adjust the balance so that the volume levels sounded even.

UPDATE 9/25/16 – so after a few weeks usage, I’ve significantly improved the sound on the GS73VR.  By disabling the Nahimic software and installing some older Realtek drivers, I’m able to fully utilize the Realtek Audio software with all the original settings that are removed by Nahimic for some reason.  I’m now able to hear bass levels as low as 35 Hz now and the quality of sound is excellent.  You can find those drivers here.  I turned on surround virtualization and set the loudness eq to on.  The EQ was set to Live as well.  There is a catch though: you have to manually change the sound to headphones for some reason and I can’t currently find a way around it.  It’s worth it to me but your opinion may differ.

While we’re talking about sound, the Hi-Fi headphone jack is probably one of the best I’ve ever had.  The sound coming from this thing is so much clearer, even with the cheaper pairs of headphones I own.  This is a huge plus for me since I use headphones so often.

The speakers are placed on the bottom, but the audio jack delivers stunning sound quality

There are a number of connectivity options on the laptop, which I really appreciate.  It would have been nice to have a USB 3.0 on the right instead of a 2.0, but if you’re like me, it’s going to be permanently be occupied by a USB mouse dongle.

The Thunderbolt 3 port is also a nice addition to the laptop.  I was able to connect the laptop to the Razer Core and it worked flawlessly the first time, as if it were the Razer Blade itself.  The performance gain was very significant since I have a GTX 1080 in the Razer Core.

The GS73VR is perfectly compatible with the Razer Core through the Thunderbolt 3 port

The Killer Wi-Fi card is also a nice feature.  Some laptops have issues with this model (mostly due to drivers), but this one is pretty stable.  I was able to max out my broadband connection from 100 feet away from my router. The Gigabit Ethernet also works fine but I don’t have Gigabit broadband so I didn’t get to fully test it.

I normally don’t have anything to say about the card-reader other than its existence.  This one, however, has some issues.  The speeds are pretty pathetic actually.  At first, I thought it was drivers, but after a benchmark test, it’s pretty obvious the SD card reader is tied to the motherboard via a USB 2.0 controller.  So instead of the 80MB/s speeds, I was expecting from my SanDisk extreme pro card, I’m getting 26MB/s.

The last thing to bring up is the webcam.  It works good enough but the image is kind of grainy, even in excellent lighting conditions.  I’ve certainly seen better options out there.  Their advertising says it’s an FHD camera, but unless I’m really missing something in the settings options, that’s not true.  Both Windows camera and Yawcam show it as a 720p webcam.

Battery life and other notable things

For the FHD panel, my battery test consists of using the stock “Power Saver” power profile, 40% brightness (100 nits), Wi-Fi off, Bluetooth off, and running a 720p movie in a continuous loop at full screen with the volume muted. I start the clock when it’s unplugged and stop it when the unit performs a self- shutdown. The MSI GS73VR lasted a decent 5 hours and 37 minutes before shutting down.

In the following test, we’ve set the screen’s brightness at 40%, which is about 100 nits.  Also, the keyboard backlighting was set to minimal

  • 9.1 W (~ 7 h 8 min of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
  • 14.4 W (~ 4 h 30 min of use) –  light browsing and text editing in Microsoft Word, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 13.8 W (~ 4 h 43 min of use) – 1080p full-screen video on YouTube in EDGE, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 12.5 W (~ 5 h 12 min of use) – 1080p full screen .mkv video in Movie App, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 29.3 W (~2 h 13 min of use) – heavy browsing in EDGE, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 50 W (~ 1 h 18 min of use)– heavy gaming in 1080p, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;

These are not the greatest results, but it’s pretty darn good if you considering it’s a quad-core CPU in such a thin laptop.  It helps that the laptop is 17” and can fit a reasonably large battery inside.

For the 4k panel, my battery test consists of using the stock “Power Saver” power profile, 40% brightness (85 nits), Wi-Fi off, Bluetooth off, and running a 720p movie in a continuous loop at full screen with the volume muted. I start the clock when it’s unplugged and stop it when the unit performs a self- shutdown. The MSI GS73VR lasted a decent 5 hours and 37 minutes before shutting down.

In the following test, we’ve set the screen’s brightness at 40%, which is about 100 nits.  Also, the keyboard backlighting was set to minimal

  • 10.9 W (~ 5 h 58 min of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi OFF;
  • 22.7 W (~ 2 h 52 min of use) –  light browsing and text editing in Microsoft Word, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 24.5 W (~ 2 h 39 min of use) – 4k full-screen video on YouTube in EDGE, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 23.5 W (~ 2 h 46 min of use) – 1080p full screen .mkv video in Movie App, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
  • 26.3 W (~2 h 28 min of use) – heavy browsing in EDGE, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON; eco mode on
  • 37.5 W (~1 h 44 min of use)– heavy browsing in EDGE, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON; eco mode off
  • 59 W (~ 1 h 6 min of use)– heavy gaming in 1080p, Balanced Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;

These results will probably be a deal breaker for some people.  It’s really going to be a tradeoff for having such a nice screen.  I personally am opting for the 4k model; however, I think I might regret it down the road for battery reasons.

I was able to improve the battery results somewhat by undervaluing the CPU.  Doug actually wrote a pretty good article about it in case you’re interested in trying it yourself.  I do mine a little differently though and I do a very aggressive undevout for power saving while on battery and a modest one for heat management while plugged in.  By applying an 180mV undervolted to the CPU and CPU cache, and utilizing Power Saver and a 14x multiplier limit, I was able to achieve a 23-40% improvement over the 4k model’s battery results above.  Pretty impressive, but the catch is you can’t have Dragon Center installed because it interferes with the Power Plans too much and causes issues with Throttle stop.  My results are better than MSI’s Eco mode though, so I’m not too upset about having to delete Dragon Center.  The only other thing you lose with deleting Dragon Center is MSI’s 100Mhz overclock to the GPU but that can easily be reapplied with MSI afterburner.

Also included is an 180-watt charger brick, which initially scared me because I was expecting something massive.  To my surprise, it only measures 6.1” x 3.0” x 1.2” and weighs about 1.5 pounds.  Not too bad really.  It’s actually smaller than my 150 watt PSU on my old GS60.

I briefly touched on this before, but there are an awful lot of stickers on this machine.  The good thing is all of them can come off if you wanted them to.  The warranty and serial number stickers might be something you’d want to consult with MSI on to see if it truly does break the warranty.  I recently spoke with them about this and they said that the warranty sticker does not apply to US and Canada buyers.  In fact, those countries are allowed to perform upgrades as they please, but the warranty will not extend to the new components.  They also mentioned that the serial number sticker can be removed as long as it’s replaced for RMA requests.

The only text that is pretty much permanent is the SteelSeries logo below the keyboard, however, some on the forums have removed it with some nail polish remover.  Do so at your own risk though.

Price and availability

The MSI Stealth Pro GS73VR is available at many different retailers.

Amazon and Newegg both have units in stock ranging in prices from $1799 to $2199 depending on the configuration.  These prices may seem steep, but if you consider the hardware you’re getting, it’s a pretty fair deal.

 

The MSI Stealth PRo starts at $1800, which is a fair price for what you're getting

Final thoughts

I’d have to say, as a whole, I’m pretty impressed with the GS73VR.  As far as 17” laptops go, there aren’t many options that are portable at that screen size.  The fact it fits in my backpack is a huge plus in my book.

The main highlights to the machine are the keyboard, GPU, and the screen.  Sure, the screen is TN but is an excellent one with good viewing angles, a wide gamut and a heck of a refresh rate.  It’s nice to also have a GPU that can take advantage of that refresh rate.  Another thing I’m pretty happy with is the cooling system.  MSI has done some improvements with their fans to where the always on CPU fan isn’t quite as annoying.

The 4k screen option is also a nice feature.  It improves on the weaknesses of the TN panel, although it’s only 60Hz.  It’s a battery killer though so decide carefully before buying.

But my main issue lies with those gaps and sharp edges.  In my opinion, those are unacceptable and it’s the main reason I’m not giving this a 4.5 out of 5 scores.  I still notice it every time I pick it up and that bothers me a little bit.  Over time, I hope I’ll notice it less and less.

It’s too bad too because this is one of those things that ruin an otherwise great laptop.  Still though, even with the sharp edges, the GS73VR is really the best in its class.  I really hope MSI listens to feedback on this and fixes the problem with future production runs.

I originally had a unit with very large gaps on the bottom, which resulted in sharp edges.  In fact, it was the worst part of the laptop in my opinion.  But now that I have a unit with a better fitting bottom, I love this laptop that much more.  The edges still aren’t perfect, but they are definitely tolerable and I have quickly gotten used to them.

There's no other 17-inch notebook like the MSI GS73VR right now

A lot of you might be able to overlook it.  If you can, I don’t think you’ll be sorry with the laptop otherwise.  It really is a nice device and to be quite honest, there really aren’t that many competitors at this screen size with such a powerful GPU and thin form factor.  If the Razer Blade Pro ever gets updated, that would be the only other one I’d be interested in.  Other than that, the other “thin” options really aren’t all that thin and light.

So that about wraps up what I have to say about the MSI GS73VR.  If you have any feedback or questions, I’d be happy to hear from you in the comments section below.  I should have this one for about another week.  Next up is the GS63VR, so also look out for that one.

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