GamingDock Features and Performance
Now let's focus on the portion of this product that really makes it unique, the MSI GamingDock that allows you to connect and utilize a full-size discrete graphics cards with your GS30 notebook.
The base station is about the size of a bread box – no seriously, it is. It measures 364mm x 209mm x 197mm (14.3" x 8.2" x 7.7") and weighs 4.2 kg / 9.25 lbs. without a graphics card installed. The purpose of the device is multi-fold: it provides a resting place and connection through PCIe with the GS30 notebook, it provides a full-size PCIe x16 slot for a discrete GPU, it has a standard power supply to provide juice for said graphics card and it also has the ability to hold a 3.5-in hard drive and provides accessory connections.
The GamingDock is actually pretty big and bulky and will take up a noticeable amount of space on your desk. It's not unattractive but it's also not designed in a way that makes it blend in with the style I assume most PC enthusiasts are going for.
The GS30 Shadow does NOT include a discrete GPU with the dock and notebook – you'll have to bring your own to the party. There are currently some sales and promotions going on that do, in fact, add a discrete GPU to mix, but make sure you double check before purchasing.
The front grill also hides a speaker though honestly, not a very good one. Hopefully, if you are investing in this kind of hardware, you will also have some high quality external speakers to go along with it.
On the top of the GamingDock is the receiving end of the PCI Express connection between the notebook and the rest of the hardware. There are two clips that help to lock it in place.
When you place the GS30 on the GamingDock you actually move the lever on the right hand side down to slide it back into the PCIe slot and lock it in place. It has a very mechanical feel to it and honestly I like it. It's not a modern take on connecting to products (no magnets, no electronic locks with LCD indication) but it has me reliving my days with toys and action figures. Odd, I'm sure.
On the left side of the GamingDock, you'll find the power supply input as well as the discrete graphics card display connections. The GS30 Shadow ships with a standard power cord for the PSU, a 450-watt model that appears to be unbranded. That should be more than enough for just about any discrete GPU on the market.
On the right is where you'll find the intake fan to help provide cool air to the GPU and power supply and a power button that will be used instead of the notebook button once the two parts are docked together. There is also a pair of 3.5mm jacks for headphones and microphones, a Gigabit Ethernet connection and a set of four USB 3.0 ports for keyboards, mice, headsets or even storage devices. The GamingDock has the functionality of most other laptop docks with the added benefit of that handy discrete GPU.
Opening up the GamingDock requires the removal of about 9 screws, giving you access to the componentry inside. If you have ever installed a graphics card before, then the process will be straight forward and simple. The necessary power supply connections are readily available.
Behind the power supply is a mounting location for a 3.5-in hard drive that will show up as an internal drive when the GS30 is properly docked. This is great if you want to add some more storage to your system for games without taking up space on your notebooks internal SSD when on the go.
Here you can see a GamingDock configured with a GeForce GTX 980 Gaming, one of the fastest discrete GPUs you can buy today.
Once configured and installed, using the GamingDock with the GS30 is simple. Simply place the notebook on top and it will settle into a couple of dimples on the top surface. Pull the lever to lock it in place, physically attaching the PCI Express connection on the back of the notebook to the dock. Hit that power button on the side of the dock and you are up and running. You'll have to install new drivers for your discrete graphics card of choice, of course, but it will behave as if you have installed a new graphics card in a typical desktop PC.
What you cannot do, however, is utilize the integrated display on the GS30 while docked – it's simply disabled. So while we would expect every gamer buying a GS30 Shadow system to have a decent external display for gaming purposes, this fact basically demands it. With the power of a card like the GeForce GTX 980 you can invest in a 4K or 2560×1440 monitor, and obviously that's the point of an external discrete GPU.
Performance benchmarks with the GamingDock and a discrete graphics card are going to be essentially identical to those found in our reviews of the individual GPUs themselves. The GTX 980 we used for our review, for example, is capable of gaming at the same resolutions and frames rates that we saw with our GTX 980 review. If we compare the integrated Iris Pro graphics to the GTX 980, you can immediately see the benefit of using a discrete GPU for gaming purposes.
But obviously you aren't limited to 1080p gaming once you have the GS30 installed on the GamingDock. For example, we had the LG 34UM95 handy and attached it to the GS30 with all of its 3440×1440 IPS glory. Games like Shadow of Mordor, Battlefield 4, Crysis 3 all ran fantastically. The combination of hardware supplied by the system was more than adequate for the job.
That does bring up one final point: the inclusion of the Core i7-4870HQ was mostly to ensure that the bottleneck of gaming on the GS30 and GamingDock was not a dual-core CPU integration. So while the 4870HQ definitely result in lower than desired battery life, you can see that its real purpose was to provide the optimal gaming experience for enthusiasts.