MSI GS30 Shadow review

An Ultrabook with desktop graphics power

MSI GS30 review

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The MSI GS30 Shadow is more than just a laptop with a powerful home base, it's a proof of concept for the possible future of laptops. The system works well, though not seamlessly. You have to shutdown the machine every time you dock the laptop or take it off the GamingDock, but otherwise it's an all- encompassing device that can be both your mobile computing buddy and hardcore gaming PC.

Sure, there have been many third-party solutions that allow users to connect a graphics card to a laptop. But the GS30 Shadow and Alienware's Graphics Amplifier are the first few premium devices that will be readily available to gamers and simple enough for most users to pick up easily. It could be the start of something new in the mobile gaming world, but MSI has a few kinks to work out first.

We liked

MSI set out to create a mobile system that's as powerful as a full-on gaming desktop, and it's done just that. Equipped with the right graphics card, the GS30 Shadow plays modern games without a sweat. The system was able to run Far Cry 4 with aplomb at 120 fps with V-sync turned off. Walking through a swamp in Dragon Age Inquisition was equally as hassle free.

Because of the flexibility of the GamingDock, users will be able to easily upgrade their system. However, you won't be able to swap out many parts of the laptop itself, but the notebook comes well equipped to last a few years all on its own.

We disliked

Although the MSI GS30 Shadow with GamingDock is a working proof of concept with impeccable performance, it could certainly use a bit more work.

For starters, the battery life is simply too short regardless of whether it is classified as a gaming laptop, Ultrabook or simply compared to any notebook out today. A maximum battery life of three hours won't get you far whether you're gaming or just checking your email. MSI could easily rectify this problem by adding more battery capacity, and there's likely room for it, as the GS30 feels a bit hollow.

The GamingDock also needs a bit of retuning, especially its subpar audio quality. Given the size of the whole unit, MSI could have also gone with a larger and quieter 120mm fan. As it stands, the system gets very loud with all four fans inside (plus the laptop's own loud cooling system) whirring away.

Final verdict

The MSI GS30 Shadow with GamingDock is an ingenious idea that works better than I had ever hoped. That said, there are some large concessions you should consider before purchasing this combo unit, namely all the extra equipment you'll need.

Unlike most gaming laptops that are designed to be self-contained gaming rigs, you'll need to supply your own graphics card, mouse, keyboard, monitor and possibly a headset to make up for the system's lackluster sound system. Already that's an additional several hundred dollars on top of the cost of these machines.

If you're prepared to take the hit in your wallet for the machine and all the various extras, the GS30 can be a powerhouse, delivering better performance than even the best equipped gaming laptops. However, unless you have two serious itches that only this combo can scratch, you can easily find more wallet-friendly solutions on either end of the PC gaming spectrum.

Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee was a former computing reporter at TechRadar. Kevin is now the SEO Updates Editor at IGN based in New York. He handles all of the best of tech buying guides while also dipping his hand in the entertainment and games evergreen content. Kevin has over eight years of experience in the tech and games publications with previous bylines at Polygon, PC World, and more. Outside of work, Kevin is major movie buff of cult and bad films. He also regularly plays flight & space sim and racing games. IRL he's a fan of archery, axe throwing, and board games.