Solid Performance, Premium Look and Feel
Of the two 14-inch gaming laptops that I’ve reviewed recently, both with very similar high-end hardware, the MSI GS40 Phantom 6QE is the better option and the one I would ultimately recommend.
Like the Gigabyte P34W v5, there is a lot to like about the GS40 Phantom’s performance. The Core i7-6700HQ is more than capable of intense workloads, including video editing and gaming, and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M is a great GPU for gaming at the highest graphics presets at 1080p. Across our benchmarks, the GS40 went toe to toe with the P34W v5, and especially in real-world gaming tests there was essentially no difference between the two laptops.
The GS40 is also kitted out with a great range of other hardware. 16 GB of RAM is plenty for this sort of machine, and extras like Killer networking and a ESS Sabre DAC add to the value of this system. The only downside is the relatively poor performance and limited capacity of the included SSD, although MSI claims you can add an “optional” NVMe drive that my system wasn’t equipped with.
The 1080p non-touch 14-inch display included with this laptop is good without being outstanding. Color reproduction from the “IPS type” panel is acceptable, and the backlight can go bright enough for viewing in most conditions, especially with the reflection-reducing matte finish.
The real winner in my eyes is the design, which is both understated and nice enough to stand out from the pack. The mostly brushed metal chassis gives the GS40 the premium look and feel it deserves, and there is surprisingly little ‘gamer’ flare that usually ruins this sort of laptop. Subtle red highlights are a great touch from MSI, and even though you’re not getting a particularly slim or light laptop, the GS40 doesn’t feel huge.
The SteelSeries keyboard included with this laptop is solid, with decent tactile feedback and travel distance delivering a great gaming experience. The trackpad, on the other hand, is very poor, thanks to terrible ELAN hardware that doesn’t track finger movement as well as it should. It’s not the worst ELAN trackpad I’ve ever seen, but it really shouldn’t be included with a $1,500+ laptop.
On the software front, MSI has loaded the GS40 Phantom with Windows 10 and some bloatware, including an especially annoying version of Norton Internet Security. None of the utilities that are pre-loaded onto this machine add any value, so I’d recommend wiping and re-installing Windows on this machine as soon as you take it out of the box.
The GS40 Phantom 6QE will set you back $1,599 in its standard configuration, which is a reasonable price for the hardware that’s included with this machine. It is around $100-150 more expensive than Gigabyte’s competing P34W v5 that I reviewed earlier, but in my eyes this laptop is worth the extra money due to its better build, superior keyboard and trackpad, and extra features including more RAM. Plus, at $1,600 we’re only talking about a price difference of six percent.
If you’re after a 14-inch gaming laptop that ticks pretty much every box, the GS40 Phantom is a decent choice. It’s not a perfect device, but it delivers on its base promise: a great 1080p gaming experience.
Pros: Great performance from the Skylake CPU and GTX 970M. Better than expected brushed metal build. Thunderbolt 3, Killer networking, and a SteelSeries keyboard are decent inclusions.
Cons: Another bad ELAN trackpad. More expensive than Gigabyte’s competing laptop. Not the greatest of cooling solutions.