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A few weeks ago I reviewed the Asus ROG G752VS, a massive gaming laptop with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 inside. Asus' offering is powerful, but just too large to be a practical, portable gaming machine, which is why I reached out to MSI. They sent over their GS43VR 6RE Phantom Pro, a compact 14-inch gaming laptop that packs a GeForce GTX 1060 GPU and an Intel Core i7 processor.
The GTX 1060 is Nvidia's latest upper mid-range discrete graphics chip that succeeds the aging GTX 970M. This isn't just a minor upgrade, though: the GTX 1060 should significantly outperform the GTX 970M on paper, and narrowly beat the GTX 980M at a lower power cost and with a less beefy cooling solution. Packing a very similar spec sheet to the desktop GTX 1060, Nvidia is positioning the GPU as the perfect part for 1080p and even 1440p gaming.
Aside from the graphics upgrade, the GS43VR 6RE Phantom Pro is very similar to the GS40 6QE Phantom I reviewed earlier this year. We're still looking at a Core i7-6700HQ processor with 16GB of DDR4, the 1080p display seems largely unchanged, and there's still a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port. Pricing, on the other hand, has decreased by $100: the GS43VR is available for $1,499.
I'm glad that MSI has kept the solid design they used for the GS40. The brushed aluminium chassis is a breath of fresh air compared to most gaming laptops on the market, which typically use over-the-top 'gamer' style and flood the design with unnecessary angles and LEDs. The GS43VR is understated and could easily be used in public without embarrassing yourself.
Part of the GS43VR's appeal is the use of aluminium in more places than just the laptop's lid. It's seen around the keyboard and trackpad as well, with the same black, brushed finish. The lid and base do feature some contours and angles, but the lack of anything crazy is something I greatly appreciate about this design.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of this design are the subtle red highlights seen around the trackpad, power button, hinges, and on the lid. The keyboard is backlit with red LEDs as well, which adds to the overall red-and-black aesthetic. The one design element that is a bit much for me is the large Gaming G Series logo on the lid of the laptop, though even that isn't so bad.
While this 14-inch laptop is significantly more portable than most 15.6- or 17-inch gaming laptops, the GS43VR is still several levels larger than your typical ultraportable. This laptop falls right in the average size bracket for a laptop of this class: 22.8mm thick at its thickest point, and 1.8 kg heavy. Relative to the previous model in MSI's 14-inch line, the GS43VR is the same thickness but slightly heavier, likely due to a redesigned cooling system to accommodate the slightly hungrier GPU.
As MSI has used largely the same design as their previous model, some of the issues with that chassis have remained. The bezels around the display are large, which means MSI could have easily fit in a larger display into the same body with only minor modifications. The power port, located on the left side, also manages to block the Ethernet port unless you adjust the cable at an awkward angle.
The rest of the GS43VR's edges are familiar. Along with the power and Ethernet ports on the left, you'll find a single USB 3.0 port, an SD card reader, and two 3.5mm audio jacks. On the right is a HDMI 1.4 port, another USB 3.0 port, and the USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 port. I'd like to see a third full-sized USB port on this laptop, and it's disappointing that MSI hasn't upgraded the HDMI port to version 2.0, so you can't use an external 4K 60 Hz display unless you hook it up via Thunderbolt or the mini-DisplayPort 1.2 on the rear.
The GS43VR's cooling solution comprises of some heatpipes and two fans, which intake from vents on the bottom and exhaust out the rear. The GPU, located on the right side, also comes with a second vent that exhausts air out the right, due to the higher TDP of the GPU relative to the CPU. A number of screws hold in the bottom plate, behind which is access to RAM and storage, however removing the plate will void your warranty.