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MSI GS30 2M Shadow comes with gaming dock

PHOTOS: MSI
PHOTOS: MSI

Dock has built-in subwoofer and speakers but attached laptop's screen is disabled

The MSI GS30 is not your typical gaming laptop. Weighing just 1.2kg, it is lighter than the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air.

Here's the catch: It is equipped with integrated graphics that are barely better than the graphics on the MacBook Air or any other ultrabook.

However, the GS30 can connect to an optional accessory called the MSI Gaming Dock, which turns it into a capable gaming machine.

This idea is not new. Alienware's Graphics Amplifier accessory also works the same way.

MSI's Gaming Dock, which is the size of a small PC, holds a desktop- class graphics card. This runs games and other 3D graphics apps when the GS30 is docked.

But MSI has gone even further.

The dock's speakers are impressively loud.

The subwoofer gives the audio added depth and enhances the gaming experience. However, the GS30, though portable, has poor battery life.

In our video-loop test, it lasted just three hours, half that of a good ultrabook. This is unfortunate because the GS30 is otherwise a good laptop.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $2,699 (with Gaming Dock), $2,299 (alone)

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-4870HQ (2.5GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200

    RAM: 8GB

    SCREEN SIZE: 13.3 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI, Ethernet port, SD card slot, audio jacks

    BATTERY: 48 watt-hour

  • RATING

  • FEATURES 1 2 3 5

    DESIGN: 1 2 4 5

    PERFORMANCE: 1 2 3 5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3 4 5

    BATTERY LIFE:3 4 5

    OVERALL: 1 2 4 5

Its Gaming Dock has a built-in subwoofer and speakers, which makes it more useful than Alien- ware's version. This dock also has four USB 3.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet port like typical expansion docks.

A handle at the side of the Gaming Dock makes it easy to dock or detach laptop from accessory. The laptop must first be switched off.

However, when the GS30 is docked, the laptop screen is disabled. A separate display must be connected to the dock's graphics card output. With Alienware, the laptop screen remains usable.

At $400, MSI's Gaming Dock is slightly cheaper than the Alienware Graphics Amplifier ($419). For both, you need to buy graphics cards separately and install them.

For this review, MSI outfitted the Gaming Dock with a high-end Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 graphics card ($800 to $900).

The dock supports the latest and most powerful graphics cards, but you can always choose one to fit your budget.

In short, this setup is not cheap.

Aside from the Gaming Dock ($400) and GS30 laptop ($2,299), you will need a monitor and a desktop graphics card. You will probably need a gaming keyboard and mouse too.

All these, just so that you can have the best of both worlds: a portable laptop for the office that becomes a gaming PC at home when it is hooked up to the Gaming Dock.

When you switch from the laptop's integrated graphics to the dock's high-end desktop graphics card, the difference is huge.

Take the first-person shooter game Crysis 3, which cannot run properly on integrated graphics.

With the GeForce GTX 980 graphics card in the Gaming Dock, the game ran smoothly at 75 frames a second.

In the 3DMark benchmark, the scores for the Fire Strike test increased from 1,211 with the GS30, to 10,381 with the dock.

The dock's speakers are impressively loud.

The subwoofer gives the audio added depth and enhances the gaming experience.

However, the GS30, though portable, has poor battery life.

In our video-loop test, it lasted just three hours, half that of a good ultrabook.

This is unfortunate because the GS30 is otherwise a good laptop.

Unlike typical gaming laptops, the GS30 has a reserved design that would not be out of place in the office. Along the front lip of the laptop is a strip of white LED lights, which I found unnecessary and distracting - and impossible to switch off.

The laptop's 13.3-inch IPS screen offers excellent viewing angles and good colour reproduction. It is matt and non-reflective.

Performance feels snappy as the laptop uses a solid-state drive and an Intel Core i7 processor.

When everything falls into place, the GS30 and its Gaming Dock accessory are as good as a desktop gaming PC.

But the pairing is not cheap and the laptop's poor battery life undermines its ultrabook credentials.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'MSI GS30 2M Shadow comes with gaming dock'. Print Edition | Subscribe