MSI GS40 6QE Phantom Review

Gaming laptops have the reputation of being monstrous objects requiring specially constructed bags for carrying them between locations with the battery life span of electronic gnats. With the MSI GS40 6QE Phantom, however, at least size isn’t an issue. Weighing in at 1.6kg, this is a notebook you could carry around all day. Yet it packs a serious punch inside.
There’s a quad-core Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX970M graphics, up to 32GB of DDR4 memory, room for both a SSD and regular hard disk, and a 14.1in Full HD IPS screen. All of these make for a potentially very powerful gaming laptop, squeezed into a sleek chassis that is just 22.8mm thick at its widest point. Let’s find out if this gaming portable lives up to its specification.
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System Configuration:
  • 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ
  • 16GB 2133MHz DDR4 Memory
  • 3GB NVIDIA GTX970M Graphics
  • 14.1in Full HD IPS + True Color TFT
  • 256GB Samsung SM951 NVMe SSD
  • 1TB Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 7,200rpm HDD
  • Red backlit keyboard
  • ESS SABRE HiFi Hi-Res Audio DAC
  • Killer Double Shot Pro with Killer Shield Networking
  • 345 x 245 x 21.8-22.8mm (WxDxH)
  • 1.6kg
  • Windows 10 64 bit
  • 1st year global collect and return, 2nd year local (UK) collect and return
Price for this system (at the time of writing): £1,399 (inc. VAT)
The MSI GS40 6QF Phantom comes in an attractive black chassis with a brushed metal appearance. Since this is a 14.1in notebook, there’s only room for a full-sized keyboard, not a separate keypad.
That said the Chiclet-style keys are comfortable and responsive, with red backlighting. The latter can’t be changed, although it can be turned off. There’s a large single-piece trackpad that is accurate and has responsive integrated buttons. Gamers will add a mouse, though.
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The MSI laptop is supplied well protected between slabs of Styrofoam and inside a plain brown box.
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The inner box, which holds the laptop shows further protection against scratches during shipping.
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The MSI GS40 6QE bundle includes discs, literature, a power adapter.
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The laptop design is understated yet attractive, with the red dragon logo taking centerstage on the lid, as shown in the picture above.
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The screen is a particular high point. The 14.1in panel doesn’t stray into 4K territory or even beyond Full HD like some notebooks have been over the last couple of years. But more than 1,920 x 1,080 in a panel this size isn’t going to be tremendously useful anyway, and will also be too much for notebook graphics to handle with most games.
The display uses premium IPS technology, and has a matt finish, with vibrant colour. It also has excellent viewing angles. Overall, it’s a really pleasant panel for any activity, but particularly gaming.
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There’s capable headphone sound from the ESS audio DAC with up to 24-bit processing and 122dB of dynamic range, plus separate minijacks for headphones and microphone. The built-in speakers are merely adequate, however. If you want to fully enjoy games and movies, then speakers or headphones are a must.
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The GS40 sports a Core i7-6700HQ processor from Intel’s latest Skylake generation. This quad-core CPU runs at a nominal 2.6GHz, but with a 3.5GHz Turbo mode for a single core, 3.3GHz for two cores, and 3.1GHz for all four. This is the second slowest mobile quad-core from Intel’s Skylake range (the i5-6300HQ is slower), but should still pack a significant punch, and only draws 45W at full pelt.
With Hyper-Threading on board, it can run eight threads simultaneously. Our sample shipped with 16GB of 2133MHz DDR4 SDRAM, supplied as two 8GB DIMMs. As there are only two slots available you would need to replace both modules to upgrade. But 16GB should be more than adequate for the current crop of games.
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Perhaps the most significant inclusion for gamers is the NVIDIA GTX970M graphics. The Core i7 processor also supplies Intel HD Graphics 530, running at 1050MHz, which NVIDIA’s Optimus technology can switch to when the graphics tasks are not strenuous, to save power. However, when gaming the GTX970M will be in full force.
This is not the fastest mobile NVIDIA GeForce currently available, but it’s close, with 1,280 CUDA cores running at a base 540MHz. This is backed by 3GB of 5,000MHz GDDR5 memory, although the memory path is just 192-bit – the top GTX980M uses 256-bit, providing significantly higher bandwidth. This is a recent GPU with DirectX 12 support, too.
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MSI hasn’t skimped on the storage, either. The operating system and applications run off a 256GB Samsung SM951 NVMe solid state disk, which is attached via the M.2 PCI Express x4 connection and promises extremely fast boot and load times.
But backing this up is a 1TB Hitachi Travelstar 7K1000 conventional hard disk, which has a 7,200rpm rotational speed and should be pretty quick for a notebook mechanical storage device. So there is a decent amount of space for your main software, and loads more room for a sizable media collection or really huge games.
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There’s comprehensive connectivity, too. A Killer chipset provides 802.11ac WiFi, as well as Killer Doubleshot Pro Gigabit wired Ethernet with Killer Shield. There are a couple of USB 3.0 ports, plus mini DisplayPort v2.0 and full-sized HDMI 1.4, both of which support 4K monitors.
A SDHC card slot is available, too. However, the cream of the crop is the USB3.1 Type-C port with SuperSpeed, which means it provides 10Gbits/sec throughput, using the reversible Type-C port. This is enough bandwidth for two 4K monitors, and it also provides up to 15W power output, so can charge most mobile devices.
The MSI GS40 6QE Phantom is running Windows 10. We will be testing it against a couple of notebooks we have recently reviewed, the Asus ROG G750JZ and the MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro G. These are the specifications of the comparison systems:
Asus ROG G750JZ-T4110H specification:
  • OS: Windows 8.1
  • CPU: Core i7 4860HQ (2.4GHz – 3.6GHz)
  • Display: 17.3″ FHD, LED Backlit, Non-Glare (1920×1080)
  • Memory: 24GB (3x8GB) DDR3L 1600MHz
  • Graphics Chipset: 8GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M
  • Storage: 1 x SanDisk X110 256GB SSD + 1.5TB 5400RPM HDD (HTS541515A9E630)
  • Wireless: Killer Wireless-N 1202
  • Bluetooth: V4.0
  • Webcam: HD Camera
  • Security: Kensington Lock
  • Battery: 8-Cell Li-Polymer (5900mAh, 88Wh)
  • Dimension: 410 x 318 x 17-58 mm (WxDxH) (w/ 8cell battery)
  • Weight: 4.8kg (w/ 8 cell battery)
MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro G specification:
  • Windows 8.1
  • Latest 5th Gen. Intel® Core™ i7-5700HQ processor
  • 17“ Full HD (1920X1080) , Anti-glare PLS, G-SYNC ready
  • The latest USB 3.1 SuperSpeed+ interface built in
  • Nahimic Sound Technology with immersive 3D sound processing
  • Embedded NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 980M with ultra performance
  • Exclusive SHIFT technology for system’s performance and balance
  • Exclusive Cooler Boost 3 Technology
  • Killer Double Shot Pro (Killer Gb LAN + Killer 802.11 a/c WiFi) with Smart Teaming
  • Audio Boost 2 with 3 independent amp for best sound experience
  • Evolution of Sound by Dynaudio 2.1 sound system
  • SteelSeries Engine to personalize your own style
  • XsplitGamcaster for broadcasting, recording and sharing
  • Keyboard by Steelseries with full color LED back light
  • Matrix display support up to 4 displays
Tests:
Futuremark 3DMark 1.5.915 – Fire Strike 1.1
Maxon Cinebench R15 – All-core CPU and OpenGL graphics benchmark
Futuremark PC Mark 8 – General system performance with productivity applications, plus battery testing
SiSoft Sandra 2014 SP2 – Processor arithmetic, memory bandwidth
Crystal DiskMark 5.0.2 – storage transfer rates
Tomb Raider – 1920 x 1080, ultimate quality
Grand Theft Auto V – 1920 x 1200, high quality

3DMark
We used 3DMark’s ‘Fire Strike’ benchmark, which is designed to test the performance of gaming systems. We opted for the Normal setting, NOT the Extreme mode.
The overall score of 6,657 is very respectable. It’s notably ahead of the Asus ROG G750JZ with its GTX 880M, although the MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro G is a league further ahead, thanks to its GTX980M graphics.

Sandra Processor Arithmetic
Sandra Memory Bandwidth
KitGuru_Sandra_Memory
The GS40’s 2,133MHz DDR4 memory clearly wins out against the DDR3 in the other two systems, offering 25-30 per cent more bandwidth. However, processor arithmetic is a mixed bag, with superior Dhrystone, but inferior Whetstone.

Maxon Cinebench R15
We used the ‘CPU’ test built into Cinebench R15. There isn’t much difference between the three systems, although the MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro G’s Broadwell processor has the slight edge. So this is a capable performance for a sub-2kg notebook. We have included the Cinebench OpenGL result below as well for reference, which is also a capable score.
PC Mark 8
The PC Mark 8 Home test parallels the results from the Cinebench R15 CPU test, with the MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro G scoring top and the Asus ROG G750JZ bottom. So the MSI GS40’s middle score will be great for everyday producivity.

Tomb Raider
We used a 1920 x 1080 resolution and the Tomb Raider built-in benchmark set to ‘Ultimate’ quality.
The MSI GS40’s Tomb Raider score is behind the MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro G. The latter’s GTX980M has a greater number of CUDA cores, running at a faster core clock, and 8GB of GDDR5 with a wider memory bus.
The Asus ROG G750JZ also has the benefit of 8GB of GDDR5. But the MSI GS40 is still providing playable performance, which is great for such a light notebook.
Grand Theft Auto V
We used a 1920 x 1200 resolution and the Grand Theft Auto V built-in benchmark set to maximum possible quality settings to offer an intense challenge for the gaming hardware while also making playable frame rates a possibility. However, the GTX970M’s 3GB of memory meant we couldn’t set absolutely every setting to Very High, and had to leave a couple of them on merely High.
We used FRAPS to record the frame rates of the last portion of the benchmark, where a jet flies across the city followed by a truck ploughing into a petrol tanker.
It’s clear that this very grueling game is still playable at the maximum settings in HD, although only just. This is another very commendable performance from such a light and portable notebook.
SSD Performance
The Samsung NVMe SSD is clearly immensely quick, with much faster read performance than the most rapid SATA-connected SSDs. The MSI GS40 is noticeably speedy to load Windows and games too.
HDD Performance
The Hitachi hard disk is a decent performer for a 2.5in mobile hard disk, but nothing particularly outstanding where storage devices are concerned. Desktop 7,200rpm HDDs can now deliver at least 30 per cent more throughput.
Battery Life
We tested the MSI GS40 with Battery Saver turned on and a 50 per cent screen brightness, using the PC Mark 8 Home battery test, which runs a series of productivity tasks until the power runs out. These test scripts don’t stress the gaming performance particularly, so this time doesn’t represent how long you could play on battery, although there is some 3D activity included. It’s supposed to represent a mixture of everyday home user tasks.
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The result of around 3.5 hours is excellent for a notebook with these abilities, and significantly greater than the MSI GT72 2QE Dominator Pro G. So this is a notebook that will give you excellent gaming performance when plugged in, but also a useful amount of productivity work when on battery.
With the lightness and compact form, this notebook provides the rare blend of top-notch gaming with real mobile functionality.
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Acoustic Performance
Acoustic recordings are taken while the system sits at the desktop under minimum load. Then we run 3DMark’s FireStrike 1.1 and take the measurements again once the sound has settled to its maximum. All fans were left to the MSI-supplied defaults. We recorded audio from a 1m distance from the base unit at approximately the same level.
The fans do noticeably ramp up a bit once heavy gaming is taking place. However, since most mobile gamers will be using headphones, the levels aren’t loud enough to affect your listening pleasure, and they won’t be too irritating for anyone else nearby. A peak level of 47dB at 1m is not particularly noisy.
The MSI GS40 6QE Phantom is an impressive gaming notebook with very few compromises. Its gaming abilities are only one rung down from the fastest single-GPU notebooks currently available. It has a great screen, looks good, and has a super-quick NVMe SSD for fast software loading.
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Despite the great performance, this is still a light notebook you could carry about with you. Battery life isn’t quite up with true ultraportables, but it’s also way beyond most gaming notebooks. With over three hours available, and possibly four if you’re really frugal, the MSI GS40 6QE Phantom will give you a useful amount of activity on a lengthy journey.
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With a price just shy of £1,400 inc VAT, this isn’t a particularly cheap notebook, but it’s not extortionate either considering that the specification we had is well balanced and won’t have you wishing for an upgrade for some years to come. Overall, if you’re looking for a true portable with decidedly potent gaming ability, the MSI GS40 6QE Phantom is heartily recommended.
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Pros:
  • Very good gaming performance for this size of notebook.
  • Future-proofed 16GB of memory.
  • Great IPS screen.
  • Super-fast NVMe SSD for primary storage.
  • Very light 1.6kg chassis.
  • Very good battery life with productivity apps for a gaming notebook.
  • USB 3.1 Type C port.
  • Reasonably priced.
Cons:
  • Not quite as fast as the best gaming notebooks currently available.
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