User Interface, A/V Quality, Cooling, Battery Life, Software

User Interface

For the most part, the GE40 provides adequate input options, though some regrettable design decisions were made. For starters, the keyboard is overall good, with sufficient key travel and feedback and a very comfortable stroke. However, some of the key sizes are abnormal and difficult to adjust to, such as a number of the keys on the right side of the keyboard (including Backspace, Enter, Right Shift, and Right CTRL). This results in frustration as a Right Shift keypress unknowingly becomes Up Arrow. This is thanks to the Home, End, Page Up/Down keys, and others lining the far right vertical row of the keyboard, which is just a bad place for them in every circumstance if you ask us. The keys are also plasticky and exhibit a clattery feel when touched, which seems cheap in comparison to the far superior SteelSeries keyboard of the larger MSI GT60 or the ASUS G750JX (both of which we recently reviewed). Finally, no backlighting options are available, which is unfortunate given the price point.

Meanwhile, the large enough touchpad features a smooth radial-brushed surface that accommodates gliding fingers well. Its operation was pleasantly accurate during our testing, though we still regret the single glossy chrome-colored bar housing both the buttons below, as it’s never as easy to use as two separate physical buttons, and it picks up fingerprints like nobody’s business. Fortunately, there isn’t much else to complain about here—so although you’ll clearly be gaming with a mouse, the touchpad is a fine option otherwise.

Unlike in the GT60’s case, there’s no room for a control center bar above the keyboard on the GE40, so those buttons have been relegated back to their usual spots on the Function key row (where they arguably work better anyway, and plus, we think it looks nicer too).

A/V Quality

The MSI GE40 can be configured with screen resolutions up to 1080p, though our review unit featured a more modest (yet also arguably more practical) 900p (1600×900) panel. The finish is thankfully matte and the colors and contrast are subjectively average. Brightness isn’t that great, but it’s still strong enough (in conjunction with the matte finish) to produce a visible picture even outdoors. Viewing angles are about average for a TN panel—which is to say, poor on the vertical axis and reasonable but not great horizontally. It’s really too bad that manufacturers are still saddling top-tier notebooks with lower-quality LCDs just to save a buck.

The included stereo speakers (2.0 configuration) are just enough to get you by if you don’t have a pair of headphones handy, but we suppose that’s to be expected given the skinny form factor. The volume level is reasonable, but of course, their output seems heavily biased toward the higher- and mid-range frequencies (bass is nearly nonexistent). There is an included post-processing audio package called Audio Boost that helps tweak the clarity and volume of audio, but it only benefits external speakers and headphones.

Cooling

It’s perhaps unsurprising that, given the level of power packed into the GE40 and its thin profile, heat is an immediate concern. It also proves to be a regular one, rearing its head in the form of up to 98°C internal CPU temperature readings during normal gaming sessions with heavier titles (such as Metro 2033). GPU temperatures were also quite high, reaching 87°C. However, throughout all of this (and surely as a catalyst to the high temperatures), GPU throttling is not evident in the least. CPU throttling does eventually kick in (as the average temperature eventually began hovering around 96°C, leaving clock rates to waver between 1.8 and 1.9 GHz permanently), but it apparently isn’t quite enough, as the temperatures remain excessive throughout it all. That’s as surprising as it is concerning, as such high temperatures for extended periods of time can’t be good for the internal components.

Though it’s doubtful you’ll be gaming with the machine on your lap (something which many people seem to be concerned about with regard to notebook load temperatures—I’ll never understand why), of more relevant concern is the heat that’s perceptible through the keyboard and palm rest, which you will be using all of the time. The heat pipes run directly below the left side of the keyboard, for instance (with the GPU under the left lower palm rest and the CPU in the center of the machine), and that makes operation of the WASD keys—clearly a regular and critical occurrence—uncomfortable. The left side of the notebook near the vent could accurately be described as hot, and the palm rest is certainly uncomfortably warm (and bordering hot) while under stress as well. This configuration makes most of the left and center unfortunately warm during heavy operation, while the considerably less important right-hand side of the unit remains perceptibly cooler.

And yet, regardless of this, the fan speeds are notably high and the noise level is considerable. That suggests that it isn’t for lack of cooling that the GE40 gets so warm; it’s thanks entirely to the impossibility of cramming all of this into the compact case and still balancing temperatures with noise levels. It probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea to choose a lower-clocked CPU than the i7-4702MQ, either—but at least, again, throttling isn’t a problem (which would have been a worse situation).

Battery Life

The GE40’s 6-cell, 65 Wh battery holds a lot of promise. Let’s see how it performs.

First up, in our minimal load battery test–70% display brightness, Balanced power profile, and Wi-Fi on, running the Battery Eater Reader’s Test—we recorded a terrific 8 hours and 24 minutes of runtime:

With regular web surfing added, total longevity drops to a bit below the 5 hours mark:

Finally, under maximum load (with brightness on high, High Performance power profile, and running the Battery Eater Classic Test), the MSI GE40 lasted for 1 hour and 21 minutes:

These are great results for anything that even remotely qualifies as a gaming PC. It’s mostly thanks to the reasonable TDPs of the CPU/GPU and (of course) the Haswell chipset that this is possible—but plenty of other PCs sporting Haswell chips still don’t manage to achieve anything close to these values. For instance, the ASUS G750JX-DB71 17.3-inch gaming notebook that we just finished reviewing only lasted for 4:14 in the Reader’s Test (thanks in part to is larger 1080p screen, of course), and even the MSI GT60 (15.6-inch screen, i7-4700MQ Haswell CPU) reaches just 4:41. In real-world use, with regular Wi-Fi surfing, the GE40 still beats the GT60 by over an hour. In this regard, it’s a great middle ground between powerful gaming juggernaut and slim, power-sipping Ultrabook.

Software

The GE40 comes equipped with a typical assortment of stock software, including Norton security software, Norton Online Backup, Windows Essentials 2012, and Sound Blaster Cinema, as well as a number of MSI-related applications. If any of this offends you, it’s easy enough to remove—but apart from the Norton security products, not much of it is obtrusive or annoying.

In terms of warranty, the MSI GE40 is blessed with the same two-year coverage as the GT60.

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