- Smaller and lighter than rivals
- Great processor and GPU performance
- High-quality screen
- Good keyboard
- Exterior becomes far too hot
- Underwhelming build quality
- 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB graphics
- 14in 1,920 x 1,080 IPS screen
- 16GB 2,400MHz DDR4 memory
- 256GB Samsung SM951 SSD
- 1TB hard disk
- Windows 10 64-bit
- 2yr RTB warranty
- Manufacturer: MSI
- Manufacturer: MSI
- Review Price: £1,500.00/$2,250.000
WHAT IS THE MSI GS43VR 6RE PHANTOM PRO?
Gaming laptops are huge and bulky, right? Not this one. The MSI GS43VR 6RE Phantom Pro packs a high-end punch, but the components are installed in a chassis that’s just 23mm thick and with a 14-inch screen.
That makes the MSI far smaller than its rivals, and instantly tempting for those who want mobile gaming without having to lug around a heavy and chunky notebook.
MSI GS43VR 6RE PHANTOM PRO – FEATURES
This system is only possible because key components have become far more efficient. The GTX 1060 is a full desktop chip with 1,280 stream processors alongside 6GB of memory. It’s a huge leap: this card has 4.4 billion transistors, while its laptop-only predecessor had 1.8 billion.
MSI has used the mobile version of the GTX 1060 in this laptop, which has a 1,404MHz core – still a formidable speed, but 102MHz slower than the desktop version.
The Core i7-6700HQ has four Hyper-Threaded cores, a 2.6GHz stock speed and the efficient Skylake architecture, which is another boon for a slim laptop.
There’s 16GB of DDR4 clocked to 2,400MHz, and a speedy 256GB Samsung SM951 SSD alongside a 1TB hard disk.
It’s a solid high-end specification. That brings it into competition with conventional machines like the Asus ROG Strix GL702VM, which had the same CPU, GPU and SSD, albeit in a larger design – and, crucially, for £300 less.
Ethernet and 802.11ac wireless is controlled by Qualcomm’s Killer gaming brand, and the exterior offers up USB 3 and Thunderbolt alongside an SDXC card slot and HDMI and DisplayPort outputs.
Sadly, no alternative specifications are available. That’s an area where the Asus has an advantage, as a version is available that adds a better processor and more memory for £1,350/$2,205.
MSI GS43VR 6RE PHANTOM PRO – DESIGN
This machine follows MSI’s familiar design blueprint. The exterior is coated with dark, shiny aluminium, and the lid has the MSI Gaming Series logo – a white dragon on a red background. Red rings the touchpad, and that colour is used for the backlight.
The GS43’s 23mm body weighs 1.8kg, which means it undercuts every rival: the Asus is a more traditional gaming notebook with a 17.3in screen that weighs a kilo more. The GS43 is more in line with standard consumer laptops – a notebook like the Dell XPS 15 weighs 1.78kg and is a little thinner, but there’s not much between the two.
The MSI looks the part and undercuts its rivals, but build quality isn’t as good as beefier machines. That’s understandable, but be aware that the base panel can easily be pushed inwards to touch the components, and that the screen is slim. The wrist-rest feels too hollow, although the underside of the keyboard is sturdier.
The entire base panel pulls away for interior access. There aren’t any spare ports, but the SSD, hard disk and two memory sticks are all accessible alongside the battery and cooling hardware.
There are plenty of software options on this machine, with most controlled through MSI Dragon Center. It’s one of the better notebook utilities: its system monitor has ample information about clock speeds, temperatures and fan RPM, and five different profiles can be saved.
Dragon Center has a companion mobile app, and further small tools to manage connectivity, audio and the screen.
MSI GS43VR 6RE PHANTOM PRO – PERFORMANCE
The compact MSI didn’t balk at 1080p gaming, where it got beyond 80fps in Dirt Rally, GTA V and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. In those latter games the MSI was around ten frames faster than the Asus, despite the laptops sharing the GTX 1060.
The GTX 1060 has enough power for 1440p panels and VR headsets, but be prepared to dial back the quality settings to get games running smoothly in these scenarios.
The MSI’s lead in gaming benchmarks is explained by its Core i7 processor – theAsus ROG Strix GL702VM made do with a weaker Core i5. The GS43 was a few hundred points ahead in single-core CPU benchmarks, but miles ahead in multi-threaded tests – it scored 13,221 in the Geekbench multi-core test, while the Asus could only manage 9,271.
The MSI is smaller than the Asus, but it’s far more potent. It’ll be smoother when gaming at 1080p and when outputting to more demanding hardware, and its Core i7 CPU ensures it’ll handle work tasks and general computing with more speed
The storage is impressive, too, with reads and writes of 1,937MB/s and 1,352MB/s respectively. These will definitely not be a bottleneck.
By default, the MSI arrives with its fans at automatic speed and its Sport overclocking mode enabled, which sees the core dynamically overclock to around 1,860MHz when gaming – a huge leap. At this level the fan noise isn’t bad, with a noticeable rumble that’s still quieter than the majority of gaming notebooks. When idling the MSI is barely audible.
The processor peaked at 88 degrees, with the GPU topping out at 76 degrees – one of the best temperatures I’ve seen from a Pascal-powered portable.
Those internal temperatures are fine, but the MSI had issues dissipating the heat. With default settings used with a gaming stress-test the area above the keyboard became too hot to touch, with the underside panel almost as toasty. The keyboard was warm, and air was vented from the right-hand side of the machine – no good if you’re using a mouse.
The Comfort and Eco options saw clock speeds vary. In Comfort mode the GPU veered between 1,650MHz and 1,770MHz, while in Eco mode the core stayed at similar speeds but the memory dropped to around 2,000MHz.
In Comfort mode the noise and temperature levels on the inside and outside barely changed. In Eco mode the GPU temperature dropped to a modest 67 degrees, the noise was cut back, and the exterior was cooler.
That bodes well for heat dissipation, but it’s no good for playing games. The minor clock speed change in Comfort mode reduced the MSI’s Dirt and Shadow of Mordor scores by a couple of frames, but Eco mode dropped the original scores in those games to 33fps and 27fps.
All of those tests were conducted with automatic fan speeds, but the GS43’s other fan options made little difference to sound and temperatures. The Advanced mode lets users tweak fan speeds like gear ratios in a car, but most people just don’t need this level of depth.
Also remember that you’ll only get maximum use when the MSI is plugged in, as relying on battery power means the laptop can’t use its Sport and Comfort modes.
The GS43 has more complex clock and fan options than most laptops, but most of them make little difference to the bottom line: if you’re gaming on this system at full pelt, the base is going to get uncomfortably hot – and the keyboard won’t be far behind.
Toning the clocks down does reduce the heat and noise output, but it’s also a compromise, as games won’t run as smoothly, especially in Eco mode. That’s a disappointment, given that this machine is sold on its gaming ability and small size.
MSI GS43VR 6RE PHANTOM PRO – SCREEN & SOUND QUALITY
The MSI’s 1080p IPS screen has a solid density level of 157ppi and a matte finish, but it doesn’t have Nvidia G-Sync – now a very common feature in gaming laptops. That means other laptops will deliver a slightly smoother gaming experience.
Technological quibbles aside, the MSI delivers decent performance. Its colour temperature of 6,353K is fantastic, and its average Delta E of 3.66 is middling. The sRGB gamut coverage level of 85.2% is on par with many other gaming laptops.
The contrast level of precisely 1,000:1 is spot on, and the black level of 0.31cd/m2 is marginally deeper than most other gaming notebooks.
MSI’s Dragon Center has several screen modes. Unusually, most are excellent: the Gamer, Movie, Designer and sRGB options are all similar, and all drop the black level a little while improving the average Delta E to around 1.3. The former improvement will make contrast better and colours deeper, while the latter improves accuracy.
Uniformity is good, too, perhaps because of the smaller screen. The brightness deviates by less than 10% across the screen, which is better than most gaming notebooks.
It’s a good bill of health, with impressive colour accuracy and contrast as long as you pick one of MSI’s screen modes. There’s no G-Sync, but this is still an excellent gaming screen.
The pair of 2W speakers are controlled by the Nahimic audio tool. It’s loaded with settings, but by default uses its music mode. This option delivers middling high-end and treble audio, but the pair of small speakers still suffer from a slightly tinny high-end and flat, lifeless treble sounds. There’s very little bass, too, due to the lack of a subwoofer.
The Movie mode turns on surround sound and reverb, which makes sounds a little deeper and louder but also increases the muddy, flat feeling, with high-end sounds compressed towards the mid-range.
The FPS mode is too tinny, with an unbalanced high-end, and the Strategy and RPG modes make little difference. The Racing option is deeper than everything else, presumably to give engines added grunt, but it just makes cars sound like they’re underwater.
The Music and Movie modes are the best options, but they’re still just mediocre. There’s not enough room for better speakers in a laptop this small, but that won’t be too a concern if you wear a headset.
MSI also includes one of the most obnoxious audio options I’ve ever seen with the GS43. It’s called Audio Launchpad, and it allows six sound effects to be played in-game using keyboard shortcuts. Three different profiles with six different sound effects can be configured.
The default selection includes airhorns, explosions, buzzers, booing and punches. There’s a Wilhelm Scream, an aggressive American shouting “boom, headshot!”, and Steve Ballmer repeating his famous “developers, developers, developers” mantra. There’s even Shia LeBeouf urging you to just “do it”.
It’s awful. I can see violence breaking out if people deploy memes or comedy sound effects during tense gaming sessions.
MSI GS43VR 6RE PHANTOM PRO – KEYBOARD & TRACKPAD
The keyboard is made by experts at SteelSeries, so I had high expectations for this unit, which has a red backlight and buttons topped with a futuristic font.
It’s a chiclet keyboard, but it’s certainly one of the best I’ve seen. The base is sturdy and the keys are flawless in their consistency. The keys are some of the quietest I’ve used on a gaming laptop, and soft, but they’re also some of the fastest.
The MSI’s keyboard is very similar to the Macbook Pro in terms of feel and quality – and that also brings it in line with the Asus ROG Strix GL702VM, which had a similar feel and level of quality. The MSI is a little softer and quieter than both.
The comfortable, coddled keys are fantastic for typing but, as usual, they’re merely fine for gaming. That said, this is a familiar laptop compromise, and the MSI’s keyboard is better than what’s available on most other gaming notebooks. There’s another compromise in the layout on this small notebook, as there’s no room for a numberpad.
It’s managed by the SteelSeries Engine 3 software. This tool can change the backlight intensity, and it also has a macro editor for every key and the ability to save profiles – a boon that many gaming notebooks don’t provide.
The touchpad is good, too. The surface is fine, and the buttons are faster and more clinical than their equivalents on other gaming notebooks. They feel much like a proper gaming mouse, although they do press down a little too far.
MSI GS43VR 6RE PHANTOM PRO – BATTERY LIFE
The efficient components helped the 61Wh power pack deliver a standard battery test result of four hours and 18 minutes. That’s a little better than many gaming notebooks, but it’s not a game-changing improvement – the Asus was only about 40 minutes poorer in the same benchmark.
That still means that you’re going to struggle to get beyond ninety minutes in a tough gaming test, so you’ll still need to stay close to a plug socket with this machine.
SHOULD I BUY THE MSI GS43VR 6RE PHANTOM PRO?
On paper, this is a deeply impressive laptop: a fast and capable gaming machine that’s smaller and lighter than rivals.
The GTX 1060 impresses in games benchmarks, the processor is fast, and its keyboard, trackpad and screen all succeed.
However, there’s one major issue: heat. Several areas of this machine are simply too hot to touch when it’s running at full blast, with more manageable temperatures only attained when the GPU was reigned in. That sort of compromise is disappointing – but, perhaps, not surprising – on a laptop that’s designed to be more portable than most of its rivals while also costing more.
It’s a huge shame for such a small notebook. The GS43 is excellent in several key areas, not least its size and gaming performance, but it’s tricky to recommend unless you’re comfortable with compromised speeds in order to keep the temperatures down.
There is something to be said for its incredibly light weight, and if you’re constantly travelling between gaming events and also have an external keyboard (so you don’t have to touch the hot built-in ‘board), these issues will be less troubling. For most people, though, it’s downright annoying.
MSI’s laptop promises huge performance in a slim and stylish exterior, and it certainly delivers in benchmarks. However, the tight confines mean that heat is a big issue, with temperatures that are only tamed by making big clock speed compromises. It’s a shame, because there’s plenty to like here – but the GS43 isn’t worth buying unless you’re willing to settle or really do need a tiny gaming portable.